To become a member into Amazon’s “Kindle Million Club,” authors must sell at least 1 million copies of their e-books in Kindle format. 64-year-old thrill king, James Patterson, was the second author to qualify for club membership (October 27, 2010).
Like most authors, Patterson’s career got off to a modest start. His first book, The Thomas Berryman Number, which was published in 1976, sold a respectable 10,000 copies. Nearly 35 years later, Patterson has sold an estimated 220 million copies of his books worldwide: outselling Stephen King, John Grisham and Dan Brown combined. He has had nineteen consecutive #1 New York Times bestselling novels, and holds a Guinness World Record for the most New York Times bestselling titles by a single author (45).
How does he do it? What tips can aspiring authors glean from James Patterson’s mammoth success?
For one, he has pumped out a bunch of new titles. An article that ran in U.K.’s The Guardian, calls him, “less a novelist than a literary factory.” According to Patterson’s publisher, Little, Brown, his book timeline reveals a total of 85 new titles published over a span of 33 years. Here’s the year-by-year breakdown: 1976-2006=42; 2007=6; 2008=7; 2009=9; 2010=10; 2011=11; 2012 (including Coming Soon titles through 5-12)=7.
Another defining feature is the short chapters, often no more then three pages. Readers appreciate his fast-paced thrillers because they don’t have to struggle to learn detailed character profiles or fight to keep up with too many confusing plot twists.
Of Patterson’s Maximum Ride series, USA Today says, “The writing is visual and cinematic—things that kids expect from their video games, TV cartoon shows, and action movies.”
Others credit his prolific output to those who share authorship credit including: Mark Sullivan, Marshall Karp, David Ellis, and Maxine Paetro. “The way it usually works,” according to editor and Little, Brown CEO, Michael Pietsch, “Patterson will write a detailed outline, and one of his co-authors will draft the chapters for him to read, revise and, when necessary, rewrite. He pays each co-author a flat fee out of his own pocket.” Patterson’s name always appears first and significantly larger than his co-authors.
In an article titled: I Knew Him When, co-author Marshall Karp, a former sitcom writer, calls Patterson “a natural born mentor.” The two met in 1989 while Patterson was still an advertising exec for the North America branch of top ad firm, J. Walter Thompson. Karp recalls the sign that hung on Patterson’s door that said, “Surprise me.” Obviously, Patterson’s knack for branding and his lean towards the unexpected, have played major roles throughout his writing career.
Patterson—who created the familiar slogan “I’m a Toys r’ Us Kid,” considers himself as more an entertainer than a man of many letters. Today, he handles all of his own advertising and closely monitors the publication process including; book jacket design, timing of his books’ release, and product placement in stores. “Jim is at the very least co-publisher of his own books,” says Pietsch.
He built his fan following methodically, much like a politician does. He focused his early book tours and advertising efforts on cities where his work sold best. Once established, he then began reaching out to a wider audience, often through his story lines. For example, when sales figures showed that he and John Grisham were running nearly neck and neck in book sales on the East Coast, but that Grisham had a big lead out West, Patterson set his second thriller series, The Women’s Murder Club, in San Francisco.
Colleagues and friends who know him well say that he doesn’t forget where he came from. He is well grounded. He continuously builds his life’s experiences into stepping stones that he plans to lead him to many more years of writing success.