It’s safe to say that the choice to be a writer isn’t a guarantee that fame, fortune, and success will follow. Most of the time it’s quite the opposite, and while many aspire to be writers, not very many have that elusive natural gift. For those with an inspiration and flair, becoming a successful writer can happen almost overnight. For many others, it can take a lifetime. So the earlier in life you start putting pen to paper, the better.
To be sure, writing is hard. Very hard. That goes for more than just the actual process. It’s also a hard lifestyle, prone to struggle and failure. Even for the greatest writers–those who are heralded today as being close to genius–it can be a long-lasting world of rejection. The cliches of the struggling writer are well known in modern culture: alcoholism, dysfunctional relationships, criminal pasts, even suicide. Although the life of a writer may be tumultuous, melancholic and lonely, especially at the beginning of their careers, there is always a chance of making it big as they continue to hone their craft and never give up. Of course, it does’t hurt to have solid ideas and a style that appeals to people on a mass level. It also doesn’t hurt to have a publisher who believes in your work who isn’t afraid to use cold-hard cash to market it to the literate consumer. For some authors, all they need is for their work to be in the hands of the buying public, and the rest takes care of itself. For many, they’re betting on it.
As much as history is filled with unforgiving tales of the writer’s life, there are still a great many authors who have risen to the occasion and made their mark on the world with their greatest works. Some worked odd, menial jobs to pay the rent, while others, still writing, offered their words for projects that were less than genuine or even morally ambiguous just to make a quick and relatively easy dollar. This is by no means unique to writers alone and certainly applies to all kinds of hard-working people who are pursuing their dreams. However, at the end of the day, writers consider themselves to be artists. With enough steadfast perseverance, luck, and a great deal of hard, tedious work, their creations can be recognized by millions of readers and critics. As a result, the money comes rolling in, and most didn’t have to sacrifice their artistic integrity in the process.
The following is a list of 5 extremely well-known authors who beat the odds in their own rags-to-richest stories. With their books about murderous, telepathic youth and wizard protagonists, they’ve become some of most successful and richest writers the world’s literary panoply has ever seen.
5. Charles Dickens – 1812 – 1870
From working jobs as a laborer in a boot-blacking warehouse, to being a school teacher, to acting as a junior clerk in a law office, Charles Dickens was not the only member of his family to struggle with finances. His father, John Dickens, was sent to prison for failing to pay what was owed to creditors. Writing under the pseudonym of Boz, Dickens travelled Britain as a parliamentary journalist in the form of sketches. In 1838, Dickens published the iconic Oliver Twist, a novel about an orphan boy who learns the ways of down-and-out Britain. After returning from a sojourn to the United States and Canada, Dickens began to write A Christmas Carol, a story of a wealthy and fickle old man, and one of the most beloved and recreated stories of all time.
4. George Orwell – 1903 – 1950
Just about every person who’s ever attended a high school English class knows of George Orwell and his iconic 1984, a book that struck the fear of Big Brother into the hearts of people everywhere. Before becoming a famous novelist and essayist, Orwell volunteered to serve in the Spanish Civil War and worked in Burma’s Indian Imperial Police. Supporting himself on loans from friends and family, often taking odd jobs wherever they happened to be, Orwell lived on very limited means for most of his life. To make what little money he could, he reviewed anything he could get his hands on, and even wrote propaganda for the war. Finally, when he was past the age of 40, Orwell broke literary ground with his allegorical novella, Animal Farm, a satirical and fantastical analysis of modern communism.
3. Stephen King – b. 1947
The master of the horror story, Stephen King began his glamorous career in the labor industry working in an industrial laundromat and, eventually, became a school teacher. So poor that he and his wife had to borrow money to even buy basic clothing, you can imagine the joy when King’s first book, Carrie, sold for 2, 500 dollars. Although a very small price in the publication industry, it was enough to keep him going and to keep writing. Not long after, King sold the reprint rights to Carrie for a grand total of 400,000 dollars. Since then, his dark and scary novels have been printed, reprinted, translated and adapted into over a dozen high-grossing films starring some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Starting off from a mere 2-grand, King is now worth approximately $400 million as of 2013. Even with that chunk of change to call his own, King still has this to say about his chosen vocation: “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”
2. Sandra Cisneros – b. 1954
In a literary world predominately dominated by men, it might have been very difficult for Sandra Cisneros to make it as a successful writer. With a very large family of six brothers and a father and mother living on a great deal less than luxury, they often relocated between Chicago and the southern United States. Even when dealing with poverty and constant migration, Cisneros found a distinct voice in her writing, first publishing The House on Mango Street, which won the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award in 1985. According to her, “Because we moved so much, and always in neighborhoods that appeared like France after World War II—empty lots and burned-out-buildings—I retreated inside myself.” Inspired by her uneasy upbringing, Cisneros went on to eventually win more than a dozen literary awards, including the prestigious McArthur Fellowship Grant of $225,000.
1. J.K. Rowling – b. 1965
Now the richest author in the world, J.K. Rowling started writing in cafes so she could escape her cold and dismal apartment. At one point, Rowling was diagnosed with clinical depression and contemplated taking her own life. Poor, borderline homeless, and living off of Britain’s welfare system, Rowling worked tirelessly on her famous novel that would eventually become the biggest selling book series and movie franchise the world has ever seen. Fortunately, after publishing her book in the UK for 10,000 pounds, an American publishing house purchased the rights for another 100,000 dollars. From there, the infamous Harry Potter novels grew to be unstoppable and were made into several high-grossing feature films that have graced theaters and fans everywhere. Now, the once poor and struggling Rowling is worth approximately $900 million in 2013, making her the richest author in history.