Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

The world's top-earning authors

Published: Aug 24, 2015 06:50:15 AM IST
Updated: Aug 20, 2015 03:09:56 PM IST
The world's top-earning authors
Image: Getty Images

For the world’s richest wordsmiths, putting pen to paper is worth thousands of dollars for a single page. James Patterson remains publishing’s highest paid, thanks to his absurd output: Eighteen books and $89 million over the last 12 months, down just a tick from $90 million a year earlier. (His 12 co-authors enable such superhuman productivity.) Thirty percent of this year’s list made their bones on young adult fiction—teen favourites such as Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy (3.9 million copies sold in 2014) and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (3.5 million). Hollywood helped: Roth and Green both saw hit movie adaptations goose their books’ sales. Tops per page: Jeff Kinney, whose Diary of a Wimpy Kid books are brief and sell like mad, grossing him $106,000 for each published page, if his earnings are divided by the number of pages in the books he published during our scoring period.

The world's top-earning authors


The world's top-earning authors

Go Set a Sales Record
One beloved author missing from this wealthy book club: Harper Lee, 89. Though she earns some $2.5 million in annual royalties from To Kill a Mockingbird, our ranking also factors in foreign sales, film rights and money from earlier books. This favours authors with large backlists such as Nora Roberts (214 tomes) and Danielle Steel (111) over Lee, who, as of July 14, has now published two novels. Don’t count her out yet, though: Lee’s controversial Go Set a Watchman looks set to be the biggest book of 2015. It has sold more than 1.1 million copies since its release, making Lee a likely bet for next year’s list.




The world's top-earning authors
Bizarre Bestsellers
Great literature, harper lee aside, has long since departed the bestsellers list; book sales these days are dominated by movie spinoffs, adult colouring books and video game guides. To wit: The two bestselling handbooks for Minecraft (the game designed by Swedish billionaire Markus Persson) together sold 1.35 million copies in the US last year, and Disney’s Frozen: Big Snowman sold 12,000 more copies than To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby combined. Then there’s Secret Garden, a colouring book for adults, which has hovered at the top of Amazon’s bestseller list, shifting 1.5 million copies since its 2013 publication; its 2015 follow-up has moved some 226,000 copies so far. Parents, meanwhile, will never stop ringing the Dr Seuss register: The good doctor sold over 2.2 million copies from his back catalogue between June 2014 and June 2015. Oh, the places he’ll go.


(This story appears in the 04 September, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)