Victoria’s Secret Founder Sold His Idea and Paid the Price

Let me start by asking you this: has any man ever felt comfortable in a lingerie shop? Whether a man is buying something “special” for his wife, girlfriend, or himself (I don’t judge), it’s not a situation that most men feel at ease in. The feeling of both embarrassment and fear is palpable. And it was this sense – that most guys would rather be in a war zone than in a women’s lingerie store – that led California native Roy Raymond to create Victoria’s Secret back in 1977.

Roy Raymond / Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks in 2005.
Source: Pinterest / Photo by Gregory Pace, BEI, Shutterstock

The iconic lingerie retailer has seen years of scandals and declining sales and is now struggling to survive through the pandemic. Who knows, maybe we can chalk it up to bad karma. And why do I say that? Because Raymond, the original founder of Victoria’s Secret, lost his company to a business mogul named Leslie Wexner, fell into a depression, and ultimately took his own life.

So what went wrong?

A Stanford Graduate With a Vision

Roy Raymond, a Stanford business graduate, came up with the idea when he tried to buy underwear for his wife and left feeling like he was going to be placed on some sort of “list.” So he thought to himself, okay, what if there was a store that men could feel comfortable in?

Roy Raymond
Source: Pinterest

A place where they could browse at their own leisure without having to flash their wedding bands. Raymond then borrowed $40,000 from a bank as well as $40,000 from his own family and founded Victoria’s Secret as a lingerie retailer in California. The very first Victoria’s Secret location was opened at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, which is now home to 20-something trillionaires…

An Ode to the Queen

But back then, Palo Alto was still just a California suburb within a larger suburb. And the new lingerie store was the American vision of an English boudoir. Raymond chose to call the brand Victoria’s Secret as a reference to Queen Victoria. The Queen was the figure of a notoriously repressed era, and Raymond’s goal was to evoke the kind of sophistication and decency associated with such Victorian-era boudoirs.

Three women posing in long satin dresses and heels in a Victorian setting
Victoria’s Secret Catalog 1979. Source: Flickr

But he also wanted to allude to the “secret” that lies beneath the clothes. The name Victoria’s Secret suggested a sort of veil of respectability that had to be pulled over the “secrets” that were hidden underneath. Okay, so the name was perfect. But the story was anything but…

A Refreshing, Happy Medium

Raymond’s vision for the boudoir shop was all about seduction – the dark wood and red velvet sofas to the silk drapes. But the real genius of Raymond’s idea wasn’t the marketing to men – which ultimately proved to be the business’s downfall – but his attempt to find a happy medium. He was able to pinpoint a place between joyless, functional underwear, and lingerie that’s only fit for a wedding night.

Three women in silk dresses with a cream and dark blue color pattern
Victoria’s Secret Catalog 1979. Source: Flickr

At the time, however, such a middle ground didn’t exist. And so Victoria’s Secret showed up out of nowhere and changed that, providing women with flirty bras and delicate thongs in all kinds of colors. The newly liberated generation were now able to invest in fun undergarments that only a select few would be lucky enough to see (wink-wink).

Going in the Right Direction

Raymond soon launched a Victoria’s Secret catalogue, and despite those pre-Internet days, it went down pretty well. The brand was able to reach customers across the country, and not just in California. The company earned $500,000 in its first year, and Raymond decided to continue in the right direction. He started a mail-order catalogue and opened three more stores in San Francisco.

Three women in dark blue and white satin lingerie dresses
Victoria’s Secret Catalog 1979. Source: Flickr

By 1982, five stores were up and running in the Bay Area and Palo Alto, and the company was raking in more than $4 million in annual sales. It was at this stage in the game that Raymond was introduced to a man that would eventually be the reason behind his demise. That man was Leslie Wexner.

Enter Leslie Wexner

Raymond contacted Leslie Wexner, then the founder and chairman of the retail group L Brands, to discuss a potential sale after Wexner expressed an interest in acquiring Victoria’s Secret couple years prior, in 1980. In 1982, Raymond was reportedly nearing bankruptcy. Since his company was, ironically, only marketing to men, he forgot a basic principle.

Three women lounging around a vintage style chair with satin pajamas on
Victoria’s Secret Catalog 1979. Source: Flickr

The thing is that it was nonetheless a women’s underwear brand, and will mostly be purchased by a woman – not her other half. And as it has been proven time and time again, men will never fully understand female items. Alienating the women in a women’s underwear brand wasn’t the most sensible idea. And Raymond essentially paid the price… as tragic as the cost was.

$1 Million and a Handshake

Raymond ended up selling his company to Wexner, the sportswear mogul, for a total of $1 million, which included its five stores and established 42-page catalogue. At that point, the company was reported to be grossing $6 million each year. Raymond didn’t just sell his company and go home, though.

Leslie Wexner inside of a Victoria’s Secret shop
Leslie Wexner. Source: Twitter

He continued to be part of the company as its president for a year. Meanwhile, he was working on his next company, which was an upscale store for children called My Child’s Destiny. As for Wexner, the new owner of Victoria’s Secret, he quickly set out to correct Raymond’s mistakes. He chose to keep the whole “English” vibe, but change other things.

Making Some Dramatic Changes

Wexner took matters into his own hands now. Firstly, he decided to keep things English, which tends to go over well across the pond (he even set up the headquarters address as No. 10 Margaret Street in London, even though it was in Ohio no less). Wexner’s aim was to bring a little touch of Anglo-Saxon class to the average American woman’s underwear drawer.

Victoria’s Secret London magazine with a woman wearing a white nightgown
Source: Pinterest

When it came to the catalogue, he toned it down so that it would appeal to women as much as it did to their husbands. Wexner also wiped the stores of their dark wood and plush sofas, replacing them with floral prints, gold-plated perfume bottles and neatly hung artwork in soft, flattering lighting. It was a whole new vibe.

It Was More Like a Brothel

Before making the deal, Raymond spoke to Wexner about working together, but he felt that he couldn’t share in the decision-making, “and was happier getting out completely,” his wife, Gaye, said. According to Wexner, before he acquired the company, “it was a small store, and it was Victorian; not English Victorian, but brothel Victorian with red velvet sofas.” But despite the less than tasteful decor, he saw the potential in the budding business. Wexner was already a successful Ohio businessman.

A woman wearing satin pajamas in two different photographs on a page from an old Victoria’s Secret catalog
Source: Pinterest

The man who owned The Limited would later add Express, Lane Bryant, Bath & Body Works, and Limited Too to his retail empire. “There wasn’t erotic lingerie, but there was very sexy lingerie, and I hadn’t seen anything like it in the U.S.,” Wexner said. “I saw ingredients in it. What if we mixed it up differently?”

Raymond Was Failing

By 1983, Wexner had revamped Victoria’s Secret’s entire business model. He scrapped the idea of selling underwear for the liking of male customers and instead focused the brand on female patrons. In 1985, a man named Howard Gross took over as president from his previous position as vice-president. After a year as president, Roy Raymond left Victoria’s Secret to focus on his new company.

A page from a Victoria’s Secret catalog with two models wearing long satin dresses and pajamas
Victoria’s Secret Catalog 1982. Source: Flickr

But within two years, the children’s brand, My Child’s Destiny, was declared bankrupt. It left Raymond personally liable for his debts. Not only did Raymond lose two of his companies, but he and his wife lost their two homes and cars. Sadly, despite his original genius idea, Raymond didn’t live to share in his company’s success.

Meanwhile, Sales Were Through the Roof

During the ‘80s, as Raymond was experiencing failure after failure, Wexner and Victoria’s Secret were reaching unprecedented heights. By 1986, Victoria’s Secret was the only chain in the country that was devoted to lingerie. By 1990, Wexner drastically expanded and entered American shopping centers, growing the company to 350 stores.

A woman wearing a white nightgown from a vintage Victoria’s Secret catalog
Vintage Victoria’s Secret Lingerie. Source: Pinterest

Not to mention his company was earning sales of $1 billion. That’s when Victoria’s Secret started drafting supermodels to build its brand. A few years later, in 1992, the brand expanded beyond underwear apparel and launched its own line of fragrances. Victoria’s Secret was in the hands of Wexner and it was heading to new successful heights. And just one year later, Roy Raymond took his life…

No Way Out

Gaye explained how he borrowed a lot of money from his mother. “He was trying to start another company but things didn’t go well, and he saw only one way out.” In 1984, he personally invested $850,000 in his new business venture. His one of many business ventures catered to professional couples.

A woman posing on a bed wearing a floral-patterned robe
Vintage Victoria’s Secret Robe. Source: Pinterest

He sold computer games, imported dolls and toys in a store in San Francisco and through mail order catalogues. The business suffered due to the store’s poor location with limited walk-in traffic. Due to a limited marketing strategy (something that he just wasn’t very good at), he focused only on the wealthy, which led to an image of the company being elitist.

Filing For Bankruptcy

In 1986, he was forced to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy. As Raymond never incorporated the company, he was liable for the financial burden. That’s when he and his wife lost their homes (they had one in San Francisco and one in Lake Tahoe) as well as their cars. While depressed, he wasn’t yet discouraged.

A photograph of two women in satin pajama sets
Victoria’s Secret Catalog 1979. Source: Flickr

The man continued to generate business ideas worked hard to start new companies, including a children’s book store (which was called Quinby’s). He also tried his hand at a mail-order home-repair hardware business as well as a company that produced wigs for people who lost their hair due to cancer treatments. He was all over the place.

The End of the Line

As Victoria’s Secret was becoming the biggest lingerie retailer in America, Raymond was experiencing failure after failure. In 1993, after another failed business attempt in which Raymond tried to open up a children’s bookshop, he and his wife divorced. On August 26, Raymond went to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and jumped to his death. He was 46 years old and left behind two children.

A woman wearing a leopard print pajama set
Victoria’s Secret pajamas in the 1990s. Source: Victoria’s Secret

He was last seen walking toward the famous bridge, and just hours afterward, his body was found near the Marin County shoreline by the Coast Guard. Investigators later concluded that he jumped off the bridge and his death was deemed suicide. According to his ex-wife, Gaye Raymond, “He went through a couple of business failures and I think he suffered depression.”

He Couldn’t Go On

“It’s so sad, because he was young, creative, really a brilliant businessman, but he suffered setbacks and couldn’t seem to bounce back from them. He felt he couldn’t go on,” Gaye explained. Despite Victoria’s Secret’s initial success when Raymond sold the company to Wexner, both Raymond and his wife felt that the brand was straying from their original intentions.

A page from a Victoria’s Secret catalog with two women in pink satin pajamas and a photograph of shoes
Victoria’s Secret Catalog 1982. Source: Flickr

“It’s no longer high-end fashion focused on fit, quality, and fiber, but it’s now more popular, with a lower price and aimed at a far younger crowd,” Gaye said. “Roy and I used to have our regrets about how much it had changed from our original vision. Yet they’ve done a great job making it a commercial success.”

The Idea is Only a Part of It

As far as Victoria’s Secret goes, Raymond’s instinct really was spot on. The problem was his implementation, and he lacked the understanding of his successor. Raymond’s story can be seen as a sort of cautionary tale for entrepreneurs. But nonetheless, his legacy lives on. Thanks to Roy Raymond, the world’s highest paid supermodel’s strut down catwalks in little more than feathers and crystals.

Claudia Schiffer cutting a pink ribbon with large scissors while a group of women stand by
A grand opening of the Victoria’s Secret Store in 1996. Source: Shutterstock

The televised productions would draw in almost 10 million viewers across the globe. And it was in 1994 that Wexner came up with the idea. He got the help of L Brands chief marketing officer Edward Razek to develop a fashion show for Victoria’s Secret – something that would become synonymous with the brand itself.

Meet the Fantasy Angels

In 1995, Victoria’s Secret annual fashion show was introduced and it would become an essential part of the brand’s image. It’s no surprise that the concept, featuring models – dubbed as “fantasy angels” – made a major impact. The first ever Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was in New York. With supermodels like Helena Christiansen and Tyra Banks, the company was turning into a $1.9 billion enterprise, with 670 stores across the country.

Kirsty Hume wearing a white outfit with a train and angel wings walking the runway
Kirsty Hume walking the runway in 1999. Photo by Wood / Shutterstock

By 1999, they launched a webcast of the show. But with time and changing political views, Victoria’s Secret started getting backlash. The 2010 fashion show had a segment called Wild Things, which caused controversy due to its “tribal style” outfits.

In the Works

But it took a while for the company to reach its darker days. In 1997, the “Angels” lingerie line was introduced, which featured supermodel Tyra Banks for the first time. The next year, Victoria Secret launched its website. In 2000, they expanded into Canada and established shops in several international airports.

Tyra Banks in a red top and colorful bottom and cape made of medals holding a tall scepter with a diamond studded ‘V’ on the top
Tyra Banks 2005. Photo by Fairchild Archive / Penske Media / Shutterstock

In 2002, PINK was launched, the sister brand that was meant to appeal to teenagers and university students. In the early 2000s, Victoria’s Secret started investing in organic and fair trade-grown cotton. In 2012, its first franchise store opened in Europe in Poland. Soon, the brand would start getting more backlash after one of their fashion shows with a questionable subject.

Backlash From the Media

The Brazilian model, Emanuela De Paula, was painted with black lines. This outfit was highly criticized in the media for its racist connotations. Regardless, the company was still massive. As of 2013, the brand was making over $6.6 billion. But by 2016, that year’s fashion show was criticized again, this time for cultural appropriation from both Chinese and Mexican culture.

Emanuela de Paula
Emanuela de Paula 2009. Photo by Marion Curtis / Starpix / Shutterstock

Then the company got into some more media trouble when marketing officer Edward Razek made transphobic comments. His words: “Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy.” Razek later apologized for what he said. He must have really felt the heat.

A Slow Decline

By 2016, things were slowly starting to unravel. The catalogue was scrapped, along with its swimwear category. The company also began facing criticism over the behavior and business practices of its corporate leadership. They then stopped selling shoes, accessories and apparel that were sold exclusively online. The focus became lingerie, fragrances and sleepwear.

Adriana Lima holding a bottle of Bombshell perfume
Adriana Lima 2016. Photo by Broadimage / Shutterstock

With more declining sales in recent years, Victoria’s Secret also slashed its full-year earnings guidance as shares were dropping. In 2019, after claims that Victoria’s Secret’s annual fashion show was branded as “sexist and outdated,” the company announced that it would no longer continue its annual fashion show. In 2018, they saw plummeting profits, at a loss of $42.3 million compared to $86 million in profits just one year earlier.

Nearing its End?

Last year, Victoria’s Secret closed 53 stores in America after stocks plunged 40%. In acts of desperation, the company relaunched its swimwear, eyewear, and footwear line, in hopes of boosting sales. The retailer then cast its first openly trans model Valentina Sampaio. Days after, Razek stepped down, which only triggered speculations that he felt uncomfortable with it.

Victoria's Secret Angel Barbara Palvin inside of Victoria’s Secret
Victoria’s Secret Angel Barbara Palvin. Photo by JLN Photography / Shutterstock

As recently as January 2020, it was reported that 82-year-old Les Wexner was talking about stepping down himself. In February, Victoria’s Secret was ultimately sold to private equity firm Sycamore Partners for a total of $525 million. In May 2020, it was announced that Victoria’s Secret would permanently close 250 stores in North America.

The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back

Basically, the pandemic has accelerated Victoria’s Secret’s longstanding issues. The company has actually been struggling financially way before the pandemic ever hit, with falling sales and store closures. Victoria’s Secret happens to be the latest retail casualty of the pandemic (as of June 2020), since non-essential retailers were forced to close their shops due to government-mandated lockdowns around the world.

A sign on Victoria’s Secret store door that announced that the location is permanently closed
A closed Victoria’s Secret Location in Florida closing due to coronavirus. Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg / Shutterstock

What was supposed to be temporary ended up being a lot more permanent than business owners hoped. Victoria’s Secret also suffered from changing habits and tastes, with increased competition from online retailers. The pandemic looks like it was the final blow as revenues were drying up. It was, in a way, the straw that broke the camel’s back, which is what it’s been like for many other retailers.

A Few Tricks Up Her Sleeve

Victoria’s Secret might be on its final straw, but for now, there are still stores that are up and running. And some things haven’t really changed from its original concept. For instance, it’s still kind of for men. According to a Business Insider report in 2014, employees were said to have been trained to treat male customers with a little extra special attention.

Customers shopping at Victoria’s Secret in the UK
Photo by Global Warming Images / Shutterstock

But, according to an anonymous employee, they do it to get men to buy more items. “The general feeling about men is that they would buy anything to get out of the store as quickly as possible,” the staff member told Business Insider. “That means they would spend more money.”

On the Other Hand…

The same employee also mentioned that on the other hand, “Women are more value-oriented, and so we were encouraged to show them deals. Men would buy a couple of $50 bras without questioning us because they felt awkward.” While Victoria’s Secret had a stronghold on women’s lingerie (with 35% of the market in 2014) — the company still faced economic challenges.

Taylor Swift performing at Victoria’s Secret fashion show with a long pink pajama set on
Taylor Swift at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show in 2014. Photo by David Fisher / Shutterstock

That’s why the company was forced to rethink its place in the market. In 2016, Wexner said the “results weren’t to expectations.” Wexner then cut jobs, discontinued clothing and swimsuit lines, as well as their online shoe line. Also, as women are moving away from push-up bras and towards natural silhouettes, Victoria’s Secret needs to adapt. It’s sink or swim.

Similar to how Les Wexner turned a boutique into a multi-billion dollar business, a certain author went from rags to riches. Well, not necessarily rags, but he was borderline poor. Now? He’s one of the richest authors in the world…

You’ve heard the name, and judging by how many books he’s sold, chances are you’ve probably read at least one of his. If not, then you’ve at least seen his name, embossed and shimmering, in big, bold text, in supermarkets, airport kiosks, and bookstores. Basically, his books are everywhere, and there’s a simple reason for that. James Patterson is simply one of the most prolific, if not the most, writers on this planet.

James Patterson holding up his book, 'Private Royals' in front of a view with a Ferris wheel behind him
Photo by Jonathan Hordle / Shutterstock

He just has a knack for making books people love to read. With over 305 million copies of his 150 books (currently) in print, Patterson has been the top-selling fiction writer (either living or dead). He even holds a Guinness World Record for being the first author to sell over one million e-books. The man makes $70 million a year at this point, okay? He’s also the seventh-highest-paid celebrity in the world (more than Taylor Swift and LeBron James).

Fast and Impressive Facts

Since 2017, James Patterson holds the Guinness World Record for the most #1 New York Times bestsellers – a total of 67. He’s also the first author to have new #1 titles simultaneously on the New York Times Bestsellers list in both the adult and children categories. As of 2016, about 1 out of every 17 hardcovers sold in the United States were Patterson’s novels.

Women's Murder Club (TV Series 2007–2008) based on a series of books by James Patterson
Women’s Murder Club (TV Series 2007–2008) based on a series of books by James Patterson. Source: Pinterest

In 2016, he was ranked by Forbes as the “Highest-Paid Author” for the third consecutive year, with a total earning of $95 million. Reportedly, as of 2017, Patterson’s novels have sold more copies than those of John Grisham, Dan Brown and Stephen King – combined!

But, despite the massive income and a sheer number of bestsellers, the author faces his fair share of criticism.

Facing the Critics, Including Stephen King

James Patterson continues to crank out novel after novel, ignoring the critics. Let me start by telling you that Stephen King, in an interview with USA Weekend, called Patterson “a terrible writer, but he’s very successful.” Did Patterson hear about King’s remarks? Yes, and he told the Wall Street Journal that King had been taking shots at him for years, and his approach towards it will be the opposite – “to heap praise.”

Stephen King on the set of one of his horror movies
Stephen King on the set of one of his movies. Photo by Kobal / Shutterstock

Patterson has been criticized countless times for being focused on quantity over quality – focusing on money rather than on the craft. He’s also been criticized for simply co-authoring many of his books and then taking all the credit. Washington Post reviewer Patrick Anderson trashed Patterson’s work as “sick, sexist, sadistic, and sub-literate.” Ouch.

An Army of Co-Authors

Critics say that it’s only with the help of his army of paid co-writers, that he can be so prolific. Patterson’s methods have been met with controversy. He uses a group of co-writers (around 23 or so), allowing him to publish his books at such an impressive rate. His co-authors include former colleagues (who wrote fiction on the side), and even his ex-doorman came to him for advice. Some are struggling writers, and others are bestsellers in their own right (like Swedish author Liza Marklund).

James Patterson and Liza Marklund
James Patterson and Liza Marklund have written “The Postcard Killers” together. Source:

This has become a major argument for Patterson’s critics. The truth is, when it comes to other creative disciplines, collaboration is customary. But in literature, Patterson is considered to be a brand manager. Many say he’s more like a superstar editor than an author.

The Process

The claim: that he comes up with the title’s premise and plot drafts an outline of 50 to 80 pages, and hands it over to a co-writer. In Publishers Weekly, co-author Mark Sullivan explained the process. According to Sullivan, the outlines are like “trusted navigational charts” that can up to take six weeks to sketch out. The co-authors then connect the plot points, rough out the text, and add their own ideas.

The Games Book Cover - Authors: James Patterson and Mark Sullivan
The Games Book Cover – Authors: James Patterson and Mark Sullivan. Source:

The co-authors then send sections every few weeks to Patterson, who tosses them some notes. Patterson reads, revises, and demands new drafts – that is until he’s satisfied. Ever since Patterson became a full-time writer in 1996, just 20% of his novels have been entirely written by him since 2002.

He Pays Them Out of His Own Pocket

These authors have been paid out of Patterson’s own pocket. It may sound like cheating, but the fact of the matter is that Patterson doesn’t deny any of it. Every novel declares the name of the co-authors on the cover, under Patterson’s much bolder name, of course. But if you’re feeling bad for these authors – don’t.

James Patterson holding his new book at the time, '3rd Degree,' in 2004
Photo by Marion Curtis / Starpix / Shutterstock

The novice authors tend to become instant bestsellers and attract their own book deals, if not receiving royalties. While reports have been made that his co-authors get paid, Patterson has been quoted in 2009 as saying, “They actually pay me. Because they’re learning so much.” He reportedly said that with a completely straight face, by the way.

Prolific is an Understatement

In referring to his co-author approach, he likens it to the collaborations of Gilbert and Sullivan or Rodgers and Hammerstein. Patterson himself said that his strength lies in devising plots, not in making individual sentences. He is all about the story and has managed to use capitalism to the commodify storytelling.

Rodgers and Hammerstein
Rodgers and Hammerstein. Photo by Granger / Shutterstock

But despite all the criticism that his style is mechanical, Patterson managed to create a commercially successful formula. He’s written 21 novels just about detective Alex Cross. And you can’t argue with the numbers: since 2001, James Patterson is the world’s best-selling author. Calling the man prolific is kind of an understatement. After someone broke it down, it has been revealed that, on average, Patterson has consistently written 4.7 (published) pages every working day since the year 1976.

A little about the author, if you will…

From a Tough Little Town

Patterson himself said that he went from “being poor to middle class and back to poor and back to middle class… and now I’m rich.” And he’s thankful that he went through all that since it made him a better person. James Patterson was born in 1947 and grew up in Newburgh, New York. It’s a place he describes as “a tough little town with a lot of problems.” His father was an insurance salesman, and his mother was a teacher at a Catholic school.

Patterson in the mid-1970s, early in his career at J. Walter Thompson.
Patterson in the mid-1970s, early in his career at J. Walter Thompson. Source:

While he was valedictorian of his all-boys high school, he wasn’t even much of a reader. But that all changed after graduation. His family moved to Massachusetts, and the Manhattan College undergraduate got a job at a psychiatric facility, McLean Hospital. He would work the night shift during the summers and holidays. That’s when and where he “just started reading, reading, reading,” Patterson said. Cambridge wasn’t far away, so he would often visit its secondhand bookstores.

To Writing Good Fiction

He started reading books by John Rechy and Jean Genet, thinking, “Holy sh*t: People don’t all think the way they do in Orange County, New York.” But Patterson never figured he could be a writer by trade. He admitted that he read Ulysses twice and thought he was incapable of that level of craft.

Zoo (2015–2017), series based on novel Zoo written by James Patterson
Zoo (2015–2017), series based on novel Zoo written by James Patterson. Source:

But when it came to popular fiction, like The Exorcist and The Day of the Jackal – those were the kinds of books that he could wrap his pen around. As an English graduate student at Vanderbilt, in the 1970s, he started writing “goofy, marijuana-laced” fiction. Patterson said Evan S. Connell’s 1959 debut novel “Mrs. Bridge” is his greatest influence.

He then moved to Manhattan, where he got a job as a junior copywriter at an advertising agency called J. Walter Thompson.

To Working In an Ad Agency

He got the job after meeting one of the agency’s employees. According to Patterson, “She was wearing a T-shirt to work and had a Viet Cong flag in her office, and she said she was making a fortune. I thought, ‘This could be OK.'” While his 9-5 was writing ad copy, he was still very much interested in literature.

Book Cover The Thomas Berryman Number
Source: Amazon

He spent his nights and weekends typing away on his typewriter in his small Manhattan apartment kitchen. Gradually, he created what would become his first novel: “The Thomas Berryman Number.” It was a suspense novel that a total of 31 publishers rejected. That is before Little Brown bought the manuscript. In 1976, the book signing took place at the World Trade Center. No one except his girlfriend came. Patterson said once how he was invited to another book signing, and once he got there, it was for Richard Patterson’s novels. They asked the wrong guy! Embarrassing yes, but he ended up signing them anyways!

First Novel, First Award

The following year, Patterson got a phone call from a woman on the Edgar Awards committee. She invited him to the mystery writers’ annual banquet. At first, he said he wasn’t sure if he would make it, etc. But then she blurted out: “You have to come – you won!” He later said how when he was in the audience, “I was still frightened that she lied to me just to get me to go,” Patterson remembers. She didn’t lie, though: “The Thomas Berryman Number” won the 1977 award for Best First Novel.

James Patterson surrounded by his books

But the fresh writer didn’t prepare a speech. He something around the lines of “I guess I’m a writer now.” He told The New York Times that his first book compares to his current works: “The sentences are superior to a lot of the stuff I write now, but the story isn’t as good.”

Losing His Girlfriend

He continued writing while he held the advertising job, waking up early every day to write before heading over to the office. He wrote five more modestly successful novels throughout the next decade, including the “Cradle and All” and “Black Market,” the 1986 conspiracy thriller that Kirkus Reviews called an “abysmally dumb terrorist novel whose plot would embarrass a Superman movie.”

Sundays at Tiffany's (2010), telefilm directed by Mark Piznarski, based on novel Sundays at Tiffany's
Sundays at Tiffany’s (2010), telefilm directed by Mark Piznarski, based on the novel “Sundays at Tiffany’s.” Source: Facebook

But then, in 1979, Patterson, 32, received devastating news. His girlfriend, 29-year-old Jane, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She died two and a half years later. It took him years to recover. “It was devastating to me,” he said. As a result, his blood pressure dramatically escalated, and he developed Bell’s Palsy. Her death, however, motivated him to work more deliberately. He set out to write a popular book.

An Awkward Study

By 1991, Patterson became the CEO at J. Walter Thompson. He co-authored a study that polled more than 5,000 anonymous Americans about things relating to sex, God, family, and politics. The findings, which were published as “The Day America Told the Truth,” suggested some rather awkward things about the nation’s personal life.

James Patterson in front of a wall with books on the shelves
Source: Twitter

Curious as to what was discovered? Of course, you are. Around 25% of the respondents said they would abandon their families for $10 million. 7% claimed they would kill a stranger for the same amount. The results of the study also suggested that African Americans and Hispanics were held more closely to traditional values than other demographics — that they were ingrained with a sense of moral duty. The research lit a lightbulb over Patterson’s head…

Creating Alex Cross

Patterson used the research to cast his next protagonist: Alex Cross. The character is a likable African American detective and psychologist who works against the structure of a class in Washington, DC. The psychological thriller “Along Came a Spider” proved to be a big hit. Little, Brown liked the novel so much that they signed Patterson to a two-book deal.

Tyler Perry as Alex Cross
Tyler Perry as Alex Cross. Photo by Qed International / Kobal / Shutterstock

Patterson wanted to promote the novel with a commercial, but the publishers were doubtful. So he produced and shot a 15-second clip on his own dime. Little, Brown later agreed to split the cost. “You can stop waiting for the next Silence of the Lambs,” was the closing line of the commercial, which aired in three markets.

From Thrillers to Films to Picture Books

In 1993, “Along Came a Spider” debuted at No. 9 on The New York Times hardcover fiction list. The paperback version debuted at No. 2 and sold more than two million copies in one year alone. Today, there are 20 novels in the Alex Cross series, three films, and a holiday spin-off. In addition to the series, Patterson released more than 32 individual thrillers, five romance novels, and two nonfiction books.

Morgan Freeman, Dylan Baker, and Monica Potter in 'Along Came a Spider,' 2001.
Morgan Freeman, Dylan Baker, and Monica Potter in ‘Along Came a Spider,’ 2001. Photo by Paramount / Kobal / Shutterstock

He’s also written a picture book. As a matter of fact, Patterson likes to write for young readers and hopes to raise the literacy rate. He started an initiative called ReadKiddoRead to help librarians, parents, and teachers find the best books for their children. He also runs a scholarship program called College Book Bucks that awards high school seniors with gift certificates to pay for their books.

Stirring the Pot

While his actions indicate that he certainly cares about young readers, his words say otherwise. In 2016, Patterson made a speech at Oxbridge Academy in West Palm Beach. He told the students: “Never become a writer, you’ll never make it.” Understandably, the teachers were furious with his statement as they believed his words would discourage students who were essentially aspiring writers. Provocative? Yes. His actual intentions? No.

Kiss the Girls publicity still
Kiss The Girls – 1997. Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman. based on novel , Photo By Paramount/Rysher/Kobal/Shutterstock

A few years prior, in 2013, his own advertisements were titled “Who Will Save Our Books? Our Bookstores? Our Libraries?” Patterson claimed that they were an attempt to “stir the pot a little bit,” and the ads drew mixed reactions. Digital Book World stated that the ads were “refreshing, really. And brave.”

A Defining Moment

James Patterson married Susan Lori Solie in 1997, and the couple had a son named Jack a year later. The family lives in a 20,100-square-foot home in Palm Beach, Florida. They also have a home in Briarcliff Manor in Westchester, New York, overlooking the Hudson River. But the casual man with his untamed eyebrows and paternal vibe doesn’t come off as pretentious.

James Patterson home in Palm Beach, Florida
James Patterson home in Palm Beach, Florida. Source:

About a decade or so ago, Patterson noticed that his son, then in elementary school, wasn’t reading beyond the school’s obligation. And Jack’s friends weren’t reading either. That’s when Patterson saw the symptom of miseducation: children simply weren’t being introduced to books they liked. As most of us know, students are forced to read hard, boring books. That’s when Patterson set out to write books kids would like.

Please, Parents

When Jack turned eight, Patterson and his wife made a deal with their son. He wouldn’t have to do chores over the summer if he would read every day. After launching the child literacy initiative, Read Kiddo Read, Patterson turned his efforts towards the parents. In 2011, he wrote an op-ed piece for CNN urging parents to get more involved in what their kids choose to read.

James Patterson, Jack Patterson
James Patterson, Jack Patterson, Photo By Efren Landaos/Shutterstock

He also launched a children’s book imprint called JIMMY Patterson that focuses on one goal: turning every child into a lifelong reader. The book provides parents, librarians, teachers, and booksellers with different programs, resources, and strategies to use.

But the author also puts his money where his mouth is…

Putting His Money Where it Belongs

Patterson donated more than a million books to students from the most under-resourced schools in the country. He established more than 400 Teacher Education Scholarships at 24 colleges and universities in America. He donated $1.75 million to school libraries and $1 million to independent bookstores. He also gave $250,000 as holiday bonuses to employees in bookstores.

James Patterson with the cast of 'Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life.'
James Patterson with the cast of ‘Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life.’ Photo by Efren Landaos / Shutterstock

The money just keeps coming. He donated over $26 million to the University of Wisconsin, Vanderbilt University, and Manhattan College (his and his wife’s alma maters). He sponsors after-school reading programs, where he donated up to 1000 books to the middle schools in Palm Beach County.

And students aren’t the only ones Patterson believes should be helped. He also donated 650,000 books to US soldiers both here and overseas.

Keeping it Old School

Patterson may be “new school” in his methods, but he’s quite an old school when it comes to actually writing. He writes every day, longhand, with a pencil and paper. What’s his daily routine? He wakes up with the sun, writes for a few hours, takes a break to play golf, returns to his work, and then heads out for dinner to hang out with his wife and son.

James Patterson sitting at a table writing on a yellow notepad

He also still makes commercials to promote his new material, but now he stars in them. You might have seen him dressed as a pirate or wearing sunglasses and a flashy jacket. If you’re wondering why he does this, I am too. He clearly doesn’t need the publicity anymore. But, according to Patterson himself, “It doesn’t take a lot of time, and it’s easy.”

He Reads 1000 Books a Year

Apparently, Patterson has only sent one email in his life – what he called “a test email.” But that doesn’t mean that he’s a technophobe or anything. He does travel with a tablet. He uses it to read. Allegedly, the author reads around 100 books a year. But now that he’s taken on children’s literature, his pace has slowed down a bit.

James Patterson sitting in a bed with his notes in front of him
Source: Flickr

What does he like to read? Well, his taste ranges. He goes from “junk fiction” (his own words) to “serious stuff.” Patterson states that Gabriel García Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude” changed his writing life the most. And he wants kids to also find those kinds of influential books. In 2005, he published the first book in the young-adult fantasy series “Maximum Ride.”

That’s Kind of What Happened

Patterson managed to rack up more New York Times bestsellers for youth than any other living author. His children’s books sold more than 30 million copies so far. Patterson may be on a mission to save books in America, but the man remains relatively modest when he speaks about being such a successful novelist.

James Patterson awards a further 62 independent bookshops grants in the UK and Ireland, Britain
James Patterson awards a further 62 independent bookshops grants in the UK and Ireland, Britain. Photo By Jonathan Hordle/Shutterstock

“I thought it was arrogant to think that I could be a writer,” he said, as he sits in front of his massive wall filled with his own books. “Somebody [famously] said, ‘You’re lucky if you find something you like to do in life, and it’s a miracle if somebody will actually pay you to do that… That’s kind of what happened with me.”

Into the Double Digits

The truth is, it wasn’t until the ’90s that Patterson hit his stride, publishing one book a year, then working his way to a couple of books a year. Now, with the help of his co-author army, he has been able to produce an absurd annual output that reaches the double digits. The author has received several awards for his works, in addition to his first award for his first book back in 1974.

'Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life' film screening, Arrivals,
‘Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life’ film screening, Arrivals. Steve Carr, James Patterson, Thomas Barbusca, Lauren Graham, Al. Photo By Mediapunch/Shutterstock

He won the International Thriller of the Year award, the BCA Mystery Guild’s Thriller of the Year, and the Children’s Choice Book Award for Author of the Year. Oh, and the man has even appeared in a movie. He made a cameo appearance in 2016’s “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life,” which was based on his novel of the same name. His role? The manager of a restaurant.

Some Unlikely Fans

Patterson’s books have earned him a massive following, including a population that he, nor anyone else, would necessarily expect: prisoners. His thrillers are the most requested books at Rikers Island, the infamous New York City jail. British people also particularly like his work. For the last decade, he’s been the most borrowed author in British libraries.

James Patterson with Camilla Duchess of Cornwall reading poems to children during a reading session at the West Greenwich Library in 2013.
James Patterson and Camilla Duchess of Cornwall reading to children in 2013. Source: Shutterstock

Against the stereotypes, and despite the fact that his characters endure mutilations and gory deaths, women happen to be his most loyal fans. But considering how the man, and his writers, produces up to 20 books a year across every genre, it’s no surprise that he has a varied fanbase – from children to seniors.

The President is Missing

Clinton teamed up with Patterson to make a thriller that every America has either read or at least heard of. The gist of it: the president of the title –Jonathan Lincoln Duncan – is facing an enormous cyberattack, the “Dark Ages,” which will bring the country to its knees. The novel is now going to be made into a film.

Bill Clinton and James Patterson book promotion, Miami, USA - 01 Dec 2018
Bill Clinton and James Patterson book promotion, Miami, USA – 01 Dec 2018. Photo By JLN Photography/Shutterstock

Clinton and Patterson embarked on a 16-meeting tour to find the right outlet for a film. But in addition to the film, Showtime is turning the book into a series. According to Showtime president and CEO, David Nevins, “the pairing of President Clinton with fiction’s most gripping storyteller promises a kinetic experience, one that the book world has salivated over for months and that now will dovetail perfectly into a politically relevant, character-based action series for our network.”

He Also Wrote About Jeffrey Epstein’s ‘Unbelievable’ Crimes

In 2016, before the whole Epstein scandal and arrest, Patterson took a break from making thrillers to focus his attention on real-life criminal Jeffrey Epstein. As it turns out, Epstein was Patterson’s Palm Beach neighbor who, as you likely know by now, busted for some hideous crimes. After the book, “Filthy Rich” was published, Patterson was surprised by the lack of attention given such a “monster of a case.”

James Patterson - Filthy Rich
James Patterson – Filthy Rich. Source: YouTube

Why didn’t this story capture the public’s attention? According to Patterson, the media doesn’t do its job. “The minute I heard of this, I thought, Jesus, this is insane. When we put the book out, I wrote letters to pretty much everyone, going like, ‘You have to pay attention to this case.'”

James Patterson Joins Guns N’ Roses

After writing “The President Is Missing” with Bill Clinton, James Patterson found an even more unlikely collaboration. He’s joined forces with the band Guns N’ Roses to create a children’s book no less. The picture book called “Sweet Child O’Mine” celebrates love and music. Patterson claims to be a longtime fan of Guns N’ Roses.

Guns N' Roses Sweet Child O Mine book cover, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
Guns N’ Roses Sweet Child O Mine book cover, illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin. Source:

The book follows a child’s discovery that music is everywhere around us. It’s an unexpected collaboration, for sure, but Guns N’ Roses aren’t the first musicians to turn one of their songs into a kid’s book. Paul McCartney has already turned his classic song into the book “Hey Grandude!” Then there’s Ringo Starr’s “Octopus’s Garden,” Keith Richards’s “Gus & Me,” and Pharrell Williams’s “Happy!”

From the Pages to the Screen

For the James Patterson book fans who are interested in watching a movie adaptation instead of reading a long book, there are a number of movies that were adapted from his novels. “Kiss the Girls” from 1997 features Alex Cross, the sharp Washington DC cop and forensic psychologist. His niece was kidnapped and held captive by serial killer Cassanova.

Kiss The Girls - 1997. Brian Cox, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman.
Kiss The Girls – 1997. Brian Cox, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman. Photo By Bob Greene/Paramount/Rysher/Kobal/Shutterstock

One of his victims, Kate, escapes and joins forces with Alex to find his niece. The movie starred Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. The sequel to the book, came in the form of a movie, too. 2001’s “Along Came a Spider” featured Morgan Freeman again. But many of the book’s key plot elements were controversially eliminated from the film.

Made for TV Movies

The TV movie from 1999 was based on the novel by the same name. The sports drama revolves around the game of golf. A 50-year-old man played by Robert Urich loses his job. He then decides to try to make it on a golf tour. It causes him to neglect his wife (played by Meredith Baxter) and his family. Yeah, it’s not like his usual action-based thrillers, which is probably why it was only seen on TV.

Angie Everhart and Robert Patrick in '1st to Die'
Angie Everhart and Robert Patrick in ‘1st to Die.’ Source: / copyright: Michael O’Hara Productions, NBC Studios

“First to Die (from 2003)” is another book made into a TV movie. It’s about a homicide inspector called Lindsay Boxer, who successfully captures a serial killer. But hey, it’s a drama, so yes, she also finds herself falling for her partner.

Some Star Power

In 2005, Christina Applegate starred in “Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas” as Dr. Suzanne Bedord in the romance-drama based on Patterson’s book of the same name. Her character discovers the truth about her former lover through the diary that his first wife wrote to their son. Fun fact: Applegate and Johnathon Schaech, who play lovers in the film, were married in real life from October 2001 to August 2007.

Alyssa Milano as Jane Claremont in 'Sundays at Tiffany's'
Alyssa Milano as Jane Claremont in ‘Sundays at Tiffany’s.’ Source: / copyright: Dan Wigutow Productions, Sony Pictures Television, Lifetime Television

“Sundays at Tiffany’s” (from 2010) is another film. Alyssa Milano played the lead role, and she was attracted to the script because “it’s such an original concept, which I don’t think we see that often, anymore.” Milano also served as a producer of the movie, which she appreciated: “there is a sense of being more creatively involved and more emotionally aware.”

Maximum Ride

The science fiction film from 2016 is based on the novel of the same name by Patterson. YouTube personality Jenna Marbles (ever heard of her?) served as an executive producer of the movie. This action-thriller follows six children, who aren’t really human at all. They’re actually human-avian hybrids bred in a laboratory, which they escaped from.

A scene from 'Maximum Ride' 2016
‘Maximum Ride’ 2016. Source: IMDb

The movie stars lesser-known actors, Allie Marie Evans, Patrick Johnson, and Lyliana Wray. The first of Patterson’s books made into a film was called “Child of Darkness, Child of Light” from 1991, which was also a made for TV movie. In it, the Vatican sends priests (played by Anthony Denison and Paxton Whitehead) stateside for some good news and bad news about two births.

Alex Cross

Alex Cross is by far the most popular of all the films. The 2012 crime thriller film was directed by Rob Cohen and starred Tyler Perry as the main character. Matthew Fox played Picasso. The movie was based on the novel “Cross” by Patterson and was the third installment of the Alex Cross movie series.

Edward Burns and Tyler Perry in 'Alex Cross' 2012
Edward Burns and Tyler Perry in ‘Alex Cross’ 2012. Photo by Qed International / Kobal / Shutterstock

The main character was previously played by Morgan Freeman in “Kiss the Girls” and “Along Came a Spider.” In 2011, Tyler Perry replaced Idris Elba in the role. Audiences, however, gave the movie an “A” CinemaScore. Tyler Perry didn’t fare so well in his role, though. The poor guy earned himself a Razzie Award nomination for Worst Actor.