Author James Patterson has a net worth of $470 million. I don't think I have to tell you that that is fairly unusual for an author. He made $94 million in 2016, making him the third highest-paid celebrity of the year. And he is a writer! (There is hope!) Unlike other writers, the bulk of those incredible earnings don't come from TV or movie deals, they come from the sheer volume of Patterson's book sales.
One in every 17 hardcover books sold is a James Patterson book. He has written 147 novels since 1976. He has had 114 New York Times bestselling novels, and holds The New York Times record for most #1 New York Times bestsellers by a single author, a total of 67, which is also a Guinness World Record. In 2015, an estimated 14 million copies of his books in 38 different languages found their way into the hands (and Kindles and iPads) of readers. He outsells Stephen King, Dan Brown, and John Grisham by a wide margin. Surprisingly, Patterson does not use a computer. He writes his novels in longhand on a legal pad and has his assistant type them.
How did he do it? Well, he singlehandedly created the modern template for successful commercial novelists.
Patterson spent the first 25 years of his career in advertising, eventually becoming the creative director of J. Walter Thompson. He didn't leave his day job until 1996, despite having been a published author for two decades at that point. However, he would take the skills he honed as an ad exec and use them as an author.
More than a dozen publishers rejected his first book, The Thomas Berryman Number, before it found a home at Little, Brown. It was released in 1976 and sold a respectable 10,000 copies. He wrote it because, as an avid reader, he found himself thinking, "I can do that."
After his first novel Patterson wrote several more that followed trends in entertainment. In 1980, he wrote a demonic child book called Virgin that was inspired by the 1968 film Rosemary's Baby. When Wall Street was a hot film of 1987, he wrote a Wall Street Thriller called Black Market.
Then, in 1993, he debuted the character Alex Cross in Along Came a Spider. It was at this time that he came up with the idea that created the template for the modern blockbuster author. When Along Came a Spider was about to be released, Patterson, the former ad man, told his publishers that the best way to get his book onto the best seller lists was to advertise it on television. At the time, television ads for books rarely happened. His publishers balked, so Patterson financed it himself.
The spot opened with a spider descending down the screen and a voice over saying: "You can stop waiting for the next 'Silence of the Lambs.' " Once his publishers saw the spot, they agreed to share the cost of rolling it out in a number of markets where thriller sold well.
Along Came a Spider debuted at No. 9 on the New York Times hardcover best-seller list and No. 2 in paperback. It remains Patterson's most successful book, with more than five million copies in print.
Every year, hundreds of suspenseful, fun novels are published. It is likely that without those ads, Along Came a Spider would have been just another one of those, and today James Patterson would now be just another thriller writer.
Alongside the ads, Patterson also employed his advertising background to build his audience. He did so methodically. Like a politician courting his base, Patterson did fan outreach like a man on a mission. He worked for his success and fame. He didn't just sit back and write and hope readers would wander into a bookstore and find his books. He got in their faces and basically said "BUY MY BOOK." He used the world like a giant focus group for his books. Patterson worked in advertising for a quarter of a century. He still does. Only today, the product he pushes is himself and his novels–to the tune of a $470 million net worth!