James Patterson MasterClass Week 6

Saturday, October 17, 2015
As I said last week, the final week of this class isn’t exactly about writing.

In the lesson titled Marketing the Patterson Way, Patterson talks about branding, which he defines as a relationship between a product and customers. Authors usually aren’t very good at branding themselves. Most get that deer-in-the-headlights look if you ask them about their brand.

One author who has focused on branding is Brandilyn Collins, who even trademarked “Seatbelt Suspense,” her brand. With branding like that, readers know immediately what to expect from one of her books.

Patterson’s brand is “The pages turn themselves.” You’ll notice that, while Collins tells you up front she writes suspense, Patterson doesn’t have as narrow a definition of his brand. This allows him to write in different genres; except I’m pretty sure readers generally expect to find a thriller when they pick up a Patterson book.



I’ve heard other writers talk about movie deals, so the Hollywood lesson didn’t tell me anything new. That might differ for most people taking this class.

Newbie surprise number 1: An option on your book doesn’t mean it will become a movie. In fact, a huge percentage of options expire before getting close to being filmed. Smart writers don’t really mind this, because they can get a second or third or fourth option—all of which pay money to the author.

Newbie surprise number 2: The author of the book usually has absolutely no say in whether the movie bears any resemblance to the book or not.

I went to a couple of Robert B. Parker signings when I lived in Boston (and he was alive), and inevitably he’d be asked about the Spenser: For Hire television series or one of the movies made from his books. People wanted to know what he thought about the (not great) casting or the deviations from the novels. Parker would say when you sign an option, you turn over control to the filmmaker. Then he’d add with a shrug of his shoulders, “I take the check and give it to Joan.” (Joan was his wife.) He had a very practical attitude toward the whole process.

Note: His attitude about the Jesse Stone television movies was different. Tom Selleck was a fan of the books and worked hard to remain faithful to the spirit of them. That should be “works.” There’s a new Jesse Stone movie on Hallmark Channel tomorrow, the first since Parker died.

The next-to-last lesson is titled Personal Story. As you might expect, this about how Patterson grew up poor, spent time in marketing, and became a writer. It’s interesting background on the world’s bestselling author.

Closing is a brief video where Patterson gives a wrap-up. He says he’s doing this course because he likes helping people, and I believe him.

I’ve modified my opinion of this class slightly from last week. Most of that is because of reading the comments on the weekly lesson discussion forums.

I started my writing career a dozen years ago and have spent a lot of that time researching, taking classes, and practicing writing. I’ve belonged to Sisters in Crime, Romance Writers of America, and American Christian Fiction Writers. When I lived in Boston, I was fortunate enough to hear many top selling authors speak. I’ve attended the New England CrimeBake and Malice Domestic. In Tucson we have the annual Tucson Festival of Books, which brings in over 100 authors each year, many of whom give presentations, all for free.

I have two shelves of writing craft books, a third one with grammar books, dictionaries, thesauri, and books on copywriting. I have another shelf of crime reference books, many of them oriented toward writers. So it’s not surprising that I’ve heard most of what’s discussed in the class many times before.

But in reading the comments, I realize that most of the students in this class are where I was ten or twelve years ago. They don’t have the resources or experience I have now. And we all have to start our journey somewhere. So, if you’re relatively new to writing and you’re looking for an introduction to how this whole writing and publishing gig works, this MasterClass isn’t a bad place to start.

6 comments

Claire said...

Thanks, Elise, for taking us along with your journey. Your review should help many make the decision whether or not to spend their money on this, based on where they are in their writing. And thanks for the tip on the podcast -- going to check that out!

M. Johnston said...

I'm late to your party, I think, but I wanted to say thanks for the Patterson class overview. You confirmed what I suspected it would be. I'm about at your level of experience, so your comments are especially helpful to this writer.

Elise M Stone said...

You're welcome. It's always hard to judge whether a new class or craft book will be worth your time and money once you've been writing for a few years. I've always found "real people" reviews helpful and it was my turn to give back.

Christopher said...

Like you I've been writing for some time. Would you have any recommendations for more seasoned writers wanting to hone their craft?

Elise M Stone said...

The best advice came from Stephen King: "Read a lot. Write a lot."

You have to acknowledge your own strengths and weaknesses, analyze them, then find a mentor, either in a class, a book, or in person, who can help you improve in your weak areas. My greatest weakness, which I didn't even know was one until I was mid-way through the class, was having "flat" characters, characters who didn't show or feel much emotion. Margie Lawson's Empowering Characters' Emotions worked for me. I've toned down her advice, which is more oriented toward romance than mystery, but still use her EDITS system on every book.

But if you're writing space opera, that's probably not something in your top five of must haves.

Christopher said...

Thank you for your quick reply. Currently I'm working on an action / horror story. I completely get you regarding flat characters. Some characters are easy to make leap off the page, but the 'strong, silent' type can be challenging to spark interest.

Judging from your comments you've been around the block to recognize we writers are viewed as feeder fish for marketers looking to net us the next great product which for only a few hundred dollars will reveal the secret ingredient that will rocket us to success.

Thanks, again, for your advice.

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