James Patterson: Prolific author or brand manager?

James-Patterson_lJames Patterson™, perennial mainstay of the best-seller lists, just renewed his deal with Hachette’s Little, Brown for his next 17 books. That’s right: his next 17 books. That commits the former advertising exec to the publisher until 2012, for 11 more adult books plus six books for younger readers. That’s actually a slackening of his current publishing pace. By year’s end, Patterson will have published a whopping 22 books in the last three years alone. (Many people I know haven’t read that many books in that time.)

But Patterson, of course, is more than just a proverbial book factory. He’s an actual book factory, typically using credited co-authors to compose “first drafts” from elaborate outlines that he sends (as he detailed in a 2006 Time profile). Like Patterson himself, most of his collaborators have a background in advertising: There’s Richard DiLallo on the Alex Cross thrillers, Michael Ledwidge on the Michael Bennett thrillers and the Daniel X young-adult series, Maxine Paetro on the Women’s Murder Club mysteries, and Howard Roughan on various standalone thrillers. And while there is no co-author listed on the cover of the popular Maximum Ride YA series, about a group of kids who are part bird and part human, the copyright on those books is listed not as “James Patterson” (as it is on most of his titles) but the cryptic “SueJack, Inc.”

It’s an impressive commercial operation. The question is, can James Patterson™ be considered a prolific author in the way we regard Joyce Carol Oates (nine books in the last three years, by my count) or Alexander McCall Smith (ten books in three years)? Or is he more like Carolyn Keene or Franklin W. Dixon, the credited “authors” of the comparably well-branded Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mystery series? Are you still a writer if you subcontract out much of the actual, you know, writing?

Comments (15 total) Add your comment
  • Felicia

    He has the ideas but I can’t consider him the writer if he didn’t actually write it. I

  • Ed

    I am not trying to sound pretentious, but by no means is Patterson prolific. Though he can produce stories quickly, they are by no means inventive or imaginative. They are standard procedurals. And based on the novels I have read (the first three of the Alex Cross series),his writing is uninspired and lazy; they feel like first drafts. And the very fact that his name is now trademarked shows he’s more prolific when it comes to business. He does not belong in the same discuss as Joyce Carol Oates. Hell, even Dan Brown is a better writer than Patterson.

  • picklejuice44

    Some co-workers of mine were RAVING about “Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas” saying it brought them to tears and was so amazing, so I read it and found it dreadfully stupid, lacking content, easy to predict from the back cover, generic, and I garnered no sympathy for the banal, weak female leads. If this is the kind of work we are getting from the quantity is greater than quality theory applied here, I think I’ll stick to more prolific works of fiction.

  • Beverley

    I read most James Patterson books, and you could potentially read one in an afternoon or two. Each of the chapters are short, and almost half of the pages are less than half filled with writing because he ends a chapter and starts a new one on the next page halfway down. As for his writing credits, he doesn’t even do half of the work, so he is an author with an asterisk next to his name in my book. The work is interesting, and I will continue to read the books, but I know he’s barely the author. If you want quality literature instead of an interesting afternoon or beach read, then find someone else.

  • Sandy Jay

    Patterson is in no way prolific as he doesn’t write the books anymore,as was noted. While he is no doubt a talented author, the quality of his books have dropped off dramatically after he started to co-author books (the two worst books I’ve ever read were his co-authored “You’ve Been Warned” and “Alex Cross’s Trial”).

    The “Alex Cross’s Trial” book is especially troubling, as he has now allowed his best loved character to be used as a selling point to a seemingly unrelated book (he only appears for two pages in the prologue). I honestly think that one of the main characters in the book just had his name changed in order to appear to be a Cross relative, thus justifying the title. This minor literary change turned this book into a best seller, earning much more money than it ever would have earned without the Alex Cross name.

  • Cole9219

    James patterson is not an author. He is just a rich hack who makes money by churning out books with the same plot every 2 weeks.

  • Chris

    It’s kind of strange when you think about it: authors who used to write that many books in a year would write under a pseudonym because publishers didn’t want to “sour” the author, so to speak. Basically, the reading public was wary and dismissive (rightfully so) of anyone who wrote that many books (with a few exceptions). Now you have the opposite thing occurring with Patterson–he’s not even writing the books(!) and he’s putting his name on them. I’m not sure what to make of that…maybe it says something about the state of our reading audience. We just don’t care anymore: we want our books like we want our any-other-branded-product. It’s a scary thought. Thankfully I work at a book store and know that there are people out there reading actual books with actual content by the author whose name is on the cover.

  • Maxine

    I don’t think that it’s necessarily bad that he co-authors, but everyone knows his name and they don’t really care about the co-author. Still, Max Ride was an awesome series, despite the copyright, and I’ll still read about the Flock as long as he (and his co-author) write about them.

  • becca

    It feels a bit like cheating. The ideas and outlines are a lot easier than the actual writing. I’ve got notebooks full of idea and outlines for books, but finishing the books is another story.

    Prolific authors like Joyce Carol Oats astound me with their work ethic and ability to produce quality so quickly. Patterson may be prolific with ideas, but he can’t touch the category of writers where Oats belongs.

  • Globals

    all good things

  • Davide

    needed here

  • shelby

    he got it wrong they are NOT part human part bird. the flock is 98% human 2% avian get it right.

  • jayarby

    His writing reminds me of those “Starving Artist” commercials on TV. You know, the ones where they are priced as little as $5 and sold out of hotel conference rooms over a weekend. Those are assembly line landscape paintings where one guy paints the clouds, another paints mountains or streams, etc. Garbage, just like novels “written” by Patterson.

  • Jonas

    James Patterson is a horrible, horrible writer.

  • emmazon

    Anyone who can tell a story is a better writer than I am. He makes my morning coffee time go by real fast, and that is all I am looking for.

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