World’s Highest-Paid Authors

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According to Forbes, James Patterson tops the ranking for the third year in a row with a $95 million pretax haul.

THESE WELL-HEELED wordsmiths earned a combined $269 million over the last 12 months, proving that the written word is not dead–although television and movie adaptations often help drive sales.

To wit: Zoo, a thriller from the inescapable James Patterson, scored a second season on CBS CBS -0.31%, while Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin benefited from clamorous interest in the hit HBO series based on his fantasy novels.

James Patterson and Jeff Kinney

Patterson topped our list for the third straight year, earning $95 million pretax, while children’s author Jeff Kinney placed a distant second, earning $19.5 million.

“I wrote the first Diary of a Wimpy Kid for adults,” Kinney, the highest-ranked kid’s author, told FORBES. “The whole time I thought I was writing comics for grownups, and then my publisher told me I had written a children’s series. If you do not write down to kids, you have a better chance of reaching them.”

Patterson, too, has banked off the world’s young readers. He publishes four to six children’s books a year and in 2015 launched the Jimmy Patterson kids imprint at publishers Little, Brown & Company of Hachette Book Group, to host his and other writers’ juvenile output.

“The hardest job with kids is to get them into the habit of reading,” Patterson told FORBES in 2015. Not for lack of material: Publishing’s richest penman (and his co-writers) cranked out more than a dozen books in our scoring period (June 2015 to June 2016). His latest endeavor are so-called BookShots, bite-size bargain novellas aimed at boosting readership among the screen-obsessed masses.

J.K. Rowling

Rounding out the top three is J.K. Rowling ($19 million), whose Harry Potter series continues to mint money like magic, even as her reader’s age. Universal’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme parks ply visitors with jugs of butterbeer and $50 wands, while new play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child premiered as London’s hottest ticket in July. The play is Rowling’s first Potter story since 2007′s ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows;’ performances are sold out until May 2017.

Earnings estimates are compiled by examining print, ebook and audiobook sales from Nielsen BookScan figures, considering TV and movie revenues and talking to authors, agents, publishers and other experts. Earnings are tabulated from June 2015 to June 2016 and are pretax; other fees are not deducted.

Paula Hawkins

The only newcomer to the ranking: Paula Hawkins. After ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ and ‘Gone Girl,’ her novel ‘The Girl on the Train’ is the latest literary phenomenon with a calculating female character to hit the bestseller list. It sold 11 million copies worldwide; a movie version hits theaters in October.

E.L. James

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ author E.L. James (No. 8) profited from those popcorn-munching moviegoers when she vaulted back onto the 2015 ranking following the release of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie; she reportedly tied up a tidy share of the film’s net income. Her earnings are up $2 million to $14 million this year after shifting 168% more units than a year ago, thanks to the release of ‘Grey,’ a retelling of the erotic novel from the male protagonist’s perspective.

Most highly-paid author earnings have dipped year over year, reflecting diminishing readership among American adults. According to a 2015 study from Pew Research, 72% of American adults have read a book in any format within the past year, down from 74% in 2014 and 79% four years ago.

John Grisham

John Grisham is one of few whose new releases consistently get adults thumbing pages. The king of the airport bookstore can still sell more than a million copies of a doorstop hardback like his new Rogue Lawyer–an impressive feat in modern publishing.

Near-misses for the ranking include kids’ favorite Rachel Renée Russell (“Dork Diaries”) and “The Martian” scribe Andy Weir. Weir saw weekly sales of his Mars-based diary skyrocket to 62,000 units in the days following its movie release. It subsequently spent three weeks atop the New York Times fiction bestseller list. (For more, read How 2015′s Movie Adaptations Boosted Book Sales.)

Other authors

Newly off the list are ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn, ‘The Hunger Games’ ‘Suzanne Collins and mystery novelist Janet Evanovich, whom all saw sales of their catalogs take a dive.

Even George R. R. Martin may be on his way out: HBO has confirmed its Game of Thrones series will conclude after next season. Martin has already spent a half-decade writing the hotly anticipated sixth installment of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ and without a new book, his earnings may falter next year.

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