Thursday, January 21, 2010

Patterson Inc

A friend sent me this link to an article on the James Patterson Industry.

I am well aware of the number of Patterson books out there, now infiltrating nearly every genre. At first, it was a curiosity, and now, it's something of a horror. I actually like his early Cross books and find them skillful (except once when he had his black detective Cross "hassled by the white cop" in Chapel Hill, which is one of the most diverse and international cities on the planet). Later books, eh. Competent but rather flimsy, and coinciding with the time he was giving most of the work to co-authors.

As a writer, I say "Good for him. He made a name for himself through force of will, and he gets people to buy books and read." As a writer, I say, "This is how publishing is putting another round in its chamber for the next Russian roulette spin." As a writer, I think, "If Patterson takes up all the tables at the front of the bookstore, nobody will need the other few thousand fiction authors behind him."

I understand completely that it makes more sense to sell five million books by one author instead of 10,000 books by 500 authors, or 100,000 books by 50 authors. Despite the deep discounting of bestseller hardcovers, it probably has a much more solid profit margin, with little risk. Sort of like Hollywood shooting for the high-profile remake instead of the stunningly original roll of the dice. I am sure the publisher is doing what's best to keep the doors open and pay employees, and perhaps give the stockholders a smile. And all that has nothing to do with art.

But that's okay. Art never has deserved to exist. And that's not to say Patterson isn't creating art. That's all subjective. What is objective is dollar signs. People make choices. Maybe they have limited choices, but nobody's holding a gun to their heads at the checkout line.

If I had my books packed on every paperback rack, would I slow down so that other people have a chance? I doubt it. If Patterson hired me as a co-author, would I do it? Hmm. Guess it would depend on how much. So I'm just like every other lazy hack out there clinging to art until it gets in the way of a decent meal.

And I fully expect the Patterson machine to keep chugging long after his death, just as the estates of VC Andrews and Robert Ludlum have done. In fact, if there's a future of "traditional" publishing, I'd say that's the future. And it is going to carry over to ebooks, because marketing is far more important than brilliance. In the long run, it probably all comes out the same. Colleges won't be teaching Sidney Sheldon or Jacqueline Susann, and few people talk about them now. New Pattersons will come along, or Patterson-like corporations that just happen to manufacture words instead of beans or widgets.

Maybe it's not the end of anything. Or even the beginning. I don't know how many times I've seen the words "the death knell for books" in the 13 years I've been a writer, yet people still read and write, somehow. Got to go now. Patterson is giving me a run for my money as the world's laziest hack, and I'm tired of typing...

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