The Telegraph, a UK newspaper, recently revealed a list of the Top Ten Best Selling Authors in the World since 2001 and which of their books was their best seller. 

World’s 10 Best-Selling Authors Since 2001

and Their Biggest-Selling Book

  1. James Patterson – 1st to Die

  2. JK Rowling – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

  3. Nora Roberts – Red Lily

  4. Dr Seuss – Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

  5. John Grisham – A Painted House

  6. Stephenie Meyer – Twilight

  7. Dan Brown – The Da Vinci Code

  8. Nicholas Sparks – The Notebook

  9. Janet Evanovich – One for the Money

  10. Jeff Kinney – Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Lists like these are always hotly debated – especially if your favourite author isn’t there. Where are Stephen King, Danielle Steele, Terry Pratchett and Diana Gabaldon? I’m sure you could add more to the list of authors missing from this list.

Whatever you think of it, a list’s a list. These are the hard hitters, the movers and shakers and if you’d like to make money from your writing, these are the folk to emulate.

So in the interests of research, let’s take a look at how they got started.

James PattersonJames Patterson

His Best Selling Book: 1st to Die

Patterson’s Net Worth $350 million

James Patterson worked his way through college. He took a lot of night shifts and read a ton of books to pass the time. Then he started writing and discovered that he loved it. He wrote his first mystery, The Thomas Berryman Number when he was 26. It was turned down by 31 publishers and then won an Edgar (named in honour of Mr Poe) for Best First Novel. As Patterson himself commented, “Go Figure.”



JK Rowling

JK RowlingHer Best Selling Book: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

JK Rowling’s Net Worth $1 billion

(this includes substantial income from the films and merchandise)

In 1990, JK and her boyfriend (at that time) had spent a weekend in Manchester (UK) searching for a flat. She was travelling back to London, alone, on a crowded train.

She said

The idea for Harry Potter simply fell into my head. I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. To my immense frustration, I didn’t have a pen that worked, and I was too shy to ask anybody if I could borrow one…

The lack of writing implement worked in her favour as it meant that all she could do was think about the book. By the time she arrived back in London, she had the basic framework.

And the rest is history.

Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts

Her Best Selling Book: Red Lily 

Nora Roberts Net Worth $150 million

In 1979, Nora Roberts was trapped in her house for several days by a major blizzard. Worse still, she was trapped with her two small sons (aged 6 and 3) and a dwindling supply of chocolate and oreos. She was an avid reader and often made up stories in her head. To keep herself entertained, she started to write down one of those stories. Roberts said

The minute I started, I was hooked.

Dr Seuss

His Best Selling Book: Oh, the Places You’ll Go! 

Dr Seuss Net Worth $75 million

Dr SeussTheodor Seuss Geisel, better known as the beloved Dr. Seuss, was born in 1904 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

He went to Dartmouth College, where he became editor-in-chief of the College magazine – the Jack-O-Lantern. He lost that position when he and some friends held a gin party which was against school policy and the prohibition laws. He continued to contribute to the magazine as “Seuss.”

After graduation, Ted went on to Oxford University in England. However, the academic studies bored him to he toured Europe instead.

After returning to the United States, Ted began to pursue a career as a cartoonist. For more than 15 years, he created advertising campaigns for Standard Oil.

After World War II, Viking Press offered him a contract to illustrate a collection of children’s sayings. The book was not a commercial success but Ted’s illustrations received great reviews. This encouraged him to keep going and he wrote and illustrated his first book And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. It was rejected 27 times before being published by Vanguard Press.

With the release of The Cat in the Hat, Ted became the definitive children’s book author and illustrator.

He died in 1991 at the age of 87.

John Grisham

John Grisham

His Best Selling Book: A Painted House

John Grisham’s Net Worth $200 million

John Grisham’s goal was to become a professional baseball player. At the age of 20, he finally admitted to himself that he didn’t have the talent. To get over his crushing disappointment (combined with a strict Southern Baptist upbringing) Grisham had a lot of fun at college. As a result, his grades were terrible. Grisham said

I can’t tell you what made it happen, but there was a very real, definite moment, when I said, “Okay, it’s time to grow up.” The writing has come fairly late in life. I never dreamed of being a writer when I was a kid, even a student, even in college. In fact, I’d been practicing law for about three or four years in the early ’80s, when I decided to make a stab at writing a story that I’d been thinking about. And the story eventually became A Time to Kill.


Stephanie MeyerStephenie Meyer 

Her Best Selling Book: Twilight

Stephanie Meyer’s Net Worth $125 million

Stephanie Meyer knows the exact day that she became a writer. She was a stay at home mother with three small sons. On the morning of June 2, 2003 Stephanie woke up in the morning, consumed by a vivid dream. She said

Though I had a million things to do, I stayed in bed, thinking about the dream. Unwillingly, I eventually got up and did the immediate necessities, and then put everything that I possibly could on the back burner and sat down at the computer to write—something I hadn’t done in so long that I wondered why I was bothering.

She worked on the plot during the day, whenever she could grab a few moments to herself. She wrote the book at night after her sons had gone to bed. Three months later she finished her first novel, Twilight.

She told nobody about the book, apart from her older sister who encouraged her to keep submitting her book after each rejection. Twilight was picked out of a slush pile at Writer’s House and made its way to the publishing company Little, Brown – where everyone fell immediately in love with the star-crossed lovers.

Dan Brown 

His Best Selling Book: The Da Vinci Code

Dan Brown’s Net Worth $120 million

Dan BrownWhen Dan Brown graduated from College, he loved writing fiction and writing music. He moved to Hollywood to pursue song writing but didn’t have much success so he went into teaching.

In 1995, he was working at Phillips Exeter when two Secret Service agents turned up and detained on of Dan’t students, saying he was a threat to national security. The young man had been on the Internet the night before and during a political debate via email, he had said he was so mad with current politics that he was “ready to kill President Clinton.” The Secret Service were sent to make sure it wasn’t a real threat.

Dan Brown said in an interview

The incident really stuck with me. I couldn’t figure out how the Secret Service knew what these kids were saying in their E-mail. I began doing some research into where organizations like the Secret Service get their intelligence data, and what I found out absolutely floored me. Digital Fortress was my first attempt at a novel. I certainly feel blessed that it sold; I’m not sure I would have had the patience to write another one on spec!


Nicholas SparksNicholas Sparks 

His Best Selling Book: The Notebook

Nicholas Sparks’ Net Worth $30 million

Unlike Stephanie Meyer, Nicholas Sparks can’t pinpoint the moment he became a writer. He said

I wrote my first novel at 19, my second novel at 22, then at 28 I wrote The Notebook, and that did fairly well. It’s very hard to say when I decided to become a writer. There’s a difference between wanting to be a writer and wanting to make a living.

Sparks raises two points here. The first is his incredible modesty…and the second is that last sentence. There is a difference between wanting to be a writer and wanting to make a living from it. We will be exploring this further in another Blog post.

Janet EvanovichJanet Evanovich 

Her Best Selling Book: One for the Money

Janet Evanovich Net Worth $100 million

Janet Evanovich wanted to be an artist and spent four years studying it at Douglass College in New Jersey. But it wasn’t going anywhere so she turned to writing. When her box of rejection letters started to overflow, she burned the box and signed up with a temp agency.

A few months later she took a call from an editor who wanted to buy her romance manuscript for the Second Chance at Love series. They offered to pay her $2,000. Janet said

I have no idea why I continued to write when I received so much rejection (ten years worth!). I suppose it was just too important to me to give up. And probably my ornery disposition kept me going. Throughout it all, my family was very supportive. Mostly I kept my spirits up by blaming everyone else for my failures–stupid agents and blind editors, etc. Did a lot of cussing and drank some beer and ate a lot of chocolate.

A woman after my own heart.

Jeff KinneyJeff Kinney 

His Best Selling Book: Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Jeff Kinney’s Net Worth $17 million

Jeff Kinney’s dream was to become a newspaper cartoonist, but he couldn’t get his comic strips syndicated.

In 1998 Jeff came up with the idea for Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The story about a middle-school weakling named Greg Heffley took him nearly six years to write. He first published it on line on in daily instalments. At the time of writing, the on line version of Diary of a Wimpy Kid has more than 80 million visits, and is read by more than 70,000 kids a day.

In 2006, Jeff signed a multi-book deal with publisher Harry N. Abrams, Inc. to turn Diary of a Wimpy Kid into a highly successful print series.

A Varied Bunch

So you can see that there are many ways to get started. One common thread is their determination and their refusal to give up when faced with rejection after rejection. In the immortal words of Jon Bon Jovi

Jon Bon Jovi quote

Keep on going and never give up. That’s all that separates the winners from the losers. Good luck!

Mary Collings About Mary Collings
I've been a freelance writer for ten years. You name it - I've probably written it. I love working from home and I want to help you so that you can love it too. Hook up with me on Social Media and let's enjoy the journey together.

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