Watering down the work

So, the other day, I mentioned that I’m a fan of James Patterson, and was disappointed by the TV series based on his book, Zoo. I wanted to expand on that a little today.

If you follow my book reviews on Goodreads, you may have noticed that I gave Zoo 3 stars. This means that I liked it, but it didn’t make my Top Ten list, either. It didn’t even make my “read again someday” list.

This has become true for many Patterson books lately. I used to look forward to a Patterson novel the way I look forward to a Stephen King or Tiffany Reisz one – practically panting and drooling with anticipation. These days, however, I don’t even track when he might be releasing a new book. I read descriptions when I come across them somewhere, or if I see the cover in the store and it appeals to me (though I still usually buy them on my Kindle), or if someone recommends it to me.

Books in the Douglasville, Georgia Borders store.
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many of his more recent books, Patterson has had a co-author. His Alex Cross books (as far as I can tell) are all solely written by him, but many of his others are co-authored. The fact that he has a co-author on his books does not, in and of itself, bother me. It actually interests me a little, because as a writer myself, I don’t think I could ever write with someone else. Another person to help with edits, beta readers, things like that, sure. But having to work with someone else, to make our ideas, our characters, all mesh into one cohesive, good story? I can’t imagine doing it. So I find it fascinating to read authors who can.

The problem I’ve noticed lately, though, is the quality of Patterson’s books. I never see the same co-author two times in a row, and the books themselves have become different. Their quality is inconsistent – some are really good, others truly awful, and some fall into that wasteland in the middle, mediocrity.

Now, some would say that this could be said for any author, myself included. And I would agree that this is true. Every author probably has at least one book that is really good, one that’s truly awful, and a handful that are just mediocre. But a recent discovery has made it really bother me when it comes to Patterson.

You see, he’s offering a master class on how to write a bestseller. $90 gets you 22 lessons how to write a bestselling novel. Out of 22 lessons, only one mentions co-authors – and the description for it makes it sound like he doesn’t always use one and is selective about when he does.

Not having taken the class, I can’t say that he’s a hypocrite. I don’t know what’s in each of the lessons, to know if co-authors is addressed in other lessons besides the one. But what I can say is that I can’t recall the last Patterson book I’ve read that didn’t have a co-author.

So it bothers me a bit that he’s taking in ~$90 by promising people he’ll teach them how to write a bestselling novel, when he doesn’t actually write them all by himself. I also find it a bit bothersome that it doesn’t seem to acknowledge the fact that a lot of his more recent bestsellers are probably based far more on name recognition than they are the actual content and quality of the books themselves. I also wonder just how much writing he does on his books these days, or if he even does at all, or if he just lets his co-author do all the work and then slaps his name on it for the name recognition to generate big money for himself and his co-author.

Novels in a Polish bookstore
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Don’t get me wrong – I still enjoy a good James Patterson novel. Key word there being, good. Zoo was so-so. The Alex Cross books are great, I think.

But I feel like the inconsistent quality of the books of late make him a bit of an untrustworthy writer for me. I feel like I’m reaching into a hat to draw out a piece of candy, and I don’t know if I’m going to get a piece of chocolate (YAY!) or an unwrapped, sucked on, lint-covered peppermint. When I pick up a Stephen King novel or a Tiffany Reisz book, I have no doubt that I’m in for a treat. I know that from page 1 to the final page, I will be reading with anticipation, eager for the next page, the next chapter, and both eager to get to the end and desperate to keep it going because it’s just that good. I no longer feel that way when I read a James Patterson novel and I’ve become a lot more wary about spending my money on his books only to be disappointed.

What do you think? Are you a James Patterson fan or not? Is there another author that you once enjoyed but now not as much – or at all?

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