I've written about Mr. Patterson before - specifically about his Women's Murder Club series - but the NY Times takes an in-depth look at James Patterson Inc.
Reading through this article, one can't help but draw parallels to the pulp game of the 1930's and how some writers were so prolific, popular and widespread amongst various genre fans.
The opening of the article:
Like most authors, James Patterson started out with one book, released in 1976, that he struggled to get published. It sold about 10,000 copies, a modest, if respectable, showing for a first novel. Last year, an estimated 14 million copies of his books in 38 different languages found their way onto beach blankets, airplanes and nightstands around the world. Patterson may lack the name recognition of a Stephen King, a John Grisham or a Dan Brown, but he outsells them all. Really, it’s not even close. (According to Nielsen BookScan, Grisham’s, King’s and Brown’s combined U.S. sales in recent years still don’t match Patterson’s.) This is partly because Patterson is so prolific: with the help of his stable of co-authors, he published nine original hardcover books in 2009 and will publish at least nine more in 2010.
Read the article and start thinking about guys like Dashiell Hammett, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Raymond Chandler, L. Ron Hubbard, Edward Stratemeyer , Walter Gibson and countless other who created different series for different audiences, used staff writers, pushed their creations into various media like movies and comics (Even Lester Dent held onto the media rights to Doc Savage and tried to get interest in a radio show).
Patterson built his fan following methodically. Instead of simply going to the biggest book-buying markets, he focused his early tours and advertising efforts on cities where his books were selling best: like a politician aspiring to higher office, he was shoring up his base. From there, he began reaching out to a wider audience, often through unconventional means. When sales figures showed that he and John Grisham were running nearly neck and neck on the East Coast but that Grisham had a big lead out West, Patterson set his second thriller series, “The Women’s Murder Club,” about a group of women who solve murder mysteries, in San Francisco.
No sooner had Patterson established himself in the thriller market than he started moving into new genres. Kirshbaum didn’t initially like the idea; he was worried that Patterson would confuse his thriller fans. Patterson’s first nonthriller, “Miracle on the 17th Green,” published in 1996, did very well. That same year, Patterson wanted to try publishing more than one book despite Little, Brown’s view that he would cannibalize his own audience. In addition to “Miracle on the 17th Green,” Patterson published “Hide and Seek” and “Jack and Jill,” each of which was a best seller. From there, Patterson gradually added more titles each year. Not only did more books mean more sales, they also meant greater visibility, ensuring that Patterson’s name would almost always be at the front of bookstores, with the rest of the new releases. Patterson encountered similar resistance when he introduced the idea of using co-authors, which Little, Brown warned would dilute his brand. Once again, the books were best sellers. “Eventually, I stopped fighting him and went along for the ride,” Kirshbaum says.
Gee, some things never change...