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8.31.2010

10 Writers Richer Than You (But Of Course You Already Knew This)

Forbes Magazine recently published their list of the 10 highest paying writers, all of which is no surprise. On it is of course James Patterson, Stephen King, and Danielle Steel. And while no big surprise, Stephenie Meyer is on it as well, due to Twilight-pa-looza; she knocks out Tom Clancy who was on the list last year (or maybe perhaps the year before), but isn't on it this year (he hasn't written anything in forever; his next book [Dead or Alive] is due out in December, but we all doubt that he's actually written it.)

The full list is as follows:

1. James Patterson, $70 million
2. Stephenie Meyer, $40 million
3. Stephen King, $34 million
4. Danielle Steel, $32 million 
5. Ken Follett, $20 million
6. Dean Koontz, $18 million
7. Janet Evanovich, $16 million
8. John Grisham, $15 million
9. Nicholas Sparks, $14 million
10. JK Rowling, $10 million

This list says a lot. For example, in light of the Franzen affair, it does show that "serious" writers, the literary writers are not the ones making the money. The ones making money are the "commercial" writers. In the Forbes list, there are representatives from multiple commercial genres: thrillers, horror, romance, fantasy. No sci-fi though. Of course, no westerns because the western genre is dead. Which shows you that if you want to make money: write novel featuring a vampire lawyer falling in love with a teen girl, who during a field trip to the Supreme Court, must be saved from a bomb made by zombie terrorists who vow only to blow it up if the case in question does not turn out the way they like it to.

Blockbuster! It will be the release of the century!

Seriously, though, the list shows what Americans are reading. It could be taken in multiple ways. We take it as a sign that Americans overall have bad taste in reading--I mean, James Patterson! But it could also mean that at least Americans are spending millions of dollars on books, and that we are all reading a lot. It could also mean, as Lev Grossman pointed out, that the serious, literary writer is endangered of being extinct (but have you looked at MFA programs?).

Overall, it means lots of things, but mainly it means nothing. "Bestsellers" sell because they are of the moment, says John Sutherland, author of Bestsellers: A Very Short Introduction. For those worried about the great American literary culture, it's there, and if it's good enough, it will last longer than all of us. Bestselling fiction that has any literary worth will also be there along side the great literary work. I believe, for example, Stephen King will easily be a classic of American literature, as well as a lot of genre fiction. Writers, most writers I believe, really like what they're doing--literary or not--money is nice, but it isn't why you're in this in first place (even though it's rather hard to believe when James Patterson used to be marketing executive and Nicholas Sparks has delusions of graduer)...Karma works out at the end.

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