Wednesday, May 7

How James Patterson Works With His Co-Authors



We all know that James Patterson is good at selling books. I've written about Patterson before, about how 1 in every 17 hardback novels sold bears his name, about how he has sold more books than anyone else since 2001. 

Famously, Patterson works with co-authors, at least six, to keep up his prolific output. One thing I've wondered and guessed about over the years is what Patterson's working relationship is like with these co-authors. Does the co-author do it all? Does Patterson write the outline, hand it off to the co-author, then stand back? Or perhaps Patterson is more hands-on, even going so far as to re-write passages in the novel?

How James Patterson Works With His Co-Writers


Today I was researching an article I'm writing on Lee Child when I came across Mark Sullivan, one of Patterson's co-authors, talking about his collaboration with Patterson. In the article What I Learned from James Patterson, Sullivan wrote:
"I’ve been lucky enough to write with James Patterson for the past two and a half years. Before that I’d written eight novels, including Rogue, been published in multiple languages, sold books into movies, and been nominated for and won various awards. In short, I thought I knew what I was doing when it came to commercial fiction. Working with Patterson, however, I discovered quickly that I didn’t.

"I’d always worked organically, starting a tale to see where it took me and then figuring out an outline if the story showed promise. My coauthor forced me to think logically and deeply through every scene up front, long before we even thought about writing.

"During the eight weeks it took us to craft the outline of Private Berlin, for example, Patterson was constantly pushing the envelope, from the premise to the characters, from the action to the setting. In conversations that took place on a weekly basis, he bluntly criticized my initial efforts, made me want to be better, and in so doing gave me a master class in commercial fiction. What I’ve learned from the global bestselling author could fill a book [...]"
I'd like to read that book!

I think some of the best information on the details of what collaborating with James Patterson is like comes from the article James Patterson Inc. by Jonathan Mahler. He writes:
"The way it usually works, Patterson will write a detailed outline--sometimes as long as 50 pages, triple-spaced--and one of his co-authors will draft the chapters for him to read, revise and, when necessary, rewrite. When he’s first starting to work with a new collaborator, a book will typically require numerous drafts. Over time, the process invariably becomes more efficient. Patterson pays his co-authors out of his own pocket. On the adult side, his collaborators work directly and exclusively with Patterson. On the Y.A. side, they sometimes work with Patterson’s young-adult editor, who decides when pages are ready to be passed along to Patterson."
Sounds as though Patterson is very hands-on.

Love him or hate him, James Patterson knows how to sell a lot of books. Of course, being a former advertising executive ("Patterson ran J. Walter Thompson’s North American branch before becoming a full-time writer in 1996"[2]) helps. On top of that:
"Patterson and his publisher, Little, Brown & Co., a division of the Hachette Book Group, have an unconventional relationship. In addition to his two editors, Patterson has three full-time Hachette employees (plus assistants) devoted exclusively to him: a so-called brand manager who shepherds Patterson’s adult books through the production process, a marketing director for his young-adult titles and a sales manager for all his books. Despite this support staff and his prodigious output, Patterson is intimately involved in the publication of his books. [...] [H]e handles all of his own advertising and closely monitors just about every other step of the publication process, from the design of his jackets to the timing of his books’ release to their placement in stores."[2]
It's an older article--published January 20, 2010--but still well worth the read.

Photo credit: "Friedrichsthal Castle" by *Light Painting* under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

3 comments:

  1. Fascinating!! I'd like to read that book also, the master class in commercial fiction.

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  2. That's one of the reasons I don't have a lot of respect for Patterson. He's turned himself into a brand more than an author. But I like his process. Seems like he makes outlining a big part of his work. Will try that

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    1. "He's turned himself into a brand more than an author." Perhaps so. As you implied, it can help to study everyone, especially successful writers/publishers/editors, those who can move books off shelves. That advice is kind of like the advice to read both the bad and the good, the popular and the unpopular.

      Thanks for your comment Nigel. :-)

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