James Patterson MasterClass Week 5

Saturday, October 10, 2015
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.


Carol E. Keen said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I was curious when I heard about the class, but un-impressed with what I saw to get people into the classes. I'm very grateful I didn't spend funding as it's not what I need right now. I'm so glad to have read your thoughts on this! Thank you for sharing!

Elise M Stone said...

You're welcome, Carol. I consider this series a public service. When I was trying to decide whether to take the course or not, I found precious little in the nature of reviews of it. Patterson's name is definitely a draw, and it's all too tempting to fork over your money on the basis of that.

Melissa Therrien said...

Hi Elise,

Question for you. I'm interested in taking the patterson class for two reasons.

A) to help me sort through the idea slush pile faster to sort the gems and the glass imitations
B)To learn more about how to market and sell your book (even though I intend on going the self-publishing route, I hoped it would have some helpful tips).

Is it worth spending the money, in your opinion?



Elise M Stone said...

I'm not sure how to answer your questions because they're at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of a writing career.

A) Any idea can be a gem. Does the idea excite you? Can you not wait to start telling this story?
Sometimes developing a story is rubbing two ideas together to see if they make sparks.
As Holly Lisle wrote:
It doesn’t matter what idea you have (or take from a published novel, or from a how-to book on writing, or whatever)—the idea is not the core of the novel. You are. You and what you bring to the book you’re writing will be unique, because the characters will come from you, and their reactions, thoughts and feelings will come from you.

Holly has written hundreds, if not thousands, of articles on writing. I'd give you a link to her site, but she's in the midst of a massive redesign and lots is broken. This is the link to her courses and fiction shop: http://howtothinksideways.com/shop/ I'm not sure what is and isn't working and I can't find the articles index. Note that her "big" courses are very expensive, but the introductory stuff will give you an idea of what she can teach you.

Anyway, the fact that you're asking the question seems to say you're at the beginning of your journey toward being a writer, which makes the second question moot.

There is more advice on how to market and sell a book available free online than you'll ever be able to digest. Marketing tactics also tend to change on a regular basis. However, the consensus is that the best thing you can do to sell a book is to write another book. The more books you have available, the more visibility you'll have. Some indie authors recommend not bothering to market at all until you have three books (or five or ten) published.

Try these sites:
http://www.lindsayburoker.com/e-publishing/ebook-marketing-strategies-for-2015-what-will-work/ (Hit the Home button to get the most recent things Lindsay has to say)

I listen to a ton of podcasts. Ones I can recommend (although they all have their good points and their bad points):
The Sell More Books Show
The Rocking Self-Publishing Podcast
The Self-Publishing Podcast (language alert)

I have no idea what your financial situation is, which is part of making the decision as to whether the Patterson class is worth it or not. If $90 doesn't sound like a lot of money to you, go for it. He's generally entertaining, if nothing else. If you'll have to squeeze $90 out of your grocery money, I'd say skip paying for this class and get familiar with the free resources available to you.

One more thing: if you write mysteries, look for a chapter of Sisters in Crime in your area. If you write romance, join Romance Writers of America. They'll cost about the same as the Patterson class and connecting with other writers who have walked down the path before is invaluable.

Elise M Stone said...

You're welcome, whoever you are. :-)

I would think that with all the people who have taken this class, there would be more information, but there isn't. Most of the "reviews" I found were from established writers who appeared to have been given access to the course for free in return for promoting it on their websites.

Yes, his total omission of the self-publishing option was surprising, but there are many traditionally published authors who don't think self-publishing is really publishing at all.

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