The Top Must-Read Authors According to Book Riot Contributors

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Susie Dumond

Senior Contributor

Susie (she/her) is a queer writer originally from Little Rock, now living in Washington, DC. She is the author of QUEERLY BELOVED and the forthcoming LOOKING FOR A SIGN from Dial Press/Random House. You can find her on Instagram @susiedoom.

If you’re a book lover, you’ve likely been asked to name your favorite authors. Despite the seeming simplicity of the question, it can be tricky to answer. Do you pick the author of your favorite book (if you can even name a favorite book)? How about the authors whose work sticks with you the most? Or the authors most present on your bookshelves? As for me, I can tell an author is my favorite if I will absolutely read anything they write, even a grocery list. I was curious about what authors fall under this category for my fellow Book Riot contributors, so I surveyed them to find out what writers they consider to be must-read authors.

The survey asked my fellow contributors to list up to ten authors that they consider “must-read,” meaning they would read anything they write. I also asked them to provide a little insight into what qualities push an author into this category. Nineteen Book Riot contributors filled out the survey, listing a combined 82 unique authors. After analyzing their responses and researching each author listed, here’s what I learned.

Top 6 Must-Read Authors According to Book Riot Contributors

The biggest surprise in collecting this date was the sheer breadth of authors Book Riot contributors listed. Honestly, I expected to see a lot of repeated authors on this list. But of the 82 unique authors mentioned in survey results, 69 of them were only mentioned by one contributor. My takeaway from this is that Book Riot contributors read incredibly diversely, and although certain books occasionally make the rounds as contributor favorites, we all have very different tastes and cover a wide array of writers and genres. I’ll break down the statistics of our favorite authors later in this article, so stay tuned for more data on that.

The survey had a three-way tie for most mentioned must-read authors, each receiving three votes from contributors. Here are the top six must-read authors identified in this survey. Their “most popular books” are determined by number of Goodreads reviews.

In the Woods by Tana French book cover

Tana French

Number of books published: 8

Year first published: 2007

Primary genre(s): Crime, Mystery

Most popular book to date: In the Woods

Bad Feminist cover

Roxane Gay

Number of books published: 10

Year first published: 2011

Primary genre(s): Memoir, Essays, Comics

Most popular book to date: Bad Feminist

book cover for Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Number of books published: 9 (plus 1 new release in 2022)

Year first published: 2013

Primary genre(s): Horror, Mystery, Fantasy

Most popular book to date: Mexican Gothic

Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson Cover

Tiffany D. Jackson

Number of books published: 8

Year first published: 2017

Primary genre(s): YA Mystery

Most popular book to date: Monday’s Not Coming

Red White and Royal Blue Cover

Casey McQuiston

Number of books published: 2 (plus 1 new release in 2022)

Year first published: 2019

Primary genre(s): Contemporary Romance

Most popular book to date: Red, White & Royal Blue

The Goldfinch book cover

Donna Tartt

Number of books published: 3

Year first published: 1992

Primary genre(s): Literary Fiction, Mystery

Most popular book to date: The Goldfinch

There was a seven-way tie for second place, with each of the following authors receiving two mentions:

Other Findings From Must-Read Authors Survey

There are some interesting ways to slice and dice data around the 82 authors listed as must-read by Book Riot contributors. Here is some of what can be gleaned from the survey responses. Please note that information on each author was gathered first from their websites, and if not clear on their websites, was found from interviews and, as a last resort, Wikipedia.

Author Diversity

Despite barriers against BIPOC writers in the publishing industry, Book Riot contributors’ must-read authors come from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. Of the 82 unique authors considered “must-read,” 46 are BIPOC and 36 are white. You can see a breakdown of the authors by race in the below chart.

A pie chart of must-read authors by race: 36 white, 20 Black, 15 Asian/Pacific Islander, 8 Latine, 2 Native/Indian American, 1 other

Book Riot contributors favored women authors, listing 60 women authors as must-read, 16 male authors, and 6 nonbinary authors. Openly LGBTQ+ authors made a good showing, making up 32% of authors listed in survey responses.

Pie chart of must-read authors by gender: 60 women, 16 men, 6 nonbinary

While the authors listed in the survey came from countries across the globe, they primarily now reside in the U.S., followed by the UK and Canada. Notable exceptions include Japan (Sayaka Murata and Haruki Murakami), Sweden (Olivia Dade), Italy (Jhumpa Lahiri), and the Czech Republic (Helen Oyeyemi).

Pie chart of must-read authors by country of residence: 62 U.S., 9 U.K., 6 Canada, 2 Japan, 1 each for Sweden, Italy, and Czech Republic

Genres and Publication Histories

The 82 authors mentioned in surveys represent a vast array of genres, with 54 authors writing across multiple genres in their career so far and 28 authors writing only in one genre. Of the genres most associated with these authors, the most frequently occurring are fantasy, general fiction, mystery/thriller, and romance, in that order. The below chart further breaks down genres associated with these must-read authors.

Pie chart of must-read authors by genres: 35 Fantasy, 30 General Fiction, 23 Mystery/Thriller, 18 Romance, 12 General Nonfiction, 11 Historical Fiction, 10 Memoir, 9 Comics, 6 Poetry, 6 Science Fiction, 5 Horror, 3 Children's Books, 3 Short Stories

The number of books published by each must-read author ranges from Neil Gaiman (over 100 books) to authors with only two published works, but compelling enough to gain a dedicated readership: Brit Bennett, Erin A. Craig, Emily M. Danforth, Alix E. Harrow, Darcie Little Badger, Madeline Miller, Erin Morgenstern, and Celeste Ng. On average, the must-read authors identified in surveys have published an average of 12 books each.

All of the authors named by Book Riot contributors are currently living, and the vast majority are still actively writing and publishing today. The authors with the earliest published first works include Nikki Giovanni (1973), Stephen King (1974), and Anthony Horowitz (1978). The two authors to most recently hit the publishing scene are June Hur and Darcie Little Badger, both making their literary debuts in 2020.

What Makes an Author “Must-Read”?

In the survey, I asked Book Riot contributors to think about what makes someone a “must-read” author for them. The most common reason cited was general writing style and voice, followed closely by writing in favorite genres, memorable/unique characters, and engaging plots.

Pie chart of must-read author qualities: 15 general style/voice, 11 genre, 11 characters, 10 plot, 7 uniqueness, 5 educational, 4 humor

When asked to expound on what makes an author a “must-read,” several contributors noted that the author’s books stuck with them long after the last page. Contributing editor Jamie Canavés said she’s most likely to take note of an author when “the book leaves you with a feeling or thought that doesn’t diminish soon after you’ve closed the book.” Rachel Brittain, also a contributing editor, said, “Any author who writes characters or stories I can’t get out of my head has a good chance of becoming a must-read author for me. The real tell is if I finish a book and immediately go look up everything else the author has written — even short stories — to add to my TBR.”

Others said must-read authors had a magical combination that’s hard to quantify. Contributor Rey Rowland described the unique point where “great characters, tight plot, and brilliant writing intersect to make stories that you’ll never truly forget.” Contributing editor Annika Barranti Klein said, “It’s difficult to nail down the je n’ais ce quoi here. I think it’s a combination of all of the above but mostly a uniqueness, something I can’t get from other authors in quite the same way. A particular turn of phrase that grabs my attention, a way of writing longing or wonder that feels like I am the one who is experiencing it. (Also, they usually make me yell, ‘WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?’)”

Contributor Melissa Baron also noted that must-read authors could often inspire her own writing. “My must-read authors have plots and characters that keep me firmly in that world until it’s done with me. They have prose and verse so beautiful that I reread lines just to enjoy how the words sound together and how they make me feel. They’re masters at true-to-life dialogue, or building suspense/dread, or giving me characters to root for. Their works stay in my mind long after I’m done reading them, and they inspire me as a writer.”

Beyond everything else, as Senior Contributor Isabelle Popp said so eloquently, our must-read authors remind us why we love reading. “My very favorite authors make me so happy to be a reader, because as I’m reading, I can’t imagine these stories and ideas being as effective in any other medium.”

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