Courtesy of Publishers Weekly…

Having sold more than 122 million copies of his books, Wilbur Smith is praised as a master storyteller – yet the 79-year-old seemingly cannot keep up with the ever-constant demand for his titles.

When the BBC News website spoke to him in 2009 to promote his 32nd novel, Assegai, the author said he never had trouble creating ideas.

But he added: “In the later years of my life, I have slowed down the actual amount of writing and creating I do.

“I work on a book one year and I take the next year off. It gives a little more time for the well to refill with water before I go to it again.”

To satisfy the appetites of fans (and also publishers), Smith will now produce six new novels – in some instances, up to two a year.

Donkey work

How can an author who only writes one book every two years manage this? By hiring co-authors to help write them.

In this instance, Smith is likely to come up with the story ideas and characters, while another writer fleshes it out and finishes it off.

“For the past few years my fans have made it very clear that they would like to read my novels and revisit my family of characters faster than I can write them,” Smith said in a statement announcing the deal.

The concept is not too dissimilar to ghostwriting, but while it is widely accepted that ghost writers are commonly used for celebrity-penned biographies or novels, the notion that Smith – as a working author – could hire co-authors has caused some rumblings in the press and among literary purists.

However utilising co-authors is not a new concept. “The notion of having others to produce books has been going on for centuries,” says Anna Davis, a literary agent with Curtis Brown.

“The Three Musketeers author Alexander Dumas did it – he had a whole team of authors writing for him all the time. He’d plot things out and have other people do the donkey work.”

The practice is also used in other forms of media including the film industry and the art world, where for example it is widely known Damien Hirst uses “apprentices” to produce his works.

US thriller and crime writers James Patterson and Tom Clancy are two of the best-known authors who regularly hire co-authors.

Patterson’s use of them has helped him become exceptionally prolific, publishing 14 new titles in 2011-2012 alone. He typically sends 70-90 chapter summaries of around four lines long to his co-writers, who then send back drafts for him to edit.

It has also reaped huge financial rewards – the 65-year-old was the highest-earning author of the past year according to Forbes magazine, earning an estimated $94m (£58.6m).

Read the complete article here: Why Are Novelists Turning To Co-Authors?

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