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James Patterson Has a Big Plan for Small Books

21 March 2016

From The New York Times:

People already read James Patterson’s books — and in staggering numbers. Last year, he and his team of writers had 36 books land on the New York Times best-seller list. To date, he has published 156 books that have sold more than 325 million copies worldwide.

But Mr. Patterson is after an even bigger audience. He wants to sell books to people who have abandoned reading for television, video games, movies and social media.

So how do you sell books to somebody who doesn’t normally read?

Mr. Patterson’s plan: make them shorter, cheaper, more plot-driven and more widely available.

In June, Mr. Patterson will test that idea with BookShots, a new line of short and propulsive novels that cost less than $5 and can be read in a single sitting. Mr. Patterson will write some of the books himself, write some with others, and hand pick the rest. He aims to release two to four books a month through Little, Brown, his publisher. All of the titles will be shorter than 150 pages, the length of a novella.

Mr. Patterson said the books would be aimed at readers who might not want to invest their time in a 300- or 400-page novel. And he hopes they might even appeal to people who do not normally read at all. If it works, it could open up a big new market: According to a Pew Research Center survey released last fall, 27 percent of American adults said they had not read a book in the past year.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to J.A. for the tip.

Big Publishing

31 Comments to “James Patterson Has a Big Plan for Small Books”

  1. This fascinates me.

    The part about selling to non-readers strikes me honestly as a loser.

    But it doesn’t mean he can’t sell a gazillion books to people who read but would rather read short.

    Anyway, in these matters, he’s smarter than anyone I know, so I will watch with wonder.

    • It’s more fuzzy than binary. By some definitions, best-sellers sell mostly to NON-readers, and they do make a dime. I do think a bunch of people would rather read shorter works than doorstoppers in their way to or from work.

      And I look forward to the day I can nominate him for Hugo novella… 😉

      Take care.

    • @ Ryan

      “The part about selling to non-readers strikes me honestly as a loser.”


  2. Pulps reinvented.
    Considering a lot of Indies inhabit that space…

    • Good point – a reinvention.

      Given it’s James Patterson leading this charge, I think the reinvention may involve a new and heightened sense of the medium and a lot of rigor in the execution.

    • Martin L. Shoemaker

      Branded pulps. And no, that’s not new, but Patterson is a pretty big brand.

  3. I hope this catches on. I have a series – the Alec Stover Mysteries – that are all this length and I sell them for 99 cents each. 2 are done and the 3rd is in the works. Maybe Patterson’s influence will spur some interest in shorter works.

  4. So he wants to do what a lot of Indies are doing already?

    I agree with Merrill: “Maybe Patterson’s influence will spur some interest in shorter works.”

    …which is how I prefer to write.

  5. It’ll be interesting to see how this works out.

    Lots of writers are putting out novellas, either as additions to their series or sometimes as a series itself. However, my impression is that these are normally e-book only, even when the full length titles have a paperback version.

    So will Mr. Patterson be able to make a go of this in print? Maybe he could add short stories for those who need an even quicker read, bind them together with a novella and publish a magazine (“Patterson’s Mystery Magazine” maybe) and we have Felix’s pulps truly reinvented.

    • DWS has been doing this for a while, and is doing well enough with Smith’s Monthly that he’s still doing it. But Patterson has a bigger name than almost anyone else, so…

      • Doing well? Let’s take a look. The latest issue, #26, is currently ranked at #1,954,502 Paid in Kindle Store.

        I didn’t take a look at all issues on Amazon, but it appears only #1 and #2 have any reviews (1 each).

        #17 has no ranking at all. Does that mean even though it was published April 3rd, 2015, it hasn’t sold a single copy for Kindle?(The paperback copy doesn’t have a ranking, either.)

        For whatever reason he’s doing this, it’s for some other reason than financial. He’s publishing these books every month, but no one really seems to care.

        • Don’t be so sure.

          DWS is a proponent of print, channel diversification, and the long tail. Plus it is a *magazine* and they do subscriptions so single issue sales at ebookstores don’t necessarily represent the popularity of the project.

          Plus he is a very prolific author with a variety of ongoing series. His economics are very different from a writer doing two titles a year. For him, the long tail is a net, not a string.

          Not many can do what he is doing but it’s going on two years, now; that suggests it’s working well enough to stick with it that long, at least.

        • Dean Wesley Smith

          Thanks, Felix.

          And Larry, Smith’s Monthly is a magazine which sells very, very few copies per issue as a book on Amazon, and every sale is just a bonus as far as I am concerned. So your focus on one site, if that is all you look at, would show it as a failure, but more of your failure of perspective and data than mine. It is a magazine and thus has subscriptions (Smith’sMonthly.com) and a Patreon base and also every story and every novel from each issue (one 50,000 word novel, four short stories, and serial novel every month) go up as well and into other collections.

          And, of course, I sell everywhere, with a focus on paper.

          As Tony said, it does well, and as Felix said correctly, I am after the long tail. Smith’s Monthly is a way for me to gather all my writing together every month and get it out to fans. And, also, it’s great fun and makes enough to make it worth my time.

    • Yep, my Alec Stover mysteries are ebooks. I plan to do a print version that would include the first three once I get #3 done.

  6. Ebooks that can be read on a single sitting are sorry stories. So 5 dollars for short stories.

    • Average rate of reading: 250-300 words per minute.

      Let’s underestimate and assume 200 words per minute. Multiply by 60 = 12,000 words per hour.

      That means even a slow reader can finish a 24,000 word novella in two hours. That’s a single sitting.

    • I sometimes read novels in a single setting. Granted, it takes me four to five hours, so I don’t do it often.

      Does that make novels sorry stories?

      Amazon has put my novellas and short stories in their own “short reads” categories. That tells me people are looking for that kind of stories.

  7. I’m all for anything that gets people reading more and builds that habit.

    And if they master the shorter stuff and want to try something longer for the same money? Well, I know of a novel I’m happy to sell them for $4.99 (or less, if they time it right).

  8. It would seem if you can read it in one sitting, it’s likely more of a short story (or a much shorter novella), rather than a novel. NYT needs to learn the difference.

    That said, if Patterson can make shorter works more popular (and able to sell for more than .99), I’m in. I love to writer shorter than a novel.

    • Unless it’s War and Peace or Genji, I can usually read any novel in a single sitting.

      A short story is more like a single sitting on the toilet, to be honest. Or if it sounds nicer, it’s a flitting rather than a sitting.

  9. Read the article and it looks like they’re trying to make shorter paper books happen again with the ebooks as an afterthought. Publishers should go where the people are – on their phones through ebooks instead of forcing their preferred format on consumers.

  10. The article made it look like Patterson just thought of a newfangled idea when indies have been doing it for the last 4-5 years. A lot indies have had a lot fun writing shorter books and more frequently per year. Our readers are happy, speaking for myself as an indie author (I write books of all lengths).

    And Amazon has those Kindle Short Reads categories that have been around for ages. You can browse by reading time e.g.
    15 minutes
    30 minutes
    45 minutes
    One hour
    90 minutes
    Two hours or more

    Nothing new under the sun, eh! 🙂

  11. Phyllis Humphrey

    I, too, have already begun a small-book series, priced at $1.99 each, so I hope Patterson’s catches on.

  12. I read a lot and buy a lot of books so I’m probably not Patterson’s target audience, but $5 seems a lot of money for a short story. It seems to me a non-reader would rather get a $2 or free app to play with rather than spend $5 for something consumed in one sitting.

  13. The thing to remember is that Patterson already HAS a built-in audience. All of the folks that snap up his regular books are going to climb right on board with these shorter books and snap them up as well.

    Whether or not he cracks the “non-reading market” is irrelevant, in my opinion. He is STILL going to make a(nother) bucket full of money.

  14. I think it’s smart and it’ll succeed. Of course it isn’t a new idea, but the series will be branded and marketed effectively, because Patterson understands how to do that.
    That alone will make a big difference. I expect he’ll have something like ‘Fast Read’ on the cover. I’ll be very interested to see how he does it, and I think this could shift the market a bit in terms of the commercial success of shorter fiction.
    Indies write lots of shorts, but they don’t actively market them to people who want a short read. I assume, because most writers, as readers, like reading and wouldn’t themselves choose stories based on their shortness.

  15. Next week: James Patterson invents a bookstore which never closes, one that everyone can magically reach via their personal computers.

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