You Could Be a Best-Selling Novelist — With a Little Help from James Patterson and MasterClass

For not quite a year, online learning site MasterClass has allowed ordinary mortals to learn from legends. Now it wants to give its students the chance to become one.

Launched last May, Masterclass’s motto was to “democratize access to genius,” in the words of co-founder David Rogier. So, today, anyone can sign up on Masterclass to learn how Serena Williams delivers that blistering 128 mph serve… from none other than Serena Williams. They can master method acting from Dustin Hoffman, learn the art of performance from Usher, or uncork the secrets of cranking out potboiler mysteries from James Patterson.

(In a few months, Kevin Spacey, Christina Aguilera, and photographer Annie Liebovitz will join the Masterclass faculty.)

The cost of all this expertise: 90 bucks for an entire 3- to 5-hour video course. Are they out of their friggin’ minds? Possibly. And now it gets even crazier.

Patterson, who churns out New York Times bestsellers the way McDonalds churns out quarter pounders, is offering to co-author a novel with one of his Masterclass students — offering some lucky scribe a considerable leg up on the way to literary Valhalla.

A novel idea

Patterson starts his course by saying “Hello, I’m Stephen King.” And then he spends a few minutes talking about the importance of a strong opening line.

Patterson’s videos are beautifully shot and broken into 22 lessons, each from 3 to 14 minutes long, covering topics like how to generate ideas, create characters, craft a plot, write dialog, and overcome writer’s block. Each is accompanied by downloadable class summaries and worksheets, and is followed by discussions in the comments section with fellow students. 

You can replay videos as often as you like, or start a course and then come back to it months later. (Masterclass offers “lifetime access” to the course materials — though which lasts longer, your lifetime or the site’s, remains to be seen.)

Veterans of writing classes will recognize most of this as standard fare. The differences here are a) you can take the class from anywhere, b) you’re being taught by a guy who’s written 76 best selling novels (no, that’s not a typo), and c) he’s offering to write the next one with you, if he thinks you’re good enough.

That process is pretty simple: Sign up for Patterson’s class. Submit a “book hook,” story summary, and sample chapter before March 22. Pray.

The top 10 semi-finalists will pocket $1000 and move on. The top three finalists take home $2500 and get to outline their book idea. Patterson then selects one lucky winner in late May and offers to co-author his next best-selling novel with them. Fame and fortune ensue.

What could be simpler?

You may have already won

It’s a brilliant concept. Even if you have no intention of ever sweating out a plot line, swinging a racket, or taking the stage, just watching these people talk about their craft and fantasizing about being one of them is worth the 90 bucks. 

Masterclass’s founders won’t reveal how many people have taken their courses (more than 30,000 is all they will say) or how much of a cut the geniuses take from each enrollment, but the level of talent they’ve attracted is impressive — and they’ve got a long wish list for future instructors.

“Every time we sign up another big name, it gets a little easier,” Rogier says.

But the most surprising thing, says co-founder Aaron Rasmussen, is the online community that has spontaneously sprung up around these courses.

“After we launched with Dustin, we began seeing these random Facebook groups pop up — Dustin Hoffman Master Class LA chapter. These students would get together every month and read lines with each other. Then there was one in New York, then Chicago, Vancouver, Melbourne. That’s something we never anticipated.”

Now MasterClass could be on the verge of creating a few new geniuses of its own.  

When not working on his future best-selling novel (publication date 2027) Dan Tynan hangs out on Twitter


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