Extruded Book Product

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"I'm a sausage machine, a perfect sausage machine."

Book publishing, like with any other creative product, is primarily about business, not art. Most normal publishers only want to publish books they think will sell, and will publish manuscripts that have possibilities of reaping good sales. Sensible publishers will try to publish good manuscripts under the logic that quality is appreciated. Vanity publishers really don't care either way and will publish anything, as they make their money off the authors rather than the audience. Some publishers go a step further. They churn out books as if they were a machine, and authors were merely cogs.

The result is Extruded Book Product. A type of book that is thoughtlessly put out once a month (or more often sometimes) by a publisher that usually hires multiple writers to anonymously author the books, often under a pen name. By now, everyone knows that The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew are actually written by multiple authors that use the same pen name. But there were times when this business model was more common — when there were a number of "book mills", so to speak, that pumped out books by a schedule no matter how many individuals actually manned the positions.

Different companies have different ways of doing this. Some companies, such as Badger Books, would commission a cover artist and a blurb, and then hire a writer to hastily put together something that fit both. Other companies would have individual writers come up with stories that fit the characters, while some companies would create story outlines ahead of time and hire writers to write based on the outline. Whatever it took to churn out book after book.

See also Airport Novel, the next step up from this in terms of light, disposable reading.


  • William Shakespeare is the Ur-Example. Theatre was one of the favourite pastimes of the Elizabethan era, and the audience was always hungry for a premiere, so producing a serviceable play in a matter of weeks was a necessary skill for a successful playwright. Shakespeare scholars have speculated that many of his early plays were actually co-written; also, there is the infamous Shakespeare authorship question. Compounding this was that Shakespeare's audience was one of the most demanding and knowledgeable in theater history, meaning that plays would become old news in a matter of weeks - or less. This created such high expectations that some degree of this trope was inevitable.
  • His Spanish contemporary Lope de Vega took it even further. Lope claimed that he could write an entire play in two days, and, according to his own estimates, wrote a staggering 1500 plays, about a third of which have survived to this day. He had a sizable number of disciples and apprentices, and it is generally assumed that he maintained some sort of "play factory", churning out new comedies every week to satisfy the Spanish theatre craze.
  • Alexandre Dumas is the Trope Maker. He was one of the first writers to turn literature in a commercially successful venture, and employed legions of ghostwriters to keep up with the ever-growing demand for new books. Author of more than 1200 works, he (in)famously stated that he'd "had more co-authors than Napoleon had generals"; in a scandalous 1847 trial, it was proven that Dumas churned out novels at a faster rate than the fastest copyist in France on a 24 hour work schedule.
  • As mentioned above, Badger Books used this model. They did have at least one author who tried to work within the constraints of this type of design to at least make his stories enjoyable even if in a stupid way, so they were at least tolerable. Sometimes the company would actually recycle cover artwork for more than one book.
  • Harlequin romance novels are done this way, although without the "anonymous author" part. Authors publish under their own names or individual pseudonyms, and sometimes gain distinct followings which even cross series lines — in fact, quite a few mainstream romance novelists started in category romance, including the "Queen of Romance" Nora Roberts.
    • There is a bit of a subversion involved with Harlequin, as they receive far more manuscripts than they can possibly use, of widely varying degrees of quality. As a result Harlequin has imposed some rather draconian editorial standards to sort the wheat from the chaff.
  • Tom Swift was written this way. The first Tom Swift book, Tom Swift and His Motorcycle, was written by "Victor Appleton," also the "author" of the Don Sturdy series. Decades later, "Victor Appleton II" wrote the Tom Swift, Jr. series. Edward Stratemeyer, the editor/publisher, didn't just throw out ideas, he oversaw the whole process and came up with the concept for all the books. Other series, such as Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and The Bobbsey Twins, all worked this way too, since they were all properties of the Stratemeyer Syndicate.
    • Although, originally, Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys weren't quite so bad as other Stratemeyer works. While Stratemeyer came up with the idea for each series and an outline for each book, each series was given to a specific ghostwriter (for the most part) to bring the series to life, Mildred Wirt Benson for the Nancy Drew books and Leslie McFarlane for The Hardy Boys, both of whom wanted to elevate their series above the Extruded Book Product level. Each wrote the majority of the first books (Benson wrote 23 of the first 25 Nancy Drew books, and McFarlane wrote 19 of the first Hardy Boys stories).
  • R.L. Stine:
    • The Goosebumps series eventually turned into this; according to rumor, Stine eventually started working with ghostwriters to keep up with the demand for new stories. Stine has denied these claims, though.
    • The Ghosts of Fear Street series, on the other hand, were all written by people besides Stine. Even though the series bears his name, the real author or authors are listed inside each book. One Ghosts of Fear Street book was written by a pair of sisters who go by AG Cascone; they later went on to write their own competing series of books, Deadtime Stories.
  • James Patterson and his army of co-writers. This first became obvious with his YA books — he seems to write Maximum Ride on his own, but both Daniel X and Witch & Wizard had ghost writers — but in The New '10s every single book under his name has a co-writer, allowing them to be churned out on a monthly basis. The summer of 2016 introduced his latest wrinkle on this trope, the "Bookshots" line: novels short enough to be read in a few hours, much like category romances, advertised as "Binge reading" and released two at a time.
  • Almost every Animorphs book between #24 The Suspicion and #53 The Answer was ghostwritten (Applegate wrote two books during this period, in addition to the Megamorphs). The ghostwrittens varied wildly in quality, and there were a lot of events and morphs and such that only came up once before being forgotten. In one infamous example involving a vegan ghostwriter and a plot in a slaughterhouse, the book was so bad Applegate personally stepped in and rewrote the final chapter!
  • Many of the hundreds of Baby Sitters Club books fall victim to this trope.
  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe novels are basically written like this, at least in that they vary wildly in quality, and by using multiple authors they kept a schedule which would be impossible for just one writer, though the pace has slowed down in recent years (a double-digit number of books each year rather than two or more each month). However, on the whole, they actually tend to be good.
  • Like the Doctor Who Expanded Universe, the Magic: The Gathering tie-in novels vary wildly in quality. Writers also sometimes disagree about the mythology and source material, leading to inconsistencies between stories. In addition, due to the variance in both authors and settings, some of the books are of a completely different genre. (For example, the Ravnica novels are supernatural Police Procedurals.)
  • A rare (at least, so far) example of a non-fiction publisher, and one of the most egregious examples is Alphascript Publishing, whose "books" consist entirely of reprinted pages from The Other Wiki, usually with large prices and crappy production values.
  • Then there's Philip M. Parker, "author" of such "books" as The 20092014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais ($755.25 at Amazon). Parker patented a method to automatically produce books from a template which is filled with data from database and Internet searches. He claims his computer programs have written over 200,000 books.
  • James Frey (yes, he of the fraudulent memoir A Million Little Pieces) is at work with a modern-day YA writing syndicate with some damn brutal rules for aspiring writers. It's already produced I Am Number Four.
  • In a presentation for a science fiction writers' workshop, later published in The Language of the Night, Ursula K. Le Guin said that this was starting to happen with fantasy: she called it The Old Baloney Factory. This was in 1972.
  • UK company Working Partners is responsible for several popular series, including Beast Quest by "Adam Blade" (for boys), and Rainbow Magic by "Daisy Meadows" (for girls). British library lending figures show that Daisy Meadows was the most popular children's author for 2011-2012.
  • Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, the Choose Your Own Adventure books seemed to be churned out almost as if a computer somewhere were chucking them out based on a formula. The series was eventually revived by a new company in 2007. In all, there were 185 in the original series.
  • Star Trek has had hundreds of novels set in the universe published since the 1960s. Most of them are pretty decent these days due to Pocket Books' policy of not accepting any manuscripts unless the author has already had published at least one original novel of their own first. Also, many of the later novels, particularly within a series or franchise, have also followed a strict policy of only sticking with one or two authors. For example, the first four books in Star Trek: Voyager Relaunch were written by Christie Golden, with eight latter ones to date written by Kirsten Beyer, who had already written two stories within the Voyager novel series.
  • Don Pendleton started an action/adventure series of books called The Executioner in 1969. He sold the rights to the series to Gold Eagle in 1980, and they've used a series of ghostwriters to keep it going ever since. Although the books all bear the name "Don Pendleton's The Executioner", each book's true author is credited on its Special Thanks page.
  • Satirized in the seventies with a string of generic genre novels whose cover art had the same austere black and white design that was then popular on generic food packages.
  • Enid Blyton was so prolific that she was often accused of relying on an army of ghostwriters. Though she denied this, many of her works have a definite Extruded Book Product quality, particularly given her habit of recycling plots.
  • Many film franchises that publish books based on the films do this. Star Wars is a prime example. There have been thousands of titles and while many of them are quality works, there's also stuff such as books that are little more than photos with a few words presented as companion guides for certain of the films. The Phantom Menace was considered a low point for some with a glut of numerous book releases of questionable quality.
  • "Erin Hunter" is a pseudonym for seven people: four writers, two editors-turned-writers, and one executive editor. It began with Warrior Cats, which usually has put out about 3-4 books per year, plus novellas. Although they are fond of their series, the authors have admitted that the publisher chose the topic and they deliberately wrote the books based on what was likely to sell from the beginning. Some of them don't even like cats! They later also came out with the series Seeker Bears, and when the author's name and the concept of animal-based books continued to be popular, HarperCollins produced Survivor Dogs with two new authors under the Erin name, and later Bravelands.
  • Light Novels in general tend to be this, due to their monthly, or even more frequent, releasing schedule. Although they're quite a bit shorter than ordinary novels, 50,000 words a month isn't a small amount, which leads to writers producing rushed, bland, derivative work. This unfortunately leads to the common perception that light novels are written by those authors who just weren't good enough to make it to "real" books, which leads to publishers putting worse authors to work at light novels while setting the talented authors into the realm of ordinary novels. Publishers being extremely meddlesome with their authors' works, in some points even forcing entire stories to change, certainly does not help this perception in the slightest.
  • An interesting case can be found in The Black Library, the book publishing arm of Games Workshop. While a casual observer might think their books as nothing more than promotional material for GW's various tabletop games (and indeed, they'd be correct in that assessment, as far as it goes), The Black Library has a reasonably high standard of expectations for its authors, many of whom are very successful in other realms. Dan Abnett, for example, has been a very popular comic book writer for decades, and contributed to the screenplay of Guardians of the Galaxy. The Horus Heresy series has even made the New York Times bestseller list on multiple occasions!


Web Original
  • I Dont Even Own A Television uses the phrase 'book-like object' to refer to books with such bad production values that they don't technically qualify as a functional book.

Fictional examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In Jubei-chan, Sai Nanohana, father of the heroine Jiyu, is a ghostwriter of Jidai Geki novels about samurai. He proves to be dangerously Genre Savvy whenever the plot allows him to find out about the battles his daughter is involved in. In the sequel series, a major subplot involves Jiyu asking him to write an original novel, in a different genre, under his own name. He has to struggle with Writer's Block, and also has to try to keep his daughter from learning that one of his clients got him to do One Last Job as a ghostwriter.

Comic Book
  • In the comic book run of Ghostbusters, Egon "wrote" a book by using a computer program to "Calculate an almost random pattern of words that positively stimulate the human brain" as an experiment. It was apparently quite well received.


  • In Nineteen Eighty-Four, books for the proles are literally formulated by machine as a form of Bread and Circuses.
  • Robert A. Heinlein:
    • The main character of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls produces these for a living, generally of the romance variety, and the narrative digresses for a bit on the subject of these. Notably, at one point he notes that he tried writing war stories instead, but his experience as a soldier got in the way because he tried to make them too realistic to be decent stories. He also admits to cribbing the plot for one of his books from Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen.
    • The "Unmarried Mother" from Heinlein's —All You Zombies— has that nickname because he churns out stories for confession magazines, presumably by pseudonymous unmarried women.
    • Heinlein knew whereof this character spoke. Outside of his science fiction efforts, Heinlein himself was a writer of extruded book products for several houses, most notably a series of stories about an overweight teen girl with self esteem problems known by the nickname "Puddin'" — whom Heinlein later reworked into the eponymous protagonist of his young adult SF novel Podkayne of Mars.
  • Roald Dahl's short story "The Great Automatic Grammatizator" focuses on a machine that can do this — but then they start buying out the real authors to corner the market...
  • The Steve Hely novel How I Became a Famous Novelist, which revolves around writing such a book simply so its author can stick it to his ex-girlfriend at her own wedding for dumping him, is shown at the book convention where they sell it.
  • In the third book of Gulliver's Travels, one of the absurd projects undertaken by the members of the Grand Academy of Lagado was a device to mechanically combine words, enabling books to be written with no input but raw mechanical effort.
  • The main character of This Tragic Universe is a ghostwriter for a series like this in order to pay the bills while she attempts to write a "proper" novel.
  • In Paris in the Twentieth Century, theatre has descended to this level, with plays mass-produced by teams of specialists who each contribute some small aspect, such as slapstick or romantic lines. Writers who are proficient with action or sex scenes are especially valued.
  • In Artemis Fowl, this is one of Artemis' many enterprises. Having used his genius to perfect a formula for creating the maximally sell-able romance novel, he types these up in his free time between running a multi-national criminal enterprise, managing his family's legitimate businesses, designing a new opera house for Dublin and writing academic texts on the pathology of the criminal mind.

Live action TV
  • The season 6 episode of The Avengers, "Love All", centered around romance novels of this sort. When visiting the publishing house, Steed learns (though unrelated to the actual plot) that the novels are actually generated by a piano-shaped computer. During the climactic file, it's accidentally activated and spits out a new manuscript.
  • An episode of Clarissa Explains It All has Clarissa use a computer program to churn out a poem for her English class. Much to her horror, her teacher loves the poem, and insists on having her read it in public.

Tabletop Games
  • Barely anyone in the Shadowrun Verse reads anything more complicated than a take-out menu anymore, but the Shadowbeat supplement reveals this trope applies to TV scripts and pop music, both of which are cranked out via computer programs that regurgitate formulaic material to spec. Producers can even select how upbeat, stimulating, controversial, family-friendly, and so forth the finished product should be.



  • There was a time when Achewood's Cornelius Bear was an acclaimed writer of children's books. These days he makes the rent by writing crap romance novels and subtitling porn.

Western Animation
  • The Simpsons episode "The Book Job" (guest starring Neil Gaiman), features Lisa finding out that all the young adult books (including her favorite "Angelica Button" series) are really just based on market research by the publishing companies and then written by teams of writers desperate for work. The "authors" who have their names on the book are just made up, backstory and all, and are represented by actors. After finding this out, Homer and Bart assemble a team to create their own hit young adult novel, using Lisa as the author to be credited.

  • Joyce Grenfell had a routine where she played a children's author, churning out almost identical books about kids having adventures. "I never rewrite, and I never read what I've written". By a curious coincidence, this skit had some similarities to an actual interview with Enid Blyton, in which she said writing a novel took about a week.
    • Grenfell never confirmed the connection (and indeed only used the character rarely, and for just a few years due to the uncomfortable obviousness of the parody) but the children's author character emerged shortly after Grenfell attended a literary lunch at which Blyton was a fellow guest.