Friday, January 12, 2007

Assembly-line novels?

There was an interesting article in Monday's The Independent. It begins:

What if there was a company which produced novels by committee? Which specialised in genre fiction, aimed with pinpoint accuracy at an identified target audience? Which thrashed out all the details of the plot, even snatches of dialogue, and then hired jobbing writers to join the dots? And then sold the finished product to established publishers?

Well, there is such a company, and its name is Working Partners. Few people outside the publishing trade have heard of it, but it's reasonably certain that if you have children, there are several Working Partners titles on their bookshelves. The 100-plus books in the Animal Ark series, for instance, by "Lucy Daniels", an individual as fictitious as the stories themselves.


I've heard of companies like this, but it has never offended me to know they're producing books like so many fast-food hamburgers. If that's what people want to buy, it's nothing to me.

Ah, but what if they cranked out romance novels that way? As it happens, that's probably next:

The logical next step, of course, is to see if this strategy will work for adult fiction; and that is what Working Partners is looking to do now. In 2006, Working Partners2 was formed with the aim of cracking the adult market. Its first title, a chick-lit novel, has already been sold to a leading UK publisher and will be published with much fanfare (in which Working Partners' role will go unmentioned) later this year.

Many people's immediate reaction would be that this all sounds a bit sinister. It smacks of cynicism and manipulation. This is a knee-jerk response, though. As Charles Nettleton, Managing Director of Working Partners2 says, "Lots of entertainment is produced in this way: sitcoms or films, for instance. Nobody thinks it's sinister when a team of script editors and writers work on a movie script - what's the difference?" At this point I should declare an interest. I am working on a four-book series for Working Partners, to be published by Puffin next year.

This is how it works. You are sent a confidential document with descriptions of all the characters and a detailed synopsis of the plot. That the synopsis for a 20,000-word text runs to some 5,000 words gives some idea of just how detailed.


You might think that as a romance writer, I'd be offended or feel threatened by this, but you'd be wrong. And I don't assume that the writers who "connect the dots" for Working Partners and similar operations are less talented than other fiction writers. They're simply doing a different kind of work for reasons of their own, and what's wrong with that? There are all kinds of writing and all kinds of writers. Some novelists strive to create what they consider to be great art while others just want to write stories that will please a lot of people and pay some bills. The kinds of books we read and write are indicators of our tastes, not our intelligence.


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10 comments:

Anonymous said...

This is really nothing new. The Stratmeyer Syndicate, which created the Nancy Drew books, was doing this nearly a hundred years ago. See Nancy Drew, Girl Sleuth.

Elle Fredrix said...

"The kinds of books we read and write are indicators of our tastes, not our intelligence."

Well said!

nissa annakindt said...

Interesting. I'm working on a story in which the main character is a downtrodden worker in a novel factory. She's a love scene adjuster......

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Hmmm...I guess I'm taking the sme postition you are...if that's what people like, then that's what they'll read. it sounds like those romance magazines that have oodles of stories, and after a while they all sound the same!

Holly Kennedy said...

Great blog site! All the best with your upcoming book from a fellow author...

Brenda Coulter said...

You're right, Anonymous, that many of the young adult series books have been written that way for years and years. I linked to this article because I think it's interesting that Working Partners is expanding into the adult markets (jeepers, that sounds risque), and as far as I'm aware, that will be a first.

But of course, Elle, people who read my books are demonstrating both taste and intelligence.
;-)

[Nissa wrote] I'm working on a story in which the main character is a downtrodden worker in a novel factory. She's a love scene adjuster....

And she's desperately in love with a dashing young man in Settings and Descriptions who is bucking for a promotion to Dialogue so he can afford to marry her? Oooh, I want to read that story! Don't you, Bonnie?

Holly, thank you. I'm glad you stopped by.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

LOL...Brenda...that is a VERY creative premise for a romance novel! I think Nissa has got a winner there. Now that is truly a new take on an old story! :-) And it could be a great comedy!

Rogers Place said...

Nice pages here. Great information. Will visit again and recommend.

RKG said...

I've been enjoying your blog for several months. Day for day, nugget for nugget, I believe it is my favorite.

You gave me the ok to comment when you said, "The kinds of books we read and write are indicators of our tastes, not our intelligence."

Though I enjoy the intelligence, spirit and style of your blog, I'm not a reader in your genre. I've felt a little--irrationally--conflicted about that. Well, you just cleared that right up.

Brenda Coulter said...

RKG, you are very kind. All readers and writers are welcome here at NRJW.

Rogers, many thanks.