Here’s some old news. The Nancy Drew mystery series was the product of multiple authors. While the books in the series were written by different people, all Nancy Drew authors, male and female, wrote under the pseudonym of Carolyn Keene. Here’s something new I wasn’t aware of until recently: Many modern series also have multiple authors.
With readers hungry for series, publishers may contract with several authors to create novels in rapid-fire order. Some series are credited to a fictional author, such as Nancy Drew’s Keene. Others display the originating author’s name, but may be ghost-written partially or in their entirety by a contracted author, such as is the case for many novels by James Patterson.
This publishing method does have critics. In a 2015 article in the Atlantic, the practice of farming out books in series to various authors is described as economically disadvantageous for the author. (This hasn’t been my experience. Maybe in the past, or with unscrupulous publishers, authors got a raw deal ghost writing.) The Atlantic article admitted there’s another side to this. “Ghostwriting might constrain writers, but it can free them, too.”
I was surprisingly ignorant of this phenomenon until I received an invitation to write two novels in an existing series. At first, I did not think this sounded interesting. How could writing a story using someone else’s characters and setting be creative? Then I read the first three books in the series, and decided this could be a fun venture.
In this case, the series is not published under a fictional name. Each book in the series bears that writer’s name. Some may choose to write under a pseudonym, but it made sense for me to use my name, under which my novel series and my short stories are published.
I was assigned a time of year, and given a detailed author guideline booklet containing character biographies, descriptions of the town and the Manor, and even photos of the main characters. Almost all authors selected for this venture have been traditionally published, and have experience following editor requirements. This is important, as your story must fit the tone of the series.
I plunged in, and found I enjoyed plenty of creativity. I’m sure I couldn’t have done it if I didn’t love the books, the characters, and the adorable Watson, a stubby tailed black and white cat. My first book in the series, number fourteen, will be published this year under the title Ink or Swim.
Readers subscribe to the series much as one subscribes to a magazine. Annie’s Publishing releases a new book in the series once every four to six weeks, thus the need for multiple authors. One writer simply cannot produce at that speed.
Here are the questions I had about write-for-hire jobs that you might also be asking:
How did I land this gig? I was recommended by an editor as an author who would be suitable for writing a gentle cozy. My writing style and track history made me a good fit. The offer came out of the blue.
What are the challenges? As a small press author, I have not been unduly pressured by deadlines. Writing for Annie’s, I have hard-stop deadlines for proposals, drafts, and final edits.
Am I disappointed I won’t get royalties? Not at all. The up front payment is generous. I have published with small presses, and the royalty system has been less than lucrative for me. With this process, there is no wait. Once you deliver an acceptable manuscript, you receive payment. With royalties, you may wait months, or years, before you see any money. If you received an advance, you won’t see another dime until you earn out that advance.
What are the benefits? The money is good. It’s more fun than I imagined to write a novel based on someone else’s concept. My name will be seen by many more readers, who might then take a chance on my small press series.
I nearly turned down this opportunity out of fear and doubt. Could I produce what the publisher needed? Was I selling my artistic soul for a quick buck? Then it occurred to me that the write-for-hire job was the proverbial opportunity knocking. I might not receive another offer like this. I decided to take a chance, and now I’m loving every minute.
The Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library is available now by subscription.
Catherine Dilts made her first fiction sale by murdering an annoying coworker in the short story The Jolly Fat Man. She found it such a satisfying experience, she went on to kill again. A 2017 Derringer Award finalist, Catherine is better known for lighter fare, including her Rock Shop Mystery series, and two books in the Secrets of the Castleton Manor Library series. She tested the waters on the dark side of fiction with Unrepentant Sinner, published in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, and Do-Over, appearing in the Blood & Gasoline anthology July 10 (available for pre-order now). Catherine’s day job in a factory as an environmental compliance specialist provides inspiration to keep writing, with the hope of eventual escape.