The James Patterson Book Farm Must Be Stopped
The monopolization of literature as content is ruining opportunities for creative writers
Looking at the new release section of books at my local Walmart the other day, I took the time to count the number of books by James Patterson on the shelf. There were ten. Ten newly released novels by one author. I thought to myself, wow, that’s insane. How can one person possibly put out so many new novels? A closer look reveals the answer. He can’t. There’s always a second or even third writer credited in smaller print. What’s going on here?
A quick trip to James Patterson’s website reveals an astounding fact. So far there are EIGHTEEN books slated for release under his name for 2021. These books range from children’s stories to crime and suspense stories to fantasy stories, and even one collaboration with former president Bill Clinton. Bear in mind that these are the novels scheduled for release up through SEPTEMBER, which means there will likely be even more. This is wild.
Further inspection of this website leads one to discover even more amazing statistics. James Patterson handily provides a checklist for collectors of his work who want to own all of his books. Good luck with that, because as of today that checklist tallies an incredible 282 (assuming I didn’t miscount them) separate novels. For comparison, Stephen King, also a notoriously prolific writer, has only written a mere 61 novels (so far) in his life. What a slacker.
I’m a Stephen King fan myself, and own all his work, and just the books from his bibliography nearly fill an entire bookcase. Imagine owning close to 300 books by one author! Heck, by the end of the year he will be over 300.
It’s not a secret by now that James Patterson doesn’t write his own material. Building from the popularity of his early success as a writer, Patterson has managed to become a self-made publishing mogul. Now, instead of putting in the work of writing himself, he simply lends the established credibility of his author’s name recognition to others, saying he gives them outlines, but honestly, I doubt he even does that any more. His name is nothing but a marketing gimmick turned “literary” monopoly.
James Patterson allowed the allure of monetary success to rob him of any semblance of artistic integrity. Now, his name is more trademark than anything. And the books bearing his name have become little more than pulp filler. One of them, a supposed biography of John Lennon, reads like a cut and paste summary of Lennon’s wikipedia page. But who cares about quality when you’re selling millions of books a year, and in turn making millions and millions of dollars?
The Problem of Content Over Quality
Martin Scorsese recently has been under fire for openly criticizing the new studio system of the film industry, especially in his critiques of Marvel and the super hero boilerplate that has taken the media by storm. In a piece he published in Harpers, he discusses the problem of turning art into content, and how it undermines the meaningfulness of an entire medium to its culture. The same thing is happening to literature.
It’s beyond discouraging to go looking for new release novels, and see them so heavily dominated by a chosen few familiar names. But this is what happens when art becomes a commodity that is only generated by a system seeking the quickest of possible profits, from the most minimal of efforts. The groundwork set by the James Patterson content factory is producing so much material, it’s literally impossible for up and coming authors to compete.
In fact, instead of trying to compete with this system, other notable authors are now copying it, and they aren’t even alive. There are new novels being released from the estates of Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy for instance, that have obviously been written by ghosts. This shows that the James Patterson monopoly will in all likelihood continue long after his death, just churning out an endless supply of cut and past fiction or non-fiction as long as people are willing to buy it.
Luckily, there is no shortage of people trying to establish themselves in the literary landscape. But competing against the likes of James Patterson and Stephen King and Michael Connelly has created a far from equal playing field for writers looking to get their work seen by audiences. The more space the content farms take up on the shelves, the more the odds get stacked against new talent getting discovered.
So what is there to do about this? Well, quite frankly, stop buying books that are produced in this manner. If you see a novel has been ghost written, and only bears a famous author’s name to get you to pick it up, put it back down. Don’t give these content farms any more of your money or your time. Seek out original work. Seek out new work.
Give an unknown writer a shot at impressing you with their talent and skill. Allow yourself to be occasionally surprised. It’s such a shame that in this creative golden age so many creative writers suffer in poverty and obscurity, unable to find an audience for their work.
So, help them out. Buy better books. Tell people about the books you like. Spread the word and help lift these unknown artists out of the dredges of the periphery. Give art a fighting chance at finding its place among the famous and the frivolous. There’s more to literature than Alex Cross crime procedural.
I assure you, James Patterson has more than enough money to retire.