The world's top earning authors

American author and entertainment mogul James Patterson has topped a Forbes magazine list of the world's...

Literacy levels are highlighted during World Literacy Day on 8 September. Picture: Melissa du Preez/Eyewitness News

American author and entertainment mogul James Patterson has topped a Forbes magazine list of the world's highest paid authors, earning more than twice that of No. 2 Danielle Steel.

Patterson, 64, the dominant mass market fiction author who has published more than 80 books at a prolific rate with the help of collaborators, earned $84 million (R596m) for the past year, according to the survey based on sales from May 2010 to April 2011. Figures were supplied by Nielsen SoundScan and Forbes considered input from numerous agents, managers and editors.

Steel, also 64, earned $35 million (R248.5m), according to the Forbes survey at The magazine said the top earning authors were successfully tapping into e-books, which is the fastest growing section of book publishing, while hardcover sales are in long-term decline.

Landing at No. 3 was horror and suspense writer Stephen King, earning $28 million (R198.8m), while coming in fourth was romance adventure author Janet Evanovich with $22 million (R156.2m) and fifth was "Twilight" novelist Stephenie Meyer with $21 million (R149.1m) in sales.

Even though hardcover books are in decline, Patterson increased his sales from last year's $70 million by releasing 10 books in the past year and branching into the young adult and teen market in the past few years -- as well as e-books.

Patterson, who this year also has several books being turned into films, told Reuters in a recent interview that it was inevitable there will soon be a time "when most everything is on some form of e-book."

But he said larger retailers needed to act responsibly and consider the future of the declining number of independent book stores as well as books' role in educating young people.

"The responsible thing is, what are we doing, and what are the consequences of it and what's the best way to do it?" he said, suggesting that publishers and others consider both "the best way both for your company and the people of this country, who need to read and learn and be able to talk to people about what's going on in the world."