Show me the money (Forbes reports the 10 highest paid authors)

Who's making bank writing books? This article in Forbes reports the top ten literary green grossers in the 12 months ending June 1, 2010 and adds some insight to the hard data.

First, the list:
1) James Patterson $70 million
2) Stephanie Meyer $40 million
3) Stephen King $34 million
4) Danielle Steel $32 million
5) Ken Follet $20 million
6) Dean Koontz $18 million
7) Janet Evanovich $16 million
8) John Grisham $15 million
9) Nicholas Sparks $14 million
10) JK Rowling $10 million (the world's first billionaire author has fallen on hard times since the end of the Harry Potter series, but she seems grateful and philosophical as always. I don't anticipate an Authors Guild telethon for her or anything.)

So what might we learn from them and apply (albeit in microcosm) to our own writing careers?

These writers work incredibly hard, but it's also about branding. The article reminds us that Patterson's latest book deal "involves penning a carpal tunnel-risking 17 books by the end of 2012 for an estimated $100 million." It goes on to say that JP "writes all his novels in longhand" but doesn't mention that the hand is attached to someone else's arm. Patterson's enormous income is largely based on a franchise business model; if you loved a Denny's Grand Slam Breakfast in New Caney, Texas, you know you can get the same thing in Holmen, Wisconsin, so rather than risk $6.99 on the mom and pop place down the street, consumers most often go for that known quantity. Different cooks, same menu. Patterson employs a posse of co-authors. I hope he's sharing the wealth equitably.

Another key aspect to thriving as a writer is diversified income sources. Book advances are just one component. Movie rights are huge for everyone on the Forbes list. Backlist love will keep King's heirs raking it in for generations to come. The article also notes that King is "prolific, and not just in books: A recent profile noted that over the course of a few weeks this year he had a story published in the New Yorker, a review of a Raymond Carver biography in the New York Review of Books, an article in the horror magazine Fangoria and a poem in Playboy."

There's foreign sales, TV series spin-offs, action figures. Steele's income included a large settlement from a former assistant who'd embezzled from her. The vagaries of the marketplace, blind luck, serendipity, and the unknowable chemistry of God and mass audience account for the rest. I'm slightly encouraged by the fact that the list is only 60% male, saddened by the fact that it's 100% white.

Perhaps the most important thing to note is that each of these writers broke the mold in some way. Each of them started out doing exactly what s/he wanted to do, and success wasn't instant or easy for any of them. That's really the only thing we can extrapolate: To thine own self be true. Because there are no secrets to success, no formulas, no golden tickets. We have to write what we feel called to write, knowing that money is just one of many yardsticks that measure success. There is no list for Top 10 Most Thrilled By the Perfect Word...Top 10 Most Grateful For First Book Deal...Top 10 Most Loved By Their Kids...Top 10 Office Window Bird Feeding Stations...Top 10 Mid-Day Home Office Conjugal Visits...all of which could be cross-compiled into a list of the Top 10 Happiest Writers.

Click here to read the rest of the Forbes article.


Oh, I love this post. LOLed on the JK Rowling telethon commentary!

What I love most is your list of the qualities of the World's Happiest Writers. That's the one I'm shooting for, absolutely.

Btw, sorry I posted on top of you this morning. You must've put yours up while I was writing mine. Are we dedicated women or what?
I, too, give a shout of Amen! over here with the last paragraph about we must be true to our selves and what we are called to write. I am not as fast nor as prolific as many a writer, but that does not mean I am not a writer. I am at a point in my journey where I choose to do many things with my hours than write, at least on paper. I'm always writing in my head.
Anonymous said…
In an effort to brand myself prior to publication, I've decided to start with the Action Figure, move on to a movie deal, and then finish the book. Yup, that should do it. But first... I must work on being a Happy Writer....

Diane H.
Rofl, Diane! In my case, it might be an inaction figure. :)
Very good point about diversified income. It never occurred to me when I started writing that money would come from anything but advances and royalties. But there are foreign sales, audio rights sales, Doubleday sales--to name a few. I'd love to get those movie/TV and bobble-head rights sales too.
Mylène said…
Actually, it was easy for Stephanie Meyers: she had a dream, wrote a book, and found a publisher all within the space of a few months. She knows she never had to pay her "dues," and she's grateful for that. But I still hate her. ;-)

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