Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Deep Impact

Comparing James Patterson to an asteroid striking the earth wasn't the first thing on my mind , but then the New York Times Magazine delivered today's topic to my front door (Jan. 24, 2010). We joke and grumble about the Patterson phenomenon in the book business, but no one can deny that he's, um, kind of popular. His impact on publishing, as the New York Times points out, is both great and unique. He was an advertising executive, and he brought that gift to selling himself when he became a novelist.

The next time you see a book where the author's name is as big as the title, and I can see dozens from my Readers' Services Desk view of the new fiction, you can thank Mr. Patterson. He also took the idea of visually identical books with sequential titles (like Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich), which makes it easy for his fans to remember and identify his books. And the fact that he publishes a book every other month or more means he always has a new book visible on the shelf. He also writes in every genre: thriller, young adult, romance, beach reads. New readers discover him every day. He has his own iPhone app. He is the James Patterson BRAND.

Other writers and publishers are beginning to grasp his powerful marketing ideas. The dilemma is finding a way to market like Patterson without becoming Patterson. Or confusing the reader by resembling him on the outside, but not on the inside. Or does it matter? Will the reader enjoy Richard Powers or Harlan Coben or Quintine Jardine regardless?

Recently Patterson threw his planetary weight behind encouraging kids to read. Read, Kiddo, Read, is his website full of titles chosen to entice kids to pick up a book. He's working with writers, publishers, and at least one school librarian to make these recommendations. Many librarians grumbled a decade ago that it took Oprah to get America to crack a book, but I don't really care if it's Oprah, J. K. Rowling or Mr. Patterson, hey ho, they're using their "power" for good! I hope thousands of people check out Read, Kiddo, Read. There are lots of fantastic books on their reading lists.

What's your take, folks: James Patterson, is he Superman? Or Lex Luthor?


Jo said...

James Patterson has said that he writes so much because he wants customers to see his books on the bestsellers table every single time they go to a bookstore. Hence, we now equate bestselling thrillers with James Patterson.

This branding idea works with Patterson books because they tend to be the same. If you've read one, you've read them all. Quality aside, because that's a matter of taste, Patterson's books are predictable, just like Tide and Kellogg's cornflakes. For some readers, it's comforting to know that you're going to consume the same product with every new Patterson title. For other people, it's repetitious and boring.

Linda K. said...

Hmm... Superman or Lex... I guess I can hardly say Lex Luther if Mr. Patterson is encouraging kids to read. (However, since he is now writing books for kids as well as adults, it does seems a little self-serving.) My main complaint about the marketing of an author as a brand is that it is just that - marketing the author rather than what's inside the book. There are so many books out there and it's both sad and annoying that so many people use the bestseller lists to choose their next read. Come on! Read something and someone new for a change!

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