James Patterson’s Ultimate Story: How He Sold 400 Million Books A RAINBOW OF ROLE MODELS {WEDNESDAY SERIES}

I celebrate ACHIEVEMENT EVERY DAY!  WEDNESDAY SERIES – “A Rainbow of Role Models”, highlights role models of ALL colors.  “There is dignity, in achievement and success—in becoming, a great factor in civilization.” Carter G. Woodson. 

I hope you will share these short articles, and perhaps a few people will be curious to learn more.

Disclaimer: Good Day, Readers.  WealthBuildingPowers blog is a financial literacy/competency blog and does not provide specific investment recommendations.  

James Patterson’s Ultimate Story: How He Sold 400 Million Books A RAINBOW OF ROLE MODELS {WEDNESDAY SERIES} {Investors Business Daily; July 18, 2022}

“Right now in this country, only 45% of kids are reading at grade level, which is a disgrace, a tragedy,”

James Patterson is among the world’s bestselling living authors — having sold more than 425 million books. But his career didn’t start in an English class, rather, as a summer aide in a psychiatric facility.

He worked the hospital’s overnight shift. And he often worked in the maximum security ward with the patients on suicide watch. Until that point Patterson, while a good student, didn’t read much. But he had to fill those long boring hours at the hospital.

Patterson passed the time reading classics that exposed him to a broader world than his more parochial small-town upbringing. Patterson, 75, was the youngest of five children who grew up in a modest working class family in Newburgh, N.Y.

So working in the private facility, affiliated with Harvard, with numerous wealthy and in some cases famous patients changed him. And it forged a broader worldview that would make his storytelling richer.

“I think I had a small-town point-of-view,” he told Investor’s Business Daily. “But at the hospital I came into contact with different kinds of people, wealthy patients, doctors from Harvard. I was exposed to new possibilities.”

Capitalize On Accidents Like James Patterson

Patterson earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English. But he had no career goal in mind upon graduation. Writing found him, though. He moved to New York City and wound up in a writing job by accident.

“I knew I had to get a job. I thought about driving a cab, but I had long hair back then. When I went to the taxi garage for a job, the supervisor, who was sort of like Danny DeVito, told me, ‘you hippie (expletive), get out of here.'”

Patterson’s next stop was at a telephone sales company where the manager offered him a job and a warning: “It’s a soul killer.” Enough said.

But luck was with him. A friend heard the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency was hiring junior copywriters. It was seemingly a perfect start for a young man with two degrees in English. But the people doing the hiring wanted to see a portfolio. Patterson faced the dilemma: to get a job you need experience, but you can’t get experience if no one will hire you.

Patterson solved that problem. “In 10 days I put together a portfolio, and they hired me,” he said.

Patterson: Follow Your Luck

Patterson kept following opportunity. Shortly after he came aboard, the agency began losing clients. “They kept firing people, but I was making so little it didn’t pay for them to let me go,” he said.

Short staffed, Patterson “got the opportunity to write a lot of TV commercials. Kids coming in never got a shot at TV,” he said. “It turned out my instincts were pretty good and my work cut through the clutter.”

Writing for TV made him focus on what his audience wants and helped him develop his style. “I write conversationally. I pretend there’s someone sitting across from me having a beer or drinking wine just telling them story after story,” he said.

Look For Your Next Opportunity

Patterson became Thompson’s CEO at age 38. But despite the added responsibility, he kept working on his passion: fiction. He got up early and wrote in the mornings before work, in the evenings after work and at his desk during lunch. But the hours didn’t bother him because he never considered writing fiction to be work

“I never believed that,” he said. “I didn’t work for a living. For me it was play.”

It’s a trait Ned Rust, his publisher at Little, Brown recognizes. “Like his grandmother told him, ‘hungry dogs run faster,'” Rust said. “I have never known a human who is so ravenous for his vocation, which is storytelling. It may have something to do with the fact that he does not call it work. He calls it play.”

Know When To Be Patient Like Patterson

But success in fiction didn’t happen overnight. Thirty one publishers rejected his first published novel, “The Thomas Berryman Number.”

He was, he says, not discouraged. He quotes fellow author John Updike, who said: “The willingness to risk excess on behalf of one’s obsessions, is what distinguishes artists.”

“The rejections came pretty quickly. They came in clusters. Several (editors) said send me your next book,” Patterson said. “It’s not like they were saying, ‘you’re wasting your time.'”

Ironically, that book won the Edgar, awarded by the Mystery Writers of America, as best first novel. And, yes, there were many books thereafter. Sometimes two or three a year. The latest count provided by his publisher was 425 million books sold worldwide.

Tap Your Personal History

Patterson’s first major success was with “Along Came A Spider,” featuring one of Patterson’s best-known characters, Alex Cross. Cross, a forensic psychologist, became the hero of over 25 Patterson thrillers.

But there is an interesting — to his fans, perhaps even startling — revelation: Alex Cross was originally Alexis Cross. Cross was loosely based on someone Patterson met.

Growing up, Patterson became friends with a woman who worked a cook at a small local restaurant. “I spent a lot of time with her and her family,” Patterson said. “They were smart and fun and I never forgot them.”

But despite his best efforts, “I just felt as a woman, (the character) just wasn’t clicking.” Patterson adapted.

So Alexis became Alex. After the switch, Patterson set out to write a lengthy and detailed outline. But he found the outline quickly grew into a completed book. The experience with starting with a detailed outline became his signature style: multiple short chapters that keep the story flowing.

Other series of books followed, including the Women’s Murder Club series plus Michael Bennett and NYPD Red.

Get A Hand

But Patterson soon found he had another problem. He had so many ideas swirling around in his head, he enlisted other writers to help.

He’d write detailed outlines and others would flesh them out under his supervision. They’d send pages back and forth to be sure the writer stays on track. He found them in part by perusing the annual volume of “Best American Mystery Stories.” If he liked a writer’s work, he’d call him directly.

“I called (mystery writer) Brendan DuBois and said, ‘this is James Patterson.’ He hung up on me,” Patterson said. “He thought it was a joke. Since then, Brendan and I have done three full-length novels together.”

Rust says Patterson is constantly looking for ways to do more. “But one thing I think people don’t know about him is how good and steadfast a human being he is.”

Encourage Reading

Patterson isn’t diligent just about writing. He’s brought his persistence to encouraging reading. It’s why he created his so-called Jimmy series of books for younger readers.

It’s also why he created “Bookshots,” a series of 150-page, less expensive adult titles. And it is why he has donated millions of dollars to reading causes, including those that support libraries and independent booksellers.

“Right now in this country, only 45% of kids are reading at grade level, which is a disgrace, a tragedy,” Patterson said. “When I talk to teacher groups, I say, ‘I’m here to save lives.'”

He works with the University of Florida to help boost literacy. “We have a program to help teachers become better teachers, to get kids to become competent readers. If they can’t read, they can’t get through high school,” Patterson said.

Patterson points out students lose options when they don’t graduate from high school. “We have this program to teach teachers how to teach young kids to enjoy reading. We have the vaccine, we tested it in Florida and it works,” he said.

Styron’s Bookshelves

CONCLUSION

As the above bookshelf demonstrates, James Patterson is one of my favorite authors!

I am an avid reader, reading three to four hours daily. I believe reading is a fundamental element of success! Grab a good book today. The library is a treasure trove of free and great works! GET STARTED!

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