How Much Do The Richest Authors Today Make – Per Word?

By on January 10, 2018 in ArticlesHow Much Does

Generally speaking, authors at the peak in their fields don't get paid by the word. That compensation model is generally thought of as being part of the old pulp publishing world – as seen in the movie The Man Who Wasn't There, for example. But if you're willing to crunch a few numbers, you can get a rough idea of how much the top authors of 2017 would be making (just from their books – other revenue streams aren't included) if they had been paid by the word, and thanks to some research posted here (via infographic site you don't even have to do that. And here's a handy rundown of their findings, just in case you need an extra bit of encouragement to follow through on that New Year's resolution to write your novel.

11. Danielle Steele – $15.19 per word

Novelist Danielle Steele, who your mom is probably a big fan of, was somehow able to churn out seven books in 2017. This was great for her bottom line, but probably cut into her per-word total for the year, since she also wrote a staggering 724,160 words. Divided across the $11 million she reportedly made, that comes to about $15.19 per word.

10. Rick Riordan – $33.60 per word

Rick Riordan (and the rest of the authors on this list, for that matter) had a bit more manageable output in 2017, with three books and 327,360 words. He made the same amount as Steele, though – $11 million – for a healthier hypothetical per-word payout of $33.60.

9. E.L. James – $66.24 per word

When your career is really on a hot streak, you don't have to write more than a book a year to pull in the big bucks. E.L. James, creator of the 50 Shades 

8. Paula Hawkins – $119.13 per word

Paula Hawkins is another member of the one-and-done 2017 club, pulling in $13 million to write Into the Water. That novel had a healthy 109,120 words, which comes to $119.13 per word – not too shabby.

7. Nora Roberts – $35.28 per word

Nora Roberts had three books published in 2017, totaling about 396,800 words. She earned $14 million from those books, or about $35.28 per word – proof that not all big authors earn as much per word as their fellow big total earners.

6. John Grisham – $67.20 per word

The always reliable John Grisham had two novels and a bit over 208,000 words to his name in 2017. Like Nora Roberts, his haul for the year (strictly for his books) was $14 million, or $67.20 per word.

5. Stephen King – $67.20 per word


I have no idea what the odds of this are, but somehow Stephen King managed to make the same amount per word – $67.20 – as John Grisham. He did it with just one book, the 223,200-word Sleeping Beauties, for which he was paid $15 million.

4. Dan Brown – $144.93 per word

The Da Vinci Code guy wrote another book in 2017, this one called Origin, hovering around 117,000 words. Brown's $20 million paycheck thus comes to about $144.93 a word.

3. Jeff Kinney – $302.42 per word

If you're thinking about breaking into the writing game, the real way to maximize the bang for your per-word buck is to go into children's books. Just look at Jeff Kinney, whose 69,000 word Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Getaway netted him about $302.42 per word, the second-most of anyone on this list.

2. James Patterson – $278.41 per word

Grocery store novel maven James Patterson's three 2017 books totaled 312,480 words, for which he earned $278.41 each.

1. J.K. Rowling – $957.66 per word

Rags to Riches: JK Rowling

JK Rowling/ CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images

The creator of Harry Potter is by far the highest-paid author of 2017, and unsurprisingly that $95 million she made from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child led to – by far – the highest per-word payday at $957.66 per word. Again: Children's books are where it's at.

Did we make a mistake?
Submit a correction suggestion and help us fix it!
Submit a Correction