“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
The top earning authors of 2013 have a lot in common. Each one prolific in output; each one over 35 years old. Most of them cross mediums, adapting their writing into films, made for TV movies, web comics, and television series. They all write populist fiction. Many write young adult fiction or in the style of young adult fiction. And this is a compliment. Many populist writers are criticized for their lack of depth, lack of poetry, for their simplistic dialogue and audience pandering. But if you’ve ever tried to write something engaging, accessible – if you’ve ever tried to write a page-turner, let alone five per year (as Nora Roberts is apt to do) – you will understand the talent and the skill required to become rich and famous painting pictures with words.
Many of these writing careers sprung out of boredom, and some hidden talent. Careers that began during commutes to work, during graveyard shifts, during bad weather. There is no one way to become a multi-millionaire writer, but appealing to young-adults, doesn’t seem to hurt.
While not always the critic’s favorites, the public seems to approve.
10. Stephen King: $20 million
“Let me say it again: You must not come lightly to the blank page.” -Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Well-known and influential writer of horror, suspense, and fantasy, Stephen King was born in Maine in 1947. His father, a merchant seaman is said to have gone for a pack of cigarettes in 1949, and never returned. King has written over 50 books and almost 200 short stories, many adapted into films and comics. His first published novel was Carrie, in 1973. In 2013 King published Doctor Sleep, a sequel to the popular 1977 novel, The Shining.
King has sold more than 350 million copies worldwide.
Estimated net worth of $400 million
9. Dan Brown: $22 million
“Everyone loves a conspiracy.”
– Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code
Dan Brown was born in Exeter, New Hampshire in 1964. His mother, a church organist, and his father, a mathematics teacher, are said to have planned wild scavenger hunts on Christmas and birthdays, encouraging their children to hunt and solve clues for their gifts. His childhood games are seen in the treasure hunt formula of mysterious thrillers like The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons. Prior to writing, Brown was a musician, releasing several albums as a singer-songwriter pianist before becoming an English teacher. His first book, Digital Fortress, was published in 1998. In 2013 he wrote Inferno, the fourth book in the Robert Langdon series.
Brown has sold over 200 million copies worldwide.
Estimated net worth of $120 million
8. Nora Roberts: $23 million
“Good Fiction creates its own reality.”
-Nora Roberts, The Stanislaski Brothers: Mikhail and Alex
Nora Roberts is immensely prolific. In 2013 she published five books. So far this year, she’s published one new book and is set to release 4 more. In all, Roberts has written over 200 romance novels. She was the first writer inducted to the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame.
Nora Roberts was born in Silver Spring, Maryland in 1950. She attended Catholic school and married at 18, after graduating high school. She didn’t begin writing until 1979, when she was bored at home during a snowstorm. Her first novel, Irish Thoroughbred, was published in 1981. Between 1982 and 1984, she wrote 23 novels. 1985, her first bestseller Playing the Odds was published. Since 1999 all of her books have been NY Times Bestsellers.
Roberts has sold over 400 million copies worldwide.
Estimated net worth of $150 million
7. Janet Evanovich: $24 million
“My professional aspirations were simple – I wanted to be an intergalactic princess.”
Janet Evanovich was born to a machinist and a housewife in South River, New Jersey in 1943. After an unsuccessful stint as a secretary, she began writing novels. Hero at Large, her first novel, was published in 1987 for $2000. Evanovich’s fame can largely be attributed to her Stephanie Plum series of romantic mysteries, the first of which, One for the Money, was adapted into a film. Evanovich lives between New Hampshire and Florida with her family and company, Evanovich Inc.
Evanovich has sold over 75 million copies worldwide.
Estimated net worth of $100 million
6. Jeff Kinney: $24 million
“I’m not really sure what makes a book a ‘classic’ to begin with, but I think it has to be at least fifty years old and some person or animal has to die at the end.”
– Jeff Kinney
Jeff Kinney, game designer, cartoonist, actor, and author was born in Fort Washington, Maryland in 1971. In 2004, Diary of a Wimpy Kid was released online, and entries were made to the series regularly until June 2005. In 2006, reader demand grew for a print version and Kinney signed with publisher Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Diary of a Wimpy Kid was released in 2007 and quickly climbed to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. Kinney has since appeared in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid films and currently works on the Poptropica website which features characters from his famous stories. He lives in Plainville, Massachusettes with his wife and two sons.
Kinney has sold over 58 million copies worldwide.
Estimated net worth of $22 million
5. Danielle Steel: $26 million
“Some things in life are worth waiting for.”
– Danielle Steel
The glamorous Danielle Steel was born in New York City in 1947, but spent much of her childhood in France with her father, after her parents’ divorced. She began writing poetry and stories as a child and published her first novel, Going Home in 1972. Her relationship with prison inmate, Danny Zugelder, inspired the two novels that helped launch her career, Passion’s Promise and Now and Forever. Steel has written over 128 books, largely in the romance and popular fiction category, 22 of which have been adapted for television. While at times accused of being formulaic, the longevity of her career and the size of her fan base speak to the effectiveness of her approach.
Steel has sold over 600 million copies worldwide.
Estimated net worth of $375 million
4. Bill O’Reilly: $28 million
“Get bitter or get busy.”
– Bill O’Reilly, Inside Edition, 1988
Bill O’Reilly is an American television host, writer, and political commentator. He’s known for his conservative views and inflammatory statements. O’Reilly has been criticized for distorting reality, promoting hate-speak, and using propaganda. He’s also the author of ten books.
O’Reilly was born in New York City in 1949 to an Irish family. He began a career in broadcasting in 1973. In 1996, O’Reilly got his own show on Fox, The O’Reilly Report (soon after changed to The O’Reilly Factor). He began writing nonfiction in 1998. Most recently released was Killing Jesus: A History, with co-author Martin Dugard. April 2014 anticipates the release of his next historical nonfiction, The Last Days of Jesus: His Life and Times.
O’Reilly has sold over 5 million copies worldwide.
Estimated net worth of $70 million
3. Suzanne Collins: $55 million
“I always channel my emotions into my work. That way, I don’t hurt anyone but myself.”
–Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire
Author of The Hunger Games and The Underland Chronicles, Suzanne Collins, was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1962. Her father was an officer for the US Air Force and had served time in Vietnam. Collins has said that watching television as a child, seeing footage of Vietnam, and knowing that her father was there, is part of the inspiration for writing The Hunger Games; that, and sleepily flicking between world news and reality TV.
Time magazine names Collins one of the most influential people of 2010. She lives in Newtown, Connecticut with her husband and two children.
Collins has sold over 27 million copies worldwide.
Estimated net worth of $70 million
2. James Patterson: $91 million
“We’re never going to get kids to stop playing video games, but we can teach them to read. And what better way than with sensationalistic violence and the grisly details of psychopathic serial murder?”
Born in 1947 in Newburgh, New York, Patterson published his first novel, The Thomas Berryman Number, in 1976. Since then he’s written 95 novels, all longhand on a legal pad which he gives to his assistant to type. He’s written in all popular genres, romance, thriller, mystery, chick lit, young adult – you name it. His fastest growing audience, is that of the young adult reader. In 2005, Patterson published Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment, his first young adult fiction novel. He’s stated that he’s interested in getting kids to read by appealing to their sense of fascination with gore, crime, and general sensationalism. Patterson was on the cover of the The New York Times in 2010, with respect to his successful book publishing ventures. He lives with his wife and son in Palm Beach, Florida.
Patterson has sold more than 260 million copies worldwide.
Estimated net worth of $295 million
1. E.L James: $95 million
“Language evolves and moves on. It is an organic thing. It is not stuck in an ivory tower, hung with expensive works of art and overlooking most of Seattle with a helipad stuck on its roof.”
–E.L James, Fifty Shades of Grey
The only non-American on the list, Erika Leonard, better known as E.L James is the author of the erotic romance novel trilogy, Fifty Shades. James was born in London in 1963, and grew up in Buckinghamshire. She worked as a TV executive until 2009, when she started writing Twilight fan fiction under the name Snowqueens Icedragon. She would write on the commute to work, using her smartphone and her thumbs, and eventually had enough material for a book. Her fan fiction was so popular online that she was quickly approached about a book deal, and the rest in history.
Though often criticized for writing “mommy porn” and being a mundane writer, James has an immense following, and fan fiction is now being written about her characters. James has earned 5 million for the right to the film Fifty Shades of Grey, to be released in February 2015.She currently lives in West London with her husband and two sons.
James has sold over 60 million copies worldwide.
Estimated net worth of $60 million
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