There’s no denying James Patterson is a phenomenon in the modern world of writing.
Type “author James Patterson” in a Google search box and it’ll return 32,500,000 hits (compared to my own paltry 20,000 more or less on a given day).
Reportedly, one in 17 of all novels sold in the U.S. today bears his name and he generally outsells Stephen King, John Grisham and other big names in fiction. Only a fool would not admire him for his contributions to literacy, his efforts to save bookstores and libraries.
Yet, he seldom writes a book himself these days, churning out plots and handing over the actual writing task to a stable of auxiliaries.
Personally, I preferred the early books he wrote himself like The Thomas Berryman Number and the first Alex Cross novels. And I admit, I haven’t read much of his more recent output. Note, this isn’t the result of jealousy.
He, himself, acknowledges he’s not a great writer. He’s more of a plot-master and is definitely a great storyteller, virtues in and of themselves. Nor is he the first writer to work with assistants and collaborators. One of my favorite writers, Alexandre Dumas, the elder, who like Patterson was a fabulous marketer of his work, employed the same tactic (though the writing style of the two men is world’s apart).
Patterson worked for years in advertising and it is as a result of that experience, as much as writing ability, that contributes to his success. He knows marketing and exploits it in every way possible. He treats his work as products, not works of art. That is not meant as a negative.
His “product” wouldn’t sell if it didn’t have something to attract and retain readers. The man knows and utilizes story arc. He knows how to grab and hold onto an audience, one always eager for more of his work.
Though I liked that first novel of his, it is vastly different from later output. While the latter often appear more like sketches or TV scripts than novels and the first was more complex and descriptive, Patterson found his formula and it works for him.
I’m not saying we should imitate all he does but, rather, suggest he does have merit and it doesn’t hurt to consider adapting some of his ideas from time to time.