Fantasy, horror, mystery… books of all genres read by millions and written by some of the most creative among us. Let’s dive into the best-selling authors in world – in order!
Listed are the richest, most creative, and astonishingly successful authors of all time.
Let’s get started…
1. JK Rowling
Joanne Rowling, or better known as J. K. Rowling, is a British author, screenwriter, producer, and philanthropist. She is famous for her Harry Potter fantasy series, which has won multiple awards and sold more than 500 million copies.
She’s also become more famous for being kinda controversial, didn’t know? Check this out:
The Harry Potter series has made Rowling extremely wealthy owing to the various intellectual property rights she has licensed for the movies, merchandise and other related rights. Rowling also writes under the pen name Robert Galbraith for crime fiction. As of 2020, she is reported to have a net worth of over $1 billion dollars.
In 2020, Forbes named her the first billionaire author, although Rowling has donated quite a fair bit of wealth away to charity. The 2020 Sunday Times Rich List has her fortune at GBP 795 million and ranked her the 178thrichest person in the United Kingdom. However, Rowling has not always been wealthy. At one time she was living on social security.
In 2019 Rowling made over GBP31.5 million from her book sales in the United Kingdom, alone.
2. James Patterson
James Brendan Patterson is an American author and philanthropist whose works include the Alex Cross, Michael Benett, Women’s Murder Club, Maximum Ride, Daniel X, NYPD Red, Witch and Wizard and the Private Series. The genres he writes are wide ranging, from mystery, young adult fiction, thriller, comedy, realistic fiction, romance to science fiction. His books have sold more than 300 million copies and he was the first person to sell 1 million e-books.
His best-known work is his books about Alex Cross, a fictional psychologist. His first novel in this series was The Thomas Berryman Number which was published in 1976.
Patterson was on Forbes’s list of the highest-paid authors for three consecutive years, with an income of over $95 million. As of 2020, James Patterson’s net worth stands at about $700 million. Patterson’s income comes also from licensed rights to television series like the CBS series “Zoo” based on the book of the same name.
In 2016, this prolific writer launched BookShots, a series of short novels written for reading on one’s smartphone downloaded from an app.
3. Candy Spelling
Carole Gene “Candy” Spelling is an American author, theater producer, and philanthropist. She was married to Aaron Spelling from 1968 until his death in 2006 who was known for producing some of the best known television series like Charlie’s Angels, The Love Boat, Dynasty and Beverly Hills 90210.
As of 2020, Candy Spelling has an estimated net worth of $600 million. However, not all of her fortune was made from being an author. Candy is multi-talented, and is also an entrepreneur, actor, philanthropist, theatrical producer, a socialite and last but not least, an heiress. Her autobiography, ‘Stories from Candyland’, was listed as a New York Times bestseller.
4. Paulo Coelho
Paulo is best known for his very readable and inspirational books. While The Alchemist is no doubt his most read book, this Brazilian novelist has published over 30 books since 1974.
Coelho is also a musician, journalist and theater director and a lyricist. In 2020, he has a net worth of approximately $500 million. He was born in Rio de Janeiro on August 24, 1947. At the age of 16, he was sent to a mental institution by his parents from which he escaped several times before being released after spending four years. After dropping out of law school, he tried his hands at writing lyrics for a few bands, but then decided to travel around Spain. He chronicled his experiences in ‘The Pilgrimage’. Paulo’s books are the most translated of a living author.
5. Stephen King
Known more for his horror-themed books and screenplays, this prolific American author also pens novels in the genre of fantasy, gothic and suspense.
As of 2020, Stephen King is estimated to have a net worth of some $400 million.
King has sold a staggering 350 million copies of his novels around the globe. Of his umpteenth titles, ‘It’ and ‘Carrie’ are perhaps the most well-known, having been made into successful movies. Other titles like ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, ‘The Shining’, ‘Misery’, and ‘Stand By Me’ have also been made into iconic movies, with ‘The Shining’ remaining a cult-phenomenon.
Throughout his writing career to date, King has published 61 novels, including seven under the pen name Richard Bachman and six non-fiction books. He has also written approximately 200 short stories, most of which have been published in book collections.
King has received critical acclaim for his work and has won over 50 literary awards.
6. Danielle Steel
The name Danielle Steel is synonymous with romance novels. She is the bestselling author still living today and is ranked the fourth best-selling author of all time. In total, Steel has written 179 books, comprising picture books, children’s literature and works of fiction. Even though her books have not been critically acclaimed, they have nevertheless been bestsellers. They have been translated into 43 languages, with 22 adapted for television, including two that have received Golden Globe nominations.
Steel is a native of New York City, born on August 14, 1947. In 2020, Danielle Steel has a net worth of approximately $385 million.
7. Nora Roberts
Nora Roberts is a New York Times bestselling author, with more than 215 novels under her belt. As of 2020, Nora Roberts is estimated to have a net worth of $370 million.
Her earning is said to top $20 million a year. This American author was born in Silver Spring, Maryland, on October 10, 1950. She initially tried to have her work published by Harlequin, but Silhouette Books accepted her submission and the publishing house published 23 of her books from the years 1982 to 1984. Her first bestseller was ‘Playing the Odds’ which was published in 1985.
Nora became the first author to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame. As of 2011, her novels was listed on The New York Times Best Seller list for a combined 861 weeks, including 176 weeks on the number-one spot.
8. Barbara Taylor-Bradford
Dame Barbara Taylor-Bradford has written over 35 novels and has a net worth of $300 million. Her first book “A Woman of Substance” was published in 1979, it has sold over 32 million copies to date, and is still one of her best-selling novels today after 40 years. It was the first book in the Emma Harte saga with six more books in this series. This best seller has been followed by 28 other novels, all bestsellers on both sides of the Atlantic. Ten of her books have been made into television series and television movies, all produced by her husband, Robert Bradford
Dame Bradford was born in Leeds, England in 1933, but moved with her American husband Robert Bradford to the United States after they got married in 1963.
Dame Bradford has also authored a series of children’s books and a series of interior design books.
9. John Gresham
John Gresham was a practising lawyer for about 10 years in criminal law before he became a full-time novelist. His first novel, A Time to Kill, took 4 years to be published from the time he’d started to write it. His best seller to date is The Firm which was made into a movie starring Tom Cruise. The Firm sold over 7 million copies.
With a fortune of approximately $300 million, John Gresham reportedly makes about $45 million a year from royalties and other fees from licensing of his books. He was born on February 8, 1955 in Arkansas. Gresham is one of three authors whose books have sold more than 2 million imprints on first release; the other two being JK Rowling and Tom Clancy.
His other books which have been adapted into movies are The Chambers, The Client, A Painted House, The Pelican Brief, The Rainmaker and The Runaway Jury.
10. Tom Clancy
Tom Clancy’s books are world famous, with plots that center on espionage and military science are distinguished by detailed technical knowledge.
Clancy’s literary career began with his first military thriller novel The Hunt for Red October which was published by the Naval Institute Press of Annapolis, Maryland in 1984. Since then, Patriot Games (1987), Clear and Present Danger (1989), and The Sum of All Fears (1991) have all been made into very successful Hollywood films with A-List actors such as Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, Chris Pine, and John Krasinski playing Clancy’s most famous fictional character, Jack Ryan.
Unfortunately, Clancy passed on in 2013. Clancy’s estate is estimated to be worth $300 million at the time of his death. This American author was born in Baltimore on April 12, 1947.
11. John Le Carre
David John Moore Cornwell (Date of birth: 19 October 1931), better known as John le Carré) is the master of spy and espionage novels. Cornwell, who graduated from Oxford University with a degree in Modern Languages, taught at Eton for about 2 years before he joined MI5 in the late fifties and MI6 in the sixties. Call for the Dead published in 1961 was his first novel. Not long later, his third novel, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, became an international best-seller and is still one of the best spy-thrillers to date. Other books further popularised by adaptions into movies are Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Simley’s People, The Little Drummer Girl and The Tailor of Panama to name but a few.
At age 87, Cornwell published his latest book in 2019, Agent Running in the Field. David John Moore Cornwell has a net worth of about $100 million. Cornwell stands out as possibly the only writer alive that has produced novels of consistently high quality for over 60 years, since Call for the Dead in 1961, to his latest, Agent Running in the Field in 2019.
12. Jeffrey Archer
Jeffrey Howard Archer is a peer of the realm with the title, Baron Archer of Weston-Super-Mare. Archer was famous even before he gained fame as an author. He was a member of the British parliament and was the deputy chair of the Conservative Party from 1985 to 1986. Archer spent two years in prison after being charged for perjury for lying in a libel case he had started against a newspaper in 1986.
Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less was written in the autumn of 1974. This fisrt book was first published first in the U.S., then in Britain in the autumn of 1976.
Kane and Abel published in 1979 was number one on The New York Times bestsellers list. Kane and Able was made into a television mini-series produced by CBS in 1995. In the following year, another of Archer’s book, First Among Equals was made into a 10-part series by Granada TV.
Other than novels, Archer has written plays for the West End, and his last was The Accused which played in 2000 to 2001.
Sir Archer is thought to have a net worth of some $200 million, which is no mean feat for someone who once was nearly made a bankrupt and spent time in prison. Most recently, he has written a series of books called the ‘Clifton Chronicles.
13. Jackie Collins
Jackie Collins was a romance novelist whose books sold more than 500 million copies. All 32 of her novels made it onto The New York Times Best Sellers’ list and have been translated into 40 languages. Her books often depicted racy sex scenes, which caused stirs and scandals in the seventies and eighties.
Eight of her novels have also been adapted for the screen as films or television miniseries. She was the younger sister of Dame Joan Collins, a well-known actress in the 70s and 80s.
Jackie Collins is one of the most prolific British authors of all time and had a net worth of about $180 million.
She was born in Hampstead, London, on October 4, 1937. She was also a screenwriter, an actress, and a film producer. In 1968, she published her first novel, ‘The World is Full of Married Men’. She passed on in 2015 after a long battle with breast cancer. She was 77 years of age.
14. Michael Crichton
John Michael Crichton was a writer of science fiction, techno-thriller and medical fiction. He was a trained medical doctor, having received his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1969, although he did not practice medicine. The Andromeda Stain was the book that launched Crichton as a bestselling author. Andromeda was about a virus that came from outer space threatening to kill off mankind. Andromeda followed by a list of other bestselling books, the most famous and commercially successful was Jurassic Park, which spawned the Jurassic Park franchise.
Crichton was also a television script writer, creator and producer. He wrote and created ER, the hospital emergency room television series that ran from 1994 to 2009.
Many of Crichton’s novels have medical or scientific themes given his training in medicine. John Michael Crichton was born in 1942 and passed away in 2008. At the time of his death, his estate was worth some $175 million.
15. Dan Brown
Daniel Gerhard Brown is well-known for his mystery solving thrillers, most of which take place in real time over a period of 24 hours. His central character, Robert Langdon is a brilliant professor of the history of art and symbolism, and is a modern-day Indiana Jones who is called on to help solve crimes with historical and religious connections. His books often play up conspiracy theories about religions, and have come under some heat from Christians who have taken offense at the implications made by his books, especially The Da Vinci Code.
In total, Dan Brown has published 7 novels, including the Robert Langdon series, which comprise Angels and Demons (2000), The Da Vinci Code (2003), The Lost Symbol (2009), Inferno (2013) and Origin (2017). His books have been translated into 57 languages and, as of 2012, have sold over 200 million copies. Three of them, Angels & Demons, The Da Vinci Code, and Inferno, have been adapted into films.
Dan reportedly makes about $20 million a year and has grown a total wealth of about $160 million as of 2020. He was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, on June 22, 1964. Prior to gaining fame as a celebrated author, Dan tried his hand at being a singer-songwriter and pianist by moving to Hollywood in 1991. Although he did release a CD called Angels and Demons and a symphonic work entitled Wild Symphony which is supplemented by a book of the same name, it was in writing that he found success.
16. Deepak Chopra
Deepak Chopra is an alternative medicine advocate and writer. Chopra studied medicine in India before emigrating to the United States in 1979 where he qualified as a licensed physician. In 1980 he became chief of staff at the New England Memorial Hospital and in 1985, after he met Maharishi Mahesh, a yogi and became involved in the Transcendental Meditation Movement, he quit formal medicine and formed the Mahrishi Mahesh Health Center.
Chopra has written over 23 books and videos of his philosophy and convictions about alternative medicine and way of living. Following an interview on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Deepak Chopra began to have a following and quickly became a celebrity. He left the TM Movement and in 1996, formed the Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Chopra believes that a person may attain “perfect health”, a condition “that is free from disease, that never feels pain”, and “that cannot age or die” He believes that aging is simply learned behavior that can be prevented.
While he may be a subject of much controversy and debate, with equal number of detractors decrying his pseudo-science and of followers who swear by his teachings, this American author and teacher has built a net worth of about $170 million in 2020.
17. Dean Koontz
Dean Ray Koontz is a writer of suspense thrillers with elements of horror, fantasy, science fiction, mystery and even satire in his books. Dean has written under various pen names such as David Axton, KR Swyer and Brian Coffey. In total he has published over 105 novels, short stories and sold over 450 million imprints of his books. 14 hardcovers and 16 paperbacks from his body of works have peaked at the number one spot on The New York Times Best Seller list over the years. His books have also been translated into some 38 languages globally. Among his works are 30 erotic novels which he claims not to have been written by him. At least 17 of his books have been adapted for movies. In 2019, Koontz began publishing with Amazon Publishing.
Dean was born in Everett, Pennsylvania, on July 9, 1945
As of 2020, Koontz is estimated to have built a neat fortune of $145 million.
18. George R.R. Martin
George R.R. Martin, sometimes known as GRRM, is the the author of the breakout novels “A Song of Ice and Fire” which were later adapted into one of the most popular TV series the world has ever known, Game of Thrones.
He’s been described as “the American Tolkien” by the Times, and was named as one of the top 100 most influential people in 2011.
George R.R. Martin has been a writer all his life and began selling his science fiction novels at just 21 years old. Much of his work went almost unnoticed until “A Song of Ice and Fire” was transformed into one of the biggest series’ of all time.
19. Salman Rushdie
Sir Ahmed Salman Rushdie the British-Indian novelist created a life-threatening controversy when he wrote The Satanic Verses in 1988, resulting in a fatwa (assassination order) issued against him by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989.
Rushdie is a writer and essayist whose themes cover magical realism and historical fiction tell the tales of migrations from the Indian subcontinent to the United Kingdom and other parts of the Western world.
Midnight’s Children published in 1981 won the Booker Prize and was generally lauded as the best novel of all Booker Prize winners up to that time.
Rushdie left the UK and settled in the United States around 2000. In the US, he has appeared in films and talk shows, notably in Brigitte Jones, on Realtime with Bill Maher and the Charlie Rose show.
In 2020, Rushdie is worth approximately $ 20 million.
20. Margaret Atwood
Margaret Eleanor Atwood is a poet, novelist, literary critic, essayist and teach, having published 18 novels, 11 non-fiction books, nine collections of short stories and eight children’s books and a couple of graphic novels. Of her books, The Handmaid’s Tale is her most well-known, having won the Arthur C, Clarke Award.
In 2000, The Blind Assassin won the Booker Prize and in 2019, The Testaments, a sequel to the Handmaid’s Tale was joint winner of the Booker Prize. Atwood ascribed inspiration to write The Testaments from the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.
Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tales explores the complicated lives of handmaids who are sex slaves forced to give birth for infertile elite couples. Cultural and political commentators have been quick to point out that the themes and concepts of The Handmaid’s Tale seem to be a prescient cautionary tale of today’s political climate in the US, citing the Trump administration repeated strikes against the rights of women, immigrants, LGBTQ individuals and other marginalized communities.
Born on November 18, 1939, this acclaimed novelist’s works comprise various themes, from gender and identity, climate change to power politics.
As of 2020, Margaret is estimated to be worth $20 million.
21. Barbara Cartland
Dame Mary Barbara Hamilton Cartland, was a romance novel author whose 723 novels have been translated into more than 38 languages.
This English novelist is one of the most commercially successful of the 20th century. Writing also under her married name of Barbara McCorquodale and under the pseudonym of Marcus Belfry, she has written plays, music, verse, drama, magazine articles and operetta as well. She was also a prominent philanthropist who over the years have donated a vast amount of her fortune away.
Her total books sales according to some estimates have been well over 1.5 billion copies. Her tales were usually set in 19th-century Victorian era, and she was instantly recognized by her signature blonde wig, heavy eye make-up and elaborate gowns.
Dame Cartland was born on 9 July 1901, and sadly passed away on 21 May 2000. Her estate was estimated to be worth over $15 million at the time of her death, not bad for an author who was close to 100 years of age at her death.
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