Patterson & Co

Costco currently has a display of trade paperbacks devoted exclusively to James Patterson. I counted at least two dozen titles and did a mental shudder. My thoughts were all over the place. Not a one warm and fuzzy. I have friends who would tell me that I should be celebrating his success because it only helps the rest of us. That I should take encouragement from his achievements.

Right.

I’m not repelled by the success of others, but I find that some authors become too commercial, churning out cookie-cutter variations of their greatest hits. The last time I heard Patterson speak at a book festival many years ago, he had already achieved a healthy ego and was riding the fame wave. How did he turn the corner from writer to book machine? I tried to imagine him setting out, green with grand illusions. But co-writers doing the bulk of writing?

One in four mainstream thrillers bear his name. He has three series that don’t fall under the thriller umbrella, including young adult. He’s no longer a writer alone with his keyboard hammering out his creations. He’s more like the head of a movie studio giving his final stamp of approval on the final product of collaboration.

Perhaps I’m too romantic about writing. I love books. Mainly print books. And the future is not bright for the print book. Even Patterson’s. There is a library in San Antonio equipped only with computers loaded with more titles than any one building could hold. Personally, I like to hold a book, and don’t think anyone should require a power source to read one. I also don’t think it’s humanly possible for one person to write as many as Patterson has his name on.

He’s won more awards than one person knows what to do with. He made the 50 Most Influential People list. He’s changed the definition of bestselling author by producing a staggering number of titles. And his sprawling estate in Palm Beach makes Ernest Hemingway’s Key West home look like a Tiki hut. Most authors I know don’t earn enough at their craft to pay their car insurance.

Jealousy, you say? Nah. I’ve no desire to live in Palm Beach. I used to work there.

Must find the positive. Okay…

Patterson does spend a lot of his time and money promoting reading. He created the first dual book, where the adult book comes along with a book for the child. This guy has done more to encourage kids to read than any author I’ve heard about, donating massive amounts of books to more than 400 schools and the military. That is “putting your money where your mouth is.”

As a writer, I can’t view his huge display at Costco with admiration. I’m not even inspired by it. But I can’t dislike someone who champions literacy in a world where books are vanishing. The more readers he helps to create, the better chance the rest of us have of being read.

Sheila Englehart is the author of Warning Signs, published by Second Wind Publishing, as well blogging on all things paranormal at http://www.sheilaenglehart.wordpress.com

5 Comments

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5 responses to “Patterson & Co

  1. I can honestly say I’ve not read one of Patterson’s novels. I’ve heard he’s a capable writer, but I’m just not drawn to the thriller genre. I can’t hold against him that Cosco has a Patterson display in their stores. That was likely their idea, or maybe they were directed by Patterson’s publisher. But I feel your pain. My books never get an end cap, nor are they ever displayed with their cover facing out. They sit, spine out, to the left of Judith Guest’s novels.

    I’ve heard, as you write, Sheila, that he no longer writes his own novels. I’m not envious of his success, not if it means following in his footsteps. I’d be happy to supplement my retirement, but that’s another topic. I don’t get the huge advances he gets, nor do my titles receive the huge publicity budget that his get. I can’t really be envious of that either. I hold the publishing industry accountable for that. It’s broken to be sure. The James Pattersons of the book world allow the major publishers in America (the big five) to occasionally take a chance on an unknown commodity. But sadly, they usually expect the title of an unknown to do well on its own, with little financial investment. When it doesn’t, they drop the author and the title.

    I wasn’t aware of his program to encourage reading, and maybe that’s a good thing (that I wasn’t aware of it). I’m put off by celebrities who hold press conferences to announce some charity to which they’re donating, or some foundation they’ve created. It always seems to be more about calling attention to themselves than it is bringing to light the cause they champion.

    • Yes! I share your feelings about celebrities, which is why I had to find the good about this guy. Having never heard of his charity work, I’d like to think it wasn’t for the purpose of publicity, but I do have to wonder if there wasn’t a little self-preservation involved. Hate to think that way. I suppose it’s easy to think the worst of the overly successful.

      I started one of his older titles involving a serial killer and I didn’t care for how brutal it became, so I never read anything else he wrote. But a lot of people dig his stuff. Not my cup of coffee.

      Sheila Englehart sheilaenglehart@aol.com

  2. Sheila, you summed up my feelings, too, when you said: “I like to hold a book, and don’t think anyone should require a power source to read one. ” Touché!. E-readers are fine for those who enjoy them, and they are obviously very popular. But I shudder to think what will happen when they are the only source for reading books. When we no longer have a choice. Someone else will hold your actual library in a faraway place. They will stock it for you if you pay them, but will you own it? Only, as you say, if you have a power connection. And, what makes me shudder–only if “they” want you to.

  3. I can’t imagine being that prolific, even with help from other authors.

    • Christine, after trying to read Kiss The Girls and being horrified, I can’t imagine being excited to read his latest love story, in hardcover right now. The co-author’s name is so small at the bottom of the cover that you don’t even notice it if you’re not looking for it.

      Sheila Englehart sheilaenglehart@aol.com

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