Wednesday, March 23, 2016

James Patterson--love him or hate him?

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.


15 comments:

  1. Good post, John. And like you, I enjoyed his earlier books. But the latter books are not written as well. And so, I do object to his name being listed as the author, for that leads one to expect a certain style, a certain quality that may not be there today. I felt the same way about Tom Clancy. I was a big fan of his first books. But, with only his name on the book, in less than two pages I knew Clancy had not written this book - the first one he did not write that I picked up. What a disappointment. And I felt cheated. I wanted my money back. So, my thought is,the actual author should be shown on the cover as the author, and then put in a sub-title, if you wish, saying "Plot by James Patterson." Okay, enough of my rants. I did enjoy your post, John.

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  2. Agree with your comments, Jim. I wasn't a big fan of Clancy (too techy for my liking), but I read enough of his work to know when the change came.

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  3. I liked the early Cross books, too, but the later, co-written stuff doesn't appeal. I have no criticism of him--wish I had a tiny, tiny fraction of his output & sakes--but I seldom read one of his now.

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    1. That's "sales," not sakes. I dislike the iPhone keyboard...

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    2. The output and, especially the sales, are envious. Thanks for commenting, Larry.

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    3. The output and, especially the sales, are envious. Thanks for commenting, Larry.

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  4. Interesting post, John. I liked all of his earlier books, and still enjoy the Cross books. Occasionally I'll pick up one of the newer ones, but don't like them as well.

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    1. We all seem to agree on the early work. Thanks, Bobbi.

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    2. We all seem to agree on the early work. Thanks, Bobbi.

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  5. I've read a few of the later novels that list a co-author as well. It's obvious that these co-authors are doing the actual writing. The novels differ in style but are still interesting.

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    1. I haven't read enough of the later stuff for an opinion.

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    2. I haven't read enough of the later stuff for an opinion.

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  6. I enjoy the Murder Mystery Club series and I used to read the Cross novels. You'll notice I said "the," not "his."
    That's because, to be honest, I don't think an author's name should appear on a book unless he/she has actually written it. To me, that's cheating.

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    1. The writer should at least get credit.

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    2. The writer should at least get credit.

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