James Patterson, editor-in-chief…

Although I’ve read a handful of his books, I’ve never been a real fan of James Patterson. I won’t say I don’t like his books – they’re OK – but he never really engages with me. His books don’t draw me in, there’s no intimacy – I’m always fully conscious that I’m just looking at words on a page. When that happens I’ll probably never buy the writer’s books again, no matter how good the general perception is of his work. With Patterson, I broke my own rule, in the hope that things would improve. They didn’t.

My other grouse was with two of Patterson’s characters, Alex Cross and his huge friend – a pair of black, ultra-macho, Washington DC cops. I always felt that there was a slight but perceptible homosexual sub-text underlying their relationship, though I think, too, that it was unintentional. I think what Patterson was tying to demonstrate was that they had a softer side, but for me it didn’t work that way. Ah well…

Anyway, what really baffled – and staggered – me was the sheer volume of Patterson’s output. I was completely at a loss to figure out how one man could write so many, often doorstop–sized, books. However, there’s an article about the guy in today’s Observer magazine, and all is revealed – he doesn’t write them.

This is what the Observer article says:–

How does he do it? Well, ever since 1996, when he published a novel called Miracle on the 17th Green with a golfing buddy, he has done it by finding collaborators to help him fill in the blanks. He comes up with the plot, they write the sentences, he reviews draft after draft. To hear Patterson tell it, he simply has too many ideas to write them all up himself, so he enlists an army of co–writers. He resists the word “factory”, of course, or “formula”.

That last sentence is interesting, because they’re exactly the words that I find unavoidable. Obviously, I knew about the “collaborators” as their names are on the books’ covers – though that’s hardly the right word when they do the bulk of the work – but I’d thought they were conventional collaborations, two writers working in partnership, when it’s clearly not the case.

I wonder, too, how the royalties are split – do the people that do the grunt work get a decent cut or a fixed fee?

The article opens with the information that Patterson sells more books than J. K. Rowling, John Grisham and Dan Brown put together. As a standalone fact that’s tells us little, because he doesn’t write all his books.

A quick count of books on the Fantastic Fiction website shows Grisham has written about 23 books, Brown 5 and Rowling 30. But Patterson’s written way more – about 72 to date, with maybe another 20 pending publication. I’d have been deeply impressed if he’d written all these books himself – though that would have been impossible – but since his role was basically that of editor for many of them then, no, I’m not impressed at all. Is that, really, how the book-buying public views the role of the collaborator? Because it’s sure as hell not mine.