Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is one of many financial blessings for author J.K. Rowling: the winner of six Tonys clocked $2.3 million in ticket sales in a single week, the highest of any nonmusical play in Broadway history. Add 2.8 million print units sold in the U.S. across her empire—a down year for Rowling—as well as eight-figure sums from theme parks and a new film about the Boy Who Lived, and she reigns supreme again on our ranking of the highest-paid authors with an estimated $92 million pretax.
Next on the list is last year’s frontrunner, James Patterson, who follows Rowling with $70 million, selling 5.5 million domestic print units in 12 months, according to NPD BookScan. The President Is Missing, which Patterson co-wrote with Bill Clinton, was the bestselling adult fiction novel of 2018. He is still America’s richest author, his net worth estimated at $800 million last year.
All in all, the world’s five highest-paid authors sold more than 18.6 million print books combined in the U.S. during our scoring period, logging $235 million. This is a $10 million increase from last year’s collective haul.
Former First Lady Michelle Obama rounds out the top three, earning an estimated $36 million. She and her husband, former president Barack Obama, received a reported $65 million joint-advance for two books in 2017, an unprecedented sum for a presidential memoir. Though Barack’s book has yet to be published—rumor has it that the tome could arrive during the 2020 presidential race—the success of Michelle’s shows the sky-high advance may be worth it for publisher Penguin Random House. Her memoir, Becoming, sold more than 10 million copies across formats during our timeframe and was the bestselling book of 2018 despite being released less than two months before the end of the year. Obama padded her paycheck with ticket sales from her ten-city book tour, selling out arenas more like a rock star than an author.
Jeff Kinney, author of the beloved Diary of a Wimpy Kid children’s series, ranks fourth with $20 million, selling 3.6 million domestic units in 12 months. The 14th Wimpy Kid novel came out this past November. Kinney was recently made an officer of France’s Order of Arts and Letters, one of the highest literary honors.
“At a certain age, you realize you have a chance to make the world you live in,” Kinney told Forbes in 2016. “My advice would be to embrace that idea early on and forge your path forward.”
Stephen King slid from third to fifth place with earnings of $17 million, a $10 million drop from last year when he collected an eight-figure paycheck from the blockbuster It movie adaptation. His latest flick, Doctor Sleep, grossed $71 million worldwide. The king of horror moved 2.1 million domestic print units in our scoring period.
We close the covers — for now, at least—on Dan Brown and John Grisham, who made the ranks of the top five in 2018 but were pushed out this year. The Da Vinci Code scribe previously tied with Kinney at $18.5 million for fifth place, and the legal thriller author had ranked fourth with $21 million.
As for Rowling, look for her reign to continue. She served as the screenwriter for the tenth “Wizarding World” movie, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, which grossed $650 million at the worldwide box office. There’s another on the way—the next Fantastic Beasts movie is slated for 2021—and with it, a cauldron full of cash.
All earnings estimates are from June 1, 2018, through June 1, 2019. Figures are pretax; fees for agents, managers and lawyers are not deducted. Earnings estimates are based on data from NPD BookScan, Box Office Mojo and Pollstar Pro as well as interviews with industry insiders, including some of the authors themselves.
5. Stephen King ($17 million)
The king of horror’s earnings dropped by $10 million from last year when he collected an eight-figure paycheck from the blockbuster It movie adaptation.
4. Jeff Kinney ($20 million)
The author of the beloved Diary of a Wimpy Kid children’s series sold 3.6 million domestic units in 12 months.
3. Michelle Obama ($36 million)
The former First Lady is the only newcomer to this year’s author rankings. Her memoir, Becoming, sold more than 10 million copies across formats during our timeframe.
2. James Patterson ($70 million)
America’s richest author sold more than 5.5 million domestic units during our scoring period. The President Is Missing, which Patterson co-wrote with Bill Clinton, was the bestselling adult fiction novel of 2018.
1. J.K. Rowling ($92 million)
Book sales no longer account for the lion’s share of the Harry Potter scribe’s earnings. Rowling collected eight-figure sums from theme parks, theatrical productions and a new film about The Boy Who Lived.