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BookThink Special Report

The Top 100 Money Making Authors

by Craig Stark

#132 SR2, 23 February 2009

If you poke around online much, you've probably noticed that there's no shortage of "best" or "greatest" books lists - and no two alike, of course. These are fine (and fun) as far as they go, but their purpose really points to readers, not booksellers. What we, as booksellers, need to know is where the dang money is, and, though the money may be in some of these "best" books, in many it's just not.

In the past month or so I've been investigating just where the money is - compiling a list of 100 authors who consistently bring it home, and do it often. A caveat: My research wasn't at all scientific. I simply looked at eBay ASPs (average sales prices) of major writers over a sales period of three months. Each ASP included everything - first editions, reprints, even books about the author, which you have to figure aren't too numerous. To make this as useful to you as possible, I looked only at authors who had generated at least 500 sales over this period of time. This ensured two things: One, the list would be comprised of authors who attracted broad and intense interest; and two, coming across their books in the field would be more likely.

Further, I confined my research to dead authors who produced most or all of their work in the 20th or 21st centuries (with two notable exceptions, both of whom stopped writing decades ago and are essentially dead as writers - as well as intensely collected.) I don't have anything against living authors; it's just that, once they're dead, the market stabilizes some because they can't write any more books, and the numbers are more meaningful. I may do a living author list too if there's enough interest - email me, if interested - but what I will assuredly do is revisit this next year to see if anything has changed. Oh - and most of these authors wrote exclusively or primarily fiction, but there are a few exceptions, including one cartoonist.

If you're one of those booksellers who is actually serious about bookselling and at the same time realize that nobody can know everything, you can use this list to focus your educational efforts for maximal return. Take the top 10 or 25 or so authors, for example, and familiarize yourself with issue points on their first editions. Or look deeper into why even later editions/printings do well too. If you're a smarty pants and know most of this already, there still may be amongst the familiar names on this list a few surprises. (There were for me.)

Finally, there are several authors on this list - Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and Agatha Christie come to mind - that appear way, waaay down even though they are highly and very visibly collectible. The reason is simple: Both are still wildly popular today, and many of their books are still in print, which of course drives down the ASPs. Still, this type of author is the exception, and, overall, I don't think this list is terribly skewed. And it may just help send a few more bucks your way!

Here ya' go (with apologies to anybody I've sent to an early grave):

  1. Margaret Mitchell: $58.02
  2. Bernard Malamud: $54.79
  3. Harper Lee: $54.77 *
  4. Charles Bukowski: $51.63
  5. Ernest Hemingway: $51.46
  6. Ralph Ellison: $48.80
  7. William Faulkner: $48.73
  8. Ayn Rand: $41.89
  9. Ian Fleming: $40.12
  10. Edward Albee: $39.41
  11. Robert Frost: $38.83
  12. J.D. Salinger: $38.08 *
  13. James Joyce: $37.59
  14. Hunter S. Thompson: $37.26
  15. John Steinbeck: $36.68
  16. Winston Churchill: $36.48
  17. Truman Capote: $35.73
  18. Edward Gorey: $35.70
  19. Kurt Vonnegut: $35.05
  20. Vladimir Nabokov: $33.85
  21. L. Frank Baum: $33.66
  22. T.S. Eliot: $33.20
  23. Joseph Heller: $33.07
  24. Ezra Pound: $32.92
  25. Isak Dinesen: $32.32
  26. John Updike: $31.97
  27. Robert E. Howard: $31.93
  28. Ray Bradbury: $30.46
  29. H.P. Lovecraft: $30.37
  30. Raymond Chandler: $30.34
  31. William S. Burroughs: $30.32
  32. Jack Kerouac: $30.28
  33. Carl Sandburg: $28.75
  34. Allen Ginsberg: $28.24
  35. Jack London: $27.64
  36. Thornton Wilder: $27.32
  37. Thomas Mann: $26.48
  38. Evelyn Waugh: $26.45
  39. Richard Brautigan: $26.14
  40. A.A. Milne: $25.75
  41. Saul Bellow: $25.62
  42. Langston Hughes: $25.60
  43. F. Scott Fitzgerald: $25.42
  44. Ken Kesey: $25.41
  45. John Fowles: $24.74
  46. J.R.R. Tolkien: $24.43
  47. Frank Herbert: $24.35
  48. Gabriel Garcia Marquez: $24.34
  49. John Cheever: $23.22
  50. Oscar Wilde: $23.18
  51. Tennessee Williams: $23.16
  52. Virginia Woolf: $23.07
  53. Samuel Beckett: $22.78
  54. John Irving: $22.78
  55. Kenneth Grahame: $22.64
  56. Carson McCullers: $22.61
  57. Robert Heinlein: $22.60
  58. Robert Penn Warren: $22.45
  59. James Michener: $20.80
  60. Edgar Rice Burroughs: $20.60
  61. Norman Mailer: $20.26
  62. Eudora Welty: $21.20
  63. Arthur C. Clarke: $20.84
  64. Sylvia Plath: $20.17
  65. Lawrence Durrell: $20.11
  66. Upton Sinclair: $20.01
  67. John Muir: $20.00
  68. Stephen Crane: $19.91
  69. Arthur Miller: $19.56
  70. Joseph Conrad: $19.44
  71. Richard Wright: $19.33
  72. John Gardner: $19.03
  73. Sinclair Lewis: $19.01
  74. John MacDonald: $18.68
  75. Marjorie Kennan Rawlings: $18.65
  76. Dashiell Hammett: $18.64
  77. William Somerset Maugham: $18.54
  78. GŁnter Grass: $17.93
  79. James Dickey: $17.81
  80. William Styron: $17.73
  81. D.H. Lawrence: $17.62
  82. Zane Grey: $17.21
  83. Michael Crichton: $16.89
  84. Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss): $16.73
  85. C.S. Forester: $16.71
  86. James Jones: $16.64
  87. E.B. White: $16.34
  88. H.L. Mencken: $16.29
  89. Dylan Thomas: $16.19
  90. Agatha Christie: $16.16
  91. Herman Wouk: $16.15
  92. Susan Sontag: $16.02
  93. Beatrix Potter: $15.84
  94. William Golding: $15.67
  95. Edith Wharton: $15.64
  96. John O'Hara: $15.60
  97. Erskine Caldwell: $15.40
  98. Maurice Sendak: $15.29
  99. Alexander Solzhenitsyn: $15.23
  100. Franz Kafka: $15.20
* Still alive and kicking.

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