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Inside Patterson, Inc.

I’ve said all along that to treat James Patterson like any other author – and hold him to the same standards – is an unwise move. He used to run an advertising agency, and the model he’s concocted is clearly based on having a CEO come up with big ideas, and creative mouses scurrying around to flesh them out with backbreaking deadlines. (Or as Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch puts it, Patterson is effectively “developing a studio system for writers.” That’s contrary to the image of “the lonely writer in a garret,” Pietsch says. “But a lot of great popular entertainment, even great and serious art, comes out of collaboration.”) As it happens, USA TODAY’s Bob Minzesheimer gets a clearer look at the working life (and success) of Patterson thanks to the author, his newest co-writer and other publishing insiders. Michael Cader at Publishers Lunch calculated that if Patterson were treated as a publishing house unto himself, he’d be tied for fourth for most No. 1 best sellers in 2006 — ahead of all of HarperCollins, a major publisher. Exactly.

Minzesheimer also discovers how Patterson’s newest co-authorship with Michael Ledwidge came about. The latter had written three novels that yielded big advances but sold a combined total of 20,000 copies. He’d known Patterson in his doorman days, and the bestseller helped land an agent. When Ledwidge asked Patterson to look at a draft of what he hoped would be his fourth novel, Patterson had a counteroffer: Would he be interested in collaborating on a novel Patterson had in mind? Ledwidge says he agreed “at about the speed of light.”

Patterson had the outline, Ledwidge fleshed him out and the younger author seems very happy with the arrangement, since he can now write full-time. “It’s like a dream; to have one job, not two…If you look at the newsletter of the Mystery Writers of America, everyone is always talking about how to market yourself, not the writing part. Now I don’t have to worry about that.”

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