Tuesday, November 21, 2017

15 Famous Authors Who Were Published After 40

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Mark Twain, JRR Tolkein, and George Eliot
The drive to be successful while still in the first blush of youth may be appropriate for dancers, athletes, and models, but it does not apply to the contemplative arts. Writers who publish in their 20s may be jumping the gun, with too little life experience to back them up for the long haul.

This is not to say that writers in their 20s can't have talent. They obviously do. But creating a novel demands not just talent, but discipline, and a certain amount of - how shall I put it - cynicism.

So, dear younger writers, and dear older ones, take heart if you haven't published your novel and are now gazing at the looming age of 40 with dread, or looking back on it with nostalgia. Here is a list of fifteen famous authors who were published after the age of 40.

(Just for the record, while I can't claim fame, my first novel was published by Random House when I was 50.)


1. Mary Ann Evans, better known as George Eliot, published her first novel, Adam Bede, at age 40. It was an instant success and Eliot went on to write six more novels.

2. William S. Burroughs' first book, Junky, was published in 1953, when Burroughs was 40. Naked Lunch appeared six years later.

3. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen-name, Mark Twain, published his first novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, when he was 41.

4. Marcel Proust didn’t publish the first volume of À la Recherche du Temps Perdu until he was 43. He paid for the publishing costs himself after the manuscript was rejected by the publishing house where Andre Gide was editor-in-chief.

5. Henry Miller's first book, Tropic of Cancer, was published when he was 44. The book had to be published in France, because it was too risque for the American market.

6. J. R. R. Tolkien's first novel, The Hobbit, was published when he was 45 years old. For the next ten years he worked on his trilogy, Lord of the Rings, only to encounter snags with his publisher when he had finished it. Lord of the Rings was published over the years 1954 and 1955, by which time he was 63.

7. Tony Hillerman published The Blessing Way when he was 45. His agent, Ann Elmo, famously told Hillerman to "Get rid of the Indian stuff."

8. Bram Stoker published his first novel, The Snake's Pass, when he was 43. He published Dracula when he was 50.

9. Alex Haley's The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published when he was 44. Roots, his second book, came out eleven years later, when he was 55.

10. Raymond Chandler’s first novel, The Big Sleep, was published in 1939, when he was 51.

11. Richard Adams published Watership Down at age 52. It was an instant classic

12. Annie Proulx, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction, didn't publish her first novel, Postcards, until she was 57. The Shipping News was published a year later.

13. Daniel Defoe published his debut novel, Robinson Crusoe, at age 59.

14. Laura Ingalls Wilder published the first book in her "Little House" series, Little House in the Big Woods, in 1932, when she was 65 years old. She finished her last book when she was 76.

15. Frank McCourt's memoir, Angela's Ashes, came out when he was 66.


  1. This gives me hope because I didn't write a best seller in my 20s. I'm actually 47 now and in the final stretch of finishing my first novel. Youth has the fire but age has the experience, and I think in order to keep writing you need a store of experiences to draw from.

  2. Strangely this only serves to remind me that at my age I'm probably past it, I shall just keep looking up to Flora Thompson.

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