James Patterson comes out with a new book as often as some people change their underwear.  I won’t name any names, but you know who you are.  Calling him prolific underestimates the scope significantly.  He released 13 books in 2011 and is scheduled for a total of 13 in 2012.  Don’t worry, there are already 5 books planned for release in 2013.  By comparison, Stephen King has released two books this year.

How does Patterson do it?  I’ve been aware of his secret for quite some time, but Parade Magazine spilled the beans to a broader audience yesterday.  Patterson collaborates with a number of authors to co-write most of his books.  Grab a random Patterson book – most likely you’ll see his name at the top and the other author’s name lower on the cover.

The breakdown of work is essentially this:

  • Patterson comes up with the idea and generates an outline
  • The other author fleshes out the outline into a first draft
  • Patterson tweaks as necessary and hands off to the publisher

I’m not sure of the exact agreement between Patterson and the other authors.  My assumption is that Patterson gets the lion’s share of the money.  Is this a fair deal for the other authors?

It sounds like other authors are doing a lot of the work – and they are.  However, we shouldn’t underestimate Patterson’s contributions to the books.  Coming up with a good idea for a novel is hard, as is determining that path the plot will take.  Edison once said that genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.  It’s important to remember that both aspects of genius must be in place for it to work.  Just as inspiration without perspiration will fail, so will perspiration without inspiration.

Most importantly, though, is the value of Patterson’s name.  Putting his name on a book guarantees premium placement in book stores, a huge number of sales, and likely a top spot on best seller lists.  This is due to a strong reputation Patterson has built up over the years.  While Patterson’s collaborators are doing a lot of the work, they are also reaping huge benefits by associating themselves with him.  They may get a considerably smaller chunk of the pie than they would if they created the same book independently, but they are getting a slice of a much larger pie.

For whatever reason, Patterson is an author I like best in audio format.  I don’t often grab his books and read them.  There’s no explanation for this – there are other authors I enjoying reading and dislike listening to their audio books.  Probably my favorite Patterson book is The Jester, which he co-wrote with Andrew Gross.

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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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