The biggest name today in mystery and thriller fiction is James Patterson. Although generally categorized as an author, he's more of a team captain working with a group of co-writers -- which, when you think of it, is not much different than the system Edward Stratemeyer used to give the world Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. (And they turned out okay.)
Publishing circles are still buzzing that Patterson and his co-writers are signed to write 17 books to publisher Hachette through 2012. The list includes three Alex Cross novels (with co-writer Richard DiLallo), three Michael Bennett thrillers (with Michael Ledwidge), three Women's Murder Club thrillers (with Maxine Paetro), two Maximum Ride books, two Daniel X books (with Ledwidge), two Witch & Wizard books (with Gabrielle Charbonnet), a number of international thrillers co-written by Swedish crime writer Liza Marklund, plus some non-fiction and a couple standalone novels. Of course, while 17 books would be a crazy number for any single author, Sarah Weinman points out that it works out to about a book a year for each of Patterson's co-writers.
If I understand his system correctly, Patterson is the idea man and also has the final polish on the manuscript before it gets turned in. And, as managers go, he seems to know what he's doing -- he sells an average of 20 million books per year. An estimated 170 million copies of his novels are in print worldwide. In 2007, one out of every thirty-five books sold was a Patterson title.
The question for posterity, then, is whether Alex Cross will have the staying power of Nancy Drew ...
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Why James Patterson Is Worth $150 Million (Forbes)
Interview: James Patterson On Writing All Those Books (All Things Considered)
James Patterson: Give Them What They Want (Nightline)