What Do The Most Highly-Paid Authors Have In Common?

We write for many reasons. Money is not usually the top of the list but we would all like to be rewarded for our work and financial success is certainly a great goal.

Forbes.com released their list of the highest paid authors earlier this year. The top 10 earners were: James Patterson, Stephenie Meyer, Stephen King, Danielle Steel, Ken Follett, Dean Koontz, Janet Evanovitch, John Grisham, Nicholas Sparks, and JK Rowling

So what can we learn from them in terms of modeling success?

  • Write a lot of books. James Patterson has had 51 NY Times bestsellers and churns out almost 1 book a month now with a number of collaborators. While you may not like his writing style, he is certainly successful in understanding books are a product. Write to a formula, get them out there and people will buy them. Most of these writers are prolific with Meyer and Rowling as outliers (see the next point!)
  • Write a series. All of these writers have a series of books, some of them have multiple series with protagonists that people get to know and are keen to read the next installment about. Remember, it may take you a year to write a book, but it takes a real fan about 5 hours to read it. Then they want the next one! If you can hook people into your series, you will sell the rest of them to that reader and the books will keep selling.
  • Know your brand and write in a genre. Each of these names is synonymous with a genre. You know what you are getting when you pick up a Stephen King or a Danielle Steel. If they write in other genres, they use another name. These authors are brand names, instantly recognizable products. You need to decide what your brand is and where you fit on a bookshelf. Do you fit next to Patterson or Rowling or Sparks?
  • Understand it takes time. Most of the top 10 have been around for decades. Only Meyer and Sparks could be considered young authors, so it is encouraging to think that plugging away for years will eventually have some success. If James Patterson or Danielle Steel had given up after 2 books, would they be where they are now?
  • Write popular fiction. This may be controversial but if you want to make money, you need to write for the masses and avoid literary fiction. There is a clear difference between a best-selling author versus a best writing author. One makes money, the other wins literary acclaim and prizes. You need to be clear what you are aiming for. (That doesn’t mean bestsellers are not well written. Many of them are and we should all aim to write well. It just means they are not considered “literary” by the critics).
  • Create multiple streams of income. These authors do not just have physical books. Their ideas have been turned into other products including movies, merchandise, spin-off books, audio and digital products, games and even real world experiences (think Harry Potter world!). Yes, they are big names but you can create multiple streams of income for your books too.

What do you think about these top earners? Do you buy their books? How can you model their success?

This is a reprint from Joanna Penn‘s The Creative Penn.