James Patterson did an interview with the New York Times a few years ago. In that interview he explained how he worked with his co-workers. I thought it was great how he pulled it off but it didn’t surprise me. In his former life, he was a Creative Director in the ad biz.
A Creative Director’s job is to manage art directors and copywriters. A great CD will steer them down the right path when they veer, help them grow their ideas and ultimately push them to do the best work possible. The CD is responsible for making sure the work developed by the teams meet the objective.
That’s sort of what Patterson does when he co-authors a book. He’s got an idea of what the book should be. How formulated that idea is, well I’m sure it differs on each project but I’m guessing here. He has a stable of writers that he works with. They’re doing the heavy lifting, cranking out the draft while he’s guiding. He’s pushing when needed. He’s cheering them on. He’s probably even showing them if it calls for it. It’s Patterson’s job to make sure the writer stays on path so that the end result meets the objective.
Author David Ellis, recently co-authored a book with Patterson titled, Guilty Wives. He was kind enough to post his experience working with the king of thrillers. Here’s a little of what David had to say:
“I always felt like Jim was doing more than collaborating with me on a novel. He was trying to teach me, too. And it was always about the reader. It’s not about winning writing awards (though he has won plenty). It’s not about how impressively you display all the research you’ve amassed. It’s not about the number of syllables in your flowery description. The only question is, how will the reader respond? If it heightens the drama for the reader—because it makes you love the protagonist or hate the villain; because it scares the shit out of you; because it tears at your heart; because it turns your expectations upside down—then it belongs in the book.”
I’m glad David wrote this post. There’s a lot of mis-information out there on how it works. I hear authors say he hires ghost writers. Not true, the author’s name is on the book. Or they say he doesn’t write anything. Not true, he does. I don’t know why so many authors want to find fault with what Patterson is doing. I love his books. And I’m not alone.