What a time to be alive! To be fair, there’s a lot that could be better about the world right now, but there is one major thing we have going for us right now: We have lots of incredible books to read from some truly noteworthy authors. But who are the top authors and what books are contemporary readers loving the most? I want to break it down for you with this list of the 15 top authors.
So with all the myriad ways readers show their support for their most beloved authors online, how did I come to make this final list? Just to keep the research a little more focused, I stuck with Goodreads stats of various kinds. First of all, I looked at the list of authors who are the most followed on Goodreads. From there, I cross-referenced this list with the list of books that are most read and the most shelved on any given year, starting in 2021 and going back to 2016, just to keep the list current to what people have been reading the most over the past five years or so.
From there, what I got was this scientifically proven (disclaimer: none of this is scientifically proven) list of the top authors of our time (disclaimer again: our time being 2016–2021). Note that this is just one methodology for finding the top current authors. This methodology is less based on the quality of writing and more based on the popularity of the author and their books. But popularity has merit, I say! And it’s worth considering.
“Get on with the list,” you say? Okay, I hear you. Without any further messing around, here’s a list of the 15 top authors, based on Goodreads stats, ranked from 15th place to 1st place. Enjoy!
15 – Angie Thomas
Angie Thomas is a young adult author who is most well-known for her 2017 novel The Hate U Give. The novel debuted at number one on The New York Times Best Seller List and went on to win several awards, including The William C. Morris Award, the Michael L. Printz Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. In 2021, Thomas wrote a prequel to The Hate U Give, entitled Concrete Rose. This year, she also co-authored a novel called Blackout with Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon.
14 – Colleen Hoover
Colleen Hoover is a notable author on this list because she is the first author to ever write a self-published novel that made it to #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers List. That novel was Hopeless, but the novel Hoover is probably best-known for now is Verity, which you’ve probably seen all over BookTok. Colleen Hoover is a popular author across social media, especially Goodreads, where she’s won multiple Goodreads Choice Awards, in 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2016. Every single one of her full-length novels since 2021 have been best sellers.
13 – Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is an author who writes across several genres, including short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, nonfiction, and films. Gaiman has won several awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards. He is also the first author to win both the Newbery and the Carnegie medals for the same book, The Graveyard Book. It’s hard to choose one book of Gaiman’s that is the most popular because all of his novels have their fans, but American Gods is one of Gaiman’s best-selling works and has won multiple awards.
12 – Dan Brown
Dan Brown writes thriller/mystery novels that explore conspiracy theories, cryptography, and art. Brown’s novels have sold over 200 million copies. He is best known for his Robert Langdon book series, which dives deep into religious themes and history. Three out of five of the Robert Langdon novels have been adapted into films: The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, and Inferno. And in 2021, Brown’s novel The Lost Symbol was adapted into a television series. Dan Brown has also donated millions of dollars in support of scholarship.
11 – Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead is an author who is the recipient of many awards, including a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2002. His 2016 novel The Underground Railroad won the National Book Award for Fiction and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The Underground Railroad was also recently adapted into a television series on Amazon, so that would explain the resurgence of interest in this book on Goodreads. Whitehead’s 2020 novel The Nickel Boys won him another Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. So yes, the hype is real.
10 – Ocean Vuong
The year 2019 was big for poet and author Ocean Vuong. It was the year his debut novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous was released, and it was the year he received a MacArthur Genius Grant. But in 2021, Vuong is still going strong with readers on Goodreads, and it looks like he will be for years to come. Last year, it was announced that Vuong would be the seventh author to contribute to the Future Library Project, a collection of works by contemporary authors that will remain unread until 2114.
9 – Taylor Jenkins Reid
Taylor Jenkins Reid is a popular contemporary author for many readers not only on Goodreads, but also on BookTube and BookTok. She is best-known for her novels The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Daisy Jones and the Six, and Malibu Rising. Daisy Jones and the Six, which is loosely based on the classic rock band Fleetwood Mac, is currently being adapted into an Amazon miniseries produced by Reese Witherspoon, starring Riley Keough as Daisy Jones and Sam Claflin as Billy Dunne.
8 – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a Mexican Canadian author of speculative fiction. She received the Copper Cylinder Adult Award for her debut novel Signal to Noise and the August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel for her 2020 novel Mexican Gothic. Garcia was also a finalist for the Nebula Award for both Gods of Jade and Shadow and Mexican Gothic, and a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award for Mexican Gothic. Mexican Gothic is also in development as a limited series for Hulu, produced by Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos’s Milojo Productions.
7 – Brit Bennett
Brit Bennett went straight to The New York Times Best Seller list with her debut novel The Mothers, and she was also named in the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” list of promising debut novelists. With her second novel, The Vanishing Half, Bennett once again found herself on top of the NYT Best Sellers list, and The New York Times also chose this novel as one of its top ten best books of 2020. Now, both novels are being adapted; Kerry Washington is producing a film adaptation of The Mothers, and The Vanishing Half has been acquired by HBO for a limited series with Bennett serving as executive producer.
6 – Leigh Bardugo
Leigh Bardugo’s novels long been popular amongst Goodreads readers, but the recent Netflix adaptation of Shadow and Bone has introduced a whole new group of readers to the series and its spinoff Six of Crows (this story is also a part of the series adaptation). In 2019, Bardugo also published her first adult novel, Ninth House, a paranormal fantasy set at Yale University. Ninth House was listed in Tor’s Best Books of 2019 and Paste’s 19 Best Novels of 2019. Both Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom were listed in Paste’s 50 Best Fantasy Books of the 21st Century (So Far).
5 – Sarah J. Maas
Next up on the list is another author of a widely beloved fantasy series: Sarah J. Maas. In fact, Maas is known for not one but two fantasy series, Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses. Maas’s books have sold over 12 million copies and have been translated into 37 languages. In 2020, Maas released the first book in her new Crescent City Series, House of Earth and Blood. The next novel in the series, House of Sky and Breath, is coming in 2022. There are also more books in the Court of Thorns and Roses series in the works.
4 – Kazuo Ishiguro
Kazuo Ishiguro is a British novelist who is known for playing with genres like speculative fiction, science fiction, and historical fiction in his literary novels. In 2017, Ishiguro won the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Swedish Academy described Ishiguro as an author “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world.” His 2021 novel Klara and the Sun is his first novel since winning the Nobel Prize. His latest novel has been widely acclaimed by readers and reviewers and compared to another of Ishiguro’s beloved novels, Never Let Me Go.
3 – Veronica Roth
Veronica Roth is an author who is best-known for her young adult series Divergent, which was released in 2011–2013 and later adapted into a film series starring Shailene Woodley and Theo James. Although the Divergent novels were the first books Roth wrote and remain some of her most popular books, the author continues to write inventive fantasy stories that keep readers interested. Most recently, Roth released her first adult novel, Chosen Ones, the first novel in a fantasy duology.
2 – Stephen King
If you don’t know who Stephen King is, then you’ve probably been living under a rock, but just in case you’ve somehow missed it, here’s the deal with this best-selling author. Stephen King writes across many genres: horror, science fiction, fantasy, suspense, and more. King has won several awards for his works, including multiple Bram Stoker Awards, World Fantasy Awards, and British Fantasy Society Awards. And in 2003, the National Book Foundation awarded him the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Stephen King’s novels are all top-selling books, but if you were wondering which of King’s novels is the best-selling of all 63 of his books, it’s The Shining.
1 – John Green
Is John Green who you expected to see at the top of this list? John Green has had many of his young adult novels hit The New York Times Best Sellers list, including The Fault in Our Stars and Turtles All the Way Down. In 2014, Green was named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time. Part of the reason he is so popular and consistently read by so many people on Goodreads is his involvement in creating so much online content. He and his brother Hank Green are big YouTubers, and John Green also has a podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed, which was adapted into a book of essays.
And there you have it! Hopefully some of the people on these list ended up being surprises to you. I have to say I was a little surprised at how it all shook out, but you can’t argue with science (disclaimer: this still isn’t science)!
Love lists where we talk about the best of the best? Here are 20 of the best children’s authors. And if horror’s more your speed, here’s a totally scientific list of the best horror authors of all time!