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Today we are talking about the popular author, James Patterson.
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Literature Doesn’t Respect James Patterson – Op-Ed Piece
Selling books is hard. I am not sure if you know this or not, but there are a lot of books out there, and they are not all read the same number of times. For an author to find an audience that loves them and their work is as hard as writing the book sometimes. There have been many classic writers whose lives went under the radar, not because they weren’t talented but because no one ever noticed. The two that come to mind are Emily Dickinson, one of the greatest poets of all time, and Franz Kafka, of The Metamorphosis fame. Both writers were great, but unfortunately for them, their readership only grew after they died.
There is a question that a writer has to address when they get this readership when people decide to buy their books: Now what? Many others then follow this one question.
Should they write books similar to the one that just sold, trying to bank on the niche they found? Should they continue with a book unrelated to the one that sold, keeping to an original outline they had for their career? Should they write more to the book’s universe that sold, trying to expand the popular setting they created? Should they use their new readership to write a book that they have been wanting to write for a while, finding their new readership as a way to express a long-held opinion?
Great, you got an audience, but now what?
Do you remember that scene in the original Ghostbusters when the three guys were in the library trying to find the ghost, and when they found it, they didn’t know what to do about it? They went all that way, all the searching, all the equipment, all the research, and when the time came to address the ghost problem, they didn’t know how to handle it. That is how writers understand their readers. Sure, we all plan on having them one day, but none of us would know what to do if we got them. So lunging out at them in a desperate attempt to catch them and running out of the library afraid of what just happened is how most writers treat their readers.
There is a writer who knows his audience. He knew his audience so well that this knowledge was the key to his success as a writer. That man is James Patterson.,
The first thing you should know about James Patterson is this; James Patterson sells. I mean, he sells so much comparing his book sales to anyone alive besides J.K. Rowling is an insult to him. The dude knew how to make money from his books. Everyone time I saw his book on the bestseller list, his book outsold the other books on the list combined. Combined! The man knew how to draw a crowd.
The massive sales are what makes James Patterson so baffling as a writer. If you didn’t know any better and went by the number of bestsellers he had and the number of books he sold, you would have thought that this Patterson fellow would be one of the best writers of all time. Right next to Poe, and Shakespeare, and Frost. This Patterson guy should be read in schools and taught in classes. Generations of writers should emulate his style. And well, he isn’t, they don’t
Let me just say that I have nothing against Patterson as a writer. He sold more books than I will ever sell. He is extremely popular, even today, and should be proud of the success he has had. He has every right to call me out on my outrageous claims questioning his skills as a writer. Who am I to judge him? A no-name blogger who never wrote anything remotely successful and is happy when a few people read an article I publish. I should be quiet when talking about an author of Patterson’s credentials, whose career and success speak for themselves. Yeah, I get it. And if I were Patterson, I’d say the same thing about a punk on a blog writing an article about me. It’s a fair point.
For all the popularity of Patterson, for the books that he sells, I never hear anyone ever talk about him in a great light. Do you remember when I said that Paulo Coelho was overrated? Patterson maybe even worse than that. And that was pretty bad.
First off, he doesn’t have a classic book to his name that everyone knows. No, Brave New World, no Moby Dick, no Lord of the Flies. Nothing. The guy is the best-selling author in America every freaking year, bookstores get all giddy when he has another book on the shelf, and yet how many readers say that a book of his is a classic that will be read for generations to come? Strangely enough, not that many.
James Patterson isn’t well-received in literature circles because of what his books represent. Many see them as easy reads. And they are right with that analysis. They are easy reads that are made for entertaining a reader while not asking too much of them. But why is it that we act like Patterson is the only author ever to use that method? He isn’t. Notably, Ernest Hemingway used short sentences for his works, yet we all say he is a great writer. It isn’t just one thing for his writing style critique. It’s a few.
Easy to read – As I said readers, and writers, hold Patterson’s writing against him as if those who are easy to read are lesser writers than those who use big words. Ironically enough, what made him a household name is the same thing many mock him for having.
Not challenging – Often, Patterson doesn’t really challenge the reader with any thought-provoking or deep passages. This is part of why he is such an easy read. He doesn’t make the reader think as much as go for the ride. This doesn’t give his books any academic prestige. Teachers view his books as inferior to other classics, so they don’t teach them. Patterson took the screw-you approach when it came to academia. Although it’s a risky move, since books are taught in schools, I respect that Patterson never catered to the university heads. If you don’t like him and don’t want to teach him in your class, then don’t. He is laughing his way to the bank anyway.
Wrote in the same genre – Patterson wrote in the same genre for all his books, and readers can use that against him, seeing him as a one-trick pony, which he is, but boy, he was the best one-trick-pony there ever was. Like being easy to read, Patterson had an advantage at one point, but now it is used against him.
Not innovative – There isn’t any of Patterson’s books that literature looks back on and sees fondly for how it affected the industry. We don’t see him as an innovator who took risks in the story and with his characters. Because he wasn’t, even though this feat is very difficult for authors to obtain, readers and writers view Patterson as a poor writer because they assume that with one of those books, something new and exciting should have come out eventually. Sadly this never happened, and this is a strike against Patterson’s writing.
James Patterson is a sure bestseller whenever his name is on the book cover. He has gotten so good at this that he can now have a ghostwriter write the story he comes up with, as another writer contributes too. His name holds that much power in literature. So just by putting his name on the book, the book is a bestseller. That’s impressive. And that is a credit to him. He commercialized his very name to make it a brand.
If there is one thing that any writer can learn from Patterson, it is how to make a business out of writing. The guy got farther than any other writer with his set of above-average writing skills. He was a great marketer. He knew when to sell his books. He knew how to sell them. He knew what to write that people would want to read, and more importantly, buy. That is part of his genius that is overlooked. You can say that the guy isn’t a good writer, but you can’t say he is dumb. James Patterson may have been the most brilliant marketer in writing history, which is why he became the best-selling author in America. He knew how to get the books into the hands of the reader. That is tougher than it looks.
James Patterson created a cotton gin industry with his name as the key identifying marker. He made his name the brand that people know and like in literature. If you pick up a Patterson book, you know what you are getting; an easy to read thriller novel. And that is a type of book that many are fine paying a few bucks to buy. The purpose of the book design is not by accident. Patterson realized that by associating his name with the things that always sell, (easy to read and thriller), he could himself be the author everyone reads since they will see him in those things that they like.
Have you ever called something by its wrong name because the brand is more popular than the product? Like you call all burgers Big Mac’s or all soda Coke, even though that is not correct? I know that I do this with Disney and Shakespeare. Anything that is a reinterpretation of a fairytale with a family-friendly spin is a Disney story. Anything tragic is a Shakespeare story. Obviously, I am wrong with that assignment. Just like how calling all burgers Big Macs or all sodas Cokes is wrong. James Patterson knew people did this. Any thriller that is easy to read is a James Patterson story, even though it really isn’t.
The brilliant Patterson, not brilliant in the F. Scott Fitzgerald way, but brilliant nevertheless, knew the business side of the industry so well, he understood that the key to building the Patterson brand, he needed to produce on a large scale, and that is what he did. Rather than producing a book every few years, he cranked them out faster than rabbits do babies. Critics will say that was dumb of him, and even I will question the method, but that isn’t as crazy when you consider what I said of building a profitable brand name. He didn’t need the books to be classics only to continue with the brand’s image and grow the loyal fanbase that accepted that image. And in that sense, every book that Patterson wrote was smart.
There are two major artists that I compare James Patterson to:
Rodin - The 19th-century artist is known for making one of the famous sculptures of all time, The Thinker. You know the one where the guy is sitting on a rock with his hand under his chin. Guess what? That wasn’t actually Rodin. Okay, yeah, it was. He is the guy whose name is on the sculpture. When you buy one, it is his name you will search for. But there are dozens of these worldwide, and the one guy didn’t make them all; he only put his name on them. He industrialized the easily acceptable image of a man sitting and thinking. He did the same thing that Patterson did. No one in art says that Rodin is a great artist, but they do respect his business practices. With that part of the trade, he was innovative, and so was Patterson.
Coldplay - This band may be the number one draw of any artist out there right now. The one that most people know and that people would go to see in concert, yet no one likes to admit this fact. The music industry is ashamed that a band like Coldplay is as popular as they are. They aren’t rock enough to be rock. They aren’t pop enough to be pop. They aren’t alternative enough to be alternative. So the field throws them out when they talk of popular acts as if they are not the most popular. That is what literature does with Patterson; they never bring him up in conversations of authors today because they don’t like what he represents for the field. Whether that is fair to either the band or the author is debatable.
As a writer, I do question if Patterson should have written fewer books but more classics. Maybe he should have tried his hands in other genres instead of going back to what sells yet again? Would literature have had more respect for him if he had done just that? Not necessarily, cause there is no way that he would have succeeded there. If he did try to write something new, and it failed, his fans would have been mad at him and called out, “Stick to what you know! Write about Alex Cross! Give us what we want!”
Patterson was damned if he did, damned if he didn’t. If he mass-produces books, he will sell many copies but not be a classic writer. If he doesn’t mass produce books, he won’t sell many copies, but he could be a classic writer. You can’t produce on such a large quantity and expect great quality as well. It is too much for one person to do.
No one will ever talk highly of James Patterson as a writer, but don’t think for a second that he didn’t put a lot of thought into it. As if he didn’t know what he was doing as he became the most popular author. He did. Readers and writers should respect that part of Patterson’s career.
You can criticize James Patterson as a writer, but you should respect him as a businessman.
Nothing here but the regular stuff.
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About The Blogger
Greg Luti is an editor and blogger on pensandwords.com. His favorite writers are Robert Frost and Charles Bukowski. He enjoys reading up on history, watching comedies, and playing video games, when he is not writing down a few notes for his next piece. He started this blog out of his love for literature and hopes that the reader shares that same passion.
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