​James Patterson's reading revolution

Before "Zoo" was a TV series here on CBS, it was a novel from the prolific pen -- actually, make that PENCIL -- of author James Patterson. Here with the fine print is Anthony Mason:

James Patterson, the bestselling author on the planet, works out of an office -- his "inner sanctum" -- at his home in Palm Beach, Florida, overlooking the Atlantic.

This is headquarters for the publishing empire The New York Times called "James Patterson, Inc." -- the creative roost of a writer who's produced 73 #1 best sellers and sold 325 million books.

And he does it all by pencil.

"I just can't believe you produce all this not on a computer," said Mason.

"Yeah, well, thank God I don't work on a computer," Patterson exhorted, "because then I'd be really prolific!"

Author James Patterson with correspondent Anthony Mason. CBS News

The words "writers block" aren't in Patterson's vocabulary. With a team of co-writers he puts out the Alex Cross mysteries, the Women's Murder Club, Michael Bennett and Maximum Ride series, and his shelves are lined (and file cabinets filled) with dozens of other novels in progress.

In launching a new series of short novels called Bookshots, Patterson's had a creative explosion ... more like a volcanic eruption. He's involved in every single one of them, and not just in "some way." "Yeah, 80% of 'em I did the outline."

His aim: to transform the book business.

"This is a little bit of a revolution, Bookshots -- a reading revolution," he said. "We have all this stuff crushing down on us. And unfortunately for a lot of people, one of those things started to become books that were just too long for them to deal with."

Twenty-three titles will be released this year, all under 150 pages, and all under $5. "They are very, very fast-paced. They're like reading a movie."

A few titles from James Patterson's new Bookshots series. CBS News

The son of an insurance salesman and a teacher, Patterson was valedictorian of his high school class, but he wasn't much of a reader. When asked when he started writing, he replied, "I worked my way through college at a mental hospital up in Belmont, Massachusetts. And I worked a lot, and I just started scribbling stories."

In 1976, at age 29, he finished his first novel, "The Thomas Berryman Number." It was turned down by 31 publishers. It would eventually win an Edgar Award for Best First Mystery.

Patterson said the rejections happened fairly quickly: "It was like death of a thousand cuts, but the cuts came really fast."

Little, Brown finally published it. But sales of his early books were slow.

"It took you a while to really catch on," said Mason. "Why?"

"Things happened along the way. I was with a woman who got very sick with cancer."

Her name was Jane Blanchard; they'd been a couple for six years. The two were at the post office in New York when she just collapsed. "It was a brain tumor. And for the next two-and-a-half years she was dying," Patterson said.

"Was that the toughest thing you've been through?"

"Yeah, that was devastating. I mean, when you're madly in love with somebody and they're young and they're dying, they're not good."

"How long did it take you to get over that?"

"The weird thing was, I was very close to my grandfather. And when he died, I could not cry. You're wanting to and you can't. When Jane got sick, I cried every single day. So, it took a long time."

Patterson was working in advertising then. He'd started out as a copywriter at J. Walter Thompson.

"A lot of things for me changed when Jane died. I dunno. I think life became more important for me, my focus. And that's when I threw myself into this, and really rose from a copywriter to CEO in a hurry, in a couple of years."

Among his successful campaigns:

Eventually he returned to writing: "I actually sat down and said, 'I'm gonna try to write a bestselling novel. And also recognizing where my weaknesses were and trying to avoid those."

"What were your weaknesses?" Mason asked.

"My weakness is I'm not a great stylist. So, keep it simple. And that's when I wrote 'Along Came a Spider.'"

Published in 1993, it was Patterson's breakout book. The novel introduced African-American detective Alex Cross, and spawned a franchise that's produced 20 sequels and three films.

A few years later, Patterson started dating Sue Solie, an art director at the ad agency. They married in 1997 and have an 18-year-old son, Jack, whose initial reluctance to read helped inspire Patterson's push into young adult fiction.

The 69-year-old writer has become an outspoken advocate for child literacy, donating half-a-million books to students.

"If we don't get our kids reading, especially at-risk kids, I mean, how can you get through high school?" Patterson said.

James Patterson's success has bought him a 20,000-square-foot house in Palm Beach, where his routine finds him in his office at about 5:30-6:00 in the morning, seven days a week.

And up in that office, his imagination never rests.

"But I think at a certain point you would say, 'Why write one more?'"

"Because I love doing it," Patterson said. "I mean, why eat another chocolate? I mean, my life, I don't know what's gonna happen tomorrow, because I don't know what I'm gonna make up, I don't know what I'm gonna create."

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