We all know some writers make it, and some don’t. In fact, most people who are gripped with the obsession to write a book never make a dime from it, if they can even get it into print. (Even self-publishing isn’t all that easy for the technologically challenged, as it turns out.) But what’s not widely known is just how badly skewed is the distribution of financial rewards among the world’s authors. What follows will give you just a taste of the difference between success and failure.
Here, from Emily Temple at Lit Hub (March 13, 2019) is a list of the authors who made the most money over the last 10 years.
The top 10 authors who make the most money
1. James Patterson : $836 million
2. J. K. Rowling : $546 million
3. Stephen King : $259 million
4. Danielle Steel : $231 million
5. John Grisham : $192 million
6. Jeff Kinney : $165 million
7. E. L. James (Tie) : $153 million
7. Janet Evanovich (Tie) : $153 million
9. Nora Roberts : $128 million
10. Suzanne Collins : $114 million
The next 15 authors who make the most money
11. Dan Brown : $111 million
12. Dean Koontz : $101 million
13. Rick Riordan : $91.5 million
14. Stephenie Meyer : $75 million
15. Ken Follett : $68 million
16. George R. R. Martin : $60.5 million
17. Veronica Roth (Tie) : $52 million
18. Bill O’Reilly (Tie) : $52 million
19. Nicholas Sparks : $46 million
20. John Green : $45 million
21. Tom Clancy : $35 million
22. David Baldacci : $26 million
23. Paula Hawkins : $23 million
24. Gillian Flynn : $22 million
25. Michael Wolff : $13 million
Do those numbers sink in? James Patterson, a hack who writes several books a year, often with collaborators, has made nearly a billion dollars over the past decade. Most authors, including those who win Pulitzers and Booker awards, struggle to survive. Sigh . . .
Are they all hacks? No, just most of them
Not that everyone on this list is a hack. Just most of them. I’ve read books written by fourteen of the writers on this list. I can honestly say I believe that five of them have legitimate stories to tell and tell them well. The other nine, it appears, simply write to make money. Which I believe is the case with nearly all the other eleven authors on this list.
Cautionary note: the list above includes only authors who write in English. They’re pretty much all Americans, British, and (probably) Canadian or Australian.
And a slightly different list
Now, for another perspective on this question, a website named Wealthy Gorilla more recently published a list of the wealthiest authors in the world. I’ve emphasized the word “wealthiest” because the assets ascribed to the authors on this list don’t all come from writing books. In fact, the list is topped by a woman named Élisabeth Badinter, whose net worth is pegged at $1.3 billion. However, it’s clear that nearly all her wealth comes from the shares she inherited from her father in the Publicis Groupe, a multinational advertising and public relations company. And Badinter is not the only “author” on the list whose fortune comes primarily from sources other than writing.
For what’s it’s worth, then, here’s the Wealthy Gorilla list:
- Élisabeth Badinter, $1.3 billion
- J. K. Rowling, $1 billion
- James Patterson, $560 million
- Stephen King, $400 million
- Nora Roberts, $390 million
- Danielle Steel, $310 million
- Barbara Taylor Bradford, $300 million
- Nigel Blackwell, $292.5 million (most of it from the sale of his publishing company)
- John Grisham, $220 million
- Jeffrey Archer, $195 million
- Dan Brown, $178 million
- David Oyedepo, $150 million (Nigeria’s richest pastor)
- Dean Koontz, $145 million
- Stephenie Meyer, $125 million
- Paul McKenna, $100 million (an English hypnotist)
For the record, the woman who tops this list, Élisabeth Badinter, did not make her fortune from writing books. She is the largest shareholder in the Publicis Group, a multinational advertising and public relations agency. Oh, and she’s a philosopher, too, who is one of France’s most influential intellectuals.
For further reading
- Which authors have written the most books?
- Fun facts about books, authors, and readers
- What I read (and what I don’t)
BTW, I’ve reviewed books on this blog by many of the 25 authors on the Lit Hub list: J. K. Rowling, Stephen King, John Grisham, Janet Evanovich, Dan Brown, Ken Follett, Gillian Flynn, and Michael Wolff. With the notable exception of Wolff’s trashy expose of the Trump White House and the later entries in Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, I’ve enjoyed pretty much all these books.
And you can always find all the latest books I’ve read and reviewed, as well as my most popular posts, on the Home Page.