Saturday 10 December 2016

Fancy earning $84m? Then sign up for the fiction factory

Published 27/08/2011 | 05:00

Why be a writer of fastidiously crafted literary novels that are read by a few thousand people when you can make $84m a year by lending your name to potboilers mostly written by others?

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Yes, James Patterson has once again topped Forbes magazine's annual list of highest-paid authors, all of whom are American, except for Ken Follett in 10th place and JK Rowling in 13th (she would have ranked higher if she'd published anything in the past year).

Sixty-four-year-old Patterson, a former advertising executive, currently has a 17-book deal with Hachette, which was signed two years ago and is worth $150m.

Twenty of his titles featured on last year's bestseller lists and there will be five more published by Christmas -- many of them fleshed out by a team of minions from the broad plot outlines he magnanimously provides. I hope he gives them a good cut of his earnings.

In contrast to Patterson's $84m, second-placed Danielle Steel made a mere $35m, while Stephen King could only manage $28m and JK Rowling a paltry $5m.

Meanwhile, John Banville, Colm Toibin, Anne Enright and Sebastian Barry win lots of awards for their high-flown endeavours, but who needs critical accolades when instead you could be CEO of a book-producing factory capable of solving Ireland's national debt?

*****

Still, Banville and Co make a few bob and at least their chosen field is fiction rather than biography, which no less an eminence than Michael Holroyd has described as a genre in crisis.

Speaking at last week's Edinburgh international book festival, Holroyd (biographer of George Bernard Shaw and Lytton Strachey) said that "if you are writing a literary biography you have to try to hide the fact because it's so out of fashion".

This, he argued, has led to an age of experiment: "People are writing lives backwards, people are writing parts of lives. Look on the bright side: biographies are getting shorter."

So no more Richard Ellmanns on Joyce or Leon Edels on Henry James. Ah well.

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