Saturday, October 10, 2015

James Patterson MasterClass Week 5

We have now, for the most part, moved past the lessons on writing. In this week’s lessons, it sounds as if even Patterson has gotten tired of the class. There’s no enthusiasm, which he did have in the beginning lessons. Fortunately, there’s only one more week after this.

The first lesson is Editing, which, for Patterson, appears to consist mostly of cutting words out. Since his genre is thriller and his primary goal is to keep a high level of action and the pages turning quickly, this works for him. I write traditional mysteries, which are more character based than thrillers as a rule. I also tend to write rather spare drafts, perfect to do during NaNoWriMo. For me, editing is both taking words out and putting words in.

Some of my scenes are mostly dialogue in the first draft, with maybe a little bit of emotional reaction or body language. But they could take place in an empty white room. So I have to add in the ambience, the sights, sounds, and smells of the location, so the reader experiences being there with the characters. And, while I know what my characters look like, I have to make sure my readers do, so I’ll add in little details about their clothing or hair or mention they have to put sunscreen on their fair skin before going out.



What most surprised me about this lesson was how many rewrites Patterson does. I think he said something like eight or ten. It’s surprising because, according to the earlier lessons, he spends months on his outlines and rewrites them four or five times. I’d think that after doing all that groundwork, the first draft would be pretty close to final.

The sixteenth lesson is Working With Co-Authors. A lot of this sounded defensive to me, reaction to the criticism that Patterson just puts his name on these books so he can collect more money. He explains how it is actually a joint process, and has a couple of his co-authors talk about it in the video as well.

While I’ve come to understand co-authorship a little better than I used to, my primary reaction to this lesson was that it was a bit premature for a beginning writer. If you haven’t got the skills yourself to write good books, chances are teaming up with another author at the same level isn’t going to help your writing.

Next up is Getting Published. Well, sure, we’ve been watching these videos for five weeks now, so certainly it’s time to think about getting published. Yes, that was sarcasm.

A lot of this lesson is on writing query letters and finding an agent. It’s all about traditional publishing, so at this point, if you haven’t already, you need to start networking, making those connections so your work won’t get lost in the slush pile. Go to conferences, approach successful published authors, etc.

There’s absolutely nothing about self-publishing, not even a reference to it as an option or not to do it at all. If you’re contemplating going that route, this won’t help you.

And the last lesson for this week is Book Titles and Covers. I’m not sure why this is in the class since, as a traditionally published author, you won’t have much—if any—say in either one of these. Yes, you submit your book with a working title, but this is frequently changed by the publisher. As far as covers go, you’ll probably get to see what your cover looks like, but you’ll rarely have any input on how it should look.

This week’s lessons brought home to me how distant from a beginning writer James Patterson is. He reached the point where having co-authors made sense years ago. He had the money right from the start (from his day job) to attend lots of conferences and hang out in the bar. He worked in marketing, so he had the skills to do the kind of networking necessary to leverage into contacts with agents and editors. He gets to pick his titles and approve his covers. When you have sales like he does, you probably will, too.

From the titles of the last week’s lessons, there won’t be much on actual writing in them, so I think I’m ready to offer an overall opinion on this class.

It might have been interesting to me ten years ago, when I knew little about writing and traditional publishing was all there was. Now, not so much.

I figured out that Patterson talks a lot about the “what” and hardly at all about the “how.” Write down your ideas. Create conflict in your plot. Do research. Write an outline. Have a great first line. When you’re starting out, these may be new concepts, so you’ll overlook the fact that the lessons are thin on details.

There’s nothing about the business of writing. He doesn’t cover copyright or contracts or rights reversion or budgeting or legal considerations or anything else in that vein. He comes from the generation where agents took care of all of that. But, in today’s world (and probably even back when Patterson started), it’s imperative you understand the business side.

Was it worth the money? Perhaps. Like I said at the start of this series, I got a discount coupon which reduced the price by a third. I did pick up a few tips and usually that’s enough for me to consider a class worthwhile. If I knew then what I know now, would I have paid full price for it? No.

I’ve been holding this back for a few weeks, but it’s time now. Shortly after I registered for the Patterson class, the guys from the Self Publishing Podcast released a series of podcasts titled Story Shop - Write Better Stories Faster. This series includes most of the same topics as Patterson’s, but each of the videos is at least twice as long as Patterson’s and much more interesting. And, best of all, it’s FREE.

Yes, the podcasts are free because they’re marketing a new app to do story planning. But the series itself is excellent.

You can find it at www.sterlingandstone.net/fm . Note that this will open up in iTunes, so if you don’t have that app, you’ll have to download iTunes first. But you probably should have that anyway.
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