Patterson’s Curse? The world’s highest paid authors

I recently read the Forbes list of highest paid authors, which provides a fascinating glimpse into the earnings of some of our favourite authors, and by proxy, our reading habits.

A few things struck me about this list (which you can read below).  First, it’s comprised of almost all American authors, apart from J.K Rowling and Paula Hawkins.  Secondly, a lot of these authors have been around since I first learned to read; their longevity in itself deserves recognition.  Thirdly, there’s a really decent spread of genre – from sci-fi to romance to young adult to crime.

The fourth thing that struck me about this list was the huge gulf between James Patterson’s earnings as number one highest paid author and the next richest (Jeff Kinney). Around $70 million worth of a gulf. Apparently, 1 in every 17 hardback novels sold bears Patterson’s name, and he has sold more books than anyone else since 2001.

James Patterson outside his mansion
James Patterson outside his mansion

The article I was reading mentioned in passing that James Patterson has a ‘team of co-authors’.  It turns out he has 23 of them. Never having even picked up one of his books, I knew nothing of this. I was gobsmacked. He has, in effect, a factory of writers who by the end of 2016 will have churned out 34 books this year alone.

Apparently, he’s very hands on with the co-writing process.  He writes a very detailed plot outline and gives the authors a lot of feedback as they write each chapter. He coaches them on the characters, the villain and the pacing (see author Mark Sullivan’s article What I Learned from James Patterson).  He steers the ship, so to speak, and they shovel the coal.

He’s not coy about this at all – he calls his books ‘commercial fiction’ and differentiates them from ‘really serious literature’. ‘We are in the business of entertainment, not edification or enlightenment’, Patterson has said.

My first reaction was one of utter horror; I thought of all the authors that I know, and the millions of others that I don’t, trying to get their break. Surely this is not what publishing is all about? I was cross.  It didn’t seem fair, or ‘in the spirit’ of the thing.

Then on reflection I thought, if he’s providing goods that people choose to buy in their millions, he’s obviously doing something right.  He’s not being devious about it, his co-authors are delighted to work with him, and readers obviously love his products. (Although Stephen King is apparently not a fan, calling Patterson ‘a terrible writer’).

27993244He is without doubt a marketing genius. His latest venture is BookShots – books that are cheap, plot driven and can be read in a single sitting.  (‘Pulse-pounding thrillers under $5 and 150 pages or less’). His target audience is those who’ve abandoned reading for TV and social media.

Patterson himself has said:  ‘I don’t like it when you get people who say, ‘Well, I haven’t read his books but I hate him’. It’s a fair point.  So I intend to see what all the fuss is about.  Australian author Candice Fox recently paired up with James Patterson to produce Never Never (‘It’s easy to go missing in the middle of nowhere’).  I figured this would be a good place to start so I’ve requested a copy from my library.

I’ll let you know how I get on….

If you’ve read any James Patterson would you warn me off, or encourage me down this path?  What do you think about his approach to writing books?

Any thoughts on the Forbes list below?  It looks like this:

James Patterson  – earned $95m.  Patterson’s debut novel, The Thomas Berryman Number, was published in 1976.

Jeff Kinney  – earned $19.5m. Time named Kinney one of ‘The World’s Most Influential People’ – not bad for a Wimpy Kid.

J.K Rowling – earned $19m.  Yet, only 1,000 copies were printed for the first run of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

John Grisham – earned $18.5m.  The Firm stayed on The New York Times’ bestseller list for 47 weeks in ’91. I quite enjoyed it at the time.

Stephen King – earned $15m. Some commentators hold the impending release of the It film responsible for the current clown phenomenon.

Danielle Steel – earned $15m.  First published in 1973, Steel has written 99 novels and 18 children’s books. She’s gonna crack the 100-milestone for sure.

Nora Roberts – earned $15m.  Roberts is the first author to be inducted into the Romance Writers of America Hall of Fame.

E.L James – earned $14m. ‘Does this mean you’re going to make love to me tonight, Christian?’.

Veronica Roth – earned $10m.  For those who haven’t heard of her either, Roth wrote the Divergent trilogy, consisting of Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant.

John Green – earned $10m.  Green personally signed all 150,000 copies of the first printing  of The Fault in Our Stars.

Paula Hawkins – $10m.  I haven’t read it, but Girl on the Train if often referenced in the same sentence as Gone Girl.  Is this fair?

George R R Martin – $9.5m.  He’s been dubbed ‘the American Tolkien’.

Dan Brown – $9.5m. I actually saw someone reading The Da Vinci Code on the train last week.  I was genuinely surprised that 13 years after its publication date, people are still reading it. Should I be?

Rick Riordan – $9.5m.  If like me you’re not sure, he’s the author of the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series for kids.


This is a site about books and about tea, and how we should read more books and drink more tea. Sometimes, it's hard to know what books to read and what tea to drink. This is where I can help out.


  1. I read 4 or 5 of the Alex Cross series back in the 90s and really enjoyed them. On the basis of those books, he’s an excellent thriller writer. His plots are good, very taut. Interesting that he now has a factory. Catherine Cookson was the same – people wanted to read more, so she employed writers in the same way as Patterson. I don’t recall the co-authors having a cover credit, though, as seems to be the case on the Never Never book cover in your post. I like him for that.

    I also like the idea behind his BookShots. If he gets more people reading, that can only be a good thing. When my nephews were reading the Potter books 15 years or so ago, I was snobby about them because I didn’t think the first book was particularly good, but then I realised my nephews were reading and not watching TV. They read widely now and we recommend books to each other all the time.

    I haven’t read Girl on the Train because it’s mentioned in the same breath as Gone Girl, which I didn’t burn after reading only because I’d borrowed it from a friend. My mother in law enjoyed Girl on the Train, though, and she has decent reading taste.

    I enjoyed the first Game of Thrones book but the second one turned me off. He’s no Tolkien.

    I read a few pages of The Day Vinci Code and wanted to punch something, but Brown’s another author who gets people who might not otherwise pick up a book reading, so I’m conflicted about him.

    I like some popular fiction because it’s largely easy reading and I sometimes need a break from literary fiction, which can be relentlessly grim. I’m not sure why. Crime and thrillers are my favourites. They’re a more cartoonish kind of grim.

    • I agree with you about getting people reading. I also think that is the main thing. It seems a shame that there is a world of imagination out there that isn’t accessed by so many people. And I guess if Patterson cream $100m from it, then good for him.
      I have to say that I loved Gone Girl – but I read it way before there was any hype, so I had no expectations. I thought it was a real page turner and I loved the characterisation of the husband. I thought it went a bit pear-shaped about 2/3 through, but I still really liked it. What didn’t you like about it?
      There’s always a place for crime and thrillers. I’m just overly cautious with them because there is so much bad stuff out there. If you like crime, then do read THe Dry which I reviewed a couple of months ago. It’s the best one I’ve read since I read early Denis Mina.

      • I didn’t like any of the characters in Gone Girl. I had no sympathy for them, found them irritatingly entitled, and guessed the twist early on. I knew very little about it before I read it. My best friend lent it to me and she’s usually reliable.

        I shall look out The Dry, thanks!

Tell me what you think!

Subscribe to follow my blog

Get the latest posts delivered to your mailbox:

%d bloggers like this: