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The Top-Earning Authors Of 2013

13 August 2013

From Forbes:

E.L. James: $95 million

Originally a “Twilight” tribute titled “Master of the Universe,” “Fifty Shades of Grey” vaulted its author from fan-fiction websites straight to the top of every best-seller list. The e-book format was a key factor, giving readers an easy way to purchase the sex-filled sequels — and a discrete way to read them in public.

Link to the rest at Forbes


39 Comments to “The Top-Earning Authors Of 2013”

  1. If you’re going to be snarky about 50 Shades, you should know enough not to talk about ebooks being ‘discrete’ as opposed to discreet. And for the record? No one has used ‘bodice ripper’ for romances (and they refer in any case to historical romances) since the ’80s, unless you disapprove of romance in general, of course. And Nora Roberts has never written a bodice ripper in her life. If any of her heroes tried to rip a bodice her heroine would rip his throat out.

    • Hmmm. My meter may be off, but I didn’t detect any 50 Shades snark.

      Nice to see King, Rowling, and Martin on the list–though I make a joke in one of my novels that the best thing Faulkner ever wrote was Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and I might make a similar one that the best thing Benioff ever wrote was Martin’s Game of Thrones.

      Come that, I’m sort of surprised Benioff isn’t on here.

    • Whoever rote this piece at Forbes mite have used “discrete” because they felt it was aloud and would halve the same affect and not altar what they meant, ore maybe an editor gave their ascent out of principal.

      It would be grate if a sight like Forbes would pleas start a gnu president and go fourth and learn their lessen and higher sum moor spell-checkers to revue and proof-reed threw they’re storeys. But they probably mussed knead too horde cache dew too vary lien advertising floes and mite halve two raze prophets.

    • Yeah, the bodice ripper reference in the Nora Roberts bit threw me, too, since Nora Roberts never wrote a single bodice ripper. But I guess it’s too much to assume that the Forbes journalist has actually read Roberts or at least did his research.

      It’s also telling that there is a lot more snarking about the women on the list (not just James and Roberts, but Evanovich, too) than about the men, though Dan Brown, James Patterson or Bill O’Reilly certainly invite snarking as well.

    • La Nora would erase him if he so much as popped a button off the FL’s blouse.

      That’s why she sells so many books.

  2. Wow. Real slow year for King. He’s always been behind Patterson because of volume, especially with the factory up and running but I figured he’d at least be in the 60-80mil range with Dome, 11-22-63 and all the other releases he’s had. Surprising.

    • I wonder if it’s because of his restructured contract. I think he started it with Bag of Bones; he’s making less in advances but getting more royalties, from what I understood.

  3. Worth noting that many of these top earners are not romance authors – that’s not a dig at romance at all (!), just that there’s hope for the rest of us!

    Can’t wait for an indie to be on this list! It will happen! 🙂

    • Although they had THIS to say about La Nora:

      “…lately Roberts has become the queen of the e-book: She sold more than 3.2 million digital copies in 2012, more than any other author not named E.L. James.”

      • It’s starting to look like Romance owns e-books. So many of the crazy break-out success stories are from romance writers. Very fitting also considering the shady pub history of that genre.

        • The romance genre has been very much the enthusiastic adopter when it came to ebooks, right from the start.

          • Maybe that’s because certain large romance houses are paying next to nothing either on advance or their shady e-royalty structure?

      • Yes, and I think you could make a strong argument that 50 shades IS a sub-genre of romance.

  4. (*looks up, shakes head, and resumes writing*)

  5. She was smart to change the name. With “Master of the Universe,” people would either think He-Man or Bonfire of the Vanities, depending on their generation. “Fifty shades” at least suggests mystery, and the work didn’t have the baggage of people thinking it was Tom Wolfe fan-fiction (not sure if such a thing exists).

    I’ve never read Nora Roberts, but I agree that I’ve never seen a “clench” bodice ripper cover from her. They should have skipped the blurbs if they didn’t have anyone knowledgeable to write them.

    • Yeah, and “Master of the Universe” would have led to a zillion masturbation jokes. My inner twelve-year-old is snorting just thinking about the original title.

  6. I’ve never heard King referred to as “less prolific” than anyone. Roberts maybe, but certainly not anyone else on the list unless you count Patterson & Company, which I don’t.

  7. For those of us who still aspire to reach financial heights by writing fiction, the confusing part about this list is how few of these authors are anywhere near the top of their game any longer. Evanovich especially has gone from a hip, creative author to the lazy perpetrator of a series of fossilized, repeated plots where the characters never learn, grow, or change. King only tries half the time, often writing extremely self-referential novels that borrow from his older works, and the tired tropes in Under the Dome are simply appalling. Arguably, Dan Brown’s best novel was Angels & Demons, with subsequent tomes merely refining what he invented there. And so on (your mileage may vary). IMHO the YA authors on the list earned their presence there.

    I’m surprised that seasoned mainstream authors who still work their hardest on every project are missing from this list: folks like Dean Koontz, Robert Crais, even Jo Rowling.

    Which begs the question: if you don’t get mass appeal and millions of dollars by writing very, very well, how do you get there?

    • Um. Koontz and Rowling are on the list.

      • Just shows how subjective it all is: Koontz was very nearly all I read during high school, and I loved Strangers, Watchers, and Lightning, but for me he peaked with Intensity, and I haven’t been able to read anything since False Memory (which was mostly a retread of his previous The Key to Midnight anyway). I tried the Odd series, as well as Breathless and Relentless and even some of the Christopher Snow series.

        For those of us who still aspire to reach financial heights by writing fiction

        This is another thing to consider; this isn’t simply a list of the highest-earning authors–it’s also one of the greatest exceptions to the general rule that most writers never make a living solely from writing. Most writers have a spouse with an income or supplement their own by teaching or some other day job. A couple of the list had lucrative advertising (Patterson) or law (Grisham) careers before they managed to break into selling books, and I’d wager that a vast majority of the income earned by these top earners has come not from writing fiction but selling things like movie rights or other such (I always wonder how much Rowling makes from merchandising/videogames/theme park).

        Writers who make enough to live on their income from selling fiction are the 1%, and the authors on this list are likely the .00001%.

  8. As Scott mentioned, some of these writers are no longer at the top of their game. Janet’s Stephanie Plum series went on auto-pilot about eight books ago and Koontz has gone metaphysical. I haven’t made it past chapter three of Inferno. Nora, writing as Nora, usually writes one good book, then a weaker one follows. I guess my point is why do readers stay with the tried and true’? Comfort, laziness, availability?

    Writer’s Tip: so how good a writer do you have to to make this list? I have Janet’s early romances. They were funny in patches, but the plots were a mess. I mention this because I’m sure Janet’s first Plum book had to be heavily edited. It’s always encouraging to me to see where writer’s started. Same with Nora, although she could at least sustain a plot. I thought The Witness from last year was one of her best.

    • so how good a writer do you have to to make this list?

      I think this is a great question. Judging by the sampling, I’d say “not very.” For my money, King and Rowling are legitimately great writers and storytellers. I wasn’t a fan of the Game of Thrones books, but the show is great and I read enough of the books to know Martin’s a good writer. I’m not familiar with Collins’ or Riordan’s books, but I know enough people whose opinions I trust who liked them, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt.

      Maybe another question (and one I think that has come up here with some frequency) is “So how highly do readers value good writing?” Judging by the authors populating the list, seems like writing quality and craft aren’t necessarily top priorities for readers.

  9. I wonder, is E. L. James the reason Patterson is selling his books via TV commericals?

    His entire list against 3 books.

    If I were in his shoes, it would shake me up.

    • Patterson pioneered using TV spots to sell books. He came from an agency background, and I think he invested somewhat heavily in a spot for Along Came a Spider (was that the first Alex Cross book?) near on two decades ago.

      So, no.

  10. I’ve been thinking more about this, and the writers on the list and the books they write, and a question (I’m going to get to in a somewhat roundabout way).

    I think Dan Brown is a competent writer, at best, but I also think his pacing and structure are top-notch. Ditto, for the most part, Grisham and Baldacci (neither of whom include puzzles to the degree Brown does, but both of whom write legal mysteries/thrillers). Brown and Evanovich I get. Koontz, too. I see their strength as storytellers.

    I don’t get James. I don’t see the same storytelling prowess that readers so often help readers look past crappy writing. Is it really just the vanilla-level kink? Is that the gimmick that got readers past its lack of quality?

    I’m asking honestly here. Even Twilight, I think Meyer wasn’t a very good writer, but the writing was competent and I get the elements of the story that attracted its audience (for better or for worse, and discussion of whether its relationship depictions were healthy and etc. notwithstanding).

    I just don’t get 50 Shades.

    • “look past crappy writing”

      Define crappy.

      “its lack of quality”

      Define lack of quality.

      We’re talking about commercial fiction here. Stories. Crappy writing = bad story. Lack of quality = bad story. All the rest is just English major tripe.

      • I’m an English major. With an MFA after the fact. Which you might dismiss, but my first goal has always been to understand mechanisms. I’m always interested in analysis. Figuring things out.

        Thing is, I think that simplicity belies that there’s more there. Crappy writing isn’t bad story, even in the realm of popular fiction (all fiction for sale would be, by definition, “commercial,” but I’m willing to consider a genre of popular fiction as exemplified by the books and populated by the authors mentioned in the linked list)–Dan Brown’s writing is competent at best and actually bad at worst, but he tells a story well.

        So far as defining quality and crappy, sorry, but it’s the difference, as Twain said, between lightning and a lightning bug. Not easy to define, perhaps, but if you seriously think that just because their books are popular there’s really no difference between the quality of EL James’ writing versus that of Stephen King (or most of the other authors on the list, for that matter), I don’t think we’re going to get much farther. Seriously, read “Strawberry Spring” (it’s in Night Shift); it’s an amazing short story, in terms of both quality of prose and mechanics of story.

  11. A lot of people who buy bestselling authors are not readers in general. So their expectations are different. They are often fairly slow readers, or read mostly technical writing, so a book has to carry them along by main force to keep them interested. They often aren’t great at writing, so a colloquial yet undemanding style is good. They may not even notice clunky writing if it carries them along strongly enough. They like cinematic scenes, action, suspense, travelogues, aspirational or comfort bits, broad strokes of feeling, never being bored. They like a little bit of infodump, so they can feel like they’re reading something highbrow and educational.

    Shrug. All this is just a guess, but it seems to fit most readers I know who read tons of bestsellers.

    This doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t write _well_ and write bestsellers. Twain grabs everybody, for instance, and Dickens did a lot of this. (And if any book gets boring, it’s failed.)

    Also, what’s aspirational for one audience (samurai sword! sportscar!) differs from what’s aspirational for another (cozy but luxurious beach house with spa! sportscar!)

  12. Folks, remember this list is compiled by public information, not by interviewing the participants. So, in other words, it’s a guess. King may indeed have grossed more, but the figures weren’t in the public. That’s why there are no indie authors here: the press hasn’t reported any “sales” or successes.

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