James Patterson And You: Part I

We hear all the time about James Patterson and his success. For example, he was given a $150 million advance for a 17 book deal. Patterson owns a home worth $17.4 million.

Is Patterson lucky? Or is he just like you? After reading how Patterson became one of the top authors in the world, I am convinced that any author can take a similar path. In this two-part blog, think about what Patterson did and how you can learn from him.

Patterson was raised in a poorhouse by only his mother. Lesson: Do not use lack of money or resources as an excuse.

Patterson did not become interested in reading and writing until after high school when he worked nights and weekends as a hospital aide. Lesson: You would be surprised at how many authors fight their gifts and urge, because it doesn’t seem normal at the time. We are taught by the world to have a career, not become an author.

Patterson could have been a college professor, but all he wanted to do was read and write. Lesson: It takes a great amount of courage and faith to skip the “paycheck” and go for your dreams. Not many people will understand. At least, not until you are on the bestsellers list.

In 1971, Patterson was a junior copywriter. Lesson: Yes, he had to work.

In 1976, Patterson worked his way up to be a supervisor at J.W.T./U.S.A., an advertising company. He created advertising campaigns for Kodak, Toy’s ‘R’ Us, and Burger King. Lesson: All your experiences and places you have worked, can be used to your advantage as an author. It is why literary agents and publishers want to know “more about you.”

Patterson received twenty-six rejection letters. Lesson: These days, it would not be uncommon for an author to receive over fifty rejection letters. No one becomes the CEO of a company in their first year. Author’s need to work their way up the ladder, just like everyone else.

Patterson located his agent from an ad in the newspaper. The agent sold Patterson’s first book for $8,500. Lesson: When the time is right, someone will cross path’s with you and change your life. However, you need to be ready and you need to knock on many doors.

Concerning his earliest work, Patterson felt he was a terrible writer.  Lesson: Someday when you look back on your first novel, you will feel the same way. You will improve everyday, every year, every book.

Patterson’s advice for new authors, “Write another book.” Lesson: It’s hard to imagine, but your first book is not the one. In fact, most likely, it will be your tenth or fifteenth book. Patterson understood this and kept writing.

Patterson’s novel, The Thomas Berryman Number was published in 1976, which won the Edgar Award for Best First Mystery Novel.  However, Patterson did not become successful until Along Came a Spider in 1992. (Sixteen years later.) Lesson: After years of rejection, after another sixteen years when Patterson had been first published, he then became successful. Are you willing to make that kind of sacrifice?

Patterson wrote, produced, and paid for a commercial to market Along Came a Spider, placing the ad in New York, Chicago, and Washington D.C. This ensured placement in bookstores at the front where people walked in. Lesson: Patterson would not stop after he was published. He invested his own money and would not depend on his publisher to do all the work. This kind of thinking is why Patterson sold five million copies of Along Came a Spider.

Criticism: Stephen King was quoted saying that Patterson has “dopey thrillers” and James is a “terrible writer.” Lesson: Authors hear all the time about how their work needs to improve. Needless to say, what if Stephen King said you were a “terrible writer.” Would you give up?

Review by the Washington Post about James Patterson: “absolute pits, the lowest common denominator of cynical, scuzzy, and assembly-line writing.” The reviewer went on to say this about Patterson’s main character, Alex Cross: “sick, sexist, sadistic, sub-literate.” Lesson: If Stephen King and the Washington Post have a reaction about your work, even a horrific reaction, that is a good thing. Means they read your book!

In Part II of this blog on March 24th, I will explain marketing tips that James Patterson used on his path to greatness. Everything he did, you can do as well.


Patterson claims that authors who write for a small (niche) audience, will only sell a small amount of books. If you write for a large audience, you will sell more. With that in mind, every author should ask these questions: What do people like? What are their needs? What entertainment do they crave? How do they want to feel? What do people really want to read in a book? Lesson: Ask these questions when writing and marketing your book. Every literary agent and publisher need to know the answers.

“Thousands of people do not like what I do. Fortunately, millions do.” ~ James Patterson

Ron Knight

Author and Co-Founder of UP Authors

P.S. Happy Birthday James Patterson!

(Resources and information for this blog: The New York Times, James Patterson Website, Wikipedia/James Patterson)

Ron Knight

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