Establishing a successful career as an author is no easy feat. A steady decrease in the number of books being printed, paired with lower publisher advances and royalty payouts makes it harder than ever for a start-up writer to succeed. Not to mention, electronic books are more accessible and affordable than ever, leaving their printed counterparts to gather dust on the shelves of lonely bookstores.
In a market this competitive, only a handful of authors make it big. A combination of talent, great marketing, and old-fashioned luck helped establish these iconic authors’ careers.
10 Emma Cline: The Girls
The Girls was author Emma Cline's debut novel, published in 2016. The fictional piece references the infamous 1969 murder of actress Sharon Tate in Los Angeles, as well as the involvement of the Manson Family. The coming-of-age masterpiece was praised by The Washington Post and The New York Times, and was one of the bestselling books of 2016.
Random House shelled out a cool $2 million advance to Cline before the book was even completed, making it one of the most sought after titles in the industry. Despite being sued by her ex for plagiarism (she countersued) Cline has made quite a good start in the literary world.
9 Stephanie Danler: Sweetbitter
American novelist Stephanie Danler took seven years to write her loosely autobiographical fiction novel, Sweetbitter. The author's first book was published by Alfred A. Knopf, who offered her close to a million dollar advance on a two-book deal.
The novel follows Tess, a 20-something Ohio native, as she travels to New York City and becomes a waitress. The novel was adapted to television in 2018, when Starz released the first season of the aptly named series. It has been met with mixed reviews (it currently has about 30% on Rotten Tomatoes) but has nonetheless been renewed for a second season, airing this summer.
8 E.L. James: Fifty Shades Of Grey
Fifty Shades Of Grey, the cult classic debut novel by British author E.L. James, is one of the most successful first books on this list. With close to 200 million copies sold to date, author E.L. James is comfortably sitting on a net worth of over $150 million.
For a self-published first time author, she definitely did well for herself. Becoming a self-made millionaire at 50, E.L. James proved that a college degree is not the only path to success. The infamous book series has been brought to the big screen, which has only increased the visibility and popularity of the trilogy.
7 James Redfield: The Celestine Prophecy
James Redfield's breakout 1993 novel, The Celestine Prophecy, brought forward Eastern philosophies and New Age spirituality to a primarily American audience. The book used a traditional narrative to transmit concepts of spiritual awakening, energetic fields and synchronicity to the reader. In 1993, these concepts were still emerging, and have since become hugely popular in mainstream books, movies and music.
The book spent an incredible 165 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller's List, making it one of the most successful books of all time. It has sold over 50 million copies to date, and established James Redfield as a millionaire.
6 Lisa Genova: Still Alice
The self-published novel, Still Alice, 2007, is another New York Times bestseller. It has also been adapted into a hugely popular film, featuring Julianne Moore. Author Lisa Genova, a neuroscientist, used her professional knowledge when writing the novel. The book centers around a woman who suffers from early onset Alzheimer's, and the profound effects that the diseases' progression has on her personal relationships.
With the novel selling over 5 million copies, and the movie grossing close to $50 million at the box office, Lisa Genova became a millionaire writer seemingly overnight. She has written five more novels since 2011.
5 Amanda Hocking: My Blood Approves
Amanda Hocking is one of the most notorious self-published authors in the world. While working in a group home, she managed to write an astonishing 17 novels in her down time. Originally selling to family and friends, her online e-book sales took a major turn, with averages of 10,000 sales per day for her My Blood Approves series.
The unprecedented success earned her over 2 million dollars in sales within a year of publishing. Her unique blend of paranormal romantic fiction has gained her a huge fan base, who continue to buy her books. To this day, she has over 25 titles to her name. Not bad for a 35 year old entrepreneur!
4 Haruki Murakami: Hear The Wind Sing
Haruki Murakami is a world-renowned Japanese writer who has had his books translated into over 50 languages. His first novel, Hear The Wind Sing, was released in 1979 to critical acclaim. It won the Gunzo Award for literary excellence, which motivated the author to continue to write.
He has since released 18 novels and short story collections, and has been a regular contributor to The New Yorker Magazine, where his stories have been published since 2001. Despite his huge success, Murakami is a quiet man, who uses writing as his main form of communication. He has been coined a loner by fellow authors and literary commentators.
3 John Locke: Lethal People
John Locke is an American thriller and western author who rose to fame with his first novel, Lethal People. He was the first self-published author to sell over 1 million e-book copies on Amazon, via Kindle Direct Publishing. He reached millionaire status from the royalties on his first book within just six months.
Since 2010, he's released 25 titles, all via Amazon, with all of them attaining Amazon best seller status. In 2012, he signed a contract with publishing house Simon & Schuster, allowing them to sell print copies of his books at retail locations, worldwide. His integrity as a writer was put in question in 2012, when The New York Times suggested that he was paying an agency to write book reviews, which in turn, increased his sales.
2 Nicholas Sparks: The Notebook
Nicholas Sparks is an American multi-millionaire novelist, best known for his cheesy romantic movies that are all too often turned into films. His first book, The Notebook, became an instant bestseller, establishing his career as a writer. In 2004, the novel was adapted to the screen, and featured Hollywood's favorite Canadian's, Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams.
The movie was hugely successful, and brought in over $115 million at the box office. Sparks is now sitting comfortably on a net worth that is tipping the scales at $40 million. He has written a total of twenty novels, and two nonfiction titles.
1 James Patterson: Along Came A Spider
James Patterson is one of the world's most successful authors. With a net worth of over $800 million, he consistently places on the Forbes' list of top paid authors (often, at the very top). He's written over 100 books, has sold over 350 million copies, and was the first author to sell 1 million e-books.
His empire was founded on the success of his first novel, Along Came A Spider, written in 1993. The super famous Alex Cross forensic series currently has 18 sequels, and the potential for more is unlimited. This man can write! In 2001, a film adaptation of the novel was released, starring Morgan Freeman and Monica Potter.