One in Seventeen Books Sold are Written By James Patterson

That statistic scares me.

I just finished reading an article from the New York Times entitled "James Patterson, Inc." and wow is it interesting. Basically the article relates the major success of James Patterson - not only how he created a brand for himself using his experience as an Ad Exec, but also how he essentially shifted one of the most successful publishing houses, Little, Brown, to embrace mass-market fiction rather than literary masterpieces.

Let me preface my response to this article by telling you I have only read one James Patterson novel in my life, Sam's Letters To Jennifer, at the request of my mother. After taking a whole two days to read this fluffy novel with absolutely no character development and a disgustingly simple plot structure I promised myself I would be much more skeptical when considering recommendations from my mother.

I have also met James Patterson, last year at BEA, and while I'm not a fan of his books I'm kind of a fan of him. As I trotted up to get a signed copy of his latest YA novel he noticed my name tag that labeled me from Madison, WI and began bantering about the terrace and the fact that his wife is also a fellow alumni of UW. Cool guy, bad books.

However, while it seems that James Patterson (and his many ghost writers) write for the masses using little or no literary devices, once upon a time James Patterson did know how to write. After Patterson landed himself an agent who helped to get his first book published he was awarded an Edgar - the mystery writing equivalent of a Grammy - for best first novel. Now days Patterson fails to live up to his literary achievement and notes that in his first novel, "The sentences are superior to a lot of the stuff I write now, but the story isn't as good. I am less interested in sentences now and more interested in stories".

Considering one in everyone seventeen books bought are written by James Patterson, it's sad that he can't master the art of pairing a good story with a good sentence. Why does it have to be one or the other? One of my favorite authors, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, has mastered the art of combining rich prose with a suspenseful, cant-put-it-down story line and I'm sure 9 out of 10 people have never heard of him. (You know, all those people who don't read book blogs everyday.) They are too busy reading the nine books Little, Brown publishes by James Patterson per year.

In my opinion, James Patterson left his writing abilities to pursue marketing his brand. Here is a marketing genius who has schemed his way to the best-seller list too many times to count by writing simplified novels that indulge the public's basic instincts. Does that make him a bad guy? No, he is arguably the most successful authors today - he's obviously doing something right. But, in my opinion, he is a shinning example of what publishing is turning into - or has already become. These days it's more about marketing your book than it is about writing a decent one. It's more about an author's platform and what they can do for the publisher than what the publisher can do for them.

Originally posted 1.14.10


  1. haha I think a lot of people in my office read him considering the amount his books left in our office kitchen.

  2. Wow. Who ARE all these people?!?!?!?

  3. What a frightening statistic.
    Still, if it wasn't James Patterson, it would be someone else. The sort of people reading his stuff don't really care about writing ability etc. Which is a shame and all, but we can hardly blame him for cashing in on this demand and making a brand out of himself...

  4. It's disappointing isn't it that it's so hard to get a good story and good writing in the same book? When I look at the lists of "best sellers" over the years it's disheartening to see what direction we're headed in. I don't begrudge any author his living; if I could make a fortune writing formula novels I'd do it too. I read a lot of old books because I love the writing, but it is getting more and more difficult to find newer books with both a story and writing that I enjoy.

  5. What a great post. It is a huge issue. A couple of months back I watched an episode of First Tuesday Bookclub, where bestselling authors Lee Child, Bryce Courteney and a couple of others gave there views on the "best sellers" industry. If you are interested in having a look you can download it here:


    It talks about similar themes and was a bit of an eye opener for me. Esoecially into the whole marketing machine side of things.

    I agree with you and the other folks who have commented, surely there can be a happy medium between good writing and a decent plot. I guess that in part is why we keep reading; to find these sorts of stories. I will make a note of Zafon. Thanks :)

  6. Mel, thanks so much for sharing. I'm eager to watch this!

  7. I can totally believe this statistic. I got excited a couple of years ago when I found out that some folks where I worked started a book club and then I found out that they only read JP novels. Bummer.

    On another note, I LOVED Zafon's Shadow of the Wind, and I'm looking forward to reading The Angel's Game - though I have heard that it isn't quite as good as Shadow.

    Cool blog, by the way!

  8. James Patterson is like Google AdSense to me. I see his name so much, I don't see him anymore. Never read his novels, but seen the Morgan Freeman Alex Cross movie and though: "Oh wow, another serial killer movie"

    I'm trying my best not to judge, but it's a writer I leave for others.

  9. You couldn't be more right that it doesn't have to be one or the other in terms of good story or good sentence. But I do begrudgingly respect Patterson that he makes no false auspices about what he is and what he does - and people seem to love him.