Yay! A New Book By Your Favourite Author! Except It Isn’t

Yay! A New Book By Your Favourite Author! Except It Isn't

I hope you’re ready for another barrage of articles about the new Stieg-Larsson-Not-Stieg-Larsson, because they’re queuing up like full bladders at a music festival Portaloo. But first, at the risk of incontinence, I would myself like to discuss the marketing phenomenon that is ‘Continuation Fiction’.*

In the world of Continuation Fiction, the characters live on, even if the authors don’t. Or indeed, if the authors couldn’t be bothered. Or even sometimes if they can be bothered, but don’t want to be.

Let us begin, brethren, with a parable.

There once were once some stories of recognisable hues. They wowed punters far and wide. They sold in droves. They made publishers happy.

“Give us more!” decreed said publishers. “We want more of the exact same thing, only make it different enough to fool readers into thinking they warrant a new purchase.”

And the authors cried: “But Masters! We are so over this character… And besides, we have not the time! We couldn’t possibly give you something good by the deadline you preach!”

Some more authors wept: “And we cannot do it at all, for we are altogether dead!”

“We don’t care!” yelled the publishers. “Just find someone to churn out any old shite, and let us worry about the inevitable backlash after we’ve packaged the dross, and pocketed the dosh!”

And the authors cried some more, yet duly did as ordered, wiping their tears with £100 notes (and brightening up considerably therewith).

But not the dead authors. They did not weep or wipe, and neither did they receive any currency of practical use in the afterlife. They simply watched, in stony bitterness, as appointed successors exhumed their characters, and butchered their oeuvre.

THE END (or is it?)

 

Apart from Stieg Larsson, who in death and irony is about to enjoy the 4th instalment of his Millennium Trilogy as written by a complete stranger, there have been many cases of the more literal meaning of ghost writing. (I can see the tagline on the publishing pitch: CONTINUATION FICTION: FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN CASH AFTER DEATH.) Virginia Andrews, PG Wodehouse, Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie, amongst others, have also endured this dubious honour.

On another note, Harper Lee did herself write Go Set A Watchman. But what’s the difference, in the context of Continuation Fiction, between a rights-owning publisher appointing a new author to write someone else’s book, and a rights-owning publisher putting out a book an author never intended to be published?

There is also what I’ve decisively decided to call “Concept Fiction”: where the mere thought that a successful author had an idea can sell books.

The most prolific user/abuser of Concept Fiction must be James Patterson, whose books almost always have an “&” after his name nowadays. He only needs to lend his name to an idea for it to be turned into a full-length novel by co-authors (or Orwellian novel-writing machines, I’m never sure). And yet he’s still raking it in, so it obviously works.

 

I believe there are other ways of paying tribute to an author’s work which can be far more interesting. Some, for instance, have chosen to expand on a concept, rather than replicate it.

Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea was a 1966 imagining of the backstory for Mr Rochester’s first wife, the madwoman in the attic of Jane Eyre. In the 2001 novel Rebecca’s Tale, Sally Beauman imagined that Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca might have had sinister reasons for the actions she took just before she died. These examples also show how an author can belatedly lend some of the world’s most famous characters a voice, who otherwise had none (despite their infamy).

Look – there’s no question that if a winning formula is found, the sensible and profitable thing to do is make more of it. Having said that, there are far too many good books out there to be bothering with ones being flogged to death by publishers long after the party’s over.

*Note: not to be confused with Continuity Fiction, nor indeed The Real Fiction.

Yay! A New Book By Your Favourite Author! Except It Isn't

SUPER EXTRA BONUS FACT!!!

It’s a little-known piece of trivia that EL James’ Fifty Shades novels were in fact co-written by a “Preemptory Fiction” Team comprising Stephenie Meyer, a fifteen-year-old boy with acne, and six nuns who once saw a porn film in 1978. However, Grey, the latest instalment, was actually written by James herself, in a shock reversal of the standard literary rip-off. This is completely true and I defy you to prove otherwise.

You Don’t Get Off That Easily: Time For A Quiz

Do you feel like standing up for Continuation Fiction? Yes? Tell me why and who, and you will appear nowhere in my pending piece on “Incontinence Fiction”.

 

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  62 comments for “Yay! A New Book By Your Favourite Author! Except It Isn’t

  1. September 1, 2015 at 8:39 am

    “It’s a little-known piece of trivia that EL James’ Fifty Shades novels were in fact co-written by a “Preemptory Fiction” Team comprising Stephenie Meyer, a fifteen-year-old boy with acne, and six nuns who once saw a porn film in 1978.”

    I’ve been wondering how to publish my stories faster, it looks like EL James had the answer all along! Now, where to find those nuns …? 😉

    Liked by 4 people

    • September 1, 2015 at 9:47 am

      Get your own nuns, Dylan. People are always trying to steal other people’s nuns.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. September 1, 2015 at 8:45 am

    Loved the rant. Harper Lee is the worst example of that, IMHO.
    Mental note: change will to leave all rights to my work to Electra. Or the dog. Whoever’s around at the time.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. September 1, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Some authors do it to themselves though… I’m thinking Inferno by Dan Brown. This was a brilliant way of ensuring no one would ever want to read your future creations, whilst still earning shedloads of dosh. You’re right. There are so many good authors out there writing genuinely good books, but publishers arent interested in that. They’re only interested in chasing the dollar. Just like Hollywood are doing with the movie business, by giving Wolverine Irish heritage, so they can drag out our Irish heroes, give them superpowers, and have them fight alongside the X-men as his trusty sidekicks… just thought I’d get that in there. Its all the same thing. Money and greed wins over quality any day.

    Liked by 5 people

    • September 1, 2015 at 9:53 am

      Well, I know I was just ranting about it, but I can’t blame publishers for wanting to milk a cash cow: it’s a business, after all. A well-known author will outsell a newbie any and every day of the week. It’s the commissioning of continuation fiction that gets me, and that’s saying something, because normally you can’t beat me for cynicism.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. September 1, 2015 at 10:20 am

    Yes, there are a few good examples of continuation fiction (Letters From Pemberley and the continuation of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover series after her death, come to mind), but otherwise I agree with everything you’ve said! Especially the bit about E L James 😀

    Liked by 3 people

    • September 1, 2015 at 10:54 am

      Ooh, I haven’t read Letters From Pemberley. Must rectify that shortly. Thanks for the tip, Helen!

      Liked by 2 people

      • September 1, 2015 at 11:03 am

        Yes, it’s pretty well done, worth a read. On the other end of the scale, at least as far as I’m concerned, is ‘The Independence of Miss Mary Bennett’ by Colleen McCullough of Thorn Birds fame. I read it in a Paris hotel (it was in the bookcase there) and I only stuck with it because I had nothing else to read – it was terrible!

        Liked by 1 person

        • September 1, 2015 at 11:50 am

          Bold Colleen! A big mistake on her part, eh? Mind you, not one of her books ever had the success of The Thorn Birds, did it? She might have been better off doing a Harper Lee on it and sticking to the one hit wonder (except we can’t say that anymore now, can we!)

          Liked by 2 people

          • September 1, 2015 at 12:12 pm

            Sadly no, on both counts 🙂 In some ways, reading that book was like some sort of carcrash read, I just couldn’t look away. Parts of it still come back to me and make me shudder (apologies, Colleen, I actually liked The Thorn Birds).

            Liked by 1 person

            • September 1, 2015 at 2:17 pm

              I suppose a crime is a crime, Helen, even if you donate to charity before you commit one 😉

              Liked by 1 person

  5. September 1, 2015 at 10:31 am

    Yep, have to say the only one I really enjoyed (in terms of continuation fiction was Longbourn by Jo Baker, hated the one Death Comes to Pemberley.

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 1, 2015 at 10:57 am

      For me, Longbourn wasn’t so much continuation fiction, as the expansive kind, seeing as the Bennetts were really in it very little, and have to say I enjoyed it very much. I loved the upstairs downstairs aspect. It’s about time someone gave a voice to whoever had to wash Elizabeth Bennett’s thoughlessly mud-spattered petticoats!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. September 1, 2015 at 10:56 am

    This is not really unusual, in fact it happens more than most think. Think of the David Gemmell, Stella Gemmell transformation. Stella, David’s wife took over his writing duties after his death in 2006. The Tolkien’s have even gone so far as to produce large and expensive hardbacks from a few post it notes and scribbles (Lost Tales volume 18 ((I exaggerate)). It happens all the time but I should say here, not always in a bad way. When the great Isaac Asimov died he had already planned a precursor to his foundation/ Robots books, but alas was not able to complete it. In this case his wife did not complete the work for him but instead requested that well known Sci-fi writers of the time did so. Up to the plate stepped the huge writing forces of the super B’s, Benford, Brin and Bear (all already big names in sci-fi). They produced the prequels to the foundation series, all making an excellent job of it and sometimes even bettering the original master.

    Liked by 4 people

    • September 1, 2015 at 11:03 am

      I think those are very different scenarios, though. I wasn’t saying it’s unusual so much as dodgy, and much of the time, sub-standard. Writing (or finishing) a book from somebody’s notes is a far cry from hiring someone to write something entirely new, based on characters created by someone else and without their consent – especially if you’re talking about world-famous blockbusters.

      I do agree however that in some cases, it can make it better. I found Stieg Larsson too long-winded and poorly edited, myself, not really his fault, but I suppose it’s hard to edit a dead man (or should that be easier?) His successor might do better.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. September 1, 2015 at 10:56 am

    “CONTINUATION FICTION: FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN CASH AFTER DEATH” Haha! 🙂
    Although I have to admit I did enjoy Rebecca’s Tale

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 1, 2015 at 11:49 am

      Me too, Donna. I was surprised how much I loved it. I remember it took a little while to get into, but once I did, I was hooked.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. September 1, 2015 at 12:23 pm

    We mustn’t forget Robert Jordon’s endless Wheel of Time series. I don’t believe he would have ever ended it, so it was nice of Brandon Sanderson to bring it to a conclusion after only a few volumes. I’m sorry to say I can’t comment on Sanderson’s work because I could never get past book 4 or 5 in the original series. Sanderson writes better than Jordon, so it’s a loss, but I never did really care about the characters after the first two books.

    Liked by 3 people

    • September 1, 2015 at 2:27 pm

      I love that! “it was nice of Brandon Sanderson to bring it to a conclusion after only a few volumes”. Perhaps Larsson will be brought back to a mere 100,000 words and 33.3% fewer red herrings. I do agree. It’s not always a curse.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. tom
    September 1, 2015 at 1:12 pm

    Hi Tara,

    I’m deeply concerned about the emergence of the Continuity Fiction movement. We had hoped they had gone away, but no their revival, and the continued obfuscation about dead authors, their merits and their aims are a clear and present danger to all best seller lists.

    In addition their recent proliferation in respectable bookshelves across the country – whether wanted or not but backed by big bucks suggests intimidation of the market place by Big Beast names.

    It is time to crack down on the Continuity Fiction movement, the Provisional Fiction movement and the Real Fiction movement which has effectively resulted in a license to print money.

    Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 1, 2015 at 2:30 pm

      ….finish your last sentence? I accept! Hope that’s not too cheeky, Tom. But I think your keyboard took a bite out of you there.

      And thank you for your lovely pickup on the underlying theme. We can indeed argue that Continuity Fiction is not a market-sanctioned, ubiquitous ‘thing’. But its very presence on the bookshelves belies any protestations to the contrary.

      Like

  10. September 1, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    Hi Tara. Great read as always. I just bought a book (second hand, so my hands are clean!) that I hope is best described as expansionist. It’s called ‘Dead Man’s Land’ and concerns the crime-solving adventures of Dr John Watson solo in the First World War. I hadn’t heard of the author, Robert Ryan, before, and I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t say much at all about it, but the idea behind it sounds entertaining: extra-military murder amid the carnage of the trenches! The perfect crime! Ok so it sounds a bit contrived, but I’ll give it a try–after I’ve read all the Conan Doyle stories of course… Though it occurs to me that you could write a Flanders murder mystery and put an original sleuth in it. But then it wouldn’t be fully authorised by the Conan Doyle Estate, might not get published, and probably wouldn’t end up on my reading list or as the subject of a too-long comment on your long-suffering blog! Thanks, Daniel

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 1, 2015 at 10:13 pm

      That’s exactly what I’m talking about, Daniel: expanding on a concept, rather than stealing it, or at best, replicating it. I’d love to hear Watson’s perspective myself. Or perhaps the view of James Bond from the perspective of 006. Or 008. I’m not picky.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. September 1, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. September 1, 2015 at 4:28 pm

    I just read about this “reanimation” yesterday and sort of shook my head, wondering about the legalities of such things, but one assumes it’s all on the up-and-up. But still… very bizarre. And lacking originality, certainly. I mean, can ANYONE do this? Could I decide I wanted to pick up where Moby Dick left off and fashion a tale where Captain Ahab is mysteriously rescued from the sea by loving dolphins and goes on to rebuild his life as a puppet-maker who runs a seminar that helps bestow self-esteem on disabled children? (Come ON, you know that would be a bestseller!).

    Frankly, I felt the third book of the Tattoo trilogy (and even, to some extent, the second) were so far inferior to the first, that it seemed either Steig had lost his mojo or whoever might have been helping him had (I understand “team members” finished the third book after his death) wasn’t quite as nimble a writer. Personally, I don’t even get involved in reading series, as they feel like going to the movie theater to see Sequels 1, 2, 3… and so forth (though I did love Jeremy Renner in the reimagined Bourne series, so maybe I’m talking out my a**).

    But we all know it comes down more on the side of commerce than creativity anyway — think of how many great books languish while drek like 50 Shades flies off the shelves. Which means anyone who’s “clever” enough to co-opt an idea rather than create one is just as (maybe more) likely to hit the jackpot than the thoughtful originator. It’s the way of our world (don’t get me started on sampling….)

    Excellent post, as always.

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 1, 2015 at 10:16 pm

      I think anyone can do it, Lorraine, as long as they have the rights, or the bare-faced cheek to claim that fan fiction is not fan fiction at all. You know who I’m talking about!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. September 1, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    Got a little jumbled in that second paragraph but you get my gist!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. September 1, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    I’ve never been interested in these kind of books but like you say enough people obviously are or publishers wouldn’t do it. Wide Sargasso Sea – one of my favourite books. A friend of mine, Jeremy Trafford wrote a novel about Ophelia because he said she was so badly under written – if you’re allowed to say that about Shakespeare!

    Liked by 3 people

    • September 1, 2015 at 10:17 pm

      I think we’re allowed to say or do anything we like with Shakespeare now Vicky, he’s that long gone! But I love the idea of expanding on minor characters. It’s the use of major characters which can get sticky.

      Like

  15. September 1, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    How interesting. I’d heard of authors stepping in to finish a series if the author dies (Sanderson finishing The Wheel of Time for Robert Jordan), but I hadn’t heard of publishers putting new books out there with a dead author’s name. That’s creepy and rather deceitful. I lost interest in some of my favorite authors when they started farming out their books – the stories became formulaic and I stopped caring. Great post, Tara. Love the humor. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 1, 2015 at 10:19 pm

      It’s something all authors should be aware of when signing contracts, isn’t it? That dead or alive, you don’t own the rights to your own work anymore. It would want to be one hell of an advance (or trust) to justify that sort of creative control transfer. Cash grabs apply for both sides.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. KJ
    September 1, 2015 at 7:52 pm

    That’s how E.L. James worked her way to a near-$100 million net worth? Wow. I’ve been doing life wrong all this time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 1, 2015 at 10:20 pm

      It would be a lot more, but you wouldn’t believe what she had to pay the nuns.

      Liked by 1 person

      • KJ
        September 1, 2015 at 10:30 pm

        For the sake of my sanity, I’d rather not know. I’ve read heard about James’ books from friends and I’ve watched the movie read the movie’s summary on Wikipedia and I’ve seen enough to be sure that whatever the figure is will infuriate me to madness.

        Liked by 1 person

  17. September 1, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    Stephenie Meyer’s connection to 50 Shades of Grey is another reason she should have all her fingers broken and left in a room full of very old typewriters.

    This post has got me thinking again about some outrageous publicity stunt in which I fake my own death to attract some eponymous kudos to my novels, and then reinvent myself to finish off the remaining ten books in the series. You could call it either proto-postmortem continuation, or fraud (depending which part of Sicily you come from I suppose).

    Liked by 1 person

    • September 1, 2015 at 10:22 pm

      To be fair, I doubt Meyer saw 50 Shades coming (ooh-er). I’m sure her publishers looked into suing the pants off EL James (I say) but sadly for all readers of words no suit ensued to keep us all entertained, and lawyers in bondage gear. Still, it gives me something to write about, Chris, which is all that matters. Let me know when you’re fake dead, so I can fake attend your non-funeral.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Todd Duffey Writes on Things
    September 1, 2015 at 9:34 pm

    Yes. Yes. Yes, and hell yes. Tell the world, woman! Thank you for standing up for honesty in the literary world!

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 1, 2015 at 10:23 pm

      Well, it’s only honesty today, Todd. Tomorrow, it could be outright fraud. Who knows?

      Like

  19. September 2, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    @Bhalsop, How true, I had forgotten about the wheel of time. Each mammoth volume a few years in the writing and so much to tell. I’m afraid that I gave up after volume seven or eight. Too long to wait. I do remember enjoying them.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. September 2, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Sorry for rattling on but just one other comment. Sometimes a co- author goes unnoticed. David Eddings was a staple in the fantasy world for many a long year, he wrote the Belgariad series, The Mallorean series and quite a number more. They were rather formulaic in my opinion but millions loved them and he rarely left the bestsellers listings. Although he had been writing for many years, in 1996, a change happened. The new novels were published, authored by David and Leigh Eddings. Many assumed that Poor (lol- by then very wealthy) David had suffered a stroke or succumbed to some other debilitating illness and that he needed help from his wife in the production of his books. The truth was that from the very start all his books had been co-authored with his wife but his editor Lester del Rey (an author at times in his own right, a publishing house for fantasy and an underground superstar) thought that co-authorship was a problem and that only men sold fantasy novels (I know, his thoughts, not mine, but if you know a little about him you will realise that he was always so inclined). Leigh was eventually accepted as co-author a couple of years after Lester’s death. David then admitted that in some cases Leigh had written far more of the novels than he had. In one particular case, he had no real idea of what the novel was about or the main character’s motivation or point of view. In this particular case (along with the super B’s I mentioned earlier) deserves rethinking. Strangely Leigh outlived David by a couple of years but the last novel still came out as david and leigh. The press thought it the best thing that “he” had written even though he was not around and had not been for a while.

    Liked by 3 people

    • September 2, 2015 at 10:57 pm

      I agree, sometimes a co-author is really the only author (that’s what I believe to be the case for anyone writing with James Patterson, at any rate). But as you say, there are special situations where we could surmise that there was a tacit agreement there to continue after a co-author died. It’s not the same thing as continuation fiction but it might need a name all of its own.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. September 2, 2015 at 11:35 pm

    Tara, sorry, Tis’ Your blog and I have just been rattling on.

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 2, 2015 at 11:43 pm

      Not at all! Everything’s up for discussion. Except perhaps for homeopathy.

      Like

  22. September 3, 2015 at 12:12 am

    dinnae worry, I shall shut up now and allow you a night’s rest.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. September 3, 2015 at 2:23 pm

    I died last week. This is a comment from the person who is ‘Continuation Blogging’ in my name. I am all in favour of this carry on. How else can my children get fat and lazy but off the royalties earned by somebody else in my stead? (That’s them speaking as if they were me. Hold on, no this is me, honestly – said they.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 3, 2015 at 3:08 pm

      Oh my Blog, it’s Continuity Conor! Or is that soon to be The Carnivore Formally Known as Conor? It’s my belief that cash-after-death vultures just can’t resist a good old rebranding after a while. Although hats off to your ghostwriter: your last meaty post was Classic Conor, so they obviously know what they’re doing when it comes to steak, at any rate – but if I see one cabbage lasagne, I’m off.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. September 4, 2015 at 1:57 pm

    Suggests it’s the characters and storyline we go for rather than the author. Sad to think a writer’s words and phrases, her/his way of telling a story count for nothing.

    Next, we’ll just upload an authors work onto computer, press a few buttons and the computer will select characters and events and churn out new book, ‘in the style of’ as they more truthfully describe many paintings. Come to think of it, maybe that’s what is being done already by an obliging computer called ? (insert your choice of name, real or fictitious).

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 5, 2015 at 10:05 am

      I suppose ithout the writer’s words, the characters would never have been invented in order to be revered in the first place, but I get what you mean. I think some people might believe it’s all in tribute to an author’s skill, but I do take a more cynical view of it. ‘Tis all about the cash!

      Like

  25. September 6, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    I admit to never having bothered with books not by the original author. However, I agree, I think there is good mileage to be got from picking up a loose end and see it how it might conclude. I thought Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea was a classic itself.

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 7, 2015 at 10:29 am

      I think I prefer the loose characters, as in the peripheral ones, such as in Wide Sargasso Sea. Picking up the big characters is playing with fire – and winding up in a blog post.

      Liked by 1 person

  26. September 8, 2015 at 7:25 pm

    I’m glad too to see the end of the trend for titles like Pride and Prejudices and Zombies…Lame!

    Liked by 2 people

    • September 8, 2015 at 9:29 pm

      I really tried to like that one. I was amused for about 2 chapters or so, then deathly bored. Do you think it was an ironic experiment?!

      Like

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