Except you are making the headlines or you are raking in money, a lot of people believe that writers are jokers or lazy people. From a pile of stories, it’s true that making a living as a full-time writer can be an arduous task.
However, there is a myriad of successful writers in contracts running into millions of dollars. These writers who have redefined the face of artistic contribution through the portal of writing are sources of inspiration to young writers. However, the stories of successful writers have the same recurring themes – persistence, rare talent, diligence, and luck.
1. J.K. Rowling ($95 million)
Leading the clan of the world’s highest-earning wordsmiths in 2017 is the British Queen of letters, Joanne Rowling. Though the magical idea of the Harry Potter fantasy series was conceived in 1990, the book did not hit the shelves until 1997. Ever since 1999, Rowling has topped the Forbes’ highest-paid authors list three times.
In a writing career spanning two decades, she has sold more than 400 million copies of her books. Rowling’s total earnings of $95 million in 2017 quadrupled her earnings for 2016. Her astronomical financial growth can be attributed to the 2016 releases of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
The stage play script/book, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child co-written with Jack Thorne emerged as the best-selling book of 2016 with over 4.5 domestic million copies sold. The movie, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, tickled the interest of the Harry Potter fans and subsequently paid off in huge sums for the British novelist.
Rowling has this to say about persistence:
“I’ve been writing since I was six. It is a compulsion, so I can’t really say where the desire came from; I’ve always had it. My breakthrough with the first book came through persistence because a lot of publishers turned me down!”
2. James Patterson ($87 million)
Patterson is not a stranger to the Forbes’ list of highest paid authors. Before slipping to the second position in 2017, he held the first spot for three consecutive years from 2014 to 2016.
The award-winning writer is best known for the crime fiction novel series – “Alex Cross” and several of his works are being adapted for screenplays. America’s richest author has written 147 novels, 114 have appeared on the New York Times bestselling list. He holds The New York Times record for the most #1 New York Times bestsellers by a single author, a total of 67, which is also a Guinness World Record.
He has sold over 300 million copies worldwide. Even at 70, Patterson is ready for 2018, it was announced in May 2017 that Patterson will co-author a crime fiction novel with former US President Bill Clinton. It’s expected to be a blockbuster and rake in more money for the prolific writer.
“I worked my way through college. I had a lot of night shifts, so I started reading like crazy. Then I started writing. And I found that I loved it. When I was 26, I wrote my first mystery, The Thomas Berryman Number, and it was turned down by, I don’t know, 31 publishers. then it won an Edgar for Best First Novel. Go figure.”
3. Jeff Kinney ($21 million)
American cartoonist and author of children’s books, Jeff Kinney is best known for his book series – Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Upon its release with an online version in 2007, it became an instant hit. In April 2007, the book was published. Up to date, thirteen different titles have been published in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series and has sold more than 60 million copies.
Kinney made huge returns from his creative work this year because the ninth title in the series – Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul made it to the movies.
Kinney shares this about his passion for writing:
“I only work on my books at nights and at weekends. It is really just like a hobby.”
4. Dan Brown ($20 million)
“When I graduated from college, I had two loves–writing fiction and writing music. I lived in Hollywood CA for a while, doing the songwriting thing. Aside from a song in the Atlanta Olympic ceremonies, I never had much success in music. I woke up one morning and decided to start writing fiction again. Digital Fortress was my first attempt at a novel. I certainly feel blessed that it sold; I’m not sure I would have had the patience to write another one on spec!”
5. Stephen King ($15 million)
The King of horror novels has written a myriad of thrillers that have earned him millions of fans across the world. More fans equal more sales and more money. He is one of the world’s wealthiest authors having sold over 350 million copies of his books.
King’s most popular novels – The Shining, It, and Misery, all have movie adaptations. It made it to the theaters in September 2017 and gathering storm with raving reviews while King’s recent novel, End of Watch sold 1.9 million copies in the U.S. in 2017.
In his book, On Writing, King shared about how he handled rejection as a teenager while trying to publish his short stories:
“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”
6. John Grisham ($14 million)
The sixth spot is equally shared by two successful American novelists, John Grisham and Nora Roberts. John Grisham’s exceptional style of crafting legal thrillers has made him the fancy of many readers across the world.
His books have been translated into 42 languages and published worldwide; his first bestseller, The Firm, sold more than 7 million copies. Nine of his novels have screenplay adaptations: The Chamber, The Client, A Painted House, The Pelican Brief, The Runaway Jury, Skipping Christmas, and A Time to Kill.
He recently published three novels: The Whistler in 2016, Camino Island and The Rooster Bar in 2017. The Whistler emerged as the third bestselling book of 2016 with over 660,000 hardcover sales in the U.S. and the sales of Camino Island is not doing bad either.
Grisham talks about focus:
“My name became a brand, and I’d love to say that was the plan from the start. But the only plan was to keep writing books. And I’ve stuck to that ever since.”
“It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time it was too famous.” – Robert Benchley
7. Nora Roberts ($14 million)
“Every single book is a challenge. No matter how many you’ve written, you’ve never written this one before. And each book has to receive your best effort every single time. No slacking. But that’s the job. I’m lucky to love my job. Certainly the plagiarism, and dealing with the fallout of it, was the most difficult thing I’ve ever faced since I started writing.”
8. Paula Hawkins ($13 million)
“It’s great to break a record. It’s also, though, a slightly artificial thing, isn’t it? I’m not even sure when those records began, and from an author’s point of view, that’s not the most important thing.”
9. E.L. James ($11.5 million)
English author, Erika Mitchell, popularly known by her pen name E. L. James, is the author of the bestselling erotic romance trilogy – Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed. The first book in the series, Fifty Shades of Grey, was published in 2011 while the other two sequels reached the bookshelves in 2012.
Sales from the trilogy pushed James to the top of Forbes’ list of highest-earning authors in 2013 with earnings of about $95 million. She is in the eight spot in 2017 because of the film adaptation of the second title in the series – Fifty Shades Darker, the screenplay failed to receive massive approval from her fans.
The 2017 movie grossed $379 million worldwide, nearly $200 million short of Fifty Shades of Grey. She published a new novel this year – Darker: Fifty Shades Darker as Told by Christian while the film adaptation of Fifty Shades Freed is set to hit the theaters in 2018.
James talks about writing:
“Write for yourself. That’s it. And write every day.”
10. Danielle Steel ($11 million)
“I work for about six months to a year on an outline and do it by hand mostly. Eventually I type up what I’ve got, send it to my editor, get comments, and alter it, send it back, get comments, alter it again. And I eventually sit down to write the book, and when I do that I pretty much lock myself up for about a month and do only that for about 20 hours a day. And it goes back and forth like a tennis ball between me and my editor for about two years while I rewrite it. I’m usually working on four or five books at once.”
Also published on Medium.