Guest blog: Why I'm not sure I like the "co-author" concept

Should it bother us readers when a series is written by a group of writers using a single name? Beloved Nancy Drew author Carolyn Keene was actually three different women.

The blockbuster success of James Patterson’s books is so immense that one out of every 17 hardcover novels bought in the United States since 2006 has been written by him, according to a Sunday cover story in the The New York Times Magazine.

“Patterson may lack the name recognition of a Stephen King, a John Grisham or a Dan Brown, but he outsells them all. Really, it’s not even close,” the article said.

What drew my attention, even more than the staggering numbers, was being reminded that there’s an asterisk next to the “written by him.” At this point, the article said, Patterson uses co-authors on nearly all his books. Collaborators draft most chapters from a lengthy Patterson outline, with Patterson revising and rewriting when needed. (That’s how he managed to publish nine hardcovers in 2009, the article noted.)

From the gut, the idea of co-writers feels wrong. We like to think we are fans of an author, rather than a style of plotting. But I wonder if the rules are different for genre books and series books, so formulaic by nature.

I’m almost surprised we don’t hear more about co-writers on adult fiction, because it doesn’t seem uncommon when writing for children. Just a few weeks ago, with my 7-year-old son tearing through “Warriors,” an adventure fantasy series about feral cats, I looked online and discovered that “author” Erin Hunter was actually the pen name behind the three people writing the books. The official Warriors website announces the fact frankly, saying the single name was used to avoid having books by different authors shelved in different places (though I must say, in the bookstores I frequent, series books are all shelved together).

My childhood memories never felt particularly betrayed by learning that Nancy Drew author “Carolyn Keene” and Trixie Belden’s “Kathryn Kenny” were only pen names used by syndicates. So my gut gives Patterson a pass… as long as he doesn’t follow the model of “V.C. Andrews,” whose soft-core, gothic horror books were the guilty pleasure of my teenage years. Series books are still being published under her name… more than two decades after her death.

Rebekah Denn blogs at

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