First, plot and character. Then, find an author. You can imagine a struggling writer being intrigued by the prospect of quick, good money, until you read even more excellent insight into the world of 'book packaging.'
Despite all the behind the scenes intrigue in this story (who wrote what?) I keep thinking about is the whole Mary Sue thing. After the fiasco of the person who published and attempted to sell their own SW novel the other day, the fan fic thing has been on my mind, and it just seems this particular book reeks of Mary Sue, as do a lot of these 'packaged' books discussed in the articles.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden has a great article on the history of Mary Sue, but its reach not just into mainstream publishing, but -- gasp -- literary theory. Now, before you start laughing (or, when you're done), I have to admit that I find the Mary Sue trope compelling, theory wise. Normally, this trope provides a mechanisim for the fan to insert themselves into the pre-existing world of their favorite characters (Star Trek, Star Wars, Buffy, etc.), and usually in such a fashion that those characters can't imagine how they ever got on before without you. You're the long lost son/daughter of Somebody Important, Somebody's lover, you have infinite power and you make Obi Wan Kenobi look like the kid from the lightsaber video who didn't know he was being taped.
There was a little of this in the X-Men stories I mentioned before, that I wrote as a teenager; I had characters, not so much like me but like the person I'd like to be, who got the girl, who could wipe out everybody, etc. Except the whole THING was a Mary Sue, because it was me imposing a new reality on that of existing characters. What I find most interesting is that idea; the mallebility and fabrication of realities. It happens in our everyday life (don't take my word for it) and our entertainment leads us down a path toward a day when literally inserting ourselves into a fictional world may be possible.
My novel -- the one that hates me -- deals with these ideas. Which makes it so difficult. It's like being inside out of a novel, writing it, the truth and authenticity of each moment, each character suspect and it's such a f'ing fragile thing, a house of cards type book and I don't know if I can pull it off. Maybe I'll just hire a packaging company to get a writer to do it for me. Maybe someone else has already written just this type of book, and I can 'borrow' it, but forget I did! Maybe I'll write a book instead about a young, beautiful aspiring writer named Mary Sue who meets and befriends a 31-year old struggling writer and through her love and staggering talent, gets him to finish the great American novel.
Except she actually wrote it.