Sunday, May 7, 2017

When an author becomes a franchise

There are a handful of mega-bestselling authors out there who have ceased to be mere authors, and have now become franchises. These include James Patterson, Clive Cussler, and a handful of others. 

Franchise authors always work with lesser-known coauthors. In a franchise arrangement, the brand-name author provides the basic outline and the name on the jacket cover. The lesser-known author (the franchisee) does the grunt work, cranking out the story. 

My franchise metaphor is an imperfect one, I’ll admit. (So please don’t trouble yourself to email me.) It really doesn't function like a McDonald’s or a Subway franchise; but that’s close enough for our purposes here.

Anyway, I’ve noticed that horror author emeritus, Stephen King, seems to be inching down this route. His latest offering, Gwendy’s Button Box, was coauthored with Richard Chizmar (who I’ll admit I’ve never heard of). This fall another collaboration, Sleeping Beauties, will be released. (For this one, the coauthor is King’s son, Owen King.)

I’m officially neutral on this as a practice. While a James Patterson novel never changed anyone’s life, most of them are entertaining enough, and practically all of them published in the last ten years or so are coauthored. Likewise, Clive Cussler hasn't written a book by himself for almost 15 years.

But I should also mention that Clive Cussler is now 85 years old. He published the first Dirk Pitt adventure novel when Richard Nixon was president, and the Vietnam War was winding down. James Patterson, meanwhile, has been writing novels since the 1980s. He recently celebrated his 70th birthday.

The point here being that almost no one maintains the same pace past age seventy; and the vast majority of folks have long retired by then. On the other hand, an author with longevity has become a “brand” by that point, so why not continue to create similar stories with coauthors, and let the market decide? Readers seem happy with Cussler and Patterson franchise stories…so why not?

Which brings us back to Stephen King. Stephen King is now about seventy years old, and he’s been producing quality horror and suspense fiction since the early 1970s—when yours truly was still learning to read. I discovered Stephen King thirty years ago, in the mid-1980s—when he’d already been an established name for more than a decade.

My conclusion, then, is that while I can’t help but feel nostalgic for what may be the end of the single-author Stephen King novel, I also can’t fault King if he’s ready to ease up his pace a bit. I haven't read either of the two new coauthored books, but I’m willing to give them a try.