The 25 Most Powerful Authors
From the overnight sensations (E.L. James, Daniel H. Wilson) to the perennial favorites (Stephen King, Nicholas Sparks), these writers have Hollywood hanging on their every word.
When THR contacted James Patterson about being on its inaugural list of the 25 most powerful authors in Hollywood, he scoffed. "Power list? More like powerless list." But while the conventional wisdom puts writers far down the totem pole, the truth is that from The Hunger Games to the upcoming The Hobbit, books remain the most durable source of content for films and TV. Indeed, whether it was the jaw-dropping $687 million worldwide take of Suzanne Collins' (No. 5) Games or the bidding frenzy over EL James' (No. 4) Fifty Shades of Grey, authors were behind some of 2012's biggest stories. THR selected those living authors who have been most successful in shepherding their books from page to screen, balancing achievement in publishing (total output, sales, best-sellers) and in Hollywood (completed adaptations, projects in development, screenwriting and producing credits) while accounting for cultural influence. More power to them.
1. STEPHEN KING
Known For: The Shining, The Stand, The Shawshank Redemption
Big Number: 53 novels and 400 million copies sold
Although King is most identified with the small-town Maine environs of Bangor, the 65-year-old father of three boasts more film and TV credits than some of Hollywood's most seasoned players. Ever since his first novel, Carrie, made the transition from best-seller to horror classic in 1976, King's work has become go-to fodder for a wide range of filmmakers including Stanley Kubrick (1980's The Shining), Rob Reiner (1986's Stand by Me) and Frank Darabont (1994's The Shawshank Redemption) as well as such TV networks as ABC (1994 miniseries The Stand) and Syfy (Haven, recently renewed for a fourth season). "His appeal has a lot to do with his absolute love for writing, and writing across so many different genres," says King's agent of 30 years, Paradigm's Rand Holston. Although Warner Bros. and Universal passed on King's Dark Tower series for budgetary reasons, the author has more than a dozen other properties in various stages of development and production, including the John Cusack vehicle Cell and The Breathing Method, with Paranormal Activity producer Jason Blum attached. And Carrie returns to the screen in 2013 with Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role. As is often the case with King, there will be blood.
2. ELMORE LEONARD
Known For: Justified, Get Shorty
Big Number: His books have been adapted into 20 movies and seven TV series/telepics
Sixty-one years, 45 novels and countless short stories after his first published tale, "Trail of the Apaches," appeared in pulp magazine Argosy, Leonard -- "Dutch" to his friends -- still is going strong. "I'm having fun," says the 87-year-old, who received the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters on Nov. 14. His late-career bloom includes a Hollywood renaissance thanks to such fans as Quentin Tarantino, director of 1997's Jackie Brown (based on Leonard's Rum Punch) and George Clooney, star of 1998's Out of Sight, who relish his true-to-life dialogue and spare, gritty action. Another fan is writer-producer Graham Yost, whose original Justified script was such a spot-on take of Leonard's Raylan Givens character that the author "didn't change a word," he says. All told, Leonard's work has been adapted into 20 movies and seven series/telepics, including the FX hit Justified. The short story "3:10 to Yuma" has been adapted twice, in 1957 and 2007, when it starred Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Although Leonard says he gets "a couple of hundred thousand" now for an option, the payoff hasn't always been so sweet. He has made just $9,090 for "Yuma": $90 in 1953 for the story, $4,000 for the first movie and $5,000 for the remake -- and then only because his agents complained. Leonard's next novel, his 46th, will be set in the world of competitive bull riding. "I've been doing this for 50 years. I still enjoy it," he says. "Writing never felt like work to me. I think I've still got a couple more novels in me."
3. NICHOLAS SPARKS
Known For: The Notebook
Big Number: All 16 of his novels have made The New York Times best-seller list
Sparks is, as he himself notes, as close to a "sure thing" as exists in Hollywood, ticking off the reasons: filmable budgets; timeless, feel-good stories with long box-office legs; and juicy parts that draw good actors. The plots might seem formulaic to some -- love stories with tragic twists -- but Sparks' ability to imbue his tales with real emotional resonance keeps his fans coming back. To wit: He's sold 80 million books, eight of which have been turned into films, including three in the past three years that each grossed more than $89 million at the box office: The Last Song, The Lucky One and Dear John. Up next is Safe Haven (out Feb. 14), with Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough. Sparks -- a former Notre Dame scholarship track athlete and, until 2009, a state championship-winning track coach at his local high school in New Bern, N.C. -- now is expanding into TV (he has three cable shows in development) and internationally (with adaptations of his book The Rescue under way in Germany and Brazil). "The most challenging aspect is coming up with a story that will be both an excellent novel for my readers and can also be turned into an excellent film," says Sparks. "I can think of five new novels, I could write all five of them, and my readers would love them, but they wouldn't get made into films because they don't have that magical hook that makes a story onscreen."
4. EL JAMES
Known For: Fifty Shades of Grey
Big Number: 40 million copies sold worldwide in 2012
"It's been a roller coaster," says James of the year she's had since she got the first inquiry from a film agent in December 2011 about her Twilight-fan-fiction-turned-novel Fifty Shades of Grey and "nearly fell out of my chair." At that point available only from a small Australian e-book publisher, the book has become the publishing story of 2012. After a New York Times article depicted the novel as "mommy porn," an intense bidding war for the book rights -- won by Knopf/Vintage for seven figures -- and an even more intense war for movie rights -- won by Focus for $5 million -- sparked further interest, transforming the series into a worldwide phenomenon. James' earnings from the trilogy so far? At least $60 million. The movie adaptation is now one of the most buzzed-about properties in Hollywood, and James drew scrutiny for the demands she made as a first-time author in exchange for the film rights -- insisting on approval of everything from the director and screenwriter to the costumes and locations. "I've worked in TV all my life, but I've always wanted to work in movies," says James. So far, she has teamed with The Social Network producers Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti, and they've selected Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks) to pen the script. De Luca won James over with his take on the book. "He said, 'This is about first love,' " she says. "I hadn't thought about it quite like that." She has heard the clamoring for a fourth book and says it's "in the back of her mind." Next up, she is reworking two novels, both "passionate love stories" she wrote before Fifty Shades. Meanwhile, she and her family -- husband Niall Leonard, a screenwriter, and their two teen sons -- still live in the same house in a quiet neighborhood in London. "It's been such a nerve-racking experience -- you don't anticipate this type of success at all," says James. "I make conscious decisions to say 'Where am I? What am I doing now? What now? This is amazing.'"
5. SUZANNE COLLINS
Known For: The Hunger Games
Big Number: Games is the best-selling YA series of all time on Amazon.com
The idea for THE Hunger Games was born during a bout of late-night channel surfing. "If you take the elements of the two types of programs I was watching -- reality TV and war coverage -- what you come up with is a gladiator game," Collins has said. And now even fellow YA powerhouse Stephenie Meyer declares herself "obsessed" with Collins' trilogy, saying, "I've never met anyone who hasn't loved that book." The 50-year-old Collins, who co-wrote the Games screenplay and served as an executive producer on the film, has spent years writing for TV with such kids programming as Scholastic Entertainment's Clifford's Puppy Days and Nickelodeon's Clarissa Explains It All. "It was ingrained into her style," says her film agent, Jason Dravis. "When she moved into books, I think she was really able to write in a visual medium, and it flowed into three-act structures." The first Games sequel, Catching Fire, directed by I Am Legend's Francis Lawrence, will be out at the end of 2013.
6. ROBERT KIRKMAN
Known For: The Walking Dead
Big Number: In March, he had four of the top 10 paperback slots and three of the top 10 hardcover slots on The New York Times graphic books best-seller list
"Zombie fiction is a little untapped, and there's a lot of potential to explore there," says Kirkman of the genre he brought into the mainstream, first with the hit graphic novel, then with the TV show based on it. The AMC drama continues to rewrite ratings records in its third season, with its October return drawing nearly 11 million viewers -- the biggest drama series telecast in basic cable history. While the bow was impressive, it's just part of the banner year for the veteran comic-book writer and Image Comics partner. In addition to writing and executive producing the Walking Dead comic and AMC series, Kirkman oversees his own imprint at Skybound, publisher of his latest effort, Thief of Thieves. The crime thriller already is being adapted by AMC. Says the married father of two, "Being able to watch everyone in the Walking Dead writers room adapting a nugget of what's in the comics and spin them into completely cool things has made me a better writer."
7. GEORGE R.R. MARTIN
Known For: Game of Thrones
Big Number: HBO's Thrones averaged 3.8 million viewers an episode in season two
"A prose writer is limited only by the size of his imagination … and I have quite a large imagination," says Martin of the challenges that come with adapting a sweeping fantasy franchise like his seven-book A Song of Ice and Fire series, launched in 1996 with Game of Thrones. "I've written half a dozen novels and short stories that I think would make terrific movies and television shows; none of them have ever been optioned," he says. "Yet my epic fantasy series, which I was firmly convinced was too big, too expensive and too complicated to ever be done onscreen, has become HBO's Game of Thrones." While Thrones has delivered Martin numerous literary awards (and eight Emmys for HBO), it was the failure of his fourth novel, 1983's The Armageddon Rag, that led him to start writing for the small screen with gigs on The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. In addition to serving as a co-executive producer on Thrones and writing one episode of the series per season, Martin is writing the final two Ice and Fire novels -- each expected to clock in at the 1,500-page mark -- and next has his superhero anthology Wild Cards in the works at Syfy Films. Being involved with the adaptations, he says, isn't the typical experience. "Hollywood may want your work, but they do not necessarily want you," he says of writers who outright sell their literary works. "Wheelbarrows full of money are nice, but sometimes when you see the finished product, you rather wish you hadn't."
8. JAMES PATTERSON
Known For: Kiss the Girls
Big Number: 53 No. 1 New York Times best-sellers
"I can't afford the pay cut," jokes Patterson about why he'll continue penning screenplays, as he did with the recent Alex Cross movie. It would be hard for Patterson to top his 2011 publishing earnings ($94 million) or output (11 books), but he'll give it a go. Besides the Cross film -- the third featuring the character but the first with Tyler Perry replacing Morgan Freeman -- Patterson is working on a TV series based on his Private novels, about a Marine-turned-P.I., and has international spinoffs Private: Berlin and Private: London (with co-writer Mark Sullivan) in the works. But Patterson is most passionate about his YA and kids novels, which "people think is my best stuff." He's trying to get a Maximum Ride movie off the ground, though the expense of launching a sci-fi series about a group of hybrid bird-human kids on the run from authorities is a hurdle. More likely up first is a movie based on his younger-skewing hit series Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life. Again Patterson's thinking internationally, retitling the movie Skool for cross-cultural visual appeal. Yet for all the talk about the business and marketing of Hollywood, Patterson remains a pop-culture geek at heart, waxing on about what he likes on TV (Luther, Justified), in print (YA cult hit The Book Thief) and at the movies (Taken 2). In fact, he confides he doesn't have a home theater setup because he enjoys the big-screen experience. "I'm a movie theater freak. Love 'em."
9. MICHAEL LEWIS
Known For: Moneyball
Big Number: Both films based on his works have been nominated for best picture Oscars
After the success of Lewis' Liar's Poker, a memoir of his stint as a bond salesman at Salomon Bros. during the late 1980s, the author attracted the attention of Hollywood -- and got some advice from Tom Wolfe on how to deal with it: "Young man, drive across the country, throw your book into Los Angeles, have them throw a sack of money out and drive in the other direction as fast as possible." Lewis, now 52, took The Bonfire of the Vanities author's advice, up to a point, realizing the best adaptations of his books happen when the screenwriter is "very happy to break it and remake it." He says if he had adapted Moneyball, about the impact of the Oakland Athletics' stats-driven approach to baseball, he would have focused on the team's ragamuffin players and not GM Billy Beane. Ultimately, the screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin was nominated for an Oscar. "I would have not hung the movie on Beane," says Lewis. "They completely ignored that. But they were right, and I was wrong." But Lewis, who is married to former MTV News reporter Tabitha Soren and has three children, is taking a much more active role in two upcoming adaptations, writing the screenplays for Liar's Poker and Coach: Lessons on the Game of Life. The latter project, about Lewis' relationship with his childhood baseball coach, is set up at Disney. The long-gestating Liar's Poker got a jump-start 18 months ago, when Lewis was invited by Warner Bros. to come speak at a forum for execs at the studio. Asked whether he had any advice for the company, Lewis was blunt, "You are morons to not try and make Liar's Poker now." This time around, Lewis will be a character in both films. It's a notion that gives him pause. "I have no doubt I'll be weirded out by the process. I can't think of anyone off the top of my head to play me in either case. If the thing is done well, it's not really me."
10. STEPHENIE MEYER
Known For: The Twilight Saga
Big Number: More than 63 million copies sold since 2008
Meyer learned a very valuable lesson after reading an early script for Twilight that featured guns, night-vision goggles and speedboat chases: Set ground rules before signing away your rights. Meyer is grateful the Paramount/MTV Films project ultimately didn't get made. When the rights reverted to her, she thought, "OK, I'm taking this home, and no one's ever touching it again." But a call from Summit's Erik Feig (since named Lionsgate's president of production) changed everything in 2007. "He said, 'Please, we'll do anything,' and he let me come up with a rider where I wrote all these things they couldn't change," she recalls. Among the requirements: No film deaths that didn't match the books. With The Host, set in a dystopian future where human bodies have been invaded by aliens, Meyer faces the unique challenge of penning the novel's sequel while serving as a producer on the $44 million adaptation of the original story, directed by Andrew Niccol (Gattaca). Open Road Films might be hoping to achieve the same success as Summit's $2.8 billion-grossing Twilight franchise, but Meyer's prediction might disappoint. "I don't expect anything to be like Twilight again," she says. "That was such a weird experience, and to have everything be so crazy and bizarre, the fanaticism --that's just not normal."
11. J.K. ROWLING
Known For: Harry Potter
Big Number: Translated into 73 languages, including Faroese and Welsh
Even after eight movies and $7.6 billion in worldwide grosses, Rowling considers herself "a real outsider" in Hollywood. But the 47-year-old holds sway over a sprawling kingdom that includes theme parks, the Pottermore website and an array of merchandise. Her first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy, debuted in September to decent reviews and sales. "I think it lends itself better to TV than film," she says, but is in no hurry to see it adapted. And she won't let anyone else take a spin with the Potter characters. "I can imagine it: They're getting it wrong, and I'm writhing with agony in the afterworld because I'll surely be dead," she says. Rowling also has no intention of doing a George Lucas-style deal to sell control of her universe to a media conglomerate. "If I ever do such a thing, you'll know I had a gun to my head or lost my marbles," she says. Rowling admits interest in "one day" writing an original screenplay but jokes she'll only do it if Steve Kloves, who scripted all eight Potter movies, "is around to point out where I've messed up." Kloves, whom she calls "my Yoda," helped her resist an early suggestion to make the movie Harry Potter a wisecracking jokester. Rowling's advice to authors trying to navigate Hollywood? "Get yourself a really, really good agent." For the record, Rowling's is London's Neil Blair.
12. TOM CLANCY
Known For: The Hunt for Red October
Big Number: The four Jack Ryan movies have grossed $846 million worldwide
Clancy is a one-man multimedia machine. Aside from his books (16 No. 1 New York Times best-sellers), he has co-branded three series with other writers and co-created an 18-book YA series, Net Force. Clancy has been most innovative in the field of video games, producing book-based titles as far back as a 1987 PC version of The Hunt for Red October. In 1996, he co-founded Red Storm Entertainment, which made Clancy-branded hits Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell and was purchased by Ubisoft for an estimated $94 million in 2008. In a separate deal, Ubisoft paid Clancy about $60 million for rights to brand future games with his name. Next year will see his most famous hero rebooted in the Kenneth Branagh-directed Jack Ryan, with Chris Pine inheriting a role played by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck. The author, who has kept a low profile since his 1999 headline-generating divorce and remarriage (to Alexandra Llewellyn, a family friend of Colin Powell), might be prepping for his own reboot, having recently dropped longtime agent Michael Ovitz for WME.
13. DENNIS LEHANE
Known For: Mystic River
Big Number: The six-time New York Times best-selling author just started his own imprint at HarperCollins
Clint Eastwood (Mystic River), Martin Scorsese (Shutter Island) and Ben Affleck (Gone, Baby, Gone) have dipped into Lehane's crime-laden imagination. Still, the 47-year-old married father of two remains largely mystified about his Hollywood appeal. "I think I tell good stories, but I don't think I reinvented the wheel," he says. "The only thing I will take credit for is I write characters that actors like to play." And that the Academy loves to recognize, notably Mystic River's vengeful thug, which earned Sean Penn a best actor Oscar in 2004. Affleck recently optioned Lehane's Boston-set Prohibition-era gangster novel Live by Night. But Lehane, who spent a season writing for HBO's The Wire, likes to stay out of the way unless asked. "Respect directors as artists. Don't be up their ass, and don't be bugging them and say, 'Hey, can I come by the set,' and all of that stupid shit," he says. "Then they may actually ask you, which is what normally happens with me. I get very much looped in on all of my films on a pretty intense level."
14. CHARLAINE HARRIS
Known For: Sookie Stackhouse novels, source of True Blood
Big Number: The series has sold more than 20 million books
"They're not all tough gals or bitches," says Harris of her heroines, including telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse. "They're a mixture of good and bad, strength and weakness. I try to write people who aren't black and white." Harris has sold more than 30 million books worldwide, with four titles topping The New York Times best-seller list, and her Stackhouse novels serve as the basis for the vampire series True Blood, HBO's highest-rated show. "Sookie's a blue-collar heroine, and that resonates with people who are having economic troubles," says the Mississippi native and mother of three grown children who lives in Arkansas with her husband. As she bids farewell to Sookie and her supernatural friends -- the upcoming 13th book, Dead Ever After, will be the series' last -- Harris is readying her next project: her first graphic novel, Cemetery Girl, due in 2013.
15. DANIEL H. WILSON
Known For: Robopocalypse (film not yet released)
Big Number: Two of his novels were optioned before the book rights were sold
"The cool big idea" -- that's how Robopocalypse author Wilson sums up his Hollywood appeal. The 34-year-old computer scientist-turned-hit writer's two most recent novels -- Robopocalypse and Amped -- were scooped up before he had finished writing them. Says Wilson, "DreamWorks bought Robopocalypse, I sold the book the next day, and at the end of the week I was in a room with Spielberg and [screenwriter] Drew Goddard talking robots." The movie is on schedule for a 2014 release with Chris Hemsworth in the lead. Amped initially was picked up by Summit and now is in development at Working Title. The Portland, Ore., resident, who lives with his child-psychologist wife and toddler daughter, divides his time between novels in the morning (the Robopocalypse sequel Robogenesis is out in 2014) and scripts in the evening (he just finished a remake of the 1987 cult film Cherry 2000). No matter how far out his writing gets, Wilson emphasizes the importance of his Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. in robotics: "I know a lot about something that used to be science fiction but is now fact."
16. KEN FOLLETT
Known For: The Pillars of the Earth
Big Number: His works have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide
As a struggling writer in London during the 1970s, Follett took a crack at writing for film and television. "I wrote one TV show, an episode of a BBC cop show called Target," recalls the Welsh author. "Then Eye of the Needle" -- his first novel about the pursuit of a German spy, published in 1978 -- "became a worldwide No. 1 best-seller, and I lost interest in writing for the screen." But nine of Follett's historical thrillers have been adapted, from Eye in 1981 to the recent The Pillars of the Earth miniseries, which attracted producers Ridley Scott and the late Tony Scott and bowed on Starz in July 2010. The $40 million, eight-hour epic aired to modest ratings in the U.S. but was a hit around the world. It remains Follett's favorite book-to-screen adaptation and spawned an eight-hour sequel, World Without End, which began airing Oct. 17 on ReelzChannel. "I was very concerned that it should be a long-form television series," notes the 63-year-old, who lives in London with his wife of 28 years, Barbara. "Not four hours or even a two-hour movie of the week. No one would agree to that until Ridley." Pillars also resulted in Follett's favorite piece of casting with Ian McShane as ambitious and corrupt bishop Waleran Bigod. "He's so wonderfully evil," says Follett. "In person, he's a complete sweetheart. But, boy, can he pretend to be a son of a gun." When it comes to adapting his work, Follett says he prefers his role as spectator, though "there's always a little wrench when something clever the author has done is sliced out, taken away like an inflamed appendix that is not wanted any longer." But, he adds, "if you don't like what they're doing, look at your bank statement."
17. CORMAC McCARTHY
Known For: No Country for Old Men, All the Pretty Horses
Big Number: $217 million in worldwide grosses for three novel adaptations
Pulitzer-Prize-winning MacArthur Genius McCarthy, 79, is proof that serious fiction can translate into serious money in Hollywood. His novel No Country for Old Men rescued the Coen brothers from their career nadir and dominated the 2008 Oscars (with wins for best picture, director, adapted screenplay and supporting actor). "His novels are really challenging in their brutality, so they kind of mutually exclude the sorts of filmmakers incapable of transposing them," says Tim Blake Nelson, who co-stars in James Franco's upcoming McCarthy adaptation Child of God. "Few hacks are going to be interested in trying. Therefore, any film actually made from his work is going to be interesting at some level."
18. SETH GRAHAME-SMITH
Known For: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Big Number: His work has been translated into more than 20 languages including Thai, Ukrainian and Indonesian
Grahame-Smith claims he's an "accidental novelist." After years of trying to break into movie and television writing without success, he began writing such nonfiction books as How to Survive a Horror Movie and Pardon My President to pay the rent. The irreverent hipster books, published by indie house Quirk, found an audience at outlets like Urban Outfitters. Out of that came 2009's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which hit No. 3 on The New York Times best-seller list. Grahame-Smith found success jarring at first, "even though reading has always been a huge part of my life -- my stepfather was a rare-books dealer, and my mother was a literary editor. Suddenly, after years of writing specs, I was a best-selling author." Hollywood took note, with a Pride deal that originally had Natalie Portman attached to produce (and is currently in development hell at Lionsgate). A year later, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, authored while Grahame-Smith was co-showrunning MTV's The Hard Times of RJ Berger, solidified his career as a maestro of the mashup, and offers to pen Tim Burton's Dark Shadows as well as adapt his own Abraham Lincoln came in. His third novel, Unholy Night, which came out in April, is set up at Warner Bros., where KatzSmith, his production company with partner David Katzenberg (son of Jeffrey), is housed. The duo also is developing an adaptation of YA author Maggie Stiefvater's The Scorpio Races and a remake of Stephen King's It. "Because I have more of a film background than a literary background, my books tend to be cinematic," says Grahame-Smith. "They are big, brash propositions. They are, in the most Hollywood terms, high-concept."
19. LAURA HILLENBRAND
Known For: Seabiscuit
Big Number: Unbroken (2010) has spent 103 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list
HIllenbrand, stricken since age 19 with chronic fatigue syndrome, is to this day often incapable of leaving her home. But that has not stopped the author, now 45, from turning out deeply researched books like her racehorse bio Seabiscuit, which spent six weeks as the nation's No. 1 best-seller and has about 6 million copies in print. The 2003 film version, which grossed $148 million, received seven Oscar noms including best picture and adapted screenplay. Her second nonfiction book, Unbroken, about Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini, who survived a plane crash in the Pacific and a Japanese POW camp, is outdoing Seabiscuit with 14 weeks at No. 1 and nearly 3 million copies sold. Wrote Britain's The Telegraph of Unbroken, "If this doesn't have Tinseltown's money men weeping into their iced mineral waters, I don't know what will." Universal bought film rights in 2011.
20. JEFF KINNEY
Known For: Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Big Number: 60 million copies sold
The man who toppled Twilight from the apex of the YA best-seller lists in 2010 is a geeky suburban dad from Massachusetts with a full Guitar Hero: Rock Band setup in his office and skateboard ramps littering his backyard basketball court. He also oversees the multimedia juggernaut that is Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which made the leap from popular web comic to books in 2007. The past two years, each November release of a Wimpy Kid has sold more than 3.3 million copies -- No. 7, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel, arrived Nov. 13. Plus, there are toys, games, clothing and tie-ins. (Kinney's favorite: the Wimpy Kid Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float.) In 2010, Kinney, as an executive producer, helped shepherd the series to the screen. The $15 million film grossed $75 million worldwide, and sequels in 2011 and 2012 each grossed more than $70 million. Key for Kinney was making sure the titular wimpy kid remained an "imperfect character, pushing back against early drafts that recast him as an everykid who was a victim of his circumstances." Still, he went along with the addition of a female character (Chloe Grace Moretz in the first film) to broaden the movie's appeal. A fan of the late Charles Schulz, Kinney is fulfilling a dream by developing an animated Wimpy Kid holiday special for Fox. He says animation "feels like the next logical life for the property." He's also developing an animated series based on characters on his kids-oriented Poptropica website, which draws more than 4 million unique visitors a month.
21. CANDACE BUSHNELL
Known For: Sex and the City
Big Number: The two movie spinoffs grossed more than $700 million worldwide
"Carrie Bradshaw is the female version of Superman," quips Josh Schwartz, who is bringing Bushnell's iconic creation back to the small screen with The CW's '80s-set prequel series The Carrie Diaries, premiering Jan. 14. "What Superman is to guys is what Carrie Bradshaw is to women." Sex and the City began as a series of The New York Observer columns, depicting Bushnell's tumultuous love life and fashionable lifestyle, that were converted into a best-selling book in 1996 and then an HBO series by Darren Star in 1998, establishing the network as a destination for aspirational viewing. The cosmo-swilling, advice-spewing superheroine (who else but Bradshaw can navigate SoHo's cobblestone streets in stilettos?) is the gift that keeps on giving in Hollywood, spawning six seasons on HBO and two spinoff movies for Warner Bros. -- plus the upcoming prequel series. Like her New York-loving alter ego, Connecticut native Bushnell, 53, is less than impressed with the Hollywood machine. She famously feuded with Michael Patrick King, a writer-director-producer on the Sex and the City TV show and movies, over credits and cash. (Bushnell received a relatively low payout for the franchise and never received an executive producer credit as she does on Carrie Diaries.) King, in turn, has been dismissive of Bradshaw's origins story, saying he has no plans to read the mammoth YA best-seller, which has sold 500,000 copies since its publication in 2010.
22. GILLIAN FLYNN
Known For: Gone Girl
Big Number: 2 million copies sold since June
The former Entertainment Weekly writer hit it big this summer with Gone Girl, which spent eight weeks in the No. 1 spot on The New York Times best-seller list. Reese Witherspoon, who read the unsettling mystery about a wife's disappearance before it was published on a recommendation from screenwriter Leslie Dixon (Limitless), says she was impressed with the way Flynn was able to tell the story from both male and female perspectives while employing a nonlinear structure. "You really can't anticipate where it's going, but it's one of those books you can't stop reading," says the actress. Adaptation rights went to 20th Century Fox for a reported $1.5 million, with Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea producing through their company, Pacific Standard, along with Dixon. For Flynn, who lives in Chicago with her husband, attorney Brett Nolan, and 2-year-old son, it was important that the deal allow her to adapt her novel. "It has a strong voice, and I felt like that voice needed to be continued to really keep the tone right," she says. The success of Gone Girl has given a sales bump to Flynn's two previous novels, and Dark Places (2009) is set to start filming in February with Amy Adams in the lead. She just signed with Crown for a fifth novel and her first YA book, but up next is a fourth novel she describes as "another dark, psychological thriller," due out in 2015.
23. NEIL GAIMAN
Known For: Coraline
Big Number: Has won the Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, Newbery and Carnegie literary prizes
Gaiman is the rare author who has had a pretty good run in Hollywood -- he's had Coraline and Stardust adapted for film, which together grossed $260.2 million worldwide, plus Disney is making his award-winning The Graveyard Book and HBO is planning an American Gods series. Part of that success comes with knowing when to let go and when to hold fast. "When Henry Selick was adapting Coraline, he invented the character of Wybie so that Coraline would have someone to talk to," says the 52-year-old married father of three who gained attention with his Sandman comic series. "I saw the logic in that and was completely OK with it. On the other hand, there were some producers who wanted to option Anansi Boys but change all of the characters from black to white. Their reasoning was that black audiences don't go for fantasy and that white audiences won't turn up for a film with an all-black cast. I thought about it for a few heartbeats and said, 'No.' " Still, the England-born author has no interest in adapting any of his books. "I have already delivered my preferred version. Why write it again when there are new stories to tell?"
24. JOHN GRISHAM
Known For: The Firm
Big Number: Adaptations of nine of his books have grossed $980 million worldwide at the box office
SInce publishing A Time to Kill in 1988 -- a book rejected by 28 publishers -- Grisham has churned out one novel a year, nine of which have been made into films. From Tom Cruise (1993's The Firm) to Julia Roberts (1993's The Pelican Brief) to Matt Damon (1997's The Rainmaker), Hollywood's A-list has lined up to tackle big-screen adaptations of Grisham's legal thrillers. During a recent appearance on The Colbert Report to promote his latest novel, The Racketeer, Grisham was asked by host Stephen Colbert if he was competing with Stephen King. "He'll call me up and say, 'This is No. 48, and you only have 30,' " quipped the 57-year-old former lawyer and married father of two. "He's 18 books ahead, but he got published earlier in life than I did." As for Grisham's upcoming film projects, Lorenzo di Bonaventura is developing an adaptation of the author's 2009 best-seller The Associate with Adrian Lyne attached to direct. But Grisham's books have traveled to the small screen with less success. The Client (CBS) in 1995 and last season's The Firm (NBC) lasted just one season each. Although Grisham is best known for his adult courtroom page-turners, he has scored hits recently with the baseball-themed Calico Joe and the YA series Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer (hardcover sales of more than 1 million). "I couldn't write about architecture or a dentist," he told Colbert. "People love stories about lawyers, especially crooked lawyers, and dead judges. This stuff sells."
25. SARA SHEPARD
Known For: Pretty Little Liars
Big Number: 18 books published in six years
The 34-year-old Philadelphia native is best known for creating the dramatic world of Pretty Little Liars, loosely inspired by her teen years. Shepard was working on her eighth Liars novel when she learned that ABC Family was itching to adapt the series about a high school clique's dark secrets; it now is one of the net's top-rated series. "The books had a whole developed world for the writers to mine," says Shepard, who gave birth to her first child in 2011. Her The Lying Game, about a twin assuming her dead sister's life, also has become an ABC Family primetime soap. With at least six books and two e-books to come in the Liars and Game universes, Shepard is toying with a new adult mystery tentatively titled The Heiresses, revolving around wealthy cousins from a cursed New York family. She has a simple explanation for why her books have made the leap to TV. "The characters are relatable," she says. "They have real problems that everybody goes through, may it be family, insecurities, sexuality, and I've always been a fan of a good, soapy mystery."
Written by Tim Appelo, Marc Bernardin, Lesley Goldberg, Borys Kit, Andy Lewis, Daniel Miller, Philiana Ng, Kimberly Nordyke, Sophie Schillaci and Tatiana Siegel
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