The World’s Top-Earning Authors

Here’s a bit of motivation. Forbes has just released its list of the world’s top-earning authors. It’s encouraging to see genre authors dominating the list. It’s also a reminder that if you work hard at your craft and have a bit of luck, anyone can succeed. After all, with a fan fiction author debuting at number 1 on the list, anything is fracking possible, right? Here’s the listed top 16 and their earnings:

1. E.L. James: $95 million
2. James Patterson: $91 million
3. Suzanne Collins: $55 million
4. Bill O’Reilly: $28 million
5. Danielle Steel: $26 million
6. Jeff Kinney: $24 million
7. Janet Evanovich: $24 million
8. Nora Roberts: $23 million
9. Dan Brown: $22 million
10. Stephen King: $39 million
11. Dean Koontz: $20 million
12. John Grisham: $18 million
13. David Baldacci: $15 million
14. Rick Riordan: $14 million
15. J.K. Rowling: $13 million
16. George R.R. Martin: $12 million

Here’s a quote from the Forbes article that really stood out to me and bears keeping in mind: “For the publishing industry, the lesson is clear: The formula isn’t everything.” This is in reference to spotting or being the next big thing.

And then there’s this: ““When it comes to predicting a single solitary book, there’s little science behind it,” Norris says. “You can have as much access to this data as you want but there’s nothing to quantify luck.””

And therein lies the truth of it. But you know what else? People like E L James are aberrations in the general data set (not the person, just her success, keep your complaint emails unsent). Everyone else on that list worked bloody hard for their success, even if their stuff is awful or just something you’re not interested in reading. Which takes us back to the old adage that I always keep in mind. While it’s true that a big old dose of luck is essential in publishing success, never forget:

“The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

I’d be happy with one tenth of the earnings of no. 16 on that list of 16. Right now that would feel like a massive level of success. And relative in the publishing world, it would be. But working hard and making luck is something I’ll never stop doing, so you never know. Maybe I’ll get on that list one day. I’ll certainly keep working at it.


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5 thoughts on “The World’s Top-Earning Authors

  1. I once asked a friend his opinion on the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, and it probably holds true for a lot of top earning authors. He said: “There are a lot more stupid people in the world, so if you want to sell millions of books, you have to write for stupid people.”

  2. While the world is full of stupid people, perhaps a less harsh way of putting that would be “less discerning readers”.

    But it’s true that mass appeal is usually of the lowest common denominator. That’s why there are something like six Fast & Furious movies.


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