Hollywood's 25 Most Powerful Authors

10:19 AM 11/24/2014

by Edited by Andy Lewis; Written by Tim Appelo, Aaron Couch, Rebecca Ford, Andy Lewis, Philiana Ng and Tatiana Siegel

The real superheroes of the industry right now? These writers — ranked in order of influence — whose books are source material for more than 300 movie and TV projects, have helped rake in billions in box office and revenue, and prove every day that originality, above all else, still matters

THR ron howard nathaniel philbrick - H 2014
Charlie Gray

THR ron howard nathaniel philbrick - H 2014

Read more from THR's Power Authors issue:

Hollywood's 5 Most Powerful Comics Writers

Hollywood's Most Powerful Authors: 5 Writers to Watch

  1. 1

    J.K. Rowling

    Known For: Harry Potter franchise

    Big Number: Seven years after the final Deathly Hallows, Potter still sells more than 1 million books a year.

    Post-Potter, Rowling might have momentarily wavered, but since the start of 2013, she has come back (not unlike Harry in the Triwizards tournament). She's published three adult novels: the 1.9 million-selling The Casual Vacancy and two mysteries under the pen name Robert Galbraith. HBO and the BBC snapped up rights for a joint production of Vacancy, with Dumbledore himself (Michael Gambon) playing a role. Most important for younger fans, Rowling, 49, signed a deal with Warner Bros. for a new trilogy set in the Potterverse that focuses on Newt Scamander of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them -- the faux Hogwarts textbook she wrote in 2001 -- which she'll script herself. Potter merchandise and theme park rides also live under her purview; not since George Lucas in the hey-day of the original Star Wars has one person exerted so much control over a mega-franchise. Yet her social media shows Rowling is still more fan than CEO: Twitter nearly melted down when thousands replied to her teased Fantastic Beasts plot clue. A delighted Rowling christened the winner "the one true Hermione of Twitter."

    Up Next: Finishing the Fantastic Beasts screenplay (her rep says it's "not close to wrapping up") and a new novel -- no plot details yet -- that is half-written.

  2. 2

    Stephen King

    Known For: 1980's The Shining, CBS' Under the Dome

    Big Number: 17 projects underway

    After selling 350 million books, King scarcely needs another No. 1 best-seller -- but he's got one in Revival, about a clergyman and a drug-addicted musician. This year, King, 67, published Revival and his first hardboiled mystery, Mr. Mercedes, while finishing the screenplay for A Good Marriage, a film with Joan Allen. Asked which of King's current projects to keep an eye on, his agent of 32 years, Paradigm's Rand Holston, says it's 11/22/63, about a teacher trying to keep Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK, which is being adapted by J.J. Abrams as a nine-hour miniseries for Hulu.

    Up Next: Finders Keepers, the Revival sequel, publishes in June.

  3. 3

    George R.R. Martin

    Known For: HBO's Game of Thrones

    Big Number: More than 24 million books sold since the series' 1996 debut

    If it seems like you've seen a lot of Martin this year -- well, you have. The author, 66, tripled his 2013 late-night appearances with stops at Conan, Last Week Tonight and Late Night, where he was fawned over by Seth Meyers and fellow guest Amy Poehler. Add to that collaborations with Funny or Die and Adult Swim's Robot Chicken, and it's easy to see Martin has achieved a visibility rare for a fantasy author. In GOT's fourth season (which ended June 15), it passed The Walking Dead to become the most-watched series on TV, with more than 18 million weekly viewers -- plus a record 7.5 million or so who illegally downloaded the finale. The Internet exploded with theories after a GOT episode went beyond the books for the first time (Martin is a notoriously slow writer). Happily for fans, the author is cutting back on his appearances in preparation for a big 2015, which will include the most anticipated season yet, debuting in April -- and possibly the sixth, long-gestating A Song of Fire and Ice book.

  4. 4

    El James

    Known For: 2015's Fifty Shades of Grey (out Feb. 13)

    Big Number: 84 million views (and counting) for the Fifty Shades trailer

    James, 51, has come a long way since she wrote Twilight fanfiction under the name Snowqueens Icedragon. Now, the author of the Fifty Shades trilogy, about an S&M relationship between a wide-eyed student and a powerful businessman, is on the verge of seeing her best-seller hit the big screen as one of the buzziest projects of 2015. Nearly three years ago, a massive bidding war erupted over the film rights to the "mommy porn" trilogy, which has sold more than 100 million copies, with Focus and Universal coming out on top in a $5 million deal. James, whose real name is Erika Leonard, was determined to stay as hands-on as possible with the adaptation. "I'm very passionate about my fan base, and I just want to make sure that it'll be a great experience for them," James tells THR. "It's very exciting, but I'm a little overwhelmed by the huge reaction to the trailers and the photos." The West London-based author is working on two new books, one a romance similar to Fifty Shades. Says James, "I'm a sucker for a good love story."

  5. 5

    John Green

    Known For: 2014's The Fault in Our Stars

    Big Number: Has more than 3.42 million Twitter followers

    In 2013, Hollywood questioned whether a movie about two teens with cancer who fall in love was commercially viable. Now, Green, 37, is one of the hottest authors in the business after the phenomenal success of Fox's Fault in Our Stars. The $12 million film starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort opened No. 1 at the box office in June, earned a stunning $304 million worldwide to date and has left studios clamoring to develop other teen stories with real-world problems (see YA later, dystopia!). "The whole experience was so ridiculously, consistently positive," says Green, whose YA empire includes six books with more than 20.8 million copies in print. Green, who lives in Indianapolis with his wife and two kids, is reteaming with Fault production company Temple Hill, writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber and star Nat Wolff for the adaptation of his 2008 Paper Towns, now shooting in North Carolina and out June 19. With his brother Hank Green, he continues to create video blogs on his YouTube channel, VlogBrothers (2.4 million subscribers). But for the next few weeks, he'll be on the Paper Towns set in the official capacity of "professional excited person." He tells THR of his responsibilities: "I jump up and down and scream about how great it is."

  6. 6

    Nicholas Sparks

    Known For: 2004's The Notebook

    Big Number: 97 million books sold

    Sparks continues to be one of the most consistent Hollywood authors with a brand focused on love stories (17 novels), and his nine film adaptations have taken in a total of $800 million worldwide. Made on $25 million to $30 million budgets, the romantic dramas pull in women and date-night couples for solid performances at the box office -- The Notebook ($115.6 million), Dear John ($114.9 million), Safe Haven ($97.9 million). His latest film, The Best of Me, has earned just $32.7 million worldwide since its Oct. 7 debut. But two more adaptations are shooting: The Choice, starring Teresa Palmer, and The Longest Ride. Sparks, 48, launched his company Nicholas Sparks Productions in 2012 and expanded his empire into TV with Deliverance Creek, a Lifetime special that premiered in September.

  7. 7

    Gillian Flynn

    Known For: Gone Girl

    Big Number: 8.5 million copies of the novel sold by the movie's release

    Flynn's twisted 2012 best-selling Gone Girl has a memorable monologue about the "cool girl," which she most definitely wasn't when seeing the film for the first time. "I was so overwhelmed that I was trying to maintain a semblance of cool instead of screaming like a tween Beatles fan," she says. Flynn, 43, became a first-time screenwriter when she adapted her book for the David Fincher-helmed film. "It was a chance to revisit this story I knew really well, take it apart and make it work as a film," she tells THR. With a budget of $61 million, the film has earned $288 mill-ion worldwide to date to become Fincher's top-grossing movie. Also in development: 2006's Sharp Objects, being made into a drama by Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and 2009's Dark Places, with Charlize Theron. While Flynn, who lives in Chicago with her husband and two children, says she's already landed on the story for her next book, she's busy writing HBO's British conspiracy thriller Utopia, which Fincher will direct. Of working with the auteur, Flynn says: "I think we both enjoy pushing the envelope a little bit. We like to tiptoe up to the line of acceptability and then maybe drift over it a little bit."

  8. 8

    James Patterson

    Known For: 2011's Along Came a Spider

    Big Number: Since 2006, he's accounted for one out of every 17 hardcovers sold.

    When the prolific Patterson, (135 books and counting) challenged Amazon over its attempt to dictate ebook prices in its dispute with his publisher, Hachette, it was like Godzilla vs. King Kong. Even as the months-long dispute saw many of his books pulled from Amazon, the advertising exec-turned-author still believes the company can be an ally. "My dream about Amazon is that at some point, Jeff Bezos says, 'You know what? I'm going to go another way here rather than looking at publishers as the competition.' We're going to be the ones that save reading in this country," says Patterson, 67, who has donated millions to save independent bookstores. He also has been busy in Hollywood, signing a first-look deal with CBS in July. Among the fruits of that partnership is an adaptation of Zoo, about rampaging animals threatening the survival of humanity, set to air in summer 2015, and an adaptation of his kids series Skool with CBS Films. Patterson still hopes for a reboot of Alex Cross (the 2012 movie grossed just $34 million worldwide), revealing he got calls right away about doing another version (even he says it was a little "bizarre"). His dream casting for Cross? Idris Elba, who he hints is "mildly warm" on the idea.

    Up Next: Hope to Die, the 22nd Alex Cross mystery, publishes Nov. 24.

  9. 9

    Michael Lewis

    Known For: 2011's Moneyball

    Big Number: Moneyball and 2009's The Blind Side have earned $419.4 million in global box office.

    Lewis, 54, has written a dozen books in the past two decades, two of which, Moneyball and The Blind Side, spawned Oscar best picture-nominated films. His latest, Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, debuted at No. 1 in March and spent 22 weeks on The New York Times best-seller list. The nonfiction book about Wall Street reformers swiftly was scooped up by Moneyball producers Sony and Scott Rudin for a film adaptation, written by Moneyball scribe Aaron Sorkin. "I don't feel possessive over the books. I don't feel they need to take care of my baby," says Lewis, 53, a father of three who lives in Berkeley, Calif. "I created this thing, and they have to bust it with a sledgehammer to make it into a movie." His other Wall Street book, The Big Short, is being adapted by Adam McKay for Plan B and Paramount. But fans will be most excited to hear he's writing the adaptation of his 1989 classic Liar's Poker for Warner Bros. In his spare time this summer, Lewis read Richard Bradford's Red Sky at Morning, recommended by Sony CEO Michael Lynton. "Michael said, 'This should occupy the place in our culture that Catcher in the Rye does.' "

    Up Next: Lewis is writing a pilot for Showtime set on 1920s Wall Street.

  10. 10

    Laura Hillenbrand

    Known For: 2001's Seabiscuit, 2014's Unbroken

    Big Number: Seabiscuit earned $148 million in worldwide box office.

    What Hillenbrand lacks in quantity -- just two nonfiction books to her credit, due to intensive research slowed by severe chronic fatigue syndrome -- she makes up for in quality. Seabiscuit, about a racehorse who became a Depression-era household name, was a huge best-seller (more than 6 million), with Gary Ross directing the 2003 Universal adaptation and scoring seven Oscar noms in the process. While poring over newspaper clippings on Seabiscuit, Hillenbrand flipped one over and found a story on World War II hero Louis Zamperini, who died in July at age 97. "I jotted his name down," recalls Hillenbrand, 47, who lives in Washington with her husband. "After Seabiscuit came out, I looked him up and wrote him a letter, and he wrote me back. We then had a phone call, and I knew after one phone call, this is my next book." Unbroken -- which tackles the tale of the onetime Olympian who survived a plane crash in the Pacific, spent 47 days adrift on a raft and then two years as a POW in Japan -- became another monster best-seller (4 million). "He was a dream subject because he has saved everything," Hillenbrand tells THR. "He had a 63-pound scrapbook that goes back to 1918." Angelina Jolie directed the Universal film, which bows Christmas Day and is poised for an awards-season run. "She captures both the grand sweep of history and the intimate details of character with equal authority," Jolie tells THR. "That talent makes her the deftest, most vivid kind of storyteller." Hillenbrand returns the compliment: "[Jolie] is a real stickler for historical accuracy. She's very astute and aware of everything."

  11. 11

    Dennis Lehane

    Known For: 2001's Mystic River

    Big Number: His adaptations have grossed $500 million-plus worldwide.

    "I have no good explanation why, but I think I write the type of characters that the good actors want to play. Good actors then attract good directors," says Lehane, 49, about the enviable roster of A-list talent (Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Ben Affleck, Laura Linney, Sean Penn) that has flocked to work in adaptations of Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, Shutter Island andThe Drop. In the works is the Lehane-scripted original project The Deep Blue Goodbye with Bale and director James Mangold. He also wrote the screenplay for the English-language remake of A Prophet, set up at Sony with Neal Moritz producing. For TV, the married father of two daughters has the WGN series Ness ("Don Draper with a gun"), HBO's Ashecliffe with Martin Scorsese (based on Shutter Island) and a Hawaii-set version of Irish hit Love/Hate for Showtime in development. "All anybody ever sees of Hawaii is this Hawaii Five-O bullshit," Lehane says. "When you get into the poorer neighborhoods, they're saying, 'We'd like our culture back, thank you very much.' " The native Bostonian now lives and writes in Santa Monica. "I try to draw everyone to the Westside so I don't have to deal with traffic," jokes Lehane, like a true Angeleno.

    Up Next: Live By Night, to be directed by Affleck

  12. 12

    Suzanne Collins

    Known For: The Hunger Games

    Big Number: 65 million copies of the series in print

    She's the girl on fire: Collins brought Katniss Everdeen into the world with her Hunger Games trilogy, which has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide, then Lionsgate made Collins' dystopian tale into one of the most successful YA adaptations of all time. The first Jennifer Lawrence star vehicle, which Collins, 52, co-wrote and executive produced, nabbed $691 million worldwide in 2012. The record-breaking sequel, Catching Fire, has the top opening for any November film, and went on to become the No. 1 film domestically of 2013. Together, the two films have earned a breathtaking $1.6 billion worldwide. Catching Fire/Mockingjay director Francis Lawrence calls Collins "an amazing collaborator" and the"anchor" of the film franchise. "If we would ever get off track from a character's place in the story, Suzanne would be able to steer us back towards their frame of mind and describe how they would react." The Sandy Hook, Conn., resident, who is married with two children, most recently wrote the semiautobiographical children's book Year of the Jungle, about coping with having a father deployed to Vietnam during the war.

  13. 13

    Matthew Quick

    Known For: 2012's Silver Linings Playbook

    Big Number: Playbook brought in $236 million at the global box office

    All seven of Quick's books, including two yet to be published, have been optioned by major Hollywood players. The first, The Silver Linings Playbook, became an awards-season and box-office hit for The Weinstein Co., earning a best actress Oscar for Jennifer Lawrence. "I think part of it is that I'm heavily influenced by film," says Quick, 41, on why his books appeal to Hollywood. "When I first met Harvey [Weinstein], I told him that I grew up on Miramax. I think that subconsciously, the three-act structure of a film is very much a part of my psyche." Among his other titles, Sorta Like a Rock Star is set up at Fox Searchlight, The Good Luck of Right Now at DreamWorks and Boy21 with producer Tom Heller (127 Hours). Channing Tatum is attached to co-direct with Reid Carolin Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, a YA novel, for TWC. The author's upcoming Love May Fail is in the works at Sony, with Mike White adapting and Sam Raimi attached to direct. Quick -- who lives in coastal North Carolina with his wife, author Alicia Bessette -- recently sold Every Exquisite Thing to TWC, marking his third collaboration with Weinstein.

    Up Next: The novel Love May Fail

  14. 14

    Diana Gabaldon

    Known For: Starz's Outlander

    Big Number: Written in My Own Heart's Blood, the eighth book in the series, debuted at No. 1 in June.

    The 62-year-old Arizona native behind the best-selling eight-book historical time-travel saga Outlander wasn't fated to become a novelist. Gabaldon started out as a scientist, earning a Ph.D. in quantitative behavioral ecology. A casual experiment in novel writing in 1988 may have turned her into a phenom, but it took more than two decades before the series made it to TV via Ron Moore (Battlestar Galactica). The drama had the most-watched series debut on Starz, and its most-watched installment, "The Wedding," lured 6.2 million viewers. Gabaldon provides script input and is a self-described stickler for inaccuracies, saying, "Ron appreciates the original material and has always said that he's interested in making it for the fans."

    Up Next: A ninth Outlander book

  15. 15

    David Grann

    Known For: The Lost City of Z

    Big Number: 6 magazine articles optioned for film

    The New Yorker staff writer is proving that magazine articles can be just as fertile terrain as books when it comes to film development. Six of his longform pieces, which take between three and 12 months to report and write, are in the works around town, including "The Yankee Comandante" at Focus, with George Clooney attached to direct; "A Murder Foretold," with Matt Damon helming a Chris Terrio script; "The Old Man and the Gun," with Robert Redford; "True Crimes," with Christoph Waltz attached; and "The Brand," from Boys Don't Cry director Kimberly Peirce. "One of the nice things about The New Yorker is, they let you write stories that sometimes end up almost half a book," says Grann, 47, who lives in Westchester County, N.Y., with his wife and two children. Grann's only full-length book, the best-seller The Lost City of Z, is moving forward at Paramount. Brad Pitt is out as the film's star (his Plan B is still producing), but Benedict Cumberbatch is in. When Grann, who joined the magazine in 2003, is writing, he says he's unaware of a story's cinematic potential: "I don't think about the translation much. I really just choose stories that are compelling, have interesting trends and characters and hopefully say something larger about society."

  16. 16

    Seth Grahame-Smith

    Known For: 2012's Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

    Big Number: 10 -- the number of projects he's working on

    Grahame-Smith, 38, who studied film at Emerson College, first found success in writing books such as 2009's mashup novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which has been adapted into a 2015 film starring Lily James, now shooting in the U.K. He followed up with two other best-sellers: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which he adapted for the Fox film starring Benjamin Walker, and Unholy Night, in development at Warner Bros. The son of a rare-books dealer and a literary editor, Grahame-Smith has been working in Hollywood for five years, during which he created the MTV series The Hard Times of RJ Berger, wrote Dark Shadows for Tim Burton, polished 2015's Fantastic Four script and launched a production company, KatzSmith Productions, with partner David Katzenberg. He's now writing the hot Lego Batman Movie and producing a slew of films through KatzSmith, including Ninjago, a remake of Stephen King's It, the Beetlejuice sequel and the adaptation of Maggie Stiefvater's best-selling The Scorpio Races at Focus. He says the full plate is strategic: "In a world where the business is contracting, if I can teach myself to be a Swiss Army knife of a filmmaker, then hopefully I can have another five years at this career."

    Up Next: The Last American Vampire, the sequel to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

  17. 17

    Hilary Mantel

    Big Number: She's the only two-time winner of England's prestigious Man Booker Prize.

    Mantel, 62, is an overnight sensation 20 years in the making. The aspiring barrister who grew up near Manchester, England, had written nine novels and won several literary prizes before her 2009 breakout Wolf Hall won the Man Booker Prize, selling more than 2 million copies. After landing the Booker, Mantel joked she would spend the £50,000 prize on "sex, drugs and rock and roll," but instead bought a dream house on the sea in Devon, England, for her and her husband of 42 years, Gerald. The Booker for Wolf sequel Bring Up the Bodies paid for a London apartment. The six-part BBC adaptation of this fictionalized biography of Henry VIII confidante Thomas Cromwell (with stage great Mark Rylance as Cromwell and Homeland's Damian Lewis as Henry VIII) will air in January in the U.K. and on PBS' Masterpiece Theater in April. Mantel says people are often surprised to learn she's a fan of Game of Thrones, to which Wolf has been compared. "It's more like real history than most fact- based historical dramas," she says. "It's ruthless, and fate does no favors for the good and beautiful."

    Up Next: The Mirror and the Light, the last book in the Cromwell trilogy

  18. 18

    Ken Follett

    Known For: Starz's The Pillars of the Earth miniseries

    Big Number: 150 million books sold

    As Follett has pointed out, his name rhymes with "wallet," apt for a writer whose literary success has earned him about $50 million. Follett, 65, broke out at age 29 with 1978's World War II thriller Eye of the Needle, made into a hit Donald Sutherland movie, and has had an eye for what sells ever since. "One publisher said Pillars of the Earth would ruin my career," he says of his novel about building a cathedral in the Middle Ages. With its sequel World Without End, Pillars sold more than 23 million copies worldwide, and both have been adapted by Starz and Netflix into miniseries. Follett's Century trilogy, an epic about 20th century history that concluded with the September-published Edge of Eternity, is being made into a TV series by Sony Pictures and ABC for February 2016.

    Up Next: A book expected in 2017 about 16th century terrorists trying to kill Queen Elizabeth I. Says Follett, "This was the beginning of the British secret service that eventually gave us James Bond."

  19. 19

    Nick Hornby

    Known For: 2002's movie and the NBC series About a Boy

    Big Number: $235 million in worldwide box office for five films

    Former English teacher Hornby, 57, has been a favorite with A-list talent ever since his first book, 1992's Fever Pitch. The memoir about the highs and lows of rooting for a losing team has spawned two films, a British version starring Colin Firth and a Hollywood redo with Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore (with the Boston Red Sox subbing for U.K. soccer team Arsenal). His High Fidelity also launched a 2000 John Cusack classic as well as a Broadway musical. And About a Boy served as the basis for the Chris and Paul Weitz 2002 film, plus the sitcom now airing. "It's OK," the married father of three sons says modestly of the series, now in its second season. "But you know what? My kids love it. So, I do watch it." This year, his dark comic novel A Long Way Down hit the big screen with Pierce Brosnan and Toni Collette. The London-based Hornby is equally adept at adapting others' work, penning the Oscar-nominated screenplay for An Education as well as the upcoming Wild. He's also writing an original screenplay titled Everybody Loves You for Gone Girl's Rosamund Pike, who co-starred in An Education.

    Up Next: The novel Funny Girl, out in the U.K. now and in the U.S. in February

  20. 20

    Nathaniel Philbrick

    Big Number: 21 major literary honors for In the Heart of the Sea (the film is due out in March)

    In 2000, Philbrick came out of nowhere (Nantucket, Mass., population 10,399) to win the National Book Award at 44 for In the Heart of the Sea, a real-life yarn about a whale that attacked the ship Essex in 1820, inspiring Moby Dick. "When it was optioned, I was naive -- 'Oh, man, this is going to be a movie!' " he says. "I had given up on it after 14 years, so it's gratifying to see it all fall into place on this very late date." While visiting the set of the Warner Bros. film, starring Chris Hemsworth as Essex's first mate and Ben Whishaw as Herman Melville, Philbrick saw a transformation in director Ron Howard's easygoing demeanor. "In the midst of a film, he does have a certain Ahab-like obsession, and it's neat to see," says the author, whose 2010 The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn is in development as a 10-hour limited TV series by Matador Content. Warner Bros. optioned his latest New York Times best-seller, Bunker Hill, for a feature film, with Ben Affleck directing. FX is developing a limited series from his best-seller Mayflower, a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer in history. Surprisingly, Philbrick, 58, relaxes by watching The Voice. "I don't want lordy-lordy lit-crit stuff," he has said. "You should be able to watch Wheel of Fortune then pick up a book and in the first paragraph go, 'Whoa.' "

    Up Next: A Bunker Hill sequel

  21. 21

    Brad Meltzer

    Known For: H2's Brad Meltzer's Lost History, Decoded

    Meltzer, 44, is the rare author to host not one but two TV shows: 2010-11's Decoded and Lost History, whose first season debuted Oct. 31 and has seen its ratings rise each week. The author, who lives in Miami with his wife and three kids, got his start with 1997's The Tenth Justice, which he wrote at night while in law school. It continues to draw interest (Kevin Williamson tweeted about it in July), but first there's likely to be an animated TV series of "I am …," his hit kids series of mini-biographies of Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein, Rosa Parks and others. Meltzer, who also writes comics (Identity Crisis) and created the 2004 WB show Jack & Bobby, has a high social media presence. He has over forty thousand twitter followers and according to one analysis he's one of the authors most followed by other writers. 

    Up Next: The President's Shadow, his first novel in almost three years

  22. 22

    Cormac McCarthy

    Known For: 2007's No Country for Old Men

    Big Number: 4 major awards: a MacArthur genius grant, the National Book Award, the Pulitzer and the PEN Achievement Award

    Considered one of the greatest living writers, McCarthy, 81, has found plenty of traction in Hollywood. Four of his 10 novels have been turned into features, including Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men, which won the 2008 best picture Oscar. Unlike many prestige authors, the New Mexico-based McCarthy also has written screenplays, like last year's The Counselor. Producers Nick Wechsler and Steve Schwartz, who worked on 2009's The Road, had the inside track to bring his Counselor screenplay to the big screen. "This was an opportunity to have his vision translated without adulteration or filtering," says Schwartz. "So I think he was more invested in this than The Road." (The Ridley Scott-directed film earned a disappointing $71 million worldwide.) Wechsler adds that Counselor gave McCarthy a needed break from finishing his next two novels, which he is working on simultaneously: "This was his vacation."

  23. 23

    Veronica Roth

    Known For: 2014's Divergent

    Big Number: The best-selling YA franchise of 2013 sold 6.7 million copies.

    At 26, Roth is the youngest member of Hollywood's power-authors club, with her Divergent trilogy inheriting the YA mantle from Hunger Games and Twilight. While still a Northwestern undergrad, she wrote the story about young revolutionary Tris, who is "divergent" from any of the five factions making up a postapocalyptic Chicago; the adaptation starring Shailene Woodley and Theo James has gone on to gross $289 million worldwide. "She is brave and rebellious, with deep convictions about what's right," Roth says of her favorite female character -- not Tris, but Antigone, of the classic Greek tragedy. Roth's coolest Hollywood moments are behind the scenes, discussing sets with head production designer Alec Hammond. And while she's tight-lipped about her post-Divergent projects, Roth says she's open to writing a screenplay: "I don't want to limit myself when there's so much room to grow."

    Up Next: Divergent sequel Insurgent, out in March

  24. 24

    John Grisham

    Known For: 1993's The Firm

    Big Number: He's had 23 straight years with a top-15-selling novel.

    Aside from sparking global outrage in October for saying that jail terms for online underage-porn users are disproportionately severe, Grisham is having a banner year. His latest legal thriller, the coal-mining exposé Gray Mountain, debuted at No. 1 -- as have 14 of his books. That track record earned him some $17 million last year, according to Forbes. Grisham, 59, won't have to go back to selling men's underpants at Sears or serving in the Mississippi State Legislature for $8,000 a year, as he did before his writing career took off. His books have spawned eight film adaptations, including The Firm and The Rainmaker, and have racked up almost a billion dollars in worldwide grosses. Five of his books are in development (although Zac Efron's adaptation of Grisham's The Associate is "on hold").

    Up Next: A book about shootings of young black men by white cops

  25. 25

    Terry Brooks

    Big Number: 25 novels in the Shannara series

    After numerous false starts, Brooks' classic Shannara fantasy series finally is getting adapted by MTV, 38 years after The Sword of Shannara was published in 1977. It's set in a distant future in which magic has replaced science and good men (and elves and druids) battle evil. For 2015, MTV will start with the first trilogy's middle book, The Elfstones of Shannara, and has just cast Poppy Drayton (memorably wooed by Paul Giamatti in season four of Downton Abbey) as the lead. Brooks, 70, an Illinois native who lives in Seattle with wife Judine, praises the work of showrunners Miles Millar and Al Gough as "creative and exciting." His coolest Hollywood moment ever was visiting Skywalker Ranch when he was penning the novelization of Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace.

    Up Next: Magic Kingdom for Sale -- Sold!, in development at Warner Bros.