Walking the floor of BookExpo America with James Patterson

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 James Patterson

A walk with Patterson on the BEA floor is equal parts discourse on the state of publishing; serial acceptance of sincere warm thanks for his work on behalf of independent bookstores; and victory lap of the conqueror. (Brian Harkin/Photo for the Tribune)

Just before merging into the convention floor, James Patterson, world's best-selling author, looks up at the hockey-rink sized banners hanging above the entryway to the BookExpo America 2014.

Dangled by their publishers from the ceiling of New York's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center are the likes of Jodi Picoult, David Mitchell, even Lena Dunham and James Frey. At the country's biggest book show, this is the big-time promotional stuff, the author's name and forthcoming work emblazoned on a Paul Bunyan bedsheet, letting all of the less-selling writers see how clearly it is that one big book begets another. Sometimes there is even a picture. Of an author.

This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.

But what of Patterson, the crime fiction and, more recently, young adult writer who's got two new titles coming out June 23, the man whose name adorns the covers of no fewer than eight books currently occupying the scant few bookshelves of a Hudson News at John F. Kennedy Airport?

"Where the hell am I?" asks Patterson. "Where's my stuff?"

Patterson is kidding. Mostly, the author, whose first career was as a top-level ad man, says he is excited to see the publishing industry starting to look a little more like the rest of ad-soaked America.

"Why should Comic Con be a big deal and this isn't?" he asks, happy that the BEA is now reaching out to the public, too, with a day billed as "BookCon," at which regular people can come walk the show floor.

"Somebody was talking about, 'We're all book nerds.' That's too limiting. No, we're not all book nerds. It's more, Everybody's welcome. Yes, nerds are welcome. Yes, kids are more than welcome. Parents. Everybody. Nobody should be excluded."

And why, he wonders, are most newspapers devoting less and less space to books, while movies — all movies — get the royal treatment. "I've said this before," Patterson says. "There's 'Son of Chucky 6,' and every paper has a review of it? Why?"

And while there may not be a giant poster for him this year, Patterson's publisher since forever, Little, Brown, treats him well, and he treats Little, Brown very, very well, with more than 300 million books sold in a career that renders the word "prolific" inadequate. This weekend, at the Printers Row Lit Fest, he'll accept the Chicago Tribune's 2014 Chicago Tribune Young Adult Literary Award for his multifaceted efforts to inspire young readers.

"Little, Brown has always been a real good publisher," he says. Most of his books, these days, are written with co-authors. "I love the fact that they do a lot of serious books, and they do commercial. I really love being open to all sorts of things. They listen to me within reason. I really do have a fair amount of say on most of the things."

As he says this, he is walking, provocatively, toward the big floor display of one of the rivals to Little, Brown's parent, Hachette.

"Let's go to Simon & Schuster. That's always fun when we go to one of the big ones," says Patterson, who wears his 67 years seemingly as easily as his fame in the publishing world. "They're like, 'Oh, what are you doing here?' At one point they made an offer (to sign him). I didn't take it."

A walk with Patterson on the BEA floor is equal parts discourse on the state of publishing; serial acceptance of sincere warm thanks for his work on behalf of independent bookstores; and victory lap of the conqueror.

He gets recognized quite a bit, but not in the way that Anjelica Huston, passing by to sign copies of her autobiography, is recognized.

"Hi, how are you?" Patterson says to the actress. "Love your work."

It's a level of fame that he says suits him well: "It used to be — when there were more bookstores — that if I needed my ego to be stroked, I could always walk in, 'Hi, I'm James Patterson.' That would work."

But you don't get the sense he needs much ego stroking these days. Personal compliments he deflects with easy self-deprecation.

"Are you James Patterson?" asks Ruth Cardello, an independent romance author.

"Why?" Patterson asks. "Does he owe you money?"

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