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The Corporate Approach to Writing

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A couple of articles recently have discussed the increasing “team” approach to writing a book. I suppose this has gone on for years (celebrity ghostwriters, Hollywood studios’ stable system of writers, a research intern here and there, James Patterson’s co-authors) but the more recent cases seem to be getting more and more ridiculous. In some cases, these “authors” are actually acting like CEOs.

Forbes looked at the cast behind Tom Brokaw’s bestselling efforts. The article looks at the group Brokaw thanked in the acknowledgements: “Liz Bowyer, the captain of the team, a tireless and persuasive interviewer; Frank Gannon, suggestions, observations, contributions, encyclopedic knowledge of the ’60s; Michael Hill, fact-checker extraordinaire; Meaghan Rudy, now part of the NBC family; and John Balz, who tracked down players, facts, trends and under-reported consequences of the ’60s.”

For someone like Brokaw, on a big effort like Boom or The Greatest Generation, I don’t suppose this is over the line. But what about Harvard professors using the work of their graduate students?

The Washington Post points to an article by Jacob Hale Russell in 02138. The magazine covers the Harvard community and Hale’s article explains that some professors churn out books “with the help of a small army of student assistants who research, edit and sometimes even write material for which they are never credited.”

In one case, a law professor even submitted a work that contained six paragraphs lifted word for word from a book published by someone on the Yale faculty. Follow the link to read the author’s explanation, complete with references to at least two assistants. Most hilarious of all (or most damning, depending on your perspective) is the article’s statement, “In other words, at least some of Ogletree’s manuscript was sent to his publisher without having been read by the person supposed to have written it.”

And if the implications aren’t clear, the authors explicitly point out that if a Harvard student committed such an infraction, he or she would be subject to expulsion.