Any time I’m in an airport, I can’t help but pick up one of those airport bookstore catalogues. They’re usually filled with Crime/Thrillers, and feature one or two of what I call ‘with’ books.
What’s a with book?
With books are those (purportedly) written by big-name authors. And I really, literally, do mean BIG NAMES. The big-name author’s name is literally the biggest thing on the cover. Larger and more prominent than the title. Much more sizable than the cover image.
But that’s not what makes it a ‘with book’. Rather, a ‘with book’ has one additional – much harder to find – feature. A little line that states ‘with’ and then, in a much smaller font, lists another author’s name.
With books – the darlings of the airport kiosk catalogue
I first noticed this tendency some years back, when I came across an airport catalogue that listed Against All Enemies written by Tom Clancy with Peter Telep. In thumbnail format, you can’t even see Telep’s name on the cover. It looks like its just underlining the mammoth ‘Tom Clancy’.
The catalogue, picked up at a regional Australian airport, helpfully informs us that “Tom Clancy is America’s, and the world’s, favourite international thriller author”. To me, this just smacks of being lifted from a US-authored press release (Although, props to whomever thought to insert a ‘u’ into ‘favorite’.) Why do we need to know he is successful in America? It’s pretty obvious. He is the world’s favourite after all. And an international favourite to boot.
The other book in the same catalogue was The Kingdom by Clive Cussler with Grant Blackwood. This book earned a “Pick of the Month” – an award decidedly less prestigious than it first appears, when it becomes obvious that the catalogue (which has as many pages) awarded four books this honour.
Another “pick” was Private London by James Patterson & Mark Pearson. Pearson’s name is written in an almost transparent white font like a watermark someone forgot to remove in the printing process. Although it is the same size as Patterson’s, his name apparently did not even rank a mention in the text of the catalogue.)
Of course, this is far from Patterson’s only “with” or “&” book. By my count, more than half of Patterson’s over 200 books have been authored with someone else. (That’s still an incredible back catalogue!)
The plight of the with author
Precisely what a “with” or an “&” author does is a mystery to me. But I imagine, in many cases, they are the ones that actually write the book.
Naturally, this is nothing new. Maybe it’s a good thing that writers who, perhaps in the past might have ghostwritten for famous authors, are now recognised. In some cases, even catapulted to fame – at least temporarily.
Authors as brands
If publishers are primarily companies these days, I have to ask, are authors really authors? Or do publishers see them as brands in their company stable?
We’ll take a look at the concept of author brands, and what this means for readers, in a future post. Want to keep in the loop? Get updates!