Tag Archives: james-patterson

The Success of James Patterson

In what is likely the most extensive profile of author James Patterson I’ve read, we are bombarded by a plethora of incredible statistics: Patterson outsells John Grisham, Stephen King and Dan Brown combined; he authored one in every 17 hardback novels bought in the U.S. since 2006; and he has written 51 New York Times bestsellers to date (35 of which went to the number one slot).

As the most borrowed author in Britain, Patterson appears to owe his success to two things: his background as a collaboration-dependant advertising executive at J. Walter Thompson and the increasingly risk-averse publishing houses. On the former:

Patterson and his publisher […] have an unconventional relationship. Despite [his] support staff and his prodigious output, Patterson is intimately involved in the publication of his books. […] He handles all of his own advertising and closely monitors just about every other step of the publication process, from the design of his jackets to the timing of his books’ release to their placement in stores. […]

To maintain his frenetic pace of production, Patterson now uses co-authors for nearly all of his books. He is part executive producer, part head writer, setting out the vision for each book or series and then ensuring that his writers stay the course. This kind of collaboration is second nature to Patterson from his advertising days, and it’s certainly common in other creative industries, including television. But writing a novel is not the same thing. […] Books, at least in their traditional conception, are the product of one person’s imagination and sensibility, rendered in a singular, unreproducible style and voice.

For the latter, you can see the large paragraphs I would excerpt by searching for “The story of the blockbuster’s explosion” and “Barnes & Noble was caught in the crossfire “.

I also enjoyed Patterson’s thoughts on writing for an audience:

If you want to write for yourself, get a diary. If you want to write for a few friends, get a blog. But if you want to write for a lot of people, think about them a little bit. What do they like? What are their needs? A lot of people in this country go through their days numb. They need to be entertained. They need to feel something.

Most Borrowed Author in Britain

For the second year in a row James Patterson has been announced as the UK’s most borrowed author. Interestingly, all is not as it seems: in calling Patterson “less a novelist than a literary factory”, The Guardian notes that he actually employs a large number of writers to do the majority of his writing.

Patterson and the writers he employs are happy to keep the fans happy, with the Patterson name emblazoned across at least eight books in the last year, in genres from thriller to romance to misery memoir. Other writers’ names regularly appear on the cover – often in much smaller type – but he denies that he sometimes has no involvement at all in the writing. Last year he said: “I get all this baloney about well, what does he do? Does he even look at them? Well yes, he does look at them.”

Amongst a couple of other facts, this one I found most interesting:

His ability to know what pushes readers’ buttons may be explained by the job he gave up to concentrate on a full-time writing career: chief executive of one of the world’s best known advertising firms, J Walter Thompson.

As Richard notes, Time ran a profile of Patterson a couple of years ago outlining his methods in more detail—a method somewhat akin to Damien Hirst’s work philosophy.