The Most Popular Fiction Authors in America By Number of Sales

Where Are the Children? book cover

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The Most Popular Fiction Authors in America By Number of Sales


It may shock you to know that there is no single repository of statistics for the number of books sold by an author. Likewise, there is no keeper of records on the sales of a particular book title. (Registering your book with the Library of Congress only protects the copyright. The library does not track sales.)

Authors or publishers get an International Standard Book Number (ISBN) that is unique to each book format. Thus, a title may have several ISBNs attached to it, one for hardback, one for paperback and one for an ebook. Writers may change publishers, and publishers may change their names, merge or disappear. Multiply this complexity by the sales made worldwide, and you can understand why the following figures have a tremendous margin for error.

This list includes only American fiction authors, who have sold over an estimated 100 million books. William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie, both Brits, are by far the biggest individual sellers of books with an estimated 2-4 billion. Yes, that is billion with a capital B. Keep in mind that the numbers refer to the complete works of an author (including co-written works) and not a specific title.

The list is fluid in that younger authors will no doubt improve their rankings over their careers. Likewise, as populations and communications have increased, so has the exposure of these authors to an increasing audience. The added popularity gained when a book is made into a movie or television show can cause sales and rankings to soar.

The prolific series of children’s or young adult books by R.L Stine, Ann M. Martin, Stan and Jan Berenstein, Richard Scarry, Gilbert Patten or Norman Bridwell (from 400 to 80 titles each) average just 2 million units per title. Taken as a body of work, each of these writers has sold over 110 million books. Dr. Seuss wrote just 44 books with the same rate of sales and like Stine and Patten are in the top ten. Only one nineteenth century writer, specializing in rags-to-riches stories about young boys, is in the top ten. Horatio Alger wrote 135 dime novels.

Although only ten American women (one of those, Jan Berenstein co-wrote with her husband) made the top forty, a woman, Danielle Steel, came in at number one. She has sold between 500-800 million romance books and has written about 120 titles. Other best selling romance writers include Janet Dailey, Nora Roberts, Debbie Macomber and the youngest and least prolific author, Stephanie Meyer of Twilight fame. Other women in the top forty include gothic/horror author V.C. Andrews, whose works are now ghost written by a man; Anne Rice, the queen of vampires; suspense writer Mary Higgins Clark; and forensic writer Patricia Cornwell.

Two Western authors made the top twenty. Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey have both sold over 230 million books. L’Amour is credited with over 101 books, while Zane Grey’s count is unclear. Publishers sold about 24 of his books after his death in 1939, but a conservative estimate is around 55 titles.

Only one other American has done as well as Stephanie Meyer when it comes to selling the most books with the least number of titles. His name is Dan Brown. Thanks to Tom Hanks (The DaVinci Code) he has sold over 120 million books with just 5 titles. Likewise, only one name on the list is someone you might study in an American literature course. His name is Erskine Caldwell. You may have heard of his books, includingTobacco Road and God’s Little Acre.

Mystery, suspense, thriller and private detective genres are often grouped together in the minds of readers. Together they represent the largest group of bestselling authors. Sidney Sheldon of television fame, Irving Wallace, champion of the underdog, and Mickey Spillane of the Mike Hammer series, have all reached their high rankings with roughly 25 titles. David Baldacci is gaining in rank with 25 titles of his own to date. The more fruitful authors include Dean Koontz, James Patterson and Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain), all of whom hover around the 100 mark. Straddling the middle ground of productivity with 50 titles is Rex Stout, famous for his Nero Wolfe series.

Legal and medical mysteries/thrillers are sought out for their occupational themes. John Grisham with 33 titles and Earl Stanley Gardner with 140 titles are the most noteworthy for their sales. Gardner, the Perry Mason writer may someday get surpassed in books sold given Grisham’s continuing movie adaptations. In the medical field Robin Cook has 27 titles, while Frank G. Slaughter wrote 62 books before his death.

There are two top-forty writers who fall under the adventure genre. Harold Robbins has sold over 750 million books with just 23 titles. Clive Cussler has 37 books with less than 150 million in sales. Cussler, L’Amour and Grey are what many women consider romance writers for men.

Some writers just don’t fit any mold. They not only stand out in their own unique way, but also define their genre. Among these are horror/fantasy writer Stephen King with 70 books to his credit and spy writer Robert Ludlum with 40 books. Michael Crichton of The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park is considered a techno-thriller/science fiction author. He wrote 25 books. James Michener had 47 titles to his historical fiction credit.

One last author that may surprise you wrote about 70 books, many in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He was eager to exploit his most popular fictional character, who has become an American icon. He even set up his own printing operation to publish his books. He became one of the oldest war correspondents in WWII and died in 1950. You may have heard of him, Edgar Rice Burroughs. If not, surely you’ve heard of his famous jungle character, Tarzan.

Copyright 2013 by Linda K. Murdock, author of Mystery Lover’s Puzzle Book, Crosswords with Clues from Your Favorite Mystery Series. Her book is a mini-anthology that includes reviews of 29 bestselling writers, who do mystery series. A check-off list of each author’s titles, along with a crossword puzzle for each of the series, are included. See a sample crossword and more articles and reviews at

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Understanding The ISBN

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For more than thirty years International Standard Book Numbers or ISBNs have been in existence. They were created through the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) in 1970. Currently R.R. Bowker is the United States agency for ISBNs and there assignment. Publishers and self published authors currently in the U.S. Can get ISBNs from

The ISBN is a books ordering number/identifier, in regards to it’s title. ISBNs are not required , anyone an publish a book without them. The problem with doing this makes it difficult for potential readers to find your book in the market place. Printed books, pamphlets, audio books, CDs and DVDs will have an ISBN assigned to them. Journals, periodicals and newspapers are a few examples of items that won’t ever have an ISBN assigned to them.

The format of an ISBN is broken up into 5 parts. You probably have seen the 978 or 979 prefix, which is always 3 digits. After the prefix is the registration number which is the country, geographical region or language area. This element can be 1 to 5 digits in length. The numbers next will indicate the publisher or imprint and my be up to 7 digits in length. The publication element is next and will identify a particular edition or format of a title. The length of this segment can be up to 6 digits. Finally, the check digit, it validates the rest of the numbering sequence. It is calculated by a Modulus 10 system in alternates of 1 and 3. when its all said and done an ISBN number will look like this:






EAN = European Article Number, now the International Article Number (IAN)

Group = English Speaking Area

Publisher = Llewellyn Publication (in this example)

Title = True Police Stories of the Strange and Unexplained (in this example)

Check Digit = This is used and is a method of verifying redundancy.

Confused yet? You are certainly not alone. With all that is involved in assigning an ISBN number that is unique to a title, it’s no wonder only a few agencies have this task. To learn more about ISBN numbers, please visit or visit the Library of Congress site at or Publisher Services at

Street Smarts: Beyond The Diploma

Title: Street Smarts: Beyond The Diploma

Author: Jim Randel

Illustrator: Rebecca Kunzmann/Kim Lincon

Paperback: 125 pages
Publisher: Rand Media Company
ISBN: 978-0-9844418-7-7


Do you value yourself? Would you like to have more personal freedom? Do you have a dream and vision for yourself? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, then you are ready to lean how to become more street smart on your journey to success.

Randel introduces readers to the power of you. The road to success isn’t easy but if you know what you’re passionate about you will learn to focus on that by focusing on your strengths and your weaknesses. Think of those close to you as a board of directors that you can bounce ideas off of for solid feedback, good or bad.

Readers will learn how to communicate. Learn how to listen and pace yourself to react and train your thoughts in a positive manner. Learn to manage your time and thought process so you can better express yourself. Be energetic, small differences in the energy you give off can lead to big differences in how people will react to you. Learn about appearance, speaking patterns and vocabulary. Get tips on finding similar interests with those you encounter.

Randel covers how to network and keep a people diary. Readers will learn the importance of social capital and how to build upon it. Time management and how to be productive are simplified by showing the reader how to be more organized with filing and tickler systems.

Readers will learn about contracts, what to do if you are arrested, identity theft, the stock market, investing and so much more, Street Smarts covers all the necessary topics readers may not learn through traditional avenues. Readers will get past their fears and learn to take control.


The Skinny On: Will Power

Book Giveaway!

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Title: The Skinny On

Will Power:How to Develop Self-Discipline

Author: Jim Randel

Illustrator: Malinda Nass

Paperback: 233 pages
Publisher: Rand Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-9818935-3-2


Do you suffer from a lack of willpower? Do you lack guts and the persistence needed to achieve your dreams? Would you like to learn the art of mustering your willpower?

Randel will show you the way. Whether you want to lose weight, become famous or simply want to be more motivated in your day-to-day activities, Randel can assist you. Learn from the experts on how to figure out what’s best for you. Set goals and determine what is of value to you, by setting realistic expectations. Don’t compare yourself to others. Learn to create a will power plan. Follow Randel’s 15-point plan and change the course of your life. Quick tips and references are placed strategically for easy access.


The Skinny On Time Management

Book Giveaway! For a chance to win just Tweet this post and leave a comment with your name and email!

Title: The Skinny On

Time Management: How to Maximize Your 24-hour Gift

Author: Jim Randel

Illustrator: Lindy Nass/Rebecca Kunzmann

Paperback: 215 pages
Publisher: Rand Media Company
ISBN: 978-0-9841393-9-2


Are you a procrastinator? Do you have gaps in your day and as a result no accomplishments were made? If this is you without a doubt you have time management issues. If you want to maximize your time and get more done then it is time you invested in learning how to manage your time.

Randel will show you step-by-step in simple illustrations on how to account for each minute in your busy day. Readers will learn how to set goals by creating a journal of your day-to-day activities. Would you like to improve your memory? Learn how to stretch your mind, spread out your food intake, exercise and learn memory skills.

Readers will learn how to defeat procrastination by setting goals, breaking up big projects into smaller manageable pieces and by taking notes. Get rid of clutter in your mind and your home. Develop a tangible system which will help improve time management. Randel shows readers how to create goals, make the most of the gaps and be more focused. Helpful links are found throughout the book along with words of encouragement from some of your favorite celebrities.

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