Thursday, January 21, 2010

The 6... Er, 500 Million Dollar Man

I found the comments in yesterday's post particularly enlightening, so thanks to all of you who posted about where your industry news comes from. I'm pleased to report that I've added Bookslut and Author! Author! to the blogroll section of PMN. (Sidebar: please feel free to always recommend new news sources to me, since I'm constantly looking to learn as much about this crazy industry as you are.)

If you haven't been reading the New York Times recently (and honestly, who could blame you? It's effectively turned into a lifestyle magazine), they've got a nifty article on the book machine that is James Patterson. Some fun facts, in tried-and-true patented Bullet-O-Vision™:

· Since 2006, one out of every seventeen novels purchased in the U.S. has been written by James Patterson. This includes 51 NYT best sellers, 35 of which went to #1.

· His recent book sales (in dollars) exceed those of John Grisham, Dan Brown, and Stephen King. Combined.

· According to Forbes magazine, Patterson apparently earned $500 million dollars for Hachette over the past two years. (The publisher disputes these numbers.)

· Patterson's current average: nine new hardcovers per year.

· In order to keep up this manic pace, Patterson has a stable of co-authors (at least five) whom he pays out-of-pocket to write many of his books (based on his outlines, of course).

Now, before you rush off to build your own sprawling media empire, it's important to note two things:

1.) You are not James Patterson. Repeat after me: "I am not James Patterson."

2.) Patterson has been steadily building his own massive media presence over the past 35 years, and while he did start off quite modestly, he has succeeded because he's been so relentless about marketing himself.

If you read the article, you'll see just how far Patterson goes and has gone to promote himself and his books: he's involved in virtually every step of the process, effectively serving as a member of his own publishing team. While you almost certainly won't be expected (or even necessarily allowed) in your own publisher's marketing and sales meetings at first, I cannot stress enough the importance of taking interest in the financial aspect of your career. Think about your current day job: do you ignore your paycheck, your stock options, your 401(k) statements? Being a writer who desires to make a living as such but eschews the business side of the job is no different.

In short: writing is art, ladies and gents, but if you want to make a living doing it, it is also necessarily a business. Be relentless. Take an active interest in the advertising, sales, and marketing aspects of your book(s). I'm not asking you to let your writing take a back seat to the, shall we say, "pimping"—I'm just asking you to be on your own publicity team.


  1. Sweet! Double bonus points for me and my blog recommendations!

    I think one of the most awesome facts in that article about James Patterson is that he published his first book in 1976, but didn't become a full-time writer until 1996. The man did not quit his day job for AGES... and he IS James Patterson.

  2. This is amazing to see how James Patterson became what he is today :). Thank you for sharing this!

    We absolutely need to treat this like a business if we want to be able to do it for a living.

  3. Thanks for the encouragement (a.k.a. "sound advice"), Eric. I, for one, tend to neglect or outright ignore the business half of it.

  4. "...I'm just asking you to be on your own publicity team. "

    To that end, over on my blog this week is a lengthy, detailed interview with Vicki Forman, who published her first memoir last summer, about how important it is for first time authors to roll up their sleeves and do everything possible to promote their own books. She explains everything she did (and is still doing), when and why, the pros and cons, etc.

  5. I'm conflicted on how I feel about Patterson and the way he's established himself as an author. On the one hand, this is ultimately a business and he has found a way to be more succesful (financially speaking) than any other author except maybe JK Rowling. I admire that type of intelligence in business, and the work he must put into maintaining his empire.

    On the other hand, books are an art form. And in many ways it feels like he's cheating the art out of the system. He's putting his name on someone else's book. I realize it's not different than ghost writing, but it still feels slightly slimy.

    Overall though, I think he's done a great job for himself and has been an asset to the publishing industry.

  6. I agree with Megan as far as Patterson's being a shady business. As a moneymaker he may be great but as a author he gets no respect from me.

  7. He was an ad man or is it Mad Man.

    Moral to the story, be Don Draper:

  8. I agree with the comments about James Patterson being a money making machine - I don't agree with him being called an author when that he has a stable of people writing under his name. That's not being an author. That is being a factory boss. Readers want to read their favourite author's words, not something churned out by the foot soldiers. I watched The Women's Murder Club on TV. Loved it and couldn't wait to read the books. What a disappointment, and not surprising because it was clear by the cover details that someone else had written it, and done a weak job. BTW, I am not jealous of his success. I just feel the lines are becoming blurred between the business of being an author (who writes) and being a businessman.

  9. Fiona says, "Readers want to read their favourite author's words, not something churned out by the foot soldiers."
    And yet, the readers of the Patterson brand apparently can't tell the difference. I suppose this approach really only works for writers whose personal style is fairly easy to imitate or whose readership isn't very discerning. Steven Brust (for instance) could never pull it off because he wouldn't be able to find authors so good that they could imitate him convincingly, and at the same time so lame that they wouldn't rather write their own stuff.

  10. I could never be as successful as Patterson, because he treats the job as if he were the CEO of a corporation (which I guess he essentially is), and that's way more work than I ever wanted to put into any job. I'll be happy being a full time working writer. I'll be ecstatic if I could make enough to support us on my own. Anything after that is gravy.

  11. You should check out

    It's a cut-the-crap-and-get-back-to-writing blog.

  12. It is exactly because Patterson is not the author but a factory of writers who are published under his name that I do not buy his books any more. (Seems I once heard that Danielle Steele had the same kind of operation at one point. I know that all her books began to have the same pattern which I found boring and predictable.) I'll spend my money buying the product of a real writer - not a production/marketing machine.