James Patterson, whose popular books have made him a staple on the USA TODAY best selling books list for years, is reflecting on his lengthy writing career – and how he believes white men are struggling lately to get hired in the entertainment industry.
Speaking with The Sunday Times in an interview published over the weekend, Patterson lamented white men struggling to find writing jobs in film, theater, TV and publishing industries as “just another form of racism.”
“What’s that all about?” he continued. “Can you get a job? Yes. Is it harder? Yes. It’s even harder for older writers. You don’t meet many 52-year-old white males.”
The numbers say otherwise. While there’s little in the way of definitive industry-wide data, recent reports and publishing industry audits show the landscape is overwhelmingly white.
Major publisher Penguin Random House conducted a 2019-2021 diversity self-audit and found that 74.9% of its contributors in that period were white; only 6% were Black, while 5% were Hispanic or Latinx. The publisher’s employees also skewed heavily white, making up 74.2% of its workforce.
In 2020, the New York Times compiled its own data to determine just how white the publishing industry is and in their sample, 89% of the books written in 2018 were by white authors. A 2019 survey also found that 85% of the people who acquire and edit books are white.
Many writers took to Twitter to call Patterson out on his comments, which some found galling because of the author’s profound wealth and factory-like business model. Patterson, who’s 75, ranked No. 15 on Forbes’ list of 2020 Celebrity 100 Earnings, citing him as America’s highest paid author with a net worth of $80 million.
That wealth comes from the more than 300 books Patterson has to his name. If that sounds like too many for any one person to write, that’s because it is: Patterson is as much a brand manager as author, and many of his titles are developed with lesser-billed co-writers – he even teaches a MasterClass in co-writing.
“James Patterson of all people. First of all, write your own books, pal,” author Roxane Gay tweeted.
“I’ve been in editorial meetings where books by BIPOC writers were turned down because ‘we already have one,'” wrote thriller writer Jason Pinter. “I respect everything James Patterson has done for indies and giving back to the industry, but his comments on race are false, hurtful, and beyond tone deaf.”
USA TODAY reached out to Patterson’s representative for comment.
In the Sunday Times interview, Patterson also griped with the uproar over Woody Allen’s 2020 memoir, which was pulled from publisher Hatchette Book Group after employees walked out of work in protest. Less than a month later, the memoir found a new home and was published by Arcade Publishing.
“The decision to cancel Mr. Allen’s book was a difficult one. At HBG we take our relationships with authors very seriously, and do not cancel books lightly. We have published and will continue to publish many challenging books,” Sophie Cottrell, a spokesperson for Hatchette said in an emailed statement to USA TODAY at the time. “As publishers, we make sure every day in our work that different voices and conflicting points of views can be heard.”
“I hated that,” Patterson said of the publishing house pulling Allen’s book. “He has the right to tell his own story.”
He added: “I’m almost always on the side of free speech.”
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Patterson also reflected on one of his early successes, the “Alex Cross” series, which stars the titular police detective as he protects his family and residents of Washington, D.C. Morgan Freeman starred in the 2001 film adaptation.
“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.”
Patterson recently made the best seller list for “Run, Rose, Run,” his fiction collaboration with Dolly Parton. Now, he’s promoting “James Patterson: The Stories of My Life,” a memoir about how he rose from “a boy from small-town New York (to) become the world’s most successful writer.”
“I was driven early on because I really believed that my parents wouldn’t love me as much if I wasn’t successful,” he added. “I don’t think I am the same person now. I do believe that I’m loveable. I think I’m a decent person.”