E.L. James ties up top spot on Forbes’ richest authors list

Author E.L. James signing books at San Diego's Comic-Con in 2012.
Author E.L. James signing books at San Diego’s Comic-Con in 2012.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

“Fifty Shades of Grey” author E.L. James has dethroned the writing masters (and earners) of the universe with her addictive S&M trilogy.

On Sunday, Forbes released its yearly top-earning authors list, with a new name leading the pack: James. The “Twilight” fan fiction-turned-smutty trilogy has netted James, nee Erika Leonard, an estimated $95 million in earnings from June 2012 to June 2013, and this is before the inevitable film adaptation due in August of next year.

There are a lot of formulas that lead to inclusion on this list -- No. 2, James Patterson ($91 million) is a veritable factory of prose, with an average output of five books a year. He keeps up this pace with the work of co-authors.

No. 3 Suzanne Collins earned $55 million through the success of the Hunger Games trilogy and the power of the Jennifer Lawrence-starring film adaptation.

What’s markedly impressive about James’ success is that she currently doesn’t have the advantage of being a speedy writer or having a hit film as promotion. The Fifty Shades trilogy simply “sold more copies than any other author in history -- more than 70 million in the first eight months they were on sale in the U.S.” writes Forbes.


The list is rounded out by mass-market paperback faves like Danielle Steel (No. 5, $26 million), Janet Evanovich (No. 7, $24 million), Stephen King (No. 10, $20 million), John Grisham ($18 million), J.K. Rowling (No. 15, $13 million) and George R.R. Martin (No. 16, $12 million). Time will tell if the Fifty Shades movie (to be directed by artist-turned-director Sam Taylor-Wood) or the recent unveiling of Rowling’s pseudonymous work on current bestseller “The Cuckoo’s Clock” will change the list for next year.


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