There are about as many copies of James Patterson’s books in print (305 million) as there are Americans (population 315 million). It’s not that Patterson has written a book for each U.S. citizen, but it sometimes seems that way. In this century Patterson has sold more books than any other author, Harry Potter’s creator included. But that catches only a part–if the most successful part–of Patterson’s writing career. He began publishing fiction in 1976, when esteemed publisher Little, Brown brought out his first book: The Thomas Berryman Number.
That first novel was rejected 31 times before Little, Brown decided to use it to begin the most profitable author-publisher relationship in history. THIRTY-ONE times. Even after its acceptance, the path to publishing stardom wasn’t smooth for Patterson, who continued to work in advertising for 20 more years. Despite winning an award from the Mystery Writers of America, The Thomas Berryman Number sold only 10,000 copies. Today on Amazon a Patterson book can sell 10,000 copies in a minute.
Note: Todd S. Purdhum does a lively James Patterson profile in Vanity Fair in which he manages to write: “It is no insult to say the prose is often bad.” It’s a good read.