Authors who manage to write best-selling books can make some seriously big bucks. While most people know that famous authors make a lot of money, some of us would never imagine how much they actually earn. While writing books for a living may be a dream job, it’s difficult for aspiring writers to even understand the steps these authors took in order to achieved all of their success. Here are the stories of how 20 of the richest writers in the world made their fortunes.
20. J. K. Rowling
For years, Joanne Murray Rowling was a college graduate struggling to survive on government assistance as a single mother. In her own words, she was “as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless.” For years, the characters of the Harry Potter universe existed in her head. Every time she was inspired to write more of the story, she would pull out a notebook, and even napkins to jot down notes.
When it was finished, her book was rejected by several publishers, because they felt that it did not fit into the mold of stories told to certain age groups of children. But she did not give up, and stuck to the story she wanted to tell. She finally sold Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Bloomsbury Publishing. Even then, the publisher was hesitant to publish the work of a woman, because they were afraid young boys wouldn’t want to read a book written by a girl. The asked her to use her initials, which is why she is known as “J. K. Rowling.
As the author of the Harry Potter book series, J. K. Rowling receives royalties every time her characters are used for merchandise, video games, or spin-offs like the Broadway play and the new movies Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. She now has more money than the Queen of England. Her current net worth is estimated to be $1 Billion.
19. Stephen King
Before he was a best-selling author, Stephen King was raised by a single mother. He went to college, and worked as an English teacher. He wasn’t getting paid very well, so he worked cleaning laundry at night to help support his wife and kids. His wife, Tabatha, who is also a writer, worked the night shift at Dunkin Donuts. Stephen King wrote horror stories in his spare time, and even got a couple short stories published. However, he only made about $30 per piece, so writing did not seem like a viable career option at the time.
Since he had been paid so little for his writing, Stephen King didn’t fully believe in his own abilities. He actually threw his manuscript of Carrie in the trash. His wife scooped it out of the garbage can. After reading it, she convinced him to send it to a publisher. Signet Books purchased the manuscript for $400,000, and Stephen and Tabatha’s lives changed literally overnight. Now, they live in a gorgeous mansion in Bangor, Maine complete with an iconic spooky spider web front gate that his fans love to take pictures in front of.
Today, his new books continue to sell very well, and his stories are made into movies and TV series. Carrie was turned into several different movies, and his stories continue to be turned into TV series, like Castle Rock in 2018. He is worth $400 Million.
18. Dean Koontz
Dean Koontz was born in Pennsylvania in 1945. As a child, he grew up in a poor family with an alcoholic father. He looked up to authors like superheroes who had the power to help him escape reality. This is why he was determined to write books someday, too.
He earned a college degree in English, and began teaching at a High School. He married his High School sweetheart, Gerta. When he was 23 years old, he published his first sci fi novel called Star Quest, which was sold in a paperback novel that was combined with a story from another author. The book sold for only 60 cents each in grocery stores, so it could not have possibly made him much of a profit. But his wife Gerta believed in him. She offered to financially support the both of them for five years while he quit his job to write full-time.
Koontz began writing under multiple pseudonyms in nearly every genre, until he figured out what was successful. Over his lifetime, he has published over 120 books, and many of them have been made into movies. He has an estimated net worth of $145 million.
17. Dan Brown
In 2006, The Da Vinci Code starring Tom Hanks was a box office hit, and Dan Brown became a household name. People couldn’t stop telling their friends and family to go see this thrilling film full of hidden secrets and symbols.
Dan Brown was born in Exeter, New Hampshire in 1964. When he was young, he actually started out by trying to have a career in the music industry. He moved to Los Angeles, and worked as both a Spanish and English teacher at prestigious prep schools. He wrote stories after work, and his first novel, Digital Fortress, was published in 1998. He continued to write in the early 2000’s. His net worth is estimated to be $160 million.
16. Michael Crichton
Michael Crichton is famous for blending real scientific facts and theories into his works of fiction. He is most known for being the author of the Jurassic Park books. He also created the medical drama ER, which was very successful, and ran for 15 seasons. Jurassic Park became such a classic, they were remade into the new Jurassic World movies.
Michael Crichton graduated from Harvard Medical School. Instead of working in a hospital, he did biological research after graduating, and taught anthropologie at Cambridge University. His background in medicine and archeology were part of what made his stories so captivating and realistic. When he was still in medical school, he wrote a book called The Andromeda Strain, and he would continue to write his stories. Jurassic Park became his first New York Times Best Seller, and the movie was a huge hit. When he passed away win 2008, his net worth was $175 million.
15. Jackie Collins
Jackie Collins was born in 1937 in Hampstead, England. She was expelled from her school when she was just 15, and apparently had an affair with the actors Marlon Brando when he visited London. Later in life, she admitted that she was a “juvenile delinquent”, but that she was glad she got all of the partying out of her system when she was young. Since she was not taking the academic route in life, her parents thought it may be good for her to move to Los Angeles to live with her sister, Joan, who was already living there. In LA, she pursued an acting career. She mainly found rolls in British films.
After years of living a fun and fast-paced lifestyle, Collins had loads of interesting and saucy stories to tell her friends. So it only made sense to start writing books. In 1968, at age 31, Jackie Collins published her first romance novel, The World is Full of Married Men. This did very well, but she continued to work as an actress in movies and TV shows until the 1980’s. She was great as writing saucy romance novels, and this became her ticket to fame and success. After publishing several novels, she earned a net worth of $180 million.
14. R.L. Stine
For anyone who grew up in the 1990’s, reading R.L. Stine’s horror books or watching the TV show on Nickelodeon was a staple for kids on summer vacation. Even today, his stories have re-emerged with the movie starring Jack Black. After decades of writing iconic spooky tales, it should be no surprise that R.L. Stine has seen a lot of financial success.
R.L. Stine grew up being afraid of a lot of things when he was a kid, and wrote funny stories and jokes to keep away the blues. He went to Ohio State University, and moved to New York City, where he found a job at Scholastic, which specializes in stories for children. He started out by writing a series of books called Fear Street, and then wrote the more kid-friendly Goosebumps books. He was laid off from his job at Scholastic, and decided to use the time he had on his hands to write more Goosebumps books, and it paid off on a big way. He has an estimated net worth of $200 million.
13. Stephenie Meyer
Stephenie Meyer was born in Hartford, Connecticut, and her family moved to Phoenix, Arizona when she was young. She loved reading classic romance novels by Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. After going to college to earn degree in English, she got married in her senior year and gave birth to her first child soon after graduation. She became a stay-at-home mom. Even though she got a degree in English, she never had aspirations to be a writer.
One night, she had a dream of a normal girl and a sparkly vampire boy who were in love with each other. When she woke up, she decided to write down the dream. She said in an interview that she was in a slump at that time, and that she felt like she was losing her identity. So writing this vampire store was a creative outlet. Her dreams continued to reveal more details of the story to her, and she wrote down so much of it, that it was long enough to be a book.
The scenes from her dreams ended up being incorporated into her first book, Twilight. She scored a publishing deal to come out with a trilogy, and it sold 250 million copies. Later, the book series would be made into movies. Today, she is worth $125 million.
12. E.L. James
Erika Leonard James was born in London, England in 1963. She earned a degree in history, and married a man named Niall Leonard, who is a screenwriter and director. She got a job as a full-time career working as a television executive.
E.L. James was a big fan of the Twilight series, and she wrote erotic fanfiction that she posted online to several fan sites. In her stories, she imagined that the Twilight characters Edward Cullen and Bella Swan were into BDSM. When her stories became popular, she moved them all to her own website, and decided to change the character’s names to Anastasia and Christian Grey.
She had grown a readership online, so she decided to write a full romance novel with her two characters. She published Fifty Shades of Grey, and used her insider knowledge in the entertainment industry to help promote her book successfully.
Even though a lot of people make fun of the poor quality of E.L. James’ writing, some people like it because it was the first popular series that normalized the BDSM lifestyle. It became a bestseller, and it was also made into a series of movies. E.J. James has a net worth of $80 million.
11. Hugh Howey
Raised in North Carolina, Hugh Howey had a passion for sailing. He was a yacht captain for several years, and also worked odd jobs as a roofer, audio technician, and a bookstore clerk. He loved to read, especially on long trips across the ocean. He decided to give writing a try, and published a short story called Wool on Amazon.com. He had no idea that Wool would become so popular. From word of mouth, it sold over 1,000 copies in the first month. Once he saw the success of this story, he decided to write more books and continue the series. He eventually reached a point where he was making $150,000 a month from digital e-book sales on Amazon.
After his books became popular, Hugh Howey began receiving offers from publishers worth over $1 million to buy the rights to publish his series. He decided to turn them down, because he knew that it made a lot more sense to continue self-publishing online. Eventually, Simon and Schuster offered him a deal to print the physical copies of his books to sell in stores, but he still gets to keep his digital rights to e-book sales. 20th Century Fox purchased the rights to make a TV series based on the Wool books, and some of his other stories, like I, Zombie have already appeared on the small screen. Today, Howey sails the world on his boat, and continues to write. He has already become a millionaire, but only time will tell if Hugh Howey’s self-made success will skyrocket him into the hundreds of millions like the rest of the authors on this list.
10. Allison DuBois
Not only is Allison DuBois a best-selling writer, but she also claims to be a psychic. DuBois grew up in Phoenix, Arizona, where she claims that she began speaking to the spirits of the dead at age 6. One night, she heard a voice tell her, “move your bed”. So, she listened. A couple hours later while she was sleeping, a drunk driver crashed through her bedroom. If she had not moved her bed, she would have died.
Allison Dubois earned a college degree in Political Science, and worked in a lawyer’s office as an intern. She started going to law school, and began working in the homicide division of her local police department. When she went through crime scene photos of cold cases, she began having visions of things that happened before the photos were taken. One of the crimes had been committed in Texas five years earlier. So she wrote a letter about her visions, and they wrote back, saying that the information she provided had never been released to the public, and they believed in her psychic abilities.
Since then, her reputation spread. She was even studied by scientists, who tried to figure out her abilities. The TV series “Medium” is based on her real life. She went on to write biographies, as well as self-help books on grieving, spirituality, and the afterlife. Her estimated net worth is $200 million.
9. John Green
John Green is an author, business owner, YouTuber, and educator living in Indianapolis, Indiana. He began his writing career as an author for young adult novels. He made a YouTube channel called “Vlogbrothers” together with his brother, Hank Green. They went on to create new channels that were devoted to educational material like Crash Course, Mental Floss, and SciShow. One of his best-known stories is The Fault in Our Stars, which was both a best-selling novel and box office hit movie. More of his books are being turned into movies, as well. Paper Towns premiered in 2015, and Paramount Pictures has purchased the rights to produce Looking for Alaska. Fox 2000 purchased the rights to Turtles All the Way Down.
According to Business Insider, John Green made $9 million from The Fault in Our Stars, so it’s very possible that he will earn similar paychecks for subsequent movie deals. His books also sell millions of copies, as well, and his YouTube channels earn ad revenue and partnership deals with millions of subscribers. He could easily be worth $50 million or more. However, much of that money is tied up in business entities, and he has an entire network of employees to take care of. He is also known for giving generous donations to various charities every year.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what John Green’s net worth is, because he is keeping that information private. However, it it safe to say that he should be considered one of the richest authors in the world. Even if he has less money than the others, it is only because he is rich in friendships with the team of people he has around him creating the things they love.
8. Tom Clancy
Tom Clancy studied literature in college, and he got a job with an insurance agency after graduation. In his spare time, he was very interested in the military, spies, and anything to do with adventure. He wrote The Hunt for Red October in the 1980’s, and it was published. After the book came out, President Ronald Reagan read it and publicly praised how great it was. Soon after, people were curious about this endorsement, and it became a bestseller. It was also turned into a movie starring Sean Connery. Obviously, getting James Bond to star in your film can’t be bad for book sales, either.
People loved the book so much, they couldn’t wait to see what he would come up with next. His next few books were also bestsellers. Several movies were made as well, but the most famous was probably Jack Ryan. He passed away in 2013, but when he died, his net worth was $300 million.
7. John Grisham
John Grisham grew up in Arkansas. His father had to move the family around a lot, because he worked in the construction industry. As a kid, he wanted to be a professional baseball player. He grew up to become a practicing attorney as an adult. A few years into his career as a lawyer, he became inspired by his real-life clients, and wrote his first book, A Time To Kill.
When he sold his book to a publisher, they were only going to print 1,500 copies, so Grisham bought 1,000 for himself. He threw a book launch party at his local library, and invited the entire town to come. He sold 120 signed copies that night, and asked the librarian if he could get the connections to go on his own book tour to libraries in the surrounding area until he sold the books. Not long after his tour, the film rights for the A Time to Kill movie were sold to Paramount Pictures for $600,000. He began writing more thrilling stories about lawyers who got to solve cases and go on adventures. He has also written a few movie screenplays, including two that were about baseball.
For years, nearly every book John Grisham published was being turned into a movie. Just a few examples are The Firm, A Time to Kill, The Rainmaker, and even the comedy Skipping Christmas, which was turned into the movie Christmas with the Kranks. It has been estimated that John Grisham makes $50 million per year, and that his net worth is $350 million.
6. Barbara Taylor Bradford
Barbara Taylor Bradford was born in England. She started writing when she was 7, and sold her first story when she was only 10. She knew that she wanted to be a writer, so she left High School when she was just 15 to work as a typist for The Yorkshire Evening Post. At 16, she became a reporter, and by 18, she convinced the newspaper that they needed a women’s page. She became the new editor of the women’s columns. She had already accomplished so much at a young age, she wanted to set her sights on the big city of London, where she became a fashion writer. She married a movie producer named Robert Bradford, and moved to New York City.
Her book A Woman of Substance became a New York Times bestseller, and she has published over 30 novels. In the 1980’s, many of her stories were made into movies and TV mini series. All of her stories are dramatic and soap-opera-esque. They often blend in elements of the secret lives of the upper-class British aristocracy. Her net worth is estimated to be $300 million.
5. Pleasant Rowland
Pleasant Rowland was a textbook author and school teacher living in New York. She became a reporter and news anchor for her local TV station, which was an affiliate of the ABC network. She made over $1 million from the royalties selling her textbooks. She was inspired by her nieces to invest all of her earnings into starting a doll company, which became the famous American Girl brand. Fans of the franchise will know that every American Girl doll comes with a series of books that tell stories from various points in U.S. history. Technically, the dolls made more money than the books, but it all started out with a passion for writing and educating children. In 1998, the American Girl company was sold to Mattel for $700 million. Pleasant Rowland’s personal net worth is closer to $300 million.
4. Nora Roberts AKA J.D. Robb
Nora Roberts was born in Silver Springs, Maryland. Both of her parents were Irish-American immigrants. She married her first husband soon after graduating high school, and had two children. She was a stay-at-home mom, and did crafts in her spare time. When she was 29, she was stuck inside during a blizzard. Since she couldn’t leave her house, she began writing a story that became her first novel, Irish Thoroughbred. Two years later, she refind the manuscript and sent it to a romance publisher called Silhouette.
The book was a hit, and she continued to write romance novels. She also started writing supernatural stories under a pen name, J.D. Robb. Her net worth is $390 million, but it may be more, because it is estimated that she earns $20 million a year in royalties.
3. Danielle Steel
Danielle Steel was born in New York City in 1947. Her grandfather was a Portuguese diplomat, so she had the opportunity to travel a lot. She spent most of her early life growing up in France. When she was 8, her parents got a divorce, and she moved back to New York City, where she attended private schools and went to college at NYU. She got married to a wealthy French banker when she was only 18, and began having children.
Her first job out of college was as a copywriter for an advertising agency. She wrote freelance articles on the side. When she was 26 years old, she published her first book, called Going Home. She usually writes about strong women who have to overcome some sort of serious obstacle. She publishes several books every single year. Many of them have been made into Lifetime movies. She is worth $385 million.
2. Paulo Coelho
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Paulo Coelho had a very troubling young life. His parents were strict Catholics who sent him to be educated by Jesuits. He wanted to be a writer, but his parents forbid him from doing so. He became so rebellious and lashed out so much, his parents committed him to asylums for mental illness on three separate occasions. In the 1970’s, he ended up living a hippie lifestyle, and this got him in a lot of trouble. He was arrested and put in a Brazilian prison, where he was tortured.
When he was 38 years old, he went to Spain, and felt as thought he had a spiritual awakening that helped him to see the beauty of life more clearly. He wrote his first book, called The Pilgrimage, which was his autobiography. But Paulo Coelho is most known for his second book, called The Alchemist. It has been translated and distributed into multiple languages around the world, which is usually reserved for novels that are considered literary classics.
Now, Paulo Coelho continues to write one new book every two years, and his net worth has grown to $500 million.
1. James Patterson
James Patterson grew up in New York to an insurance salesman father and a mother who was a teacher. He earned a degree in English literature. He was offered a full ride to get his Master’s Degree in English, but stopped after his Bachelor’s Degree, because he knew he did not want to become a professor, and he wanted to write.
He started working as a copywriter for an advertising agency, and wrote his stories after work. His first book was rejected 31 times. In 1976, he finally got his first book published, and even won and award. In the 1990’s, he began writing thrillers with his most popular character, Alex Cross, and his books began hitting the best-seller charts. James Patterson holds the Guinness World Record for publishing the largest number of #1 New York Times Best Sellers. He makes a whopping $90 million per year, and his net worth is $790 million.