Not only is James Patterson a best-selling author, he’s been the best-selling author on the planet since 2001. Yes, more of his books have sold than J.K. Rowling’s.
One out of every 26 hardcover fiction books sold in the U.S. in 2013 was written by James Patterson. He’s produced over 130 separate novels. His income last year was $90 million.
Patterson got his start as a junior copywriter at the venerable J. Walter Thompson agency. While that experience isn’t the main reason for his success by any means, there are nine things Patterson does that can help us with our copywriting businesses:
1. He has a system.
He creates outlines for each book where he sketches the action in detail, instead of writing the book itself from scratch. Some detractors call it “paint by number,” but it saves him time and it allows him to churn out books, or as he calls it, “crafting.”
Lesson: The more you can systematize your copywriting projects, the more projects you can take on, while still injecting your own creativity into each one.
2. He has an “Idea Folder.”
Where have you heard this before? Be an Idea Generator, even more than a copywriter, and you’ll never lack for work.
3. He takes an unorthodox approach to promoting his books.
Patterson advertised his first book, Along Came a Spider, on television in 1993, unheard of in those days.
Lesson: Consider marketing your own copywriting services in a different way than the masses.
4. He’s built a strong personal brand.
5. He publishes multiple titles per year.
This was a radical approach until Patterson came along and suggested it to his publisher, Little, Brown.
As copywriters, we often focus on quality over quantity. It’s certainly important to deliver good quality copy, but why not do both? Why not crank up your production?
Yes, you can double your rates…or you can find more efficient ways to deliver a lot more good copy and double your income that way.
6. He’s branched out into new niches.
Rather than relying on his mainstay of adult thrillers, Patterson branched out into young adult and children’s novels. He produces a dozen new titles a year for this audience, and they’re selling like crazy.
Lesson: Don’t limit yourself to one niche. If you can write copy in one niche, you can probably write copy in many areas.
7. He does more research than most authors.
It’s a lesson Patterson learned working as a copywriter on Madison Avenue.
“I know who my readers are and how to engage them, how to scare them, how to get people to feel for the characters, how to make my readers laugh,” says Patterson.
Lesson: More research, greater connection with readers, more of them taking action (in his case, buying more of his books).
8. He has a formula.
His books have lots of periods in the paragraphs, lots of paragraphs per page, and very few pages per chapter.
Each chapter begins with a quick reminder of people and events in the prior one, and most books end with a bonus preview chapter of another book.
Lesson: Like Patterson’s outline system, do you have a formula that works to speed up your writing process?
9. He writes every day.
Seven days a week, 365 days a year.
Obvious lesson: Not just practice, but productivity. What are you producing on a daily basis that someone is paying you for?
Take Patterson’s processes and apply them to your copywriting business. You’ll write faster, come up with more ideas, and be a more prolific (and probably better paid) copywriter.
And if you ever get tired of that? Start writing some novels on the side.
I’d like to know two things. Do you have a writing process for your copywriting projects, and do you have aspirations to write a novel?