These literary behemoths disprove the myth of the struggling writer, earning millions of dollars through their words alone.
While it’s true that writing is not the most lucrative of careers, that doesn’t mean one can’t hope to earn an impressive amount of money through their craft.
Take it from these writers who’ve built their successful careers through bodies of text. Their stories not only skyrocketed them to fame, but gave way to multi-million dollar franchises and film adaptations.
To learn more, below are five of the richest writers in the world, based on data gathered by Forbes.
J.K. Rowling — $92 million
It’s a commonly known fact that J.K. Rowling remains to be the wealthiest author in the world—a title she’s held for years since the success of her Harry Potter series. Based on estimates in 2019, Forbes stated that the writer has earnings worth $92 million.
Although her best-selling series has long been finished, the writer continues to earn royalties and fees from numerous projects involved with the franchise, such as theme parks, mobile games, and movie adaptations.
With more than 600 million copies of her fantasy books sold, The Times’ 2023 Rich List revealed that her net worth is worth roughly £875 million (around $1 billion).
James Patterson — $70 million
James Patterson is a prolific American author whose best-selling works have cemented his status as an influential thriller and crime writer.
His fast-paced plots and simple yet effective prose are what made him stand out in the world of literature, with hits like Along Came a Spider (1993), 1st to Die (2001), and the Maximum Ride series (2005 to 2020)—all of which had their own popular film adaptations.
During Forbes’ scoring period in 2019, the author had sold more than 5.5 million copies of his books. Based on data, he’s believed to be the richest author in America.
Michelle Obama — $36 million
Michelle Obama isn’t just the former first lady of the United States—she’s also a best-selling author and lawyer by profession. The 59-year-old is a gifted wordsmith whose memoir, entitled Becoming, sold 10 million copies in various formats during Forbes’ data gathering process.
She published another book in 2018 entitled The Light We Carry, which is filled with insightful advice and lessons she learned throughout her life. The book was not only a New York Times and USA TODAY bestseller, but also sold more than 17 million units worldwide since its publication and was translated into 50 languages.
Jeff Kinney — $20 million
Both parents and their kids are likely to remember the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series written and illustrated by Jeff Kinney, which gained an immense following in the early to late 2000s. The collection of books was well-received by children for its characters’ hilarious antics and relatable situations.
The Wimpy Kid series became so popular that it even received its own live-action and animated adaptations from 2010 to 2022. With six movies and millions of book copies sold, it’s no surprise that Kinney was ranked the 4th richest author in the world with an estimated $20 million in earnings.
Stephen King — $17 million
Stephen King’s name has become synonymous with the horror genre. It’s difficult to list the number of best-selling books the father of terror has created—his career is a prolific one, which is why his ranking as the world’s fifth wealthiest author makes a lot of sense.
Some of his most popular horror works include It (1986), The Shining (1977), Misery (1987), Gerald’s Game (1992), Carrie (1974), and Pet Sematary (1983). Many of his books have been turned to movies, which is understandable given how well they translate to screen.
The aforementioned titles all got critically-acclaimed adaptations that raked in millions of dollars at the box office. The recent movie adaptation of It alone is said to have yielded an eight-figure check.
Of course, the writer has also proven his skill in covering a wide range of genres, with touching stories like his magical-realism piece The Green Mile and fantasy series The Dark Tower (both of which also received book-to-film adaptations).
Banner photo via Instagram @jamespattersonbooks.