When we think about the greatest authors of all time, we invariably allude to their work that has shaped human thought. Ranging from children’s fiction and fantasy to historical novels and spine-chilling thrillers, the bestsellers spanning genres have not only contributed to the renown of the writers but have also aided them in becoming the richest authors in the world.
But what leads to such acclaim that writers such as Dan Brown, Barbara Taylor Bradford, Stephen King and J.K. Rowling end up amassing wealth running into hundreds of millions of dollars? While their prolific writing style and creativity to encapsulate an experience for the readers can be fair points, their greatness also lies in their ideas that grab the world’s attention. Selling across countries and continents, they are translated into various languages, increasing the reach of their works.
Such is their mass appeal that these bestselling books have not only dominated the bookshelves but have also inspired several TV shows and films that further add to the authors’ fortunes. For instance, Brown served as one of the executive producers of The Da Vinci Code (2006), Angels & Demons (2009) and Inferno (2016). Based on books of the same name, the films, to date, have grossed USD 767.8 million, USD 490.8 million and USD 219.5 million worldwide, respectively, according to the box office database The Numbers.
Meanwhile, King and Rowling need no introduction when it comes to their works being adapted for the screen, which have contributed to their respective net worth. For instance, King’s 1977 novel The Shining was made into a film of the same name. It was produced and directed by the illustrious Stanley Kubrick, while Rowling created a massive fanbase through her Harry Potter series of books which gave birth to blockbusters.
Top 10 richest authors in the world who have shaped contemporary literature:
The Da Vinci Code (2003), Angels and Demons (2000), Inferno (2013) — if these books and their superhit films, starring Tom Hanks, have intrigued you, the credit goes to writer Dan Brown. One of the richest authors of modern times, he is the creator of the famous character Dr Robert Langdon.
When it was released, The Da Vinci Code soared to the apex position on The New York Times Bestsellers list. According to Forbes, Inferno, too, ranked no. 1 on the list, remained on top for the first 11 weeks of its release and sold more than 1.4 million copies in the US alone.
Brown’s works have been translated into 56 languages, with over 200 million copies in print. In 2005, TIME Magazine counted him among the 100 Most Influential People in the World, while Forbes placed him at No. 76 on their Celebrity 100 list in 2014. The publication quoted USD 28 million as his net worth that year. Celebrity Net Worth, however, states the figure as USD 160 million.
Archer is one of the bestselling writers of recent times and his hard-hitting thriller novels have earned him a loyal band of readers. One of the richest authors in the world, he is published in 114 countries in over 47 languages.
His popularity is evident from the fact that Archer is the only author ever to have been a No. 1 bestseller across the formats of fiction (19 times), short stories (four times) and non-fiction (The Prison Diaries). His international sales have surpassed an impressive 275 million copies.
His bestselling series, The Cliffton Chronicles explores the themes of love, loss and betrayal as the characters journey through the lanes of Bristol, streets of New York City and the gulags of Stalinist Russia. The William Warwick novels are also a great illustration of his literary prowess. It traces the eponymous hero’s career graph as he fights enemies and aspires to head the Metropolitan Police Force. For ardent readers, a new William Warwick novel, Traitors Gate, will be released in September 2023, and he is in the process of writing two more to be published in 2024.
Although his political career has stalled, Archer’s status as a prolific author has earned him immense fame and fortune. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Jeffrey Archer’s net worth is USD 200 million.
Barbara Taylor Bradford
Having sold over 90 million copies across 90 countries in 40 languages, Bradford has become a pioneering name in contemporary British literature. Her first novel A Woman of Substance was published in 1979. It was not only a bestseller but also became a super seller in its first year, spending 43 weeks on The New York Times bestsellers list.
Bradford has penned nearly 40 novels, including the recent The Wonder of It All (releasing in December 2023). Some of her best books include The Ravenscar Dynasty (2006), Love in Another Town (1996), Hold The Dream (1985) and The Women in His Life (1990). Additionally, 10 of her books have been adapted into films and series.
In 2007, Queen Elizabeth II awarded the journalist-turned-fictional writer the Order of the British Empire (OBE). Some of her other accolades include the Leeds Award in 2019, in recognition of Bradford’s nationally and internationally acclaimed work, and the Lifetime Platinum Bestseller Award by Nielson in 2019. This was the first time that the award was presented to an author, reflecting a unique lifetime of incredible sales of a variety of bestselling novels.
In 2014, she was appointed as an ambassador for the National Literacy Trust, UK, and in 2004, was honoured on a postage stamp by the Isle Of Man.
One of the richest authors in the world, she holds five honorary doctorates of letters from renowned universities across the world. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Barbara Taylor Bradford’s net worth is around USD 300 million.
With outstanding creations like The Firm (1991), The Rainmaker (1995), The Partner (1997), The Testament (1999) and The Guardians (2019), American writer, lawyer and former politician John Grisham also wears the hat of being one of the richest authors in the world.
The man behind 47 consecutive No. 1 bestsellers, Grisham’s gripping works in the realms of legal thriller and legal fiction have been translated into nearly 50 languages. His books The Firm (1991), The Pelican Brief (1992) and The Client (1993) have been adapted into hit films as well. While the film based on The Firm stars Hollywood A-lister Tom Cruise, the 2020 novel A Time For Mercy — the third title centring on his fictional character, lawyer Jake Brigance — is being adapted into an HBO limited series.
Two-time winner of the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction in 2011 and 2014, Grisham was conferred the Library of Congress Creative Achievement Award for Fiction in 2009.
John Grisham has a net worth of USD 400 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth.
Nora Roberts is the bestselling author of 230 novels, which include The MacGregors (1985- ), The Collector (2013), Dark Witch (2013) and The Liar (2015). She also wrote the hit In Death series under the pen name J. D. Robb.
For the uninitiated, the established romance novelist writes crime thrillers under a pseudonym and publishes a minimum of four books every year. Interestingly, her first manuscript, Irish Thoroughbred, was rejected by several publications before it was released by Silhouette in 1981. Playing The Odds (1985) became her first bestseller. Around 11 of her books have been adapted for the big screen.
Dubbed America’s favourite novelist by The New Yorker, Roberts became the first inductee into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame in 1986. Her 100th novel Montana Sky (1996), bagged the Centennial Award and Roberts received a Lifetime Achievement award from the Romance Writers of America in 1987, which was renamed RWA Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008.
According to Forbes, Nora Roberts’ net worth is around USD 410 million.
American author Danielle Steel has made a niche for herself with a long list of romance novels. Having written nearly 200 books, according to publisher Pan Macmillan, she has sold nearly a billion copies. If stacked, their height would be higher than 60,000 Eiffel Towers, says Pan Macmillan.
Although she debuted with Going Home in 1973, her fourth novel The Promise (1978) became her breakthrough milestone. Since then, she has been a frequent name on The New York Times bestseller list. Some of her best books include Kaleidoscope (1987), Jewels (1992), Mixed Blessings (1993), and Safe Harbour (2003). When One Day at a Time (2009) was published, Steel had over 500 million books in print. Many of her novels have been scripted into television movies and series as well.
With five marriages and nine children, she splits her time between Paris and San Francisco, where she owns a lavish USD 10 million apartment. Forbes cites USD 420 million as Steel’s net worth.
One of the most celebrated literary figures in contemporary times, Paulo Coelho’s writings take refuge in deeply complex symbolisms and mystical imagery. His characters are often driven by spiritual beliefs as the writer dips his pen into historical lore and ancient customs to depict themes of love, desolation, independence and self-discovery.
His most well-known books include The Alchemist (1988), an international bestseller; Veronika Decides To Die (1998), Eleven Minutes (2003), The Zahir (2005) and Like The Flowing River (2006). His works have been translated into 81 different languages, published across 170 countries and have sold over 210 million copies.
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Coelho has a fortune of USD 500 million.
If you enjoy a good dose of spine-chilling suspense, then you have surely come across the vast body of Stephen King’s works. Counted among the wealthiest authors in the world, he is known for impeccable creations in the science fiction, thriller and horror genres. King has written over 60 novels and 120 short stories and has sold more than 350 million books worldwide.
Although King made his first professional short story sale, The Glass Floor to Startling Mystery Stories in 1967, his first published novel, Carrie, came out in 1974. Credited for reviving the horror genre and terrorising generations of readers with gory macabre episodes, many of King’s books have become global bestsellers. From Salem’s Lot (1975) to The Shining (1977), Pet Sematary (1983) and The Plant series (1982-84), they are filled with such grisly episodes that horror fans can’t stop at one.
Many of his works have been adapted into TV series and award-winning films such as The Shining (film 1980, TV series 1997), Misery (1990), Dolores Claiborne (1995) IT (2017 and 2019) and Doctor Sleep (2019). King’s 1982 novel Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption inspired the hit 1994 film Shawshank Redemption.
The American novelist is the 2003 recipient of The National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to the American Letters and the 2014 National Medal of Arts.
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Stephen King’s net worth is around USD 500 million.
This American author and thriller story wizard is known for popular fictional characters like Alex Cross, Lindsay Boxer and Kyle Craig. His popular book series include Women’s Murder Club, Michael Bennett, NYPD Red and Maximum Ride, which have given rise to some of the most spine-chilling thrillers of modern times. Since his debut in 1976, Patterson has penned nearly 200 novels and sold over 425 million copies in 38 languages.
Patterson has also written extensively about prominent personalities such as the Kennedys, John Lennon and Princess Diana. Some of his The New York Times bestsellers include detective gems like Along Came a Spider (1993), Kiss The Girls (1995), 1st To Die (2001) and The Angel Experiment (2005) as well as romantic novels Suzanne’s Diary For Nicholas (2001) and Sam’s Letters For Jennifer (2004).
In 2010, he became the author with the highest number of The New York Times bestsellers. Counted among the highest-paid authors, Patterson also holds a Guinness World Record for becoming the first writer to sell 1 million e-books in the same year.
The ad copywriter-turned-author received the 2015 Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community for his philanthropic efforts towards children’s education. He is also the recipient of an Edgar Award for his first novel The Thomas Berryman Number in 1977 and nine Emmy Awards.
According to Celebrity Net Worth, James Patterson’s net worth is USD 800 million.
Children and adults alike the world over will forever hail J.K. Rowling for introducing magic to their mundane lives. When the British writer first conceived the Harry Potter series in 1990 while on a delayed train ride from Manchester to London’s King’s Cross, little did she know that it would make young readers believe in the reality of Hogwarts as an escape from the Muggle world.
By 1995, Rowling had charted the course of the seven books of the magical series. However, it was only in 1997, that the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was finally published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books after 12 publishers rejected her manuscript.
The Harry Potter brand is reportedly valued at USD 15 billion. It has sold over 600 million copies, translated into 84 languages and features eight superhit films. According to Forbes, between June 2019 and June 2020, she sold more than 2.6 million books.
A philanthropist, Rowling is the founder and president of Lumos, an international children’s charity working in the domain of child rights. She is a recipient of numerous honours, including the OBE in 2001, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Book Awards, 2008, Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur, France, 2009 and Companion of Honour, for services to literature and philanthropy, 2017.
In 2020, Forbes quoted her net worth as USD 60 million. The same year, she was placed at 28 on the publication’s Celebrity 100 list. According to Celebrity Net Worth, J.K. Rowing’s net worth stands at a whopping USD 1 billion as of September 2023, making her one of the richest authors in the world today.
(Hero image: @ authordanbrown/Instagram; Feature image: Courtesy J.K. Rowling)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
– Who is the richest author of all time?
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, with a net worth of around USD 1 billion, is the richest author in the world, as of September 2023.
– Are there millionaire authors?
Several authors are millionaires. Some of them are Dan Brown, John Grisham, Paulo Coelho, Jeffrey Archer, Stephenie Meyer, Janet Evanovich and Deepak Chopra.
– Who is the youngest bestselling author?
In May 2011, the USA’s Christopher Paolini made a Guinness World Record by becoming the youngest bestselling author, having written Eragon (2003) when he was 18. He has sold 35 million copies as of 2013, according to USA Today. Paolini is the author of the famous Inheritance Cycle, which consists of the books Eragon, Eldest (2005), Brisingr (2008) and Inheritance (2011).
– Who are the two richest authors in the world?
J.K. Rowling, with a net worth of around USD 1 billion, and James Patterson, with a net worth of around USD 800 million, are the richest authors in the world.