Please note that what follows are personal observations. I have no actual experience in the area of co-writing a novel, publishing a novel, or really anything to do with writing except for this blog right here. This collection of words came together as I was struggling to read a new book I received as an ARC, called Girl About Town. I'll review the actual book tomorrow, but for now, I wanted to talk a little bit about some of the thoughts that informed my reading of the book.
Co-authoring works really, really well for some authors. My favorite co-authors are Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston. I do have moments where I suspect they have fused their brains somehow, although I do remember reading an interview with them where they talked about how they bounce off each other--one's more detail-oriented, the other just lets it fly when it comes to plot--and it's fascinating. It's proof that co-authoring can work.
And then there are other books. I fully admit to being skeptical of screenwriters, YouTubers, and actors writing books.
I await your virtual rage. You know, the throwing of digital tomatoes and so forth.
I'm not saying that people whose profession is acting or talking about makeup or writing for films or writing music can't be novel writers--that would cut out a big swath of people. But there are fundamental differences in the way one would write a screenplay, for example, and a novel. In screenplays, you have tons of other people--directors, editors, actors--to interpret and flesh out your script. In a novel, you have to do a lot more of the heavy lifting while simultaneously (and invisibly) prodding your reader to create worlds inside their heads.
However, what I am leery of, and what I think a lot of teens don't really think about when they see a book by their favorite YouTuber, has to do with writing credit. Last year, fans were shocked to find that Zoe Sugg (Zoella)'s novel had been ghostwritten. As a skeptic and overall cranky person, I assume that to be the case unless it is explicitly proven otherwise. For the record, I certainly don't think ghostwriting is a bad thing, but I do have objections to a "famous person" taking all the credit and not admitting they had help (or at least until after someone has loudly asked the question on the internet, necessitating a response).
I'll also bring James Patterson into the discussion. I think it's pretty well-known that he writes the outlines for his novels and they're fleshed out by his co-authors. So he provides the ideas, but the majority of the prose belongs to someone else. And yet whom do library patrons or customers ask for when they want the next book? "The new James Patterson," not: "The new James Patterson and Maxine Paetro," which makes me feel uneasy and a bit sad on behalf of the co-author.
Another issue is that of diversity. The CCBC, Lee and Low's study and good ol' empirical observation clearly demonstrate that the majority of authors are straight white people (but as YA Interrobang's article also shows, of said straight white people, men are hailed as the literary ones and women as the pfft-whatever-fluff genre fiction authors). So. Let's say you're a queer author of Malaysian descent. You pitch an idea for your novel. At the same time, the publisher is approached by an actor/director/screenwriter/makeup 'guru' who wants to sell a book. Given the history of "meeting the quota" of POC/WOC/members of diverse groups of humans in publishing (see Daniel José Older's article here, which makes its point with Dhonielle Clayton's story), we know that publishers are out to make money. They would rather use a marketable name--even if that person's story is tosh--than "take a risk" on supporting an author who wrote a bang-up awesome novel that accurately represents society.
I feel an attack of Weltschmertz coming on.
So, I guess this is what it boils down to: you can do whatever is within the law to do, technically. Hopefully you have ethics, but I'm finding more and more people do not. Even so, you are totally and completely free to do whatever you want creatively. I mean, right now, there's a fascist running for President, so ... you know, freedom of choice and all that jazz. If you are an actor, you can write a book. You might even write a great book--a fantastic book. That is awesome. We all need new, amazing books in our lives.
But if you write a crap book, you should not be rewarded for that on the basis of being an entertainer. You don't get a free pass because you've already "made it." "Expanding your brand" is not ethical if it means pushing deserving authors out of the way. And if a publisher chooses your poorly-written, derivative book over that of a wonderfully diverse book by an Native writer or a black writer or a Latinx author, then shame on the publisher, too.
I swear, if Michael Bay writes a book, I will get a spot on one of those SpaceX flights even if they explode half the time because the moon is definitely preferable to a book that would be, in essence, one gigantic explosion.