Thursday, March 30, 2017
Patterson published his first novel, The Thomas Berryman Number, in 1976, before he turned 30, but it wasn’t an easy road. He had a full-time job in advertising as he wrote it, and the novel was rejected 31 times before it finally found a home. It won the 1977 Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author, but did not sell many copies. Nevertheless, his career path was set. For the next twenty years, he continued to work in advertising as he wrote novels, including two of his best known: Along Came a Spider and Kiss the Girls.
Those two novels introduced detective Alex Cross, one of Patterson’s most lucrative creations. As of now, there are 25 Cross novels, the most recent of which, Cross the Line, was published in November. The character has also made the jump to the big screen: Kiss the Girls (1997) and Along Came a Spider (2001) starred Morgan Freeman; then, in 2013, the character was rebooted in Alex Cross, with Tyler Perry in the title role. That movie was based on Patterson’s 2006 novel Cross, and a second movie starring Perry is in production based on 2007’s Double Cross.
For twenty years after The Thomas Berryman Number was published, Patterson continued to work full-time as he wrote. He retired from advertising in 1996 (although he continues to be involved in campaigns for his own work). In those twenty years, he published eight novels. Following his retirement, his publication pace really picked up. In 1996 alone, he released three novels: Hide & Seek, Miracle on the 17th Green, and Jack & Jill. Since then, not a year has passed without the publication of at least one Patterson book, and most years have featured several.
How does he do it? For one thing, the writing in Patterson’s books is relatively simple, streamlined for maximum readability. Secondly, he has turned his books into a cottage industry, collaborating with a number of other writers to produce many of them. This 2015 article in Vanity Fair describes the process, in which Patterson provides his collaborator with an extensive outline that details the plot from beginning to end, and then revises and rewrites the manuscript to his specifications once it is fleshed out. Some of his collaborators have included Richard DiLallo, Mark Sullivan, Michael Ledwidge, Liza Marklund, and Maxine Paetro. Patterson’s most recent novel, Black Book, published earlier this week, is a collaboration with David Ellis.
Part of the strategy behind Patterson’s writing style is his intention to appeal to an audience that may not otherwise be interested in reading, as a way of promoting literacy. When he noticed that his own son Jack was a reluctant reader, Patterson decided to jump into the arena of young adult literature. Thus, in 2005, the Maximum Ride series was born with the first book, The Angel Experiment. Now his involvement in the genre has grown to include seven more series (including Middle School, which led to the recent feature film) as well as quite a few standalones. Lately, Patterson has turned his attention to adults as well, launching a series of Bookshots: short, exciting reads that can be easily consumed in one sitting (and although he’s not as involved in the writing process, there’s also a line of Bookshots Flames aimed at romance readers).
So that’s the “secret” behind how James Patterson writes to many books. Needless to say, such a large share of the market has made him quite a wealthy man, and he has put a substantial amount of that money where his mouth is, donating large sums to fund scholarships and literacy programs, in addition to launching ReadKiddoRead, a website devoted to providing resources to parents in the effort to pass the joy of reading to their kids. That being the case, there’s really not much else to say, other than: Go, James, go! To share more of his impressive oeuvre with your patrons, SmartBrowse his name on our website, and point them toward our collection of his audiobooks on hoopla digital.