With more than 260 million books sold around the world, novelist James Patterson no longer worries about whether his next crime thriller will flop.
He’s more concerned about building an audience of future readers at a time when the written word competes with film, television, video games and more. Part of the solution is getting more children to read widely at a young age, he says.
“If you can get kids to the dinner table, you can get them to read,” the affable Patterson, 65, said in an interview at the Manhattan headquarters of his publisher, Hachette Book Group. “You just have to insist on it.”
The prolific writer has a website to encourage reading, writes books aimed at a young audience and regularly gives books away. Last week, he donated 3,000 copies of his novels to the Los Angeles Unified School District.
A former advertising executive, Patterson has produced 95 works of adult and children’s fiction. Last year, he earned an estimated $84 million, according to Forbes magazine, which named him the world’s best-paid author.
In the past decade, Patterson started focusing on donating his wealth and books to charity.
“I have a bigger war chest now,” Patterson said. “Instead of setting up a foundation, I said let’s just do it.”
Each year, he gives a total of $70,000 to college-bound students who write the best essays for his College Book Bucks programs. The winners are required to spend the awards on books listed on the IndieBound.org website.
In March, he donated 200,000 novels to U.S. armed forces. Patterson also has donated money to his alma maters, Manhattan College and Vanderbilt University, from which he holds degrees in English.
Four years ago, Patterson started ReadKiddoRead.com, a website with suggested-reading lists for children and teenagers. It includes illustrated books for babies such as “Tails” by Matthew Van Fleet and Bob Shea’s “Dinosaur vs. Bedtime.” Also on the list is J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” and fiction titles for ages 9 or older such as U.K. mystery author Siobhan Dowd’s award-winning “The London Eye Mystery.”
Patterson also holds a monthly raffle on the site that gives away a box of his bestselling books to 25 high schools. The winning schools this month will receive copies of “Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment,” part of his young-adult science-fiction series launched in 2005. It focuses on the lives of six fugitive kids who are 98 percent human and 2 percent avian.
“The best way to get kids reading is to give them the books they love,” said the author best known for his thrillers such as “Along Came a Spider” and “Kiss the Girls” featuring forensic psychologist Alex Cross. “My style of storytelling would be good for kids. I’m in touch with the child inside myself.”
There will be no shortage of Patterson novels for future readers. At his Palm Beach, Florida, home, he said he and his team of collaborators and co-writers are working on more than 35 manuscripts, film scripts and outlines for future novels.
“I’m a freak,” Patterson said about his nonstop writing schedule. “I thought it was presumptuous when I started that I could even make a living doing this.”