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Real Talk About the Top-Earning Authors of 2013


Staff Writer

Jill G is a school librarian, writer, photographer, and ice cream lover. Follow her on Twitter @daffodilly".

E L James - Book SigningEarlier this week, Forbes released their list of the top earners in the world of books for 2013 thus far. In case you missed it, here they are:

1. E.L. James ($95 million)

2. James Patterson ($91 million)

3. Suzanne Collins ($55 million)

4. Bill O’Reilly ($28 million)

5. Danielle Steel ($26 million)

6. Jeff Kinney ($24 million)

7. Janet Evanovich ($24 million)

8. Nora Roberts ($23 million)

9. Dan Brown ($22 million)

10. Stephen King ($20 million)

11. Dean Koontz ($20 million)

12. John Grisham ($18 million)

13. David Baldacci ($15 million)

14. Rick Riordan ($14 million)

15. J. K. Rowling ($13 million)

16. George R. R. Martin ($12 million)

Now, I know the immediate cry of a lot of folks after reading this list is one of rage over the fact that a writer of Twilight fanfiction has sold more copies of her smutty smut trilogy than you could ever dream of. And listen, I know you’re upset. So be warned: in what I’m about to say, I do not take the quality of these authors’ writing, or the perceived quality of their writing, into account at all. Because those are arguments where no one wins.

But I believe this list does in fact matter (even if you don’t want it to) because it showcases what a large portion of people living and breathing right now are actually reading. Not critics, not book bloggers, not college professors, but people. People that are no better or worse than anyone else. And while we can shout all day about what people should be reading, I believe there’s value in knowing what people actually are reading. Because, you know, democracy and all that. Majority rule isn’t a perfect system, but the majority has power.

This is what I see in this list:

There is a pretty even mix of ladies and dudes. In fact, if you just take the Top 10, there are exactly 5 women and 5 men. Huh. Imagine that! And the big numero uno (no matter how you feel about her) is a lady, and one who is apparently really into sex! Women have a sex drive? Which they can turn into big bucks? Get out of here!

So, the majority of readers read books by men AND WOMEN. This seems obvious and perhaps not that surprising to most logical humans. But after reading a million and one depressing things on the Internet about the literary establishment believing only dudes write the majority of worthwhile books, as showcased in the Summer 2013 issue of the New York Review of Books, where 24 books by men and ONE book by a woman were reviewed, as pointed out by VIDA–as just one example–well, your brain goes into this angry hive type of place, and seeing this equal playing field of way rich authors just feels refreshing.

There is also a fair number of children’s and young adult authors mixed in with the “adult” ones. While Suzanne Collins and J.K. Rowling are givens, it also makes my heart pitter patter with joy a bit that Jeff Kinney and Rick Riordan, who write essentially about dorky boys (with some nerdy girls thrown in), are right up in there, as well.

Essentially: Guess what! Kids have power, too! Sorry, adults; I know how that idea tends to make you upset.

And yeah, my personal feathers feel a little ruffled about Bill O’Reilly being so high up there, but I know he has as much of a right to be there as anyone else. People obviously want to buy his books, and that’s fine. There SHOULD be room for both conservatives and liberals when it comes to the majority, or else our world would be real boring. (And anyway, the sex-loving lady beat him, so.)

So when I look at this list, I don’t see the death of culture as we know it. I think, “Huh. So we are all reading–ladies, men, adults, kids. We are just all folks.” Because when you hear enough times that kid books aren’t as good as grown up books, or that men just don’t want to read books written by women, or that women never win as many literary awards as men, and on and on and on, this list actually feels like a smack of reality. And unlike most smacks of reality, this one isn’t all bad, but maybe shows we’re not as divided as it seems.

The only thing that makes me mad about the list, to be honest, is how exceedingly white it is. As in, it is 100% white. And I don’t think that has anything to do with people of color not reading (or white people not reading books by people of color, for that matter); I think it’s a matter of accessibility and opportunity for both authors and readers of color, which only reflects the same lack of accessibility and opportunity for people of color in every other facet of society. And it sucks. I just have to hope that we’ll get there.

But the rest of it? Seems all right by me.


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