James Patterson has written over 140 novels, and this year he has many more lined up -- Miracle at St. Andrews, which released this month, marks only the beginning. He holds The New York Times and Guinness World Record for the largest number of bestselling hardcover fiction titles by a single author. He is also the first author to achieve 10 million eBook sales. His books account for 1 in every 17 hardcovers sold in America. With eight of his books already translated into films or TV series, he is still shopping around Hollywood for a miscellany of projects. He has also won numerous awards including the Edgar, the BCA Mystery Guild’s Thriller of the Year, the International Thriller of the Year award and the Reader’s Digest Reader’s Choice Award. The numbers and accolades all add up to big business and make him one of the busiest and most successful writers around. He publishes a prodigious number of books each year, tallying anywhere from three to thirteen. He isn’t restricted by genre and covers the gamut from thrillers and nonfiction to children and young adult fiction. And he is best known for the unputdownable quality of his plot-heavy novels, and his colloquial yet captivating storytelling style.
Patterson is no longer the sort of author who toils away on one manuscript at a time; instead, he’s in charge of his mini-writing-empire where his stories and ideas are further fleshed out by a team of co-writers—a sort of publishing house in itself. This American thriller writer is at the heart of the book buying consumerist culture and has his market hooked—he understands the need for racy formulaic narratives with the necessary red herrings and twists, but also recognises the need for fun, entertaining and original storytelling. His cabal of writers works closely with him and has created some of the most memorable pulp fiction series. From the consummately popular Alex Cross novels to the Women’s Murder Club, Patterson’s thrillers have left his readers at the edge of their seats, constantly hungry and needy for more. And the past few decades have seen him diversify beyond thrillers and into the young adult and children’s categories as well.
But how does the Patterson writing-factory function, how does it churn out so many stories and plots year after year? Apparently, there is no vast business plan and strategy, or a team brainstorming on future bestsellers. According to the veteran writer there is just a folder of ideas. ‘I look through the ideas in my folder, I pick a few I’d want to write about and then cull them down until I know what the story is going to be. What inspires me is when they occur to me and I go, wow, now that’s a neat idea for a story. I don’t know how to describe the process, but I have to see the whole story in my head. Crime details and the rest fall into place later after I’ve figured out all the main twists and turns.’
The beauty of Patterson’s work is that his readers keep coming back for more and more and more. And that quality of addictiveness is integral to successful pulp fiction, and few maintain the sort of consistency his work does. According to him it’s an easy procedure, ‘Some of the rules I follow when writing my novels include:
A) Writing stories the way people tell them.
B) Make reading the book an “experience”.
C) I keep my chapters short.
D) I always outline the book before starting to write it.
E) I am always open to change during the writing process.
F) I write with confidence and
G) I know who I am writing for and what they want.’
This interview was first published in Platform in July 2014.