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10 Top Grossing Authors of 2013: Really Rich Writers Who Made Over $20M Last Year

Category: Financial News

Whether it is by way of recommendation or scorn, many of us recognize all of the names on this list for one reason or another. These writers are often criticized for their ability to produce five or more novels annually, for the lack of substance to their writing, or for the taboo nature of their work, but the prolific ability of each author has been essential in building their careers as writers. For some authors on this list, writing is second nature and making a living as an author has always been a life goal. However, for some, writing a hit series just happened.

One might ask, “how does writing multiple full length books just happen?”. Several of the most widely read novels produced by writers on this list were born from the trauma of divorce, or the death of a loved one. Writing served as an outlet for their emotions, and eventually led to their economic success.

Arguably, people read books for the same reason writers create them. They are looking for an emotional outlet, for a character to connect to, or to simply escape the real world for several hundred pages. If only reading a book could also make you $20 million dollars a year. Here is a list of the ten top grossing authors of 2013.

10. Stephen King: $20 million


Net worth: $400 million

Stephen King began his writing career writing a column in the campus paper at the University of Maine. Upon graduation he published several short stories in the men’s magazine Cavalier, among other publications, but was not yet recognized for his work. During this time he worked as a school teacher until his breakthrough novel Carrie was published in 1973, and ended up earning him an estimated $400,000. Shortly after, he wrote his most notorious novel The Shining.

In his lifetime King has published over 50 novels, many of which have served as the structure for high grossing films starring actors such as Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Currently King lives in Maine, where he continues to write, though not as prolifically as in his early career due to a devastating car accident in 1999.

9. Dan Brown: $22 million


Net worth: $120 million

Dan Brown’s love for mystery was instilled early in his childhood. His parents would organize elaborate scavenger hunts on birthdays and holidays that required Dan and his siblings to crack codes and follow clues until they eventually solved the mystery. At the time, did Dan Brown’s parents know that he would grow up to be one of the top grossing mystery-thriller writers in the world?

Brown is best known for writing the Robert Langdon series. The first installment, The Da Vinci Code, was released in 2003 and was an immediate success. It topped the New York Times Bestsellers list within a week of it’s release, and is still considered one of the most popular books of all time.

Brown has also published work outside of the thriller genre, though it almost feels like a scavenger hunt discovering its existence. Before writing, Brown actually worked as a songwriter and pop musician. He released a children’s cassette tape of synthesizer driven tracks titled SynthAnimals. Sadly, SynthAnimals only sold an estimated 100 copies, several copies short of the 200 million books he has sold during his career.

8. Nora Roberts: $23 million


Net worth: $150 million

Born Eleanor Marie Robertson in Silver Springs, Maryland, this famous writer has published under nearly five different names in her career thus far. Some know her as Eleanor, some as J.D. Robb, some as Jill March, and for others, as Sarah Hardesty. Most of us, however, know her as prolific romance writer Nora Roberts.

In 2013 alone, Nora Roberts published five novels. In her life she has written over 200 full length books, a record that had her inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. Her work has been extremely influential in the romance genre, to the point where her novel Sweet Revenge was plagiarised by romance writer Janet Dailey, resulting in a lawsuit. Roberts donated the money attributed to her after the lawsuit was settled to multiple charities. Roberts even has her own person charity, the Nora Roberts Foundation, which supports literacy for children.

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7. Janet Evanovich: $24 million


Net worth: $100 million

Who doesn’t want to read about a Robert De Niro inspired lingerie buyer turned bounty hunter in a mad dash to make ends meet? No wonder American author Janet Evanovich has sold over 75 million copies of her books worldwide. Made famous for her Stephanie Plum series, Evanovich is known for her action romance novels usually told from the first person perspective about one central character swept up in multiple side plots.

When Evanovich began writing she desired nothing more than to write the ‘Great American Novel’, though with ten years of no luck publishing her work, she switched to writing in the romance genre. Evanovich published her first novel, Hero At Large in 1987 at the age of 43 under the pen-name Steffie Hall. Later she wrote formulaic romance novels for Bantam Loveswept until finally breaking through with novel One For The Money in 1994.

6. Jeff Kinney: $24 million


Net worth: $22 million

Author Jeff Kinney is your regular Jack of all trades. Not only is he famous for writing the acclaimd Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, but he also designs online games and cartoons, acts, and produces movies. When he was a student at the University of Maryland, he served as a cartoonist for the campus paper. His success in this position inspired him to continue creating cartoons online, and to push his skills even further to create an online space for children called Poptropica.

Poptropica features characters from Kinney’s books with whom children can interact with. The fusion of online and print media has largely contributed to Kinney’s economic success from the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. The series has been adapted to film, and was actually produced by Jeff Kinney himself. In addition to producing the hit films, he also showed off his acting skills in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules.

5. Danielle Steel: $26 million


Net worth: $375 million

It is nearly impossible to walk through a bookstore without seeing a single Danielle Steel novel. Arguably the most notorious romance novelist, Steel has sold over 600 million copies of her work since she published her first book Going Home in 1972. Steel has published over 128 books, of which 55 have been adapted for film or television, and 2 of which have been Golden Globe nominated.

There have been rumours throughout Steel’s career about her employing ghostwriters to be able to produce multiple novels annually. Regardless of these rumours, Steel repeatedly juggles writing several novels at the same time. Her works share common story lines about unfaithful relationships, broken families, and fraud, though not a single Danielle Steel novel has a sequel. At times she has diverged from the romance genre that she is famous for and has published poetry.

In her personal life, Steel has been married five times. Her first novel was published after her first divorce, and her later marriage to inmate Danny Zugelder inspired several of her most famous works. She currently splits her time between her home in Paris, and her 55-room mansion in San Francisco that originally belonged to an infamous sugar tycoon.

4. Bill O’Reilly: $28 million

Net worth: approx. $70 million

Net worth: approx. $70 million

William James “Bill” O’Reilly is a famous American political commentator known for his highly conservative views and his apt for confrontational media. Despite heavy criticism for the things he says, he writes books that millions of people purchase and hosts television shows that millions of people watch, which boils down to an estimated net worth of $70 million dollars.

O’Reilly writes non-fiction books, 11 of which have been published under sole authorship since 1998. He has also co-authored multiple other works. His 2013 work Killing Jesus: A History, co-authored by American author Martin Dugard, is the follow up novel to his works Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln. Upcoming in April of 2014 is a new publication titled The Last Days of Jesus: His Life and Times.

O’Reilly is considered to be incredibly important as a political writer. His books have sold over 5 million copies around the world. While he is viewed as being highly conservative, his literary works and some segments of his television career have strayed from strict conservative viewpoints, representing what O’Reilly refers to as his “traditionalist” political agenda.

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3. Suzanne Collins: $55 million

Net worth: approx. $70 million

Net worth: approx. $70 million

Suzanne Collins was born in 1962 in Connecticut, and spent much of her life moving from city to city with her military family. Her father served as an officer for the US Air Force, and his experience was largely influential in shaping her childhood. Like her father, Collins has become a largely influential figure for thousands of young adult readers. In 2010, Collins was named one of the most influential people in the world by Time Magazine. She is the author of the best-selling series The Underland Chronicles and the wildly popular trilogy The Hunger Games.

Feminist hero Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games trilogy provides a strong female role in literature for young women, as Collins’ success serves an important role for aspiring female writers. While the trilogy is aimed towards young adult readers, it certainly serves as a staple for readers of all ages.

Collins studied theater, telecommunications, and dramatic writing in school, giving her a deep understanding of the relationship between literature and film. The Hunger Games trilogy was adapted to film by Collins herself. This highly educated, highly successful woman has worked hard to earn her well-deserved place on this list.

2. James Patterson: $91 million

Net worth: approx. $295 million

Net worth: approx. $295 million

How James Patterson made it to number two on this list is no mystery. Collectively, an estimated 300 million copies of James Patterson’s books have been sold worldwide, and at least 10 of his works have also been adaptable to film. Born in 1947 and still writing to this day, he has completed over 95 literary works. Patterson took his first steps towards becoming a famous novelist by attending Manhattan College, where he studied English. Upon graduating with a Masters in English from Vanderbilt University he decided to go into the business world. While Patterson clearly has devoted much of his life to writing, he actually worked in advertising until 1996 and published novels on the side.

James Patterson is a famous name in the thriller genre, though he has also published non-fiction, romance, and young adult fiction. He currently holds a Guinness World Record for the most consecutive hardcover New York Times Bestsellers by a single author (76). Notable books written by Patterson include the Alex Cross series and the Women’s Murder Club series. More recently he has been focusing on engaging young adults with the concept of sensationalism through crime novels, particularly through his 2005 young adult fiction work Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment.

1. E.L. James: $95 million


Net worth: approx. $60 million

Love it or hate it, the Fifty Shades trilogy has received enough publicity to make author E.L. James a household name. For many of us, we are familiar with the Fifty Shades trilogy because of the hype surrounding the novels. When the first installment Fifty Shades of Grey was published in 2011, it was criticised by many due to the prevalence of erotic and taboo sexual practices ranging from bondage to role-playing, for the way it depicts women, and for the overall quality of the writing itself. While the reviews remain mixed, the success of E.L. James as a writer is undeniable.

The Fifty Shades trilogy has formed an enormous fan base worldwide. The series has sold over 60 million copies, and has been translated into over 52 languages, allowing it to connect to a diverse audience and undoubtedly contributing to author E.L. James success. The trilogy has inspired numerous fan fiction offshoots, which seems fitting since E.L. James made a name for herself as a writer scripting Twilight fan fiction under the moniker ‘Snowqueens Icedragon’.

One of the most intriguing aspects of E.L. James as a writer is how she utilizes multimedia and modern technology. She wrote the majority of her early fan fiction on her smartphone, and the first installment of the Fifty Shades trilogy was self-published as an e-book. Fans of her work can anticipate a film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey due in February 2015.

By Louie Andre

B2B & SaaS market analyst and senior writer for FinancesOnline. He is most interested in project management solutions, believing all businesses are a work in progress. No stranger to small business hiccups and drama, having been involved in a few internet startups. Prior to his for-profit ventures, he has had managed corporate communications for a Kansas City-based Children International unit.

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