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With JK Rowling Reclaiming the Title of Highest-Paid Author, Where Do Indies Fit In?

Forbes has released its annual estimates for the highest-grossing book authors.

Their piece is a click-attracting listicle, so I won’t link to it here, but The Guardian reported that Rowling passed Patterson to reclaim the number one spot.


JK Rowling will need to reserve a particularly large vault at Gringotts bank after a bumper year for the Harry Potter novelist magicked her back to the No 1 spot on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest authors, almost a decade after she last topped it.

Forbes – which uses a mix of print, ebook and audio sales data, television and film earnings and expert industry opinion to come up with its list – estimates that Rowling earned $95m in the year to 31 May. This figure is the equivalent of more than $180 per minute, thanks to the sensational sales of her play script, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. When the Harry Potter follow-up was released last summer, it sold more than 680,000 print copies in the UK in the first three days alone, and became the fastest selling book since the final Harry Potter novel.

Rowling, who last topped Forbes’ list in 2008, comes in this year $8m ahead of second-placed James Patterson, the thriller powerhouse who has headed the list for the last three years.

The Guardian mentions eleven names in its list of biggest earners, with Danielle Steel and Rick Riordan tying for tenth place with estimated earnings of $11 million.

Three of the authors are British, while the other eight are American. All are traditionally published.

Some might have expected that last to be the case, but this is 2017. There are indie authors earning a million or more each year from book sales alone, and most of the authors on this list got there on the value of their movie and other ancillary rights.

So there could easily be indie authors who should be on this list but are not because they quite sensibly are keeping a low profile.

But in any case, this list is just a bunch of wild guesses, so making it or not means little.

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Mark Williams International August 7, 2017 um 5:31 am

According to Forbes most of the earnings came from books, not "movie and other ancillary rights."

In any case these go hand in hand. Books sell the movies. Movies sell the books. It’s all author earnings.

And of course trad pub books sell indie books by the same author and vice versa, which makes the indie vs trad debate increasingly meaningless as more and more authors on both sides go hybrid.

Many of the top-selling indie authors have A-Pub or trad deals at some level. Marie Force and Joe Konrath for example have both lately signed print-only deals with Kensington. Many others preceded them. In each instance these trad deals bring not just trad cash but more discoverability for the authors' "indie" works.

Which begs the question at what point we need to abandon the term indie unless an author is exclusively self-published.

tired August 7, 2017 um 7:54 am

I don’t see it as the line as blurred at all. Many top indie writers cease to be indie and become traditionally published. That does not imply an erosion of the word "indie".

BDR August 7, 2017 um 11:50 am

Self-publishing is simply the free market’s response to inefficiencies in Big Publishing. Among the huge number of examples of this inefficiency is Rowling’s detective series which she submitted under her Galbraith pen name. She got rejected by a *number* of houses until she finally got the series accepted.

Then there’s the case I recall of an author who tested these inefficiencies by submitting a book which had already been *successfully* published. Not only did NONE of the publishers recognize that this new submission was already published BUT the book got continually rejected, *even* by the publisher who had *originally* published it.

From where we are now, transitioning to a publishing house from self-publishing is a natural progression but, ultimately, there’ll probably come a time when it won’t be because inefficient companies will eventually die in a free market.

Why should a Grisham, for instance, turn over more than half of his sales to a company which simply prints and distributes his books while providing a *modicum* of publicity? That is a very good question and when the Grishams of the world finally start asking that question, Big Publishing will collapse under its own weight.

THEN we can abandon the "Indie" label because *all* authors will go to the APub/KP model and Big Publishing will become but a blighted footnote in history.

DaveMich August 7, 2017 um 10:55 am

Like Disney, Rowling’s books get a new audience every year. If you look at Amazon Charts "most read", the entire series places in the top 20 week after week, and the first book is often on the "most sold" list.

BDR August 7, 2017 um 11:19 am

Did you notice that this list seems fairly evenly divided between children’s authors, romance writers and thriller/other writers.

I found that interesting.

BDR August 7, 2017 um 11:15 am

I wasn’t really surprised to see Grisham on the list but his income *did* sort of surprise me. If you’ve seen various interviews with him on YouTube, he seems to be forever complaining about declining book sales, how his book sales are tied to movie releases and how Hollywood isn’t making his books into movies any longer. Perhaps his recent book tour — his first in 20 years — was just, as he said, because he was "bored".

At $14 million per year and with 300 million Grisham books sold, those complaints seem … exaggerated. His public persona, though, is still infinitely better than someone like Turow who comes across (to me, at least) as a pompous ass. Turow’s ex-wife would probably agree. Nonetheless, Turow (again, to me) is the far better writer. Writing skill, it seems, isn’t necessarily correlated with wealth. Or likability.

Therein, perhaps, lies the *real* message of this list for indy writers.

Mark Williams International August 8, 2017 um 3:38 am

"Then there’s the case I recall of an author who tested these inefficiencies by submitting a book which had already been *successfully* published. Not only did NONE of the publishers recognize that this new submission was already published BUT the book got continually rejected, *even* by the publisher who had *originally* published it."

These anecdotal tales are meaningless without detail. Are we to assume every rejection slip, instead of being the standard "Not for us, thank you" form letter, instead went to the bother of explaining that the publisher did not know the book was already in existence? Maybe the publisher thought, "another idiot trying to scam us."

Maybe the "successfully published" book was published thirty years ago when demands were different. Plenty of blockbuster novels of the 70s/80s/90s would not warrant a second glance today.

Maybe the book was totally unsuitable to the small publisher’s portfolio. One presumes, if this story is true, the submittee was rather limited in publishers to submit to, as most major publishers only consider submissions through an agent.

Likewise maybe the houses that rejected Rowling’s Galbraith submission took one look at the totally fake author biography and ran a mile.

A book being rejected by a publisher does not demonstrate inefficiency per se. There are myriad good reasons why a book might be rejected by a given publisher at a given time.

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