Author James Patterson earned a thrilling $84m last year, topping Forbes magazine's annual look at the world's best-paid authors.
It is the second year running the creator of Alex Cross finished at the top of the list, after seeing his sales grow by 20 per cent in the year to April 2011.
The increase is attributed to a $150m, 17-book deal Patterson signed with publisher Hachette in 2009.
The deal has seen the author publish 10 books this year, added to the "astonishing" 20 of his titles which have made it on to year-end best-seller lists. He has also seen strong growth in his ebook sales – Amazon announced last October that he had sold 1,005,803 Kindle books.
Patterson earned more than twice as much as the second-placed author, Danielle Steel, whose romance novels brought her a comparatively small $35m over the same period.
Horror author Stephen King made $28m, mystery writer Janet Evanovich $22m and Twilight novelist Stephenie Meyer came in fifth with earnings of $21m, almost half of what she made the previous year. She heads a pack of young adult writers – Percy Jackson writer Rick Riordan ($21m), Wimpy Kid creator Jeff Kinney ($17m) and Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins ($10m) – who are all appearing on the list for the first time. The line-up is based on official sales figures from Nielsen BookScan, year-end totals from publishers and industry input.
JK Rowling's earnings halved over the period to $5m, but Forbes predicts the Harry Potter author "is about to make mad Gringotts" thanks to the launch of Pottermore, which will see ebook versions of her wizardry series go on sale for the first time this autumn. James Patterson's earnings last year were estimated by Forbes at $70m. However, the previous occasion when Forbes published the list, in 2008, he was left trailing by Rowling, who had brought in some $300m that year.