Great Falls of the Passaic River in Paterson, New Jersey © 2004 Matthew Trump

Great Falls of the Passaic River in Paterson, New Jersey © 2004 Matthew Trump

Paterson, New Jersey was one of America’s original factory towns. William Carlos Williams, who was born and died in nearby Rutherford, memorializes the town in his long poem  Paterson. The town is anthropomorphized,

Paterson lies in the valley under the Passaic Falls,
its spent waters forming the outline of his back.
. . .
Twice a month Paterson receives
communications from the Pope and Jacques Barzun
(Isocrates). His works
have been done into French
and Portuguese.
. . .
Say it! No ideas but in things. Mr.
Paterson has gone away
to read and write.
Inside the bus one sees
his thoughts sitting and standing. His
thoughts alight and scatter —

 

James Patterson, who was also born not too far from Paterson, in Newburgh, New York, is, like the nineteenth century factories of Paterson, prolifically productive. Fifteen books a year is almost unbelievable. His work methods are fascinating — it’s a sort of factory system. The Telegraph did a piece in 2014 about his team-work. He uses about twenty other authors to write up books based upon an outline he provides. He edits and “corrects” drafts, and acknowledges the co-author on the book. We may react to this with disapproval: how could an author do something like that. But why shouldn’t an author do something like that? Mr Patterson is quite definitely in the entertainment business. Nobody complains for instance that Martin Scorsese doesn’t write the movies he directs or design the costumes, do the makeup, and build the sets: movies are a collaborative business. Why shouldn’t books be too? (We publishing people might be tempted to claim that they always are.) We are all used to the idea of ghost-written celebrity autobiographies after all. Surely nobody can really have objections to some authors using such streamlined production methods; even if they were writing poetry say. Why shouldn’t T. S. Eliot get a co-author in on The Wasteland for instance? Oops. He did didn’t he?

Mr Patterson is well known for his benevolence towards independent bookstores and other initiatives in defense of the book business. Now he plans to convert the vast world of non-readers into avid book buyers by giving them what he believes they want: short books which can be quickly read and loved. Here’s The New York Times story about the proposal. The 150pp max. books will be published by Little Brown. Some will be written by Patterson, some by his factory system and others selected by him. Thank you Mr Patterson. Every little thing helps, and I suspect that your name is more likely to bring in new readers than most. And I dare say there’s a royalty in there somewhere.

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