James Patterson, Benevolent Overlord of Readers and Non-Readers Alike


James Patterson, the benevolent Damien Hirst of the literary world, the team-writing lit-capitalist dynamo responsible for 36 bestsellers last year, will not be satisfied until he has cornered every remaining inch of the book market. To measure Patterson’s aspirations, just imagine an global bookstore staffed by a thousand James Pattersons, one wherein every item is either written or presented by Patterson himself. James Patterson presents Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love. James Patterson’s The Man Without Qualities. The Cantos of James Patterson. James Patterson presents James Patterson’s Along Came a Spider. And other Russell’s paradoxes.

Still, it’s hard not to like Patterson, not in the least because of his cuddly aspect and soothing timbre. He’s like an infinite thread count Teddy Ruxpin. He’s also funny. In the opening video to his online Masterclass, he introduces himself as John Grisham. You hardly notice his infomercial-style pitches and schemes. Take the course, write a bestseller. (After all, he has written 19 of them in a row.) Win a contest, be his next co-author. Of course, if you trade books for candy, he’s just a 21st century Willy Wonka, albeit without the cadre of slaves. Instead he just employs writers, the Oompa Loompas of the 21st century.

But it all masks an insatiable inner goblin, for it isn’t enough that Patterson is the highest-selling writer in the world, it isn’t enough that he reigns among the readers. Now, according to the New York Times, Patterson Inc. demands the impossible. He wants to rule over the non-readers; he wants his books to be read by those who do not read. And by this he just means people who watch television.

This June, Patterson will target “people who have abandoned reading for television, video games, movies and social media” with a new venture called BookShots, according to the New York Times . Not to be launched out of a firearm, or guzzled out of a tiny cup, BookShots is instead “a new line of short and propulsive novels that cost less than $5 and can be read in a single sitting.” With his characteristic genius for paradox, Patterson explained that innovation of a BookShots book is that it doesn’t resemble one. “You can race through these,” he said. “[T]hey’re like reading movies.”

Other people might just call them novellas! (“All of the titles will be shorter than 150 pages.”) In any case, the books will be written by Patterson and his in-house team, and they will span several genres, including the thriller, science fiction, mystery, and romance.

As might be expected, what appears to be a philanthropic act (on the part of a man who gives unsolicited bonuses to independent booksellers), is actually an act of collusion between Patterson and his publisher, Hachette. The idea is to replicate the vibe of dime store novels in order to “colonize” hitherto unreachable retail space:

But eventually, Mr. Patterson and his publisher want to colonize retail chains that don’t normally sell books, like drugstores, grocery stores and other outlets. They envision having BookShots next to magazines in grocery store checkout lanes, or dangling from clip strips like a bag of gummy bears.

To be fair, I’m intrigued by the possibility of a resurgence in cheap, pulpy, even nasty fiction made widely available, but it’s hard to imagine that James Patterson’s inevitable success with BookShots won’t gentrify these retail spaces with vanishing mediators, or books that you can’t remember after you’ve consumed them. So, yes, I guess the experience would be a lot like reading television.