As James Patterson reflected on the state of the writing world today, the best-selling thriller novelist with an estimated net worth of roughly $800 million lamented how one group in particular is having a hard time finding work: White men.
“What’s that all about? Can you get a job? Yes. Is it harder? Yes,” Patterson, 75, told the British newspaper. “It’s even harder for older writers. You don’t meet many 52-year-old white males.”
Now, Patterson is facing backlash from critics and writers who say the author has blatantly ignored recent data showing how the publishing industry has been and remains “a business that is owned by white men.” In a diversity self-audit from Penguin Random House, the publisher found that about 75 percent of the contributors during that period were White. Just 6 percent were Black, while 5 percent were Hispanic, the audit shows. The company also acknowledged that more than 74 percent of its employees were White.
A 2019 survey from children’s publisher Lee and Low Books found that 85 percent of the publishing staffers who acquire and edit books are White people. A 2020 report from the New York Times found a similar result across the U.S. publishing industry, with 89 percent of the books written in 2018 being penned by White writers.
“James Patterson of all people,” best-selling author Roxane Gay tweeted. “First of all, write your own books, pal.”
Patterson uses ghostwriters to help him publish multiple titles a year.
On Tuesday afternoon, Patterson tweeted an apology, saying: “I absolutely do not believe that racism is practiced against white writers.”
I apologize for saying white male writers having trouble finding work is a form of racism. I absolutely do not believe that racism is practiced against white writers. Please know that I strongly support a diversity of voices being heard—in literature, in Hollywood, everywhere.
— James Patterson (@JP_Books) June 14, 2022
With more than 300 titles to his name, Patterson is one of the publishing world’s most prolific writers. He has sold more than 400 million copies of his books, with the New Yorker lauding Patterson this week as “the world’s best-selling author.” His 260 New York Times bestsellers led Publisher’s Weekly to dub him as the top best-selling author since 2005.
Forbes reported in 2018 that Patterson was worth an estimated net value of $800 million, tying him with golfer Tiger Woods. Patterson made an estimated $70 million in 2019 alone, according to Forbes, trailing only J.K. Rowling.
While hundreds of millions have bought his books, critics and authors have pinged Patterson on his writing style and use of ghostwriters to help him publish multiple titles a year. Patterson told The Washington Post in 2016 that his simple and declarative style is meant “to turn on the movie projectors in our heads.”
“I’ve taken the fat out of commercial novels,” he said at the time. “In an awful lot of novels, there’s more in them than there should be.”
Patterson’s rise was due, in part, to the success of his “Alex Cross” series, in which a fictional Black detective takes on threats to his family and Washington. The series led to three films, with actor Morgan Freeman portraying Cross in “Kiss the Girls” and “Along Came a Spider.”
When the Sunday Times observed the early success of a series involving a Black main character, Patterson noted that race did not play an issue in developing one of his most memorable characters.
“I just wanted to create a character who happened to be Black,” Patterson said. “I would not have tried to write a serious saga about a Black family. It’s different in a detective story because plot is so important.”
In addition to his comments about White men in publishing, Patterson denounced the decision from his own publisher, Hachette Book Group, to drop Woody Allen’s memoir in 2020 after employees staged a protest of the book due to the long-running allegations of sexual abuse against the famed director. Allen’s memoir, “Apropos of Nothing,” was eventually picked up by Arcade Publishing.
“I hated that,” Patterson said of Allen’s book getting pulled. “He has the right to tell his own story.”
Patterson added, “I’m almost always on the side of free speech.”
But much of the attention from Patterson’s interview was on his claim that White men are struggling to find work in publishing. Gina Denny, an associate editor at the publisher TouchPoint Press, noted that when USA Today reported on Patterson’s comments, just nine authors on the newspaper’s list of 150 bestsellers were non-White writers. Three of Patterson’s titles made the list, while just five women of color and four men of color were on the bestseller list. The rest were made up of White men between the ages of 36 and 84, Denny said — and some of the White males on the list have long been dead.
“Dead white men are statistically as likely to be on the USA Today bestseller list as a person of color,” Denny wrote.
Before Patterson’s apology, several Black writers took exception to Patterson’s comments, including Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, author of “This is Why I Resist.”
“What an obtuse statement from James Patterson. He best pick up books & educate himself on what racism is,” she wrote. “He’s missing good old days when White men had ALL the writing gigs?”
Frederick Joseph noted that 20 publishers rejected “Patriarchy Blues,” which became a bestseller last month, because he said publishing houses “didn’t think people would buy a book by a Black man discussing patriarchy.”
“James Patterson thinks white men are facing racism in publishing,” wrote Joseph, who has written two best-selling books. “From a Black man who has had over 50 rejections of books (all of which are now bestsellers) because white editors don’t understand them or ‘already have Black male authors’ … shut up.”
Joseph added, “Support Black authors.”