Marketing the James Patterson Way

Written by Sherry Chiger

According to a recent article about best-selling novelist James Patterson in The New York Times Magazine, since 2006, one out of every 17 hardcover novels bought in the U.S. was written or co-written by Patterson. So regardless of what you think about his plots and prose, Patterson is a commercial success. If you view the article as a marketing lesson, here are the takeaways:

1) HOME IN ON YOUR STRENGTHS. “Patterson built his fan following methodically. Instead of simply going to the biggest book-buying markets, he focused his early tours and advertising efforts on cities where his books were selling best: like a politician aspiring to higher office, he was shoring up his base.” In direct marketing terms, this is akin to placing a best-selling product on the cover of your catalog.

2) KEEP AN EYE ON THE COMPETITION. “When sales figures showed that he and John Grisham were running nearly neck and neck on the East Coast but that Grisham had a big lead out West, Patterson set his second thriller series, ‘The Women’s Murder Club,’ about a group of women who solve murder mysteries, in San Francisco,” Mahler writes. Note that Patterson didn’t slavishly imitate Grisham by launching a series of legal thrillers. Instead he tried a less obvious tactic by which to better his competitor.

TARGET MARKET. Patterson is a fan of literary fiction. His fiction, on the other hand, isn’t going to be winning a National Book Award anytime soon. If Patterson cares, though, he’s keeping that to himself. The article closes with a personal appearance at a store in New Jersey, where he signed books and posed for photographs for nearly two hours. Afterward, Patterson tells Mahler, “This goes to the notion we were talking about in Florida, about my critics—people who call themselves open-minded but then make judgments about what I write. Well, these people like it. They’re happy. So what’s the big deal?” The customer is always right, and that goes for the customer’s taste as well.

Here’s another telling quote from Patterson on the same general topic: “If you want to write for yourself, get a diary. If you want to write for a few friends, get a blog. But if you want to write for a lot of people, think about them a little bit. What do they like? What are their needs?”


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