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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