Best Sellers of All
Time: Fiction

Getting caught up in a mystery or tangled family drama;
laughing with, rooting for, or crying over people who don’t
exist… That’s what great fiction authors have the power
to make us do, and why we keep listening. Here are 10

By Vanessa Diaz
We turn to books for joy, for laughter, and for comfort; for stories that stir the soul, expand the mind, or bring us some much-needed fun. Writers weave these tales for us, and some become our heroes—ones whose beautiful, brilliant stories are as timeless as the art of storytelling itself. Their words stay with us long after we've heard the last chapter. These are 10 of the best-selling fiction authors of all time.

01. Agatha Christie

Long before names like Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins took the world by storm, Agatha Christie sat down to write her first mystery novel on a dare. That book was The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Introducing the world to detective Hercule Poirot, it established Christie on the path to becoming the queen of crime, sitting atop the list of the best-selling fiction authors of all time (not including Shakespeare). Her most beloved novels, including The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, And Then There Were None, and Murder on the Orient Express, are legendary for gripping readers with deftly dropped clues and Oh snap! bombshell endings.

Fans of the BBC series Poirot, take note: Actor David Suchet, who plays the impeccably mustachioed detective on the show, narrates several of Christie’s audiobooks! Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey fame also lends his voice to several titles, and let me just tell you: Matthew Crowley knows how to tell a story.

02. Danielle Steel

It should be no surprise to find Danielle Steel on a list of best-selling authors—after all, she has written more than 170 books since she was first published in 1972. Her books have been published in 69 countries and translated into 40+ languages, selling more than 650 million copies.

Fan favorites include Malice, a story of a cruel betrayal set in Chicago, and Blue, in which a Beverly Hills news anchor loses everything she loves one tragic December evening. The Duchess is a rags-to-riches story that sweeps readers off to 19th-century England and Paris. All of her novels make for excellent feel-good listening: captivating love stories and tales of hard-fought redemption to liven up your commute, your laundry, your errands, and more.

03. J.K. Rowling

Next on this list of great authors of fiction: the author of the much-loved series about a boy wizard! Twenty-one years after the publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the record-breaking series continues to captivate readers of all ages (and keep them checking for their Hogwarts letters). The Harry Potter audiobooks have been available in multiple languages for years and were recently made available in Spanish. Puerto Rican actor and singer Carlos Ponce serves as narrator for Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal, and he’s awesome: his rich and mellifluous baritone casts a spell all by itself.

J.K. Rowling has also written The Casual Vacancy, which was her first novel for adults, and writes crime novels under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. There are four books in the Strike series, all of which make for great road-trip listens, with substantial length, meaty plots, and great pacing.

04. Stephen King

It’s been a long time and a lot of nightmares since Carrie first hit bookshelves in 1974. Stephen King has been writing and scaring the pants off his readers in the decades since; with over 50 books to his name, he is often credited with reviving the horror fiction genre in the late 20th century. Adaptations of his work are as varied as they are plentiful. It, Pet Sematary, and The Shining are all iconic films that I’ll someday (possibly) be brave enough to watch again.

It takes talent to build and maintain suspense with narration, and Stephen King's audiobooks are examples of getting it right. Carrie is every bit as haunting as the film version, perhaps because it’s narrated by Sissy Spacek. Meanwhile, Pet Sematary is narrated by Michael C. Hall, because what better way to make a scary story scarier than to have it read by fictional serial killer Dexter Morgan?

05. Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl first began to write short stories while serving as a fighter pilot during World War II. His work gained traction in the early 1960s with the publication of James and the Giant Peach, kicking off his illustrious career as a children’s author. Several of his books are considered classics of kid-lit: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and The Witches, to name a few. These all make for fantastic family listening, but Kate Winslet narrating Matilda is a super-special treat.

The story behind The BFG is perhaps the most heartwarming of all. This tale of a friendly giant began as a story Dahl told his children at bedtime. What’s more, it’s dedicated to the daughter he lost to measles, who passed at the same age the author’s sister did.

06. James Patterson

In the four decades of James Patterson’s writing career, approximately 160 books have been credited, all or in part, to his name. He’s set and broken Guinness World Records for everything from highest-earning fiction author to most #1 New York Times best sellers while writing in multiple genres. His catalog spans from middle-grade novels to adult mysteries.

Patterson is probably best known for his fast-paced thrillers like 1st to Die, from his Women's Murder Club series, and Along Came a Spider, starring his famous detective Alex Cross. In 2018, he made a splash with The President Is Missing, which was written in collaboration with President Bill Clinton and features an ensemble cast of narrators that includes actor Dennis Quaid.

07. J. R. R. Tolkien

Writer, poet, and Oxford professor J. R. R. Tolkien was a lover of language, so much so that he created a few languages, and worlds, of his own. He enchanted readers with The Hobbit, the story of Bilbo Baggins and his adventures in Middle-earth. After The Silmarillion was rejected by his publisher, Tolkien was asked to write a sequel to The Hobbit. What he came up with was an epic saga of dwarves, elves, wizards, talking trees, and one very important piece of jewelry: The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Much like the print versions, the LOTR audiobooks are an investment of time, but narrator Rob Inglis makes it worthwhile. He assigns a unique voice to each of the characters, and that’s no small feat in a work of Tolkien fantasy! He even goes so far as to sing the songs from the texts—making it feel like gather-round-the-campfire story time, high fantasy edition.

08. Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most important and prolific writers of her time, critically examining the Black experience and imbuing the richness of Black heritage in her work. Morrison has won the Pulitzer Prize, the PEN/Saul Bellow Award, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom, among many accolades; in 1993, she became the first African American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Her most popular novels include The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Beloved.

Morrison narrates the vast majority of her audiobooks, so you’re hearing her stories exactly as she intends them to be heard. Sometimes, the best person for the job is you—especially when that you happens to be Toni Morrison.

09. Dan Brown

It’s hard to believe it’s been more than 15 years since The Da Vinci Code exploded into the bibliosphere and we followed symbology nerd Robert Langdon on his quest to solve a murder and explore alternate religious histories. The hype (and controversy) gave new life to Dan Brown’s previous works, including Angels & Demons, which was the first to feature Langdon on a high-stakes, symbol-filled treasure hunt. Though they may not have matched the phenomenon of The Da Vinci Code, subsequent titles such as Inferno and Origin have still enjoyed great commercial success.

Canadian-born actor and veteran audiobook narrator Paul Michael took over the narration of the Langdon audiobooks starting with The Da Vinci Code, and I find him a perfect fit. His tone and pacing are suited for thrillers; his accents are convincing and not at all overdone. Since Brown’s books take readers everywhere from the French countryside to Venice, this is a quality to appreciate.

10. Paulo Coelho

Brazilian author and internet presence Paulo Coehlo has written numerous titles in his extensive career, but one stands out from the rest: The Alchemist. This slow starter was almost dropped by its publisher, but became an international literary sensation, spending years on the New York Times best seller list and becoming one of the top-selling Brazilian books of all time.

Other Coehlo works include The Witch of Portobello, an allegorical meditation on love and sacrifice, and his debut work of fiction, The Pilgrimage, a parable about one man’s pilgrimage to Santiago. The Alchemist remains the overwhelming fan favorite and is delightful on audio. Jeremy Irons narrates this quick four-hour listen, which rather sounds like Uncle Scar imparting some timeless wisdom—in the best possible way, of course.

Vanessa Diaz is a writer and bookseller in her hometown of San Diego,
and a graduate of the University of Southern California.

In between consuming large quantities of tea and spreading the gospel of Agatha Christie,
Vanessa is a Book Riot Contributing Editor.

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