Making The List

Added on 14 September 2010

Last week's Bookseller had an interesting list of the Top 10 authors with the greatest number of No.1 books since records began. (Unlike weather records and the pop hit parade, these records only began in 1998. Who knows what they did before that? Possibly it was just someone else other than Nielsen BookScan who kept the records, and they like to pretend they don't exist.)

The leader, by some distance, is James Patterson, who has had 34 number one books. Thirty-four. Not being the most prolific reader in the world, I'm pretty sure I haven't even read thirty-four books since 1998. It would appear, on face value, that JP has written at least that number.

Of course, Mr Patterson is in the nice position of not always having to write his own books. I think that might be a nice position, at any rate. It's like a politician delivering a speech, or an actor with a great line in a movie. The politician or actor gets the credit for it, but the chances are they won't actually have written it. For example, Scooby Doo didn't write the line "Reah, there's cookies!" - the funniest line in all movie history - in Monsters Unleashed, but he got the laughs and the quote credit in the Great Movie Lines of the 21st Century books.

Mr Patterson gets to do that with his books. He gets the sales and the money and his name in incredibly large print on the cover, and someone else gets a bit less money and his name in smaller print, and none of the credit. Or criticism. One can see the appeal from both sides. What one can't see, is why so many people buy them?

In September 2009, the lad Patterson signed a deal to write or co-write something in the region of three hundred and fifty books by the end of 2012. Many of them will, depressingly, end up at number one. He can't possibly have any more than a passing interest in the books that he co-writes. They must waft by the end of his nose, as he takes a quick glance before churning out that day's five thousand words.

I understand why he takes his deal; I understand why the writers who write the books that end up with his name on it take the deal (as I'd happily do it myself); I just don't understand why so many people buy it, when they know it wasn't the guy on the cover who wrote it.

Which takes us to the writer who bookends the Top 10, using the word writer as something of a stretch. Katie Price has released eight adult readership books and they've all gone to Number One. She doesn't write her own books either, but she doesn't have to share the credit on the cover with anyone. A recent review on Amazon of her newest release begins: Paradise is by far the best book Katie has wrote. Let's leave it at that.

There are, fortunately, some real authors in between. Here's the list, with the number of No.1 titles: (As you can see, the Barney Thomson series has been marginally squeezed out. If only I'd written an eighth.)

1. James Patterson  34

2. Danielle Steel  19

3. Patricia Cornwell 12

3. Terry Pratchett  12

3. Josephine Cox  12

6. John Grisham  11

6. Jodi Picoult  11

8. Martina Cole  9

9. Maeve Binchy  8

9. Katie Price  8