In The Book, a small publishing house, has undertaken research on the age of New York Times bestselling authors when they published their first bestseller. From this, they have created an interactive index to look at, in a new way, how old each bestselling author was when they published their very first bestselling work of fiction.
The data was compiled by researching all the New York Times bestselling fiction authors, and the age of each one when they published their first bestseller. The New York Best Seller list started in 1942, so the data begins then.
This was then made to create an interactive index which highlights the different genres, gender and decades featured within the data. Within the index, you’re able to filter these variants to truly understand the differences between the factors – take a look at the index here.
We feel writing is a unique discipline in regards to becoming famous. We knew that a lot of famous authors waited more than half their life to “make it” onto the most vaunted list in fiction. Graham Green was 69, Steinbeck was 51, and To Kill a Mockingbird never made it to number 1, meaning Harper Lee was 89 when Go Set a Watchman achieved bestseller status.
In today’s culture, younger celebrities are becoming more common. We live in a world where popular YouTube stars are teenagers. We wanted to show that writing a bestseller is not an overnight phenomenon, and that it actually requires extreme perseverance. We wanted our index to truly show how long one would need to wait to achieve this status, and how big a part gender and genre would play.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it takes time to write your first “bestseller.” The average age since the list began of an author achieving this status is 48 years. Amazingly, the average age is the same for males and females.
Less Prestigious Genres Produce Younger Bestsellers
What we found interesting was that the genres that produced the youngest average first-time bestsellers were stereotypically looked upon as “less prestigious” genres.
Horror authors had an average age of 41, albeit, not from a very large sample size. The trend was the same though for science fiction and romance authors, whose average first time bestseller ages were 45 and 46 respectively. Thriller authors had the oldest average at 52, while authors deemed to have produced works of “literary fiction” were on average, 47.
However one may feel about these genres, their authors achieve acclaim faster, on average, than some of their traditionally more respected peers.
There are, of course, many mitigating factors for publishing a bestseller, but the common theme is that it takes most writers well over half their life to achieve this status.
Average Age of First-Time Bestsellers on the Rise
- 1940s = 47
- 1950s = 44
- 1960s = 47
- 1970s = 49
- 1980s = 49
- 1990s = 50
- 2000s = 47
- 2010s = 51
From this data, one can tell that on average, authors are having to wait longer to publish a work of bestselling fiction.
There are several possible explanations for this rise in average age. One in particular is: Are younger authors pursuing more self-publishing routes to success in the 21st century, therefore contributing to this rise?
Either way, the statistics are fascinating: comparing the 50’s to the current decade, an author has to wait over 7 years longer to publish a bestseller.
Another surprising statistic that In The Book uncovered was the amount of bestsellers that were published in each decade. The 2000s were by far the most saturated with bestsellers, with 61 new bestsellers emerging – this contrasts greatly with the previous decade, the 1990s saw 28 new bestsellers being published, less than half of the 2000s.
Does this also show that the art of writing/publishing a bestseller is becoming “less prestigious” and potentially less desirable, hence authors pursuing more alternative routes?
In The Book is a small publisher of personalised children’s books, based out of Hertfordshire in the UK and New Jersey in the US.
Francesca is an avid reader and data enthusiast. She thrives on creating meaningful, data-driven stories at work and loves curling up with a book and a cuppa at home.