James Patterson And You: Marketing

You are writing books. That’s a good start. You understand that to become a great author, it takes time. Very good. You are aware that you have ten fingers, two eyes, a brain, and imagination, just like James Patterson. Perfect. Now, it is time to let the world know who you are.

For marketing, authors can learn from James “Patterns.” (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.) Here is the best advice you will ever receive…

When Patterson decided to become an author instead of a college professor, he wanted to “read and write.” Lesson: Notice that reading comes before writing. It is your most important learning tool. There’s not a bestselling author in the world that will tell you different.

Patterson was said to be a “co-publisher” of his books, because he is “hands on” during the publishing process. This includes the design of the book jacket,  book release date, and placement in stores. Lesson: Sometimes this sort of enthusiasm can drive a publisher nuts. The point is, you should put the same effort into marketing your book, as you did writing the book.

Patterson sits in on meetings with his publisher to discuss marketing ideas. Lesson: When you query literary agents and publishers, make sure you mention your marketing plan. Patterson understood the importance of this before, during, and after he was published.

Holly Parmlee, who is James’ publicist, is impressed that Patterson never sits back on the sidelines. “His attitude was that we are in business together and he wants us both to succeed, but it’s not going to be all fun and games.” Lesson: Never depend on chance. Take hold of your career. Act like no one else is doing anything for you.

Like all new authors, Patterson had to fight for his publishers attention. He did that with a relentless passion for marketing and promotion. Lesson: This becomes easier if you have already gotten into the habit of networking, public speaking, attending events, media experience, building your audience, working with a marketing company, studying other authors, and understanding what readers want. Authors need to be out front of their books, leading the way to success.

Patterson developed music to go along with one of his Romance novels. Lesson: Ancillary products are terrific to promote your book. T-shirts and posters are a good start. However, you can do more. Talk to a local band that has a following. Pick a song that might go along with your book. Create a “book trailer” with that song. You will help that band succeed and they will help you by combining audiences.

Patterson believes that you can market books like consumer products. Lesson: Your book is a product. It has to provide a service to others. Market your product and your company, (You) and customers will follow.

Patterson believed that nursery rhyme books drew attention. He decided to use that same bold type font and glossy book covers for his Alex Cross series. Lesson: What catches your eye when you are shopping at Barnes & Noble? Not just books in your genre, but any of them. Why did you look at a certain book? What was so special? The title? The illustration? The colors? What does the book say on the back? What is the first line of the story?

Patterson did heavy promotion in cities where his books were doing well, in order to continue building his audience. Lesson: Build a name in the city you live and then work your way out. Do not try and reach the whole world. Achieve a victory and keep moving.

As Patterson approached the fame of John Grisham, he decided to work in opposite locations where Grisham was promoting. Lesson: If there are 10 authors at an event, you will receive 1/10th of the attention. If you are the only author in the room, all eyes are on you. Once in awhile, you need to stand alone.

Patterson would use co-authors in cities where his books were not doing well to increase sales. Lesson: Yes, you will have competition like Grisham and King. However, you can also work with other authors to benefit both parties. In fact, if you work with ten other authors who are just starting out, your audience will increase by 1,500 in just a day. That’s why social networking has become popular. Imagine joining forces with a 1,000 authors. Your audience would be in the 500,000 range and you haven’t left your home.

Patterson wrote in different genre’s and published more than one book a year. He wanted his name to be seen every time a customer walked into a bookstore. Lesson: Do not limit yourself. You are a gifted author and can write just about anything. Use that to your advantage. Also, the more times people see your name, the better chance you have to succeed.

Patterson always felt that Stephen King and Dean Koontz received more attention, despite Patterson’s higher book sales. Lesson: There will always be other authors. You’ll have less pressure if you do not try to be one of the top authors in the world.

Patterson’s simplified marketing advice: “Reach a bunch of people.” Lesson: Reaching a bunch of people may sound obvious, but most new authors concentrate on getting a literary agent or getting published. That is putting the cart before the horse. Authors should concentrate on marketing and building an audience. If you are going to invest money in your career, then invest in marketing, not publishing. Later, when the time is right, literary agents and traditional publishers will be impressed with your writing and your audience. 

Patterson is successful because he gives the audience what they want. Lesson: Ask these questions: What do people like? What are their needs? What entertainment do people crave? How do they want to feel? What do people want to read in a book?

I ask people all the time in the book section of Target, “Who is your favorite author? Why do you like them?” I get more market research done at Target, than anywhere else.

Patterson likes short chapters, even if there are pages that are 3/4 blank. Lesson: This gives the reader a feeling that they are speeding through the book. The story seems to be moving at hundred miles an hour, like a movie. If you have chapters that are five pages, break them in half.

Patterson tries to avoid scene setting, back stories, and character description whenever possible. Lesson: This goes against everything you are taught in school or in writing classes. However, this is why first lines in novels are so important. Readers want to be tossed into the book, gripped from one page to another, and finish with a pleasant ending.

1 out of 17 books purchased in 2006 was a James Patterson title. Lesson: You are not James Patterson…but you have the same opportunities as he does.

Patterson’s father, who also is an author, showed up one day and gave his son a book. “I just wrote this,” his father explained. “What do you think?” Jim responded with the same advice as he gives all new authors. “Write another.”

Patterson spends his life helping others. He is involved with all aspects in the publishing process. He does not depend on his publicist to do all the work. He continues to search for what readers want. He spends as much time on coming up with marketing ideas as he does story ideas.

New authors will not get a free pass. An author that expects someone to make them big, just doesn’t get it. Patterson tells those authors to “Write another book.” They need to learn on their own what sacrifice’s it takes to be a bestselling author. There are no shortcuts. Patterson, King, Koontz, and Sandra Brown will not help you be published. Nevertheless, they will teach you to become a better author if you read their books.

New authors, on their own, need to go through humbling moments as everyone else. “Write another book.” Then when you are finished, “Write another.”

You need to have experience as an author. One day, all those books you have written, will be sold. One day, all that marketing you put an effort into, will pay off. Until then…”Write another.” 

“If you want to write for yourself, get a diary. If you want to write for your friends, get a blog. If you want to write for others…become an author.” ~ James Patterson

It’s all up to you now.

Ron Knight

Reader, Author, Novelist

(Sources: New York Times, James Patterson Web Site, Wikipedia/James Patterson)

Ron Knight

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  1. What plugins are you using on your blog? I just switched over from WordPress so I’m just getting a hang of things here. Regards, Sean Mandolini,




  3. Ron Knight says:

    Patterson Wants a new book out twice a month. Every time you walk into a bookstore, he wants you to see one of his books on the front shelf. The only way to accomplish that is to use co-authors.