Pursuing your artistic ambitions is a brave endeavour, perhaps foolishly so. Everyone knows that only a very small percentage of artists really ‘make it’ and get to be financially secure off of their pursuits. Everyone going into their journey knows this common truth, and yet each year millions of people forgo a safe career in favor of an adventure to live out their dreams. It’s both admirable and incredibly stupid, but the world wouldn’t be the same without people who are willing to take that risk, and every once in a while it pays off. Does the existence of Kanye West and his success nullify the existence of ten thousand other rappers still living in their momma’s basement? No, it doesn’t, but it gives them something to strive for and it’s evidence that sometimes things do work out.
Writing is no different than any other art form, except that compared to music or film it tends to be a little less lucrative. That being said, there are still writers out there who have made small and large fortunes, just from writing stories that have entertained and captivated millions of readers worldwide. The amount of work that goes into writing a novel can be staggering. The hours of research, fleshing out worlds and characters, and writing and re-writing passages all add up to hundreds or thousands of hours of work – not to mention the massive sums of money spent on caffeinated beverages. It’s always encouraging to see that sometimes, all that hard work can pay off, and for some of these people it paid off in a big, big way. These are the 10 richest authors who actually made their fortune through their literary career.
#10 Stephenie Meyer — Net Worth: $125 Million
Although the name Stephenie Meyer may not jump off the page, it’s more than likely you’re familiar with a very famous franchise she created by publishing her debut novel, Twilight, and its sequels, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn. Born in 1973 and brought up as a Mormon, Meyer had no experience writing prior to the Twilight series – not even a short story – but wrote the first draft of Twilight for fun. Her sister encouraged her to send the story to publishers, and as anyone who paid even a remote amount of attention to pop culture in between 2008 and 2012 can attest, the rest is history. Meyer’s writing became wildly popular among teenage girls and young women, and the 4 books inspired 5 full-length feature films that grossed ridiculous amounts of money in theatres – and Meyer got a cut of everything. Her books and films have given Meyer a net worth of $125 million.
#9 Dean Koontz — Net Worth: $145 Million
While the name Dean Koontz may not instantly stir a sense of familiarity within your mind, you’ve undoubtedly walked casually by one of his books; they’re everywhere. He’s had an absolutely prolific career, writing dozens and dozens of novels, short stories, and works of non-fiction. His books have sold over 450 million copoies worldwide since the publication of his first novel in 1968. Koontz specializes in suspenseful thriller novels, but his stories frequently touch upon motifs in science fiction, horror and fantasy. Notable works include Demon Seed, Watchers, Hideaway, Intensity and Phantoms.
#8 Nora Roberts — Net Worth: $150 Million
Like Koontz, Nora Roberts is a name that you may not be familiar with. She’s written under her own name and under the pen names J.D. Robb, Jill March and Sarah Hardesty. Throughout her lengthy career – her debut novel Irish Thoroughbred was published in 1981 – she has written and published an astounding 209 romance novels. That comes out to approximately 6.33 novels a year – which is indicative of a serious work ethic. She was the very first author to be inducted into the romance writer’s hall of fame, and deservedly so. Her work helped popularize the genre, and her novels have spent 861 weeks on the New York Times Best Sellers list. All this hard work and consistent writing have made Roberts a very wealthy woman, with a net worth of $150 million.
#7 Jackie Collins — Net Worth: $180 Million
Jackie Collins is another female author who has made absurd amounts of money pumping out romance novels, albeit at a much more reasonable pace than her contemporary Nora Roberts. In total, Collins has published 29 novels, which have collectively sold over 500 million copies. Her first novel – The World is Full of Married Men, published in 1968 – was so scandalous at the time that it was banned in Australia and South Africa. Her frank and unapologetic descriptions of sexual activity were perhaps a bit too much for the sensibilities of the 60s, but the controversy clearly didn’t hurt her sales, which have helped her amass a fortune of $180 million.
#6 John Grisham — Net Worth: $200 Million
The king of the legal thriller at one point never even considered a career as an author. John Grisham was a practising criminal lawyer for a decade, and also served in the Mississippi House of Representatives for a brief period. He published his first novel, A Time to Kill, in 1989, and followed it up with perhaps his best-known work, The Firm, in 1991. The Firm was later adapted into a feature film starring Tom Cruise. He’s one of only 3 authors to sell 2 million copies of a first publication, the other two being J.K. Rowling and Tom Clancy, putting him in illustrious company. Grisham has sold 275 million copies of his books worldwide, which has contributed towards his $200 million net worth.
#5 Tom Clancy — Net Worth: $300 Million
Sadly, the master of the spy thriller passed away quite recently, in October of 2013. Clancy’s novels made him a household name, and his novels were adapted into films, television shows and video games. His stories of military espionage and cold war politics made him a favorite among american readers at the height of the cold war and afterwards. Some of his best-known novels are The Hunt For Red October, Clear and Present Danger, The Sum of All Fears, and Rainbow Six. Tom Clancy’s unique and gripping approach to military and political intrigue will be greatly missed by his fans all over the world.
#4 James Patterson — Net Worth: $310 Million
James Patterson has had a remarkably successful career for someone who only began writing full-time in 1996. His first novel, The Thomas Berryman Number, was published in 1976 and did relatively well. His books began selling like hotcakes with the debut of his most famous character, forensic psychologist Alex Cross, in Along Came a Spider, published in 1993. Alex Cross would reappear in several of Patterson’s books, and the character has become Patterson’s bread and butter. Although he has received mixed reviews from his contemporaries – notably Stephen King, who called him a ‘terrible writer’ – clearly Patterson’s work has struck a chord with the general population, as his books have sold 300 million copies.
#3 Danielle Steel — Net Worth: $375 Million
Danielle Steel can hold claim to the title of the world’s most successful living writer with regard to the number of books sold (and the 4th most successful of all time). She has sold over 800 million copies of her novels since her debut in 1978, an absolutely ridiculous number that can be attributed to her prolific production. She frequently publishes multiple books a year, which is possible thanks to her somewhat formulaic approach to storytelling – which has attracted a fair amount of criticism amongst literary critics. Regardless, her dedicated fan base loves her approach, and they’ve rewarded her with constant sales and a net worth of $375 million.
#2 Stephen King — Net Worth: $400 Million
Stephen King is one of those rare authors who has an extensive bibliography that’s sold extremely well, but has also managed to retain a great deal of respect in literary circles. Although some of his novels have been stinkers, he’s also written horror classics such as Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining, and Pet Sematary. King’s novels – and their film adaptations – have left a lasting impression on American pop culture, more so than any of his contemporaries. He’s also known for his The Dark Tower series – which King considers his best work – that began publication in 1982 and is currently 8 books deep and still unfinished. Few authors in history can claim to have had as successful a career as Stephen King, and his name is familiar to readers and non-readers alike.
#1 J.K. Rowling — Net Worth: $1 Billion
If you’ve come this far down the list and have yet to see her name, you may have guessed whom the #1 spot belongs to. J.K. Rowling is the creator of the Harry Potter series, whose books and film adaptations turned into a bonafide cultural phenomenon. The first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (published as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the United States), was published in in 1997 and was an instant success. She began working on the sequels and sold the film rights to the first book in 1999. The series was completed in 2007 with the publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which became the fastest-selling book of all time, selling 15 million copies in 24 hours – shattering the previous record she already held with the 6th book Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Before the first book was published Rowling was living in relative poverty, and her rags to riches story is now almost as well known as the cast of characters she created to delight both children and adult readers alike.