Friday, August 6, 2010

When is a book no longer yours?

I did an author appearance last week at a summer school class (hi girls!) and one of the questions that came up - as it often does - was "how do you pick the titles for your books?" In explaining that I have (thus far) been extremely lucky, and had the full support of my editor on all of my titles, we then got into a discussion about the editorial process, and the types of changes that happen throughout. My experiences with editing have ranged from the painless (Can we change "my parents will kill me" to "I'll be grounded for life"?) to gut-wrenching (No. Because of x, y and z, you absolutely can not include that plot element)...and, I suspect from reading other author's blogs that my experiences are not unique. And yet, the girls at summer school were - as most people outside of the publishing industry tend to be - absolutely SHOCKED that ANYONE besides an author should get any say in what gets written. Even when I got my first contract, I didn't yet understand that like a close friend who will be totally honest when you shop for bathing suits, a brilliant editor (and I have had them) will point out all of the opportunities for improvement, as well as the things that are already strong. Authors tend to get the credit for successful books, but good editors go a long way towards getting them there.

And then, there are ghost writers. The other night I was in a large chain bookstore in downtown Toronto, and found myself beside a huge line-up of book buyers all waiting for the "author" to sign their purchases. I put "author" in quotes because the person whose name appeared on the book - the person who was doing the autographs -- is actually the former drummer of a very popular 80's rock band. (Yes, I have their greatest hits, no, I'm not naming names). And maybe he did write his own memoirs - Jimmy Buffet has actually carved out quite a nice little fiction empire for himself - but I'll be honest: I wondered. Did this guy actually sit down at a keyboard and TYPE? Or did he do some interviews, and just approve the copy that came back to him? Is he still the author, if it's his life story but he didn't write a word? And more importantly, if it's a compelling story, does anybody actually care? Last January, The New York Times published this fascinating piece about author James Patterson's stable of ghost writers. And I've been thinking about it ever since. Then, today, I read this little blurb about creativity, which suggests, of all things, that group brainstorming DOES NOT WORK, and the theory that it does was actually disproved in 1958!!! So take that, army of ghost writers - James Patterson might be richer, but I can be more creative without you!