The book sales have been counted and verified and the results are in: James Patterson, author of tomes such as Mistress and Private Berlin, is the world’s best-selling author since 2001.
To call Patterson prolific would be an understatement. The ad man-turned-author has put his name to 130 novels, 15 of which have publish dates in 2014 alone. But even when you divide his estimated 300 million booksales by that number, it still results with a healthy 2.3 million copies sold per title. His website claims that in 2011, a quarter of all hardback thriller novels sold were written by Patterson, and since 2006 one in every 17 novels bought in America boasted his name.
The 130 Patterson-branded novels have approximately 45,651 pages between them. It has been 38 years since his first publication, which is 14,185 days. Bearing in mind that Patterson takes the weekends off to relax in his palatial $17.4 million Palm Beach home, and presumably celebrates Thanksgiving and other bank holidays by not putting pen to paper (he writes only in longhand), then that’s still 4.7 published pages he has consistently written every working day since 1976.
The truth of the matter is that he has help. Although Patterson only became a full-time writer in 1996, since 2002 just 20 per cent of his novels have been entirely written by him.
Instead, 23 other authors have been paid out of Patterson’s own pocket to write them for him. It is not a fact he hides: every novel that is written by somebody else declares so on the cover, under Patterson’s name. Patterson is responsible for the vision and plotline of each novel and series and will give a detailed outline to the hired writer in question. The co-author, some of whom are struggling, others bestsellers in their own right – such as Swedish author Liza Markland – will then draft the early chapters. Patterson will read, revise and demand new drafts until he is satisfied.
If it sounds like cheating, Patterson’s model of working suggests otherwise. The novice authors become instant bestsellers and often attract book deals of their own, if not royalties. Patterson even said in 2009, with an entirely straight face: “They actually pay me. Because they’re learning so much”.
James Patterson in numbers
First novel: The Thomas Berryman Number
Number of novels, including forthcoming ones, to date: 130
Number of James Patterson pages published: 45,651
Years working entirely as an author: 18
Number of James Patterson series: 10
Number of co-authors: 23
Total book sales: Approximately 300 million
Number of New York Times hardback bestsellers: 76
Number of consecutive New York Times bestsellers: 19
Cost of second home: $17.4 million
Number of full-time publisher employees dealing solely with Patterson’s work: 3 (plus assistants)
Maximum length of outlines for co-authors: 50 pages
Years spent publishing novels: 38