As Stephen King said in his book, Stephen King on Writing, if you want to be a successful writer, you must write a lot and read a lot. And of course, it makes sense to read your own genre.
I write thrillers, and the supposed Granddaddy of all thriller novelists is James Patterson—at least based on sales. Considering that Mr. Patterson has sold over 170 million books worldwide, I’d be a fool not to gain some perspective from his writing style and his overwhelming success by making his novels a frequent part of my reading diet.
Until yesterday, when I started to read, Run for Your Life, which is a collaboration between Patterson and Michael Ledwidge, I had never read a Patterson thriller. At least a dozen people I know are diehard fans, and have told me his books are edge-of-the-seat fantastic.
Well, Mr. Patterson, I’m only 48 pages into your book and am scratching the back of my head, wondering how in the name of literature this novel made it to the NY Times Bestseller list. I don’t pretend to be the most gifted author in the world; I’m far from it. And I also realize that I have a lot of work to do before I could consider myself even remotely close to your league. In fact, it’s unlikely I’ll ever come close. But seriously, did you really put your name on this dreadful book? Are there so many unsophisticated readers out there that a book like this can actually be successful?
If I didn’t know better, I’d swear a ninth grade high school student wrote it. The narrative is riddled with clichés, ridiculous similes and metaphors, and overused adjectives and adverbs. The dialogue is unrealistic and limp. And the characters? Two dimensional and cardboard. And I’m only 48 pages into a 373 page novel!
And then there’s the issue of point of view. When Mike Bennett, the good guy, is narrating the story, it’s written in first person. When the scene switches to the Teacher, the bad guy, it’s written in third person. This really compromises the narrative.
You don’t have to be a scholar to figure out what’s going on here. James Patterson is on the money train. He could care less about the quality of his books or the criticisms. He’s created an assembly line for crappy novels and he’s ringing the cash register. Big time. And as long as readers by his books, he will continue to partner with wannabe novelists, put his name on the cover, and laugh all the way to the bank.
Every writer wants to be successful. But everyone’s perception of success varies. Some measure it by positive reviews. Others by sales and royalties. And some writers might weigh their success based totally on personal satisfaction.
The compelling question here is of a moral nature. If Mr. Patterson happened to stumble upon my novel and thought he and I could form a lucrative writing alliance, what would I do? If I had the opportunity to co-author books with one of the most successful novelists of all time, would I abandon my principles and sell my soul for the sake of success and money? Tough question. And to be honest, I can’t really answer it. What I will say, however, is that my name will never appear on the cover of a book unless I am absolutely positive the book represents my best writing. And that you can take to the bank.