Mental Floss, via Shelf Awareness for Readers, informs us that the ten richest authors of all time are:

  1. Elisabeth Badinter // $1.3 Billion
  2. J.K. Rowling // $1 Billion
  3. James Patterson // $560 Million
  4. Stephen King // $400 Million
  5. Nora Roberts // $390 Million
  6. Danielle Steel // $310 Million
  7. Barbara Taylor Bradford // $300 Million
  8. Nigel Blackwell // $292.5 Million
  9. John Grisham // $220 Million
  10. Jeffrey Archer // $195 Million

Lit Hub has lists of the top ten for the years between 2008 and 2018, plus a list of the top 25 for that decade. How do you disentangle earnings from writing and general wealth: Mackenzie Bezos (now Mackenzie Scott) is reported as having a net worth of $36 billion, but we have no idea how little of this may have come from her writings. Slice has a list of such rich writing folk. I wonder how these figures compare with historical authors. Victor Hugo and George Eliot have previously featured in this blog as recipients of big deals. Dickens presumably did OK. Of course updating exchange rates and the effects of inflation makes it hard to work out who might be the top-earning author of all times.

According to Indeed, the average annual earnings of a novelist are $49,046. It is a job site, but the opinion “This figure can vary from $15,080 to $127,816 per year, depending on experience” nevertheless seems a bit wild — what does experience have to do with it? Where do these numbers come from? There are surely tons of living novelists who are making zero dollars from their out-of-print books, and as we can see from the list above, $127,816 isn’t going to impress anyone!

Jane Friedman writes about How much do authors earn?. She includes links to three pieces giving details. Nate Hoffelder, the source of the link, provides one more, to a Lincoln Michel piece at Counter Craft. Ms Friedman cautions “We all know people don’t go into the writing profession for the big bucks unless they’re delusional.” She is realistic about the question. “Can I earn a living from publishers’ advances and royalty checks, while I focus solely on writing more books? And the answer to that is: for the majority of traditionally published authors, most of the time, no. You should not expect this today. Yes, it happens. But without some other support or income (a spouse, a day job), it’s tough.” If you write more it becomes, with luck, less tough. Surprise to none: if you work harder you earn more (assuming a basic level of ability).

She does emphasize that we are in a time when there are new means of making money opening up for all artists. The Creator Economy is the name for this world — you just have to get out there and hustle. (Or of course settle for making less than Ms Badinter — a perfectly rational attitude be it said.

Chart via Axios

Much of the relevance of these sorts of funding sources applies to self-published authors, but authors with traditional publishing contracts can get busy too. It’s not for me obviously — doesn’t this all seem a bit like business, not so much like writing?