10 Top Paid Writers and How They Became Successful

The life of a writer has its ups and downs. In today’s economy, a consistent income is not a guarantee when all you have is your creative mind to get you to the finish line of success. My journey in the world of writing is full of positive stories and disappointments. As a writer, you need to have tough skin, have a positive attitude, listen to constructive criticism and manage your time wisely.

While I wish I can tell you that my career began with the help of a writer on this list, the truth is I modeled the best practices of successful freelance writers by watching YouTube and taking Udemy courses. One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to learn as much as you can about the careers of the top writers. Today, I will help you get started.


For those of you who are a fan of the movie Kiss the Girls, Alex Cross, or the NYPD Red book series, the man behind these masterpieces is James Patterson. James Patterson sold 350 million books across the globe this year with a gross income (before taxes) of $95 million.

Here are a few reasons why James Patterson became an outstanding writer:

  • He began writing at the age of nineteen. If you are going to start forming your craft, the time is now.
  • James Patterson had a Bachelor’s degree in English from Vanderbilt University and worked as an advertising executive at J. Walter Thompson where he handled advertising campaigns while working closely with mass media companies.
  • While he receives criticism for working with a long list of co-authors, this is what we call leverage ladies and gentleman.


Joanne Rowling is the author who changed the face of fantasy series with her best-selling book Harry Potter. She is the epitome of success from poverty to wealth and used her feelings of sadness after her mother died of multiple sclerosis to write Harry’s character. Before she became famous, she moved to Portugal in 1990 to become a foreign language English teacher at night and wrote the book during the day. In an attempt to sell her book to publishing companies Joanne was rejected multiple times before a publishing company called Bloomsbury gave her a chance. She is worth more than Queen Elizabeth with a net worth of $1 billion.


He is internationally known for his novels A Time to Kill, The Pelican Brief, and The Runaway Jury which were all made into hit movies. John Grisham wrote about what he knew best as a professional working in law for ten years. He used his talent of being inspired by events in his life to creating masterpieces. John’s best-selling book A Time to Kill is the inspiration of a trial with a 12-year-old girl and his obsession with watching the trial play out. He made the leap in his career by retiring from law in the 1990s to become a full-time writer.


In 1971 Stephen was a teacher who worked as a freelancer submitting short stories to magazines while brainstorming ideas for novels. Between 1970 to 2009, he dedicated his life to projects which include The Shining and X-Men comics. Stephen may be a household name, but he is no stranger to revising novels and diversifies himself in music helping the late Michael Jackson with a 40-minute musical video Ghosts. He owes his career to writing and reading up to four hours a day.


Nora Roberts is the author of New York to Dallas and Survivor in Death. She grew up in a home of avid readers as a child with a life revolved around writing. She credits her success to writing eight hours every day even when she is on vacation. Her time is spent on one novel at a time, beginning with a rough draft before completing a full novel. Nora uses pen names for different projects to appeal to audiences which help publishing companies market her work.


Danielle’s story will inspire you if you are a parent. As a determined mother, she spent a lot of time with her children while writing ten children’s fiction books at night. As a writer in the industry for 51 years, she learned to write five books at once. While embracing an international audience, Steel’s novels are available in 28 languages and 47 countries. A few of Danielle’s novels includes Safe Harbour, Sisters, and The Apartment.


Paula Hawkins is a newly emerged writer on the list with the help of her book The Girl on the Train. Paula worked as a journalist for 15 years. One of her previous well-known employers was The Times, and she worked for different publications as a freelance writer. Although she was struggling financially to the point of borrowing money from her father, she wrote full-time for six months to complete The Girl on the Train. The book was eventually brought to life on the big screen in 2016. She earned a total of $10 million before taxes this year.


Gillian Flynn, the author of Gone Girl, grew up in a creative home. Her mother worked at Metropolitan Community College-Penn Valley as a reading-comprehension professor, and her father was a professor of film. Gillian studied English and Journalism at the University of Kansas and worked in journalism for 15 years. As she worked at Entertainment Weekly, she wrote fourteen novels during her spare time. Gillian calls herself a feminist although critics believe she uses misogyny for her female characters. The one success factor I notice about her is she focuses on a niche that she is good at with characters in dysfunctional relationships that can be read in her books Sharp Objects, Dark Places, and Gone Girl.


He was the mastermind behind A Game of Thrones and an editor for The Twilight Zone television series. At the age of 21, George sold his science fiction short stories to magazines and became the Southwest Regional Director of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1977. He has found success in setting his work apart from top writers by using a theme of realism and socialism with a touch of “good versus evil.” He uses historical fiction with political points in European medieval era to gain readers interest.


In the beginning stages of Rick Riordan’s career, he critiqued books and wrote unique radio essays for National Public Radio. With the success of his books Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns, he stepped away from social media in 2015 in addition to limiting public appearances to focus on writing new work. The Wall Street Journal recognized Rick’s talent in realistic teen fiction during a time when vampires and wizards owned the literary world. To diversify his career, he has taken part in YouTube ventures which include the VlogBrothers channel and Crash Course which is a set of educational videos for children on History, Astronomy, Economics, and Chemistry to name a few.

About the author

Makeda Waterman

Makeda Waterman

Makeda Waterman is a professional writer that lives in Canada. She started her career as a journalist for a student newspaper in school and Caribbean Today Newspaper while attending College in Florida. She eventually made the decision to become a freelance writer after receiving positive feedback about her work. She has excelled in her career as a Journalism and Mass Communications graduate with a readership of over 3 million readers for her lifestyle blog. Makeda uses SEO strategies to help businesses rank high on Google and increase revenue with marketing content. Visit her website at mawaterman.wixsite.com/waterm

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