The life of an artist is one of high-risk but high-reward. Writers often compromise their careers, relationships, and health in pursuit of their writing. This is all done in the hope that they can make it big one day. Many authors hope that all their sacrifice will pay off in the form of fortune and fame. Others only want to be able to put food on the table for their family while working at the job they love: writing.

Below are five authors who were pretty poor at one point in their writing careers, but went on to find tremendous wealth. And all are well-known authors that wrote influential works you’re sure to know and love.

5. ) John Steinbeck

The winner of the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature, Steinbeck has been called “a giant of American letters”.

John Steinbeck was an American author, writing some of the most influential novels in American history. Steinbeck has written more 25 books in total, yet we commonly know him as the author of two famous works. The reason is that this works plagued many of our primary school educations. Steinbeck is famous for his novella, Of Mice and Men, and The Grapes of Wrath. The latter of those two works has been heralded as a masterpiece. It is claimed to be one of the more influential works to shape American culture.

Steinbeck won a Nobel Prize in literature. Furthermore, his works have sold millions of copies in the last seventy-five years. But many may not know that Steinbeck once epitomized poverty. Steinbeck was living during America’s Great Depression. And early in his career, Steinbeck lived off the fish and crab caught from a small boat he’d purchased. His wife grew vegetables in a local garden. Steinbeck and his wife were also on welfare, occasionally having to steal food from local markets to avoid hunger. Lucky for us, Steinbeck didn’t succumb to his poverty-stricken life. He grew into one of the greatest authors in American history—just in time to plague your summer reading lists.

4.) Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks is an American novelist. Eleven of his romantic-drama novels have been adapted to film with multi-million-dollar box office grosses.

Chances are that you have seen the movie The Notebook. And if you haven’t seen it, then you’ve likely heard of it. Or… you have been in a coma for the better part of the last two decades. And while it’s uncertain to what extent Sparks was poor, it is known that he initially struggled as a writer. At least until he had a meteoric rise of “rags to riches” from his novel, The Notebook.

After graduating from college, Sparks tried secure employment from publishing companies. He was rejected on all attempts. And after being unable to get into law school, Sparks bounced around through odd jobs. Sparks worked side jobs such as waiting tables until he ended up selling pharmaceuticals in the early 1990’s. In fact, Sparks was gaining such little traction in the world of publishing that he made a vow to himself. He vowed to have one final push to get published. His promise to himself was that if he didn’t get published then he would move on from writing. It just so happens that this is when Sparks wrote The Notebook. The novel was picked up and garnered Sparks a 1-million-dollar advance. From financially lean to living the dream, Sparks gives hope to many aspiring writers.

3.) Charles Dickens

Illustration by Fred Bernard of Dickens at work in a shoe-blacking factory.

Charles Dickens is considered by many to be one of the greatest authors of the Victorian era. However, you may know him as the author of Oliver Twist, a Christmas Carol, and/or A Tale of Two Cities. While Dickens later achieved great success from his works, his beginning bore more humble origins.

Dickens, in order to help his impoverished family, was forced to work ten-hour days in a shoe blacking warehouse. The conditions were harsh and unfair. Dickens later used this time as fuel for many of the motifs of his work. Luckily, with help from his father and education, Dickens was able to secure a position as a reporter. By the age of 20, Dickens was beginning to make a decent sum writing about Parliament. By the time Dickens turned 25, his writing had taken off enough for him to dedicate his time solely to writing.

Dickens became a well-known philanthropist after his success. He was dedicated to shining a light on the unfair conditions of the poor. Much of his work harps on the heavy burden the poor must face.

2.) Stephen King

Stephen King, American author best known for his enormously popular horror novels. Taken at the 2007 New York Comicon.

Stephen King is a prolific horror-fiction writer. King has more than 50 published novels, of which they have sold more than 350 million copies. And while that success has made King very wealthy today, his early life was pretty poor.

King’s father left when he was a toddler, leading to a huge financial strain on his upbringing. As a young adult, King had to take a full-time job at a mill while still going to school. Even after graduating college, King was still in the lower class. He and his family lived in a series of trailers as King struggled with his writing. King eventually would secure a teaching job, but the pitiful salary still wouldn’t allow many of the creature comforts one would expect. Despite he and his wife both working, King recalls many times when bills went unpaid or put off in favor of handling a separate financial need.

King didn’t gain traction until the publishing of his novel, Carrie. But the novel that launched one of the most financially successful authors of our generation almost didn’t happen. King had tossed the novel during the infantile stages, giving up on it. His wife, however, dug it from the trash and encouraged King to finish it.

1.) J.K. Rowling

J.K. Rowling is a British novelist, best known as the author of the Harry Potter fantasy series

You would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t know the name of J.K. Rowling. Rowling is the author of the famous Harry Potter series. Her writing captivated an entire generation with the perils of adolescent wizards. While Rowling now has a net worth of well over 750 million dollars, she once lived on state welfare.

In 1993, Rowling found herself a single mother that was clinically depressed and a failure in her own eyes. She struggled to make ends meet, living off of welfare benefits. She later describing herself as “poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain.” She struggled to get her first novel Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone published. But in 1996, she finally succeeded, getting the first Harry Potter book published by Bloomsbury. She received a meager fifteen-hundred-pound advance. However, accolades for the book and her writing started to pile up. And her meteoric rise of rags to riches took off.

Today, the Harry Potter brand is considered to be worth more than 25 billion dollars. Yes, billion with a “b”. The same letter in the alphabet that started the benefits she needed to live off of as a single mother. Oh, and as for the failure she thought she was, Rowling was runner-up for Time’s Person of The Year in 2007. She was praised for her outstanding social, moral, and political influence upon an entire generation of fans. If that’s failure, sign me up.