By Christine Kearney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Prolific novelist James Patterson has raised the stakes on what it means to be a modern-day publisher, again, and this time he is doing it for one of his passions -- getting kids to read.
The bestselling author, who most often is equated with being at the forefront of mass market fiction's dominance of the publishing industry, has this week for the first time released two books on the same day in the United States -- one aimed at adults and the second for kids.
The idea, he said, is that parents will enter a book store -- physical or online -- to buy his new suspense novel, "Now You See Her," and might also pick up his newest fiction for young readers, "Middle School, The Worst Years of My Life."
Some fans will likely praise Patterson for upping his push to get American kids reading more. But there is little doubt that skeptics may think it a clever plot to boost book sales.
Patterson, who began his career as an advertising guru before becoming a novelist, is a certifiable entertainment mogul. He is responsible for a record 45 New York Times hardcover No. 1s with 230 million copies sold worldwide.
Yet, he says this week's dual-book publishing ploy is not about sales but about exposing kids to novels. And he claims his 17 young reader books show he is serious about kids, young adult books and reading.
"I am obsessed with it," said the 64-year-old who launched his website readkiddoread.com in 2008 to help parents pick kids' books. "It's a huge, huge problem in this country and probably all other countries. But we have millions of kids in this country who have never read a book in their life."
Indeed, one in six U.S. children do not read proficiently by the time they reach the end of third grade, according to the nonprofit group Children's Literacy Initiative.
His latest novel for youngsters, "Middle School," which was co-written with Chris Tebbetts, is his first book to target middle-grade kids. It aims to be a funny look at classes through the eyes of a boy called Rafe, coping with bullying, crushes and family changes, complete with wacky illustrations.
MEDIA MOGUL OR JUST "GOOD STORYTELLER"?
After starting out in the mid-1970s with a book that scored only modest sales, Patterson left a top job in advertising and now has 83 books published. His work has sold in some 100 countries and has been rewritten in 43 languages.
Last year Patterson outsold Stephen King, Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson and John Grisham combined, and already in 2011 he is outselling all four combined, according to his publisher Little, Brown & Co.
But Patterson didn't stop at publishing novels. Last year, his company James Patterson Entertainment expanded into comic books. This year, his young adult fantasy, "Witch & Wizard," is being made into a movie, and so is another of his books featuring popular detective Alex Cross.
After earlier film adaptations of thrillers "Along Came A Spider" and "Kiss The Girls," Patterson began finding money to make movies himself. Now, he uses Hollywood's studios solely for distribution, which normally means more control of scripts and costs, as well as a greater share of profits.
Yet, his brand of publishing and expansion into other forms of entertainment has brought criticism for his method of using collaborators to write books with him in order to boost the volume of work that bears his name.
Patterson defends his practice by pointing out that movies and TV shows have teams of writers. Working with others is necessary, he said, because he has "a gazillion ideas" and he cannot physically write them all "in the same way Steven Spielberg can't direct every movie."
He has full control over the work, he said, which typically involves him putting together an extensive story outline before handing it over to a writer for a first draft, with whom he constantly checks in, before handling many rewrites.
Patterson says his lower middle-class background and varied life experiences, including a stint working in a mental hospital, have given him a good feel for people, characters and story -- not only for adults, but kids, too.
"For some reason in this country people are so into the idea of rugged individualism," he said. "That's why people will get particularly negative about it," he said.
"Read the book. You read the book and you hate it, (then) you can be negative."
(editing by Mark Egan and Bob Tourtellotte)