Showing posts with label bestsellers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bestsellers. Show all posts

Friday, September 9

The Phenomenon of James Patterson’s Book Sales

James Patterson's success is astonishing.

  • Patterson has written, or co-written, 147 novels. Of these, 114 were New York Times Best Sellers.
  • 67 of Patterson's best selling books have made it to the top spot on the New York Times Best Sellers list. At the moment, Patterson holds the Guinness World Record for the number of New York Times bestselling books written by a single author. 
  • Patterson's novels account for 1 in 17 of all hardcover novels sold in the United States.
  • In the past few years, Patterson has sold more novels than Stephen King, John Grisham and Dan Brown combined.
  • From 2008 he has been the most borrowed author in Britain’s libraries.
  • Patterson has sold about 305 million copies of his books worldwide.

But perhaps the thing that startled me the most was that, in 1976, while Patterson was still a copywriter, he wrote his first book: The Thomas Berryman Number. In 1977, that book went on to win the Edgar Allan Poe award for Best First Novel. To read more about James Patterson, click here.

So, let’s get down to it: James Patterson has been insanely successful writing books that sell well. In the following I want to look at what we can learn from Patterson's practice and how we can apply those insights to our own work.

James Patterson's Work

I’ve begun many of Patterson’s books, but only finished one: Honeymoon. I finished that one because Patterson used it as an example to talk about his writing methods.

His writing, his style of writing just isn’t my cup of tea, but I have an enormous amount of respect for his work ethic and the success he has achieved over the course of his life.

So, how does he do it? (By the way, the quotations from James Patterson, below, are from World's Best-Selling Author James Patterson On How To Write An Unputdownable Story)

1. Be a very good storyteller.

It was Elmore Leonard who wrote, “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.” Good advice.

Patterson says:
"I used to live across the street from Alexander Haig, and if I told you a story that I went out to get the paper and Haig was laying in the driveway, and then I went on for 20 minutes describing the architecture on the street and the way the palm trees were, you'd feel like "Stop with the description—what's going on with Haig?" I tend to write stories the way you'd tell them. I think it'd be tragic if everybody wrote that way. But that's my style. I read books by a lot of great writers. I think I'm an okay writer, but a very good storyteller."

Here's what I take from this:

  • Leave out the boring bits.
  • Write a story like you would tell it to a friend.
  • Concentrate on telling a great story, not being a great writer.
  • Find your story, your voice, and be true to it.

2. Give readers an intimate connection with your characters.

Patterson says:
"I try to put myself in every scene that I'm writing. I try to be there. I try to put the kind of detail in stories that will make people experience what the characters are experiencing, within reason."
I wrote about the importance of making the story intimate a few days ago, only I used Stephen King's masterpiece of horror, "The Shining" as an example (see: []).

Now, of course, both men are VERY different writers. Stephen King demonstrates a level of skill with his craft few can match. But, just going from what both men have said about their work, it seems that Patterson is driven by—in this area at least—one of the same concerns as King.

And that makes sense. After all, this is a point about storytelling, not just writing.

My take away:

3. Keep chapters short.

James Patterson's books tend to have short chapters. I did some calculations and, from the four books I looked at, the average chapter length was about 640 words. That's only about three manuscript pages!

My take away:

  • Pay attention to the average chapter lengths in your genre. From what I've found, chapters in Science Fiction novels—as well as Romance novels—tend to be around 3,000 words long. On the other hand, thrillers often have chapters of around 700 words.

4. Outline.

Outlining saves time. I know not everyone outlines; there are pantsers and there are plotters, and that's okay.

Patterson creates a fairly extensive outline; each chapter is summed up in about a paragraph of text. He says:

"Each chapter will have about a paragraph devoted to it. But you're gonna get the scene, and you're gonna get the sense of what makes the scene work."

Let's say the paragraph is 100 words long. If the chapter itself is only 700 words long, then the outline represents about 14% of the chapter's content!

My take away:

  • Having an outline enables you to see logical problems in your story before you sit down to write it.
  • It's better to send off a detailed outline to your editor and give them the chance to troubleshoot potential structural issues before you write 80,000 words (and find out you have to re-write 20,000 of them!).

5. Have an ideal reader.

Patterson says:

"I try to pretend that there's somebody across from me and I'm telling them a story and I don't want them to get up until I'm finished."

Stephen King uses an ideal reader as well, for King it's his wife, Tabitha King. He tries to write prose that will make her laugh, or cry, or chuckle. That is, to write prose that will evoke her emotions. A very similar idea to Pattersons.

My take away:

  • When you write, write to someone, write to your Idea Reader. This person could be made up or it could be someone you know.
  • If you use a flesh-and-blood Ideal Reader they should be someone who likes to read the sort of thing you write. Otherwise, things can get messy.

When I notice that two remarkably successful writers—successful in terms of books sold—do similar things even though their writing styles could not be more different, I try to incorporate those insights into my own writing practice.

That's it! I'll talk to you again on Monday. Between now and then I'll tweet a couple of writing prompts—I find them useful and thought I'd share!

Till then, good writing!

Wednesday, July 18

4 Reasons Why Writers Will Always Have Work

4 reasons why writers will always have work
Working Writers

Joe Konrath's done it again, this time on the subject of what has been dubbed "the race to the bottom".
The argument du jour seems to be that if publishers do collapse, then all the current bestsellers will have their ebooks available for $4.99 or less, and that will be the end of self-publishing.
Joe gives 4 reasons why, even if the current bestselling authors were to price their books at $4.99 or less, self-publishing would not only be here to stay but would still be a good way for writers to make a living.

1. Ebooks aren't a zero sum game
In other words, if publishing were like a zero sum game then because of Stephen King's deal with the devil--wait, no, I think James Patterson took that over--there would be fewer readers for the rest of us. That is the key point Joe disputes and I think he does an excellent job.

That said, Joe argues that even if publishing were a zero sum game self-published writers could still earn a living because there are so many readers. He writes:
Let's say there are currently 100 million ebook readers, and 1 million ebook titles on Amazon. In ten years, there will be billions of ebook readers (following the path of mp3s). But there won't be a corresponding 100 million ebook titles available--there aren't that many people writing ebooks, and never will be.
If I can currently sell a few hundred ebooks a day in the US alone, what will happen when ebooks become popular in India, China, Japan, Europe, Russian, and South America? There will be a bigger demand than unique supply, and I believe my position will improve.
2. People who are bestselling authors now may not be bestselling authors in the future
Readers have an insatiable appetite for reading. When we've finished reading our favorite best-selling authors we read other things, other books or blog posts. If deprived of reading material we'll resort to instruction manuals or the ingredients list on canned goods. Just as writers write, readers read.

Also, if bestselling books came down in price then readers would have more money to spend and it's a good bet most of it would be spent on buying books. Joe puts in this way:
Ever go into a store to buy a big ticket item, expecting to may more than you did? Let's say you research an over and find it for $699. When you go to the store, it is on sale for $499. And they also have a great toaster oven for $99. You probably wouldn't have bought the toaster oven originally, but now that you're saving money on the oven, the toaster oven becomes attractive.
If all ebook prices came down, more ebooks would be sold across the board.
3. The reason bestselling authors are bestselling authors is because of distribution.
A big part of the reason a bestselling author is a bestselling author is because her books are on sale everywhere books are sold. If, one day, publishers do collapse then bestselling authors will have exactly the same sort of distribution as other authors. Far from pushing other authors out it is just as likely--perhaps more likely--that as their distribution dries up so will their sales. Joe writes:
The market is getting bigger. People with ereaders tend to buy and read more. And authors can make a very nice living selling 100 ebooks a day for $2.99 each. Across multiple platforms, on a global scale, I see this as not only possible, but likely for decent, prolific authors. 
And as far as bestsellers go, they tend to fade when distribution changes or dries up.
4. The more ebooks there are the more ebooks will be bought
If bestselling ebooks come down in price that would make the purchace of an electronic reader an even better deal and the more electronic readers are sold the more electronic books will be bought. Joe writes:
If bestselling authors all dropped their prices, I believe I'd sell more ebooks, not less, because more people would buy ereaders and have more money to spend on content. There's enough room for 300 cable TV channels, and four billion videos on Youtube.
I would encourage you all to read Joe's entire post, Zero Sum.

I like what Joe says about a writer being able to support herself though her writing if she can sell 100 books a day at $2.99 or more. Sounds like a great goal to me!

Further reading:
- How To Sell 100 Books Per Day: 6 Things You Need To Do
- Joe Konrath: Are You Ready To Quit Your Job And Write Full Time?
- Amazon's KDP Select, Kobo & PubIt: Joe Konrath & Blake Crouch Share Their Experiences
- Joe Konrath's Letter To The Department Of Justice