Few people really think of the arts as a way to make money. For a financially successful career, we’re more likely to look to the business world or the medical fields. The literary world is more generally perceived as being the reserve of those noble artists writing for the love of it, without any real prospects of making a strong, regular salary. Getting published is hard, making any real money is harder. Winning money, though, is perhaps the most foreign concept in the entire list. Yet, there are literary bodies who have the power to select a book based purely on it literary merit and bring its author fame, prestige – and fortune, even for books that might not have been selling well, or been gaining much recognition from the general public.
In itself, writing is a risky business. You spend a year, perhaps more, on a novel with no certainty of it ever being published, let alone making money. Most writers – especially first-time novelists – are obligated to hold down another job to sustain themselves before they become full-time writers. Some writers will target a relatively safe, popular market -like the YA fantasy, or the booming erotica genre. At least then, there’s a somewhat attainable goal of modest commercial success. But for those writers who have a heavy, philosophical tome in their souls, the audience is niche and the possibility of it taking off like Harry Potter is, therefore, small. If a writer truly believes they’re a worthy diamond in the rough, though, then it could eventually all become worth it: There are countless writing competitions out there for great literature, and the money ranges from the meagre to staggering amounts. Generally, of course, the bigger and more noteworthy the prize the more work the author has to have behind them – to be shortlisted for the largest wins on this list, authors would need to have a lifetime of great work behind them.
But what are the highest paid prizes? What dizzying heights should the budding author be aiming for? When we hear these questions we might think of The Man Booker, the Pulitzer, the Pen/Faulkner. Established prizes? Yes. But high in money? Not so. With this in mind, delve into the literary world’s hidden finances and marvel at these gems; the highest paying literary prizes in the world.
5. St Francis College Literary Prize ($50,000)
Number five on our list isn’t for rookies. This award, first gifted in 2009, focuses on writers who are “mid-career” – meaning that they’ve completed and published a third or fourth novel. In 2013, the huge sum of $50,000 was given to David Vann for his novel ‘Dirt’. Previous winners have included Jonathan Dee and Aleksander Hemon. The award is biannual and sponsored by St. Francis College, and it was founded to encourage and financially support promising writers in their journey to the apex of their career.
4. Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize ($100,000)
The Poetry Foundation was founded in 2003. Poetry Magazine began in 1912, but a donation by philanthropist Ruth Lily of $300,000 allowed the magazine to branch out into a charitable foundation promoting the art of poetry on a large scale. The renowned prize offered through the Poetry Foundation, named after the founding donor, is the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. The $100,000 prize is divided among 5 young American poets between the ages of 21 and 31.
The award was originally established by Lily in 1989 and has seen poets such as Philip Levine, Maxine Kumin, David Ferry and more receive the accolade. The prize wasn’t always so large, though. It’s only since a ‘generous donation’ from Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Fund to the Poetry Foundation this year that the prize money increased from $15,000 per winner to $25,000 per winner.
3. Lannan Literary Award ($150,000)
The Lannan Literary Awards are not just subject to one kind of literature. The awards consist of Non-Fiction, Fiction and Poetry. Unlike many of the awards on this list, the Lannan Award offers this huge amount to emerging writers, as well as established ones. The award is gifted to work that’s assessed to be of “exceptional quality”. This also means that the award isn’t given every year; it’s only handed out when the Lannan Foundation decide a piece of work is worthy. To win the award, it’s not possible to put yourself up as the award doesn’t accept applicants directly. In a somewhat mysterious process, potential award winners are put forward anonymously. The Foundation’s chosen winner gets the career-boosting sum of $150,000.
The literary winners since 18989 have ranged from A.L. Kennedy to Lydia Davis, Alice Munro to Howard Norman. The Lannan Poetry award glitters with some notable names, too; Carol Ann Duffy and Seamus Heaney are among the winners. The Lannan Foundation. is a family foundation and their awards are gifted based on the family’s and Foundation’s philosophy, which is “dedicated to cultural freedom, diversity and creativity through projects which support exceptional contemporary artists and writers, as well as inspired Native activists in rural indigenous communities”.
2. The Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize ($300,000)
Dorothy and Lillian Gish, two famous sisters who were actresses during the silent movie era, were great advocates of the arts. It was their sheer passion that made the award one of the highest paid to date. The award in itself is given to “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life”. Unlike all the other awards on this list, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize isn’t just for writers, although in the last 10 years, five authors or writers have been recipients of the award.
In 2013, for example, the award went to Spike Lee who is a writer – but also a director and producer. Other literary winners included Arthur Miller in 1999 and Isabel Allende in 1998. The award lands as number two with the massive $300,000 prize money. Lillian Gish willed the money upon her death, writing “It is my desire, by establishing this prize, to give recipients of the prize the recognition they deserve, to bring attention to their contributions to society and encourage others to follow in their path.”
1. Nobel Prize ($1,142,000)
Our list concludes with an award we’ve doubtless all heard of. An award so elite it seems almost like the Holy Grail. Yet, writers do receive the Nobel Prize for Literature and the biggest lump sum of prize money of all time in literature: $1,142,000. Established in 1901 by Alfred Nobel, the award is given to a writer who has produced “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction”. The Nobel prize is international, and esteemed iconic Nobel Laureates include Rudyard Kipling, William Yeats, Selma Lagerlöf, George Bernard Shaw, John Steinbeck, Doris Lessing, Jean-Paul Sartre… As long as the world keeps producing Nobel Laureates of that quality. we need not fear for the future of literature.