There's a world of difference between a prolific writer and a literary factory. In fact, there's another world of difference between a literary factory and a literary factory superintendent. The distinctions lie at the heart of this new series, Prose and Cons, whose main theme is writing from a reader's point of view. So, to keep the debut short, let's start with the distinctions--and a thought about the different demands of the three classes of readers.
1) The prolific writer. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Sue Grafton readily come to mind as present-day examples. Any writer capable of turning out a book each year, or every other year, should have their name on this list. King proved prolific enough, years ago, to have had to resort to a pen name for his surplus novels. But the key points distinguishing prolific writers from factories is: their concern with quality and their abiding conviction that they are serious writers. Readers still expect quality from these writers and are capable of criticizing work not perceived as first-rate.
2) The literary factory. Quantity for this group overshadows quality. The legendary Frederick Faust could be their patron saint. Faust, who wrote as Max Brand and at least eight other names, turned out more than 500 novels and as many shorter stories. Total lifetime output: 25-30 million words. Speed: 12,000 words in a weekend. You'll have names of your own that belong on this list: Edgar Wallace, Isaac Asimov, Erle Stanley Gardner, ebook writer Russell Blake (25 books in 2 years). Some wrote for money, some wrote for fame...and some wrote, I believe, because they could not stop. The process of production, not the quality of the end product, drove them to put out again and again. Variety is welcome by readers as long as it's seen to run true to the brand.
3) The literary factory superintendent. Alexander Dumas caused a fury when his habit of 'farming out' parts of his books became public knowledge. No one minded his having a staff of researchers and assistants. But readers felt duped by his practice of having others write the parts that bored him or were beyond his ken. The Dumas brand, however, proved far stronger than the scandal. And I wonder how many readers today would be alarmed to know the practice still runs strong today. Publishers and agents are silent on the subject while they agree it does exist--and that readers would be shocked if they knew how prevalent it is. James Patterson deserves a good deal of credit for tearing down the Chinese Wall...and listing the names of his 'partners'--aka, employees. Readers of this last group's books want repetitive experience. They don't want a new book from James Patterson in the sense of something different. They want the same book as the last one they read, but with a different cover. Above all, they want the addictive formula: the third person opening that segues to the first person...short chapters...snappy sentences...by-the-numbers characters...etc.
In Part 2 we'll have a look at the likely differences between a novel written in a year and one written in a month.