When starting out, most budding writers are not thinking of six-figure advances, movie adaptations and merchandising lines. After all, simply getting published is a challenging task in itself: Moby Dick, Animal Farm and The War of the Worlds are all literary classics that were initially disregarded, while Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 was allegedly named after the amount of times it got rejected.
But for those who eventually make it into print, there is the potential to earn big bucks and to prove it, we’ve compiled a list of some of the highest-paid scribes in the business.
So, if you fancy yourself as the next literary sensation, here’s a bit of inspiration: these are the top 10 richest authors in the world.
20. Neil Gaiman
Estimated net worth: $18 million (£13.9 million)
Perhaps best known for his comic book and graphic novel work, Neil Gaiman is a prolific author in his own right, collaborating with Terry Pratchett before publishing his most well-known work, American Gods, in 2001.
The 57-year-old Englishman is also a successful screenwriter, having penned the original scripts for the 2007 fantasy epic Stardust starring Robert De Niro, Claire Danes and Michelle Pfeiffer (as well as the 2007 adaptation of Beowulf with Roger Avery), and continues to write within a variety of mediums.
=18. Veronica Roth
Estimated net worth: $30 million (£23.1 million)
The youngest author on this list at just 30 years of age, Veronica Roth – a former creative writing major at Northwestern University – made her fortune through her dystopian young adult Divergent series, subsequently adapted onto the big screen and starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James and Kate Winslet.
She has since published two non-Divergent novels and is currently in the process of writing a two-book series for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that will mark her first foray into adult literature.
=18. Nicholas Sparks
Estimated net worth: $30 million (£23.1 million)
Something of a self-confessed factotum in his formative years (he dabbled in real estate, pharmaceuticals and manufacturing, among other pursuits), Nicholas Sparks was eventually inspired to start writing by his increasingly frustrated mother. After moderate success with his first two novels, his 1993 offering – The Notebook – gave him his big break.
Since then, the 52-year-old has published numerous works (mostly romantic fiction), while there have been an impressive 11 film adaptations of his books – most notably Dear John, The Lucky One and the aforementioned The Notebook. Every Breath, his 22nd novel, is due in October 2018.
17. David Baldacci
Estimated net worth: $45 million (£34.7 million)
A trained attorney, David Baldacci shunned a career in law in order to pursue his passion for writing, publishing his first novel, Absolute Power, in 1996. An instant success, it was subsequently adapted into a feature-length film starring Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman and has been followed by a raft of works aimed at both adults and children.
Aside from novels, Baldacci has also written several screenplays for film and television and is also the cofounder of a successful multiple sclerosis charity.
16. George RR Martin
Estimated net worth: $65 million (£50.1 million)
A modestly successful but unspectacular science fiction writer for much of his early career, George RR Martin devised the idea for his A Song of Ice and Fire series back in 1991. Yet even though best-seller status eventually followed, it wasn’t until HBO adapted the books for television in 2011 that the New Jersey native really made a name for himself.
Since then, Martin has been commissioned to produce a number of Westeros-based novellas and spin-offs, as well as regular television and convention appearances. Fans are also waiting patiently for the 70-year-old to publish the next instalment of the series, which at the time of writing still has no firm release date.
15. Suzanne Collins
Estimated net worth: $80 million (£61.7 million)
A dramatic writing graduate from New York University, Suzanne Collins originally worked as a television writer for Nickelodeon, before publishing a successful series of children’s novels. In 2008, however, she began writing instead for young adults, publishing the first instalment of The Hunger Games trilogy, later to be adapted (by herself) into a critically acclaimed film series starring Jennifer Lawrence.
Although she hasn’t published anything since, the 56-year-old has won numerous awards for her writing, particularly for her The Underland Chronicles children’s books.
14. EL James
Estimated net worth: $85 million (£65.6 million)
In many ways, Fifty Shades creator EL James is indicative of a new breed of modern author. Despite having no previous writing experience, the 55-year-old Londoner has managed to create a hugely successful book and film franchise out of little more than a series of sexual fantasies and an obsession with glittery vampires (for the uninitiated, the series started life as Twilight fan fiction).
Despite little in the way of literary credibility (her writing is regularly described as clunky and unimaginative, while critic Bryony Gordon described the novels’ protagonist Christian Grey as ‘a cut-price Mr Darcy in nipple clamps’), James continues to rake in the money and, to date, is continuing to work on new material.
13. Clive Cussler
Estimated net worth: $120 million (£92.6 million)
Known primarily for his exhilarating plots and heroic lead characters, Clive Cussler has published over 80 works during his 50-year-plus writing career, with Raise the Titanic! and Sahara both receiving the big screen treatment. Celtic Empire, his next Dirk Pitt novel, is due in 2019.
The 87-year-old is also an avid underwater explorer, having written five non-fiction books about the topic, and is personally responsible for the discovery of over 60 shipwrecks. Away from the typewriter, he runs a non-profit maritime conservation organisation, as well as maintains his collection of classic cars.
12. Stephenie Meyer
Estimated net worth: $125 million (£96.5 million)
Like her indirect protégé James, Twilight creator Stephenie Meyer also had no writing experience prior to publication, reportedly completing the draft manuscript for the vampire love story in just three months. Yet, also like James, the resultant output – three best-selling sequels and a billion-dollar-grossing movie franchise – has seen the Connecticut native subsequently cement her place among the literary world’s wealthiest.
Not everyone is a fan, though. Despite praising her depictions of female sexuality to younger audiences, Stephen King asserted that Meyer ‘can’t write worth a damn’ (another James comparison, anyone?), while she has also received criticism from numerous feminist groups. Seemingly undeterred, the 44-year-old has since written several other non-Twilight novels and also started her own film production company in 2011.
11. Dean Koontz
Estimated net worth: $145 million (£111.9 million)
Since publishing his first novel, Star Quest, in 1968, Dean Koontz has become a staple of science fiction, thriller and suspense writing, having published hundreds of original works under a variety of pen names. Many of these have been adapted into feature-length films, including Phantoms (starring Ben Affleck and Peter O’Toole), Hideaway and Mr Murder.
The 73-year-old continues to write prolifically, with The Night Window (part of his Jane Hawk series) due for release in May 2019.
10. Dan Brown
Estimated net worth: $160 million (£123.5 million)
Originally an aspiring musician, much of Dan Brown’s early career was spent teaching to support himself, before deciding to focus full time on writing in 1996. The result was his debut, Digital Fortress, which was quickly followed by the first of his Robert Langdon novels, Angels & Demons in 2000.
In 2003, the second Langdon novel, The Da Vinci Code, quickly became the top-selling novel that year, despite poor reviews, numerous inaccuracies and allegations of plagiarism. Nevertheless, several sequels have subsequently followed, as has a series of big-budget Hollywood adaptations.
=7. Jeffrey Archer
Estimated net worth: $200 million (£154.3 million)
Originally a Member of Parliament in his native UK, Jeffrey Archer – a current member of the House of Lords – has courted controversy throughout his career, including accusations of insider trading, involvement in a libel lawsuit and his role in a financial scandal that left him bankrupt and forced to swap politics for writing in order to earn an income.
As a result of this enforced career change, Archer has penned an extensive array of novels, short stories and plays, as well as a trilogy of diaries recounting his time spent in prison for perjury. His next novel, Heads You Win, is due for release in November 2018.
=7. RL Stine
Estimated net worth: $200 million (£154.3 million)
Those of a certain age will undoubtedly remember RL Stine’s Goosebumps, a seminal series of children’s horror books that originated in the 1990s and which were later adapted into a television series. Along with the dozens of other horror series that the 74-year-old has written, the stories have since resulted in cult status – and a significant financial windfall – for their Ohio-born author.
Stine continues to write, mainly for children and young adults, and he also recently took part in the MasterClass teaching series, alongside the likes of Hans Zimmer, Martin Scorsese and Gordon Ramsay.
=7. John Grisham
Estimated net worth: $200 million (£154.3 million)
A former criminal lawyer, much of John Grisham’s work has drawn inspiration from his previous career, with his legal and political thrillers continuing to top the best-selling charts even today. His breakthrough came in 1989 when A Time to Kill – a story based on a victim testimony he heard in court, and later adapted into a film with Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock – was finally accepted for publication (after 28 rejections, no less).
Since then, another seven of his books have been given the Hollywood treatment (most notably The Firm with Tom Cruise), while The Reckoning – the prolific 63-year-old’s 39th novel – is due for release in October 2018.
6. James Patterson
Estimated net worth: $310 million (£239.2 million)
A former marketing executive, James Patterson published his first novel in 1976 and has since been a pillar of fiction writing in the US. He holds the record for the most New York Times bestsellers and has sold hundreds of millions of his books worldwide.
The 71-year-old is not without his critics, though, with many particularly sceptical of the fact that much of his work is co-authored, including a recent collaboration with ex-US president Bill Clinton. Nevertheless, his books continue to sell, alongside his numerous ongoing television appearances and collaborations.
5. Danielle Steel
Estimated net worth: $375 million (£289.4 million)
With 165 published books (to date), 5 marriages and a host of children, nobody can claim that Danielle Steel has been short on material to write about. A former advertising copywriter, she was encouraged by a boss to pursue writing full time, publishing her first novel in 1972.
Since then, the 71-year-old has received little in the way of critical acclaim for her work, with many of the themes and plot devices in her stories more or less the same. This hasn’t curtailed her popularity among readers, though, and she continues to publish several novels each year.
4. Nora Roberts
Estimated net worth: $390 million (£301.2 million)
Celebrated primarily within the romance genre, Nora Roberts – who has written under a variety of guises – began her literary career as a bored stay-at-home mother during her first marriage. After numerous rejections, she finally published her debut, Irish Thoroughbred, in 1981.
Since then, the 67-year-old has won numerous awards and seen many of her novels adapted into made-for-television movies. Her next offering, Of Blood and Bone, is due for release in December 2018.
3. Stephen King
Estimated net worth: $400 million (£309 million)
A modern literary great, and the mind behind some of the most famous fiction ever written, Stephen King is an indisputable master of the trade. Especially celebrated for his work in horror (Carrie, The Shining and It) and fantasy (The Running Man, Dreamcatcher and The Dark Tower series), many of his works have been adapted for the big screen, including several of his short stories such as Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption.
The 71-year-old is also noted for his philanthropy and political activism, as well as his television work and musical collaborations. He continues to write, too, with his next novel, Elevation, due for release in October 2018.
2. Paulo Coelho
Estimated net worth: $500 million (£386.2 million)
A former law school dropout-turned-lyricist and self-confessed hippie, Paulo Coelho wrote several novels during the 1980s in his native Brazil. One of them, The Alchemist, remained relatively undiscovered for several years before HarperCollins republished it in 1994. It quickly became an instant classic and launched Coelho’s international career, leading to publication and critical acclaim all over the world.
Coelho has since collaborated on a number of cross-medium creative projects, and he continues to write in Portuguese (his most recent novel, Hippie, was published in April 2018). He is currently working on television adaptations of several of his works.
1. JK Rowling
Estimated net worth: $1 billion (£772.5 million)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the highest-paid author in the world is also one of its most business-savvy. Through the creation of the wizarding world depicted in her Harry Potter novels, JK Rowling has not only captured the imagination of millions of readers worldwide but has also established an enormous commercial empire in the process.
Aside from the books themselves (including various spin-offs and even a play), the 53-year-old earns revenue through merchandising, theme parks and, of course, the hugely popular film adaptations, meaning that in 2018 alone, Rowling pocketed a handsome $54 million (£41.7 million).
The Gloucestershire native is certainly generous with her earnings, though. She is heavily involved in the running of numerous poverty, children’s and MS charities, and has donated significant amounts to a variety of causes. Rowling recently worked on the production for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, and she continues to write non-Potterverse adult fiction under the guise of Robert Galbraith.
As you can see, there’s plenty of money to be made in the literary world – especially if you can gain the kind of exposure that these authors managed! So, why not sharpen up your writing skills and get to work? Who knows? You could end up on our 2019 list!
What would you do with this kind of money? Let us know in the comments section below!
Currency conversions are based on rates supplied on XE.com on 2 October 2018.