It takes a long time to become an author. Here are some of the greats who had to wait a long time.
I know the notion of “getting published” is fading — since now anyone can just cut-and-paste a Wikipedia article into an e-book format and self-publish it on Amazon — but, once upon a time, it was the validation you needed to be an “author” and not just a “dude who writes stuff.”
I put together this list of famous authors of classic works who weren’t published until they were 40 or older. It’s a good reminder that there’s not just one timetable for achieving the success you want. Unless it’s in gymnastics or going to raves. But books? No limit.
1 | Laura Ingalls Wilder, 65
She didn’t start writing until after she retired. Her first book, Little House in the Big Woods, came out in 1932, and kicked off her Little House series. Little House on the Prairie came out in 1935. Laura Ingalls Wilder died at age 90 which, among other things, means she never got to make out with Michael Landon.
2 | Henry Miller, 44
His first book, Tropic of Cancer, was published when he was 44. Then, if I have my history correct, it was promptly stolen by George Costanza.
3 | Anthony Burgess, 40
He’s most famous for A Clockwork Orange, which came out when he was 45 — and, in his own words, was “knocked off for money in three weeks.” People should think about THAT when they read it (or, more likely, watch the movie) and are inspired to become ultraviolent anarchists. Don’t let yourself be inspired by someone who’s just cashing a check. It’s like being inspired by Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine’s performances in the Dark Knight movies.
4 | Frank McCourt, 66
His debut was Angela’s Ashes, which came out when he was 66 — the oldest debut on this list. He did not use the money to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers.
5 | Bram Stoker, 50
Five other interesting Bram Stoker facts. (1) He was Irish. Yes, Dracula was created by an Irishman. (2) In college, he wrote a paper on “Sensationalism in Fiction,” which, most likely, prophetically criticized out the future of Dracula and vampire-based narratives for the rest of time. (3) He married a woman who had previously been Oscar Wilde’s beard. (4) He died from syphilis. (5) He really didn’t like Van Helsing and considered rising from the grave to haunt Hugh Jackman after he found out about it.
6 | George Eliot, 40
George Eliot appeared on my list of 11 Author Pen Names That We Thought Were Their Real Names because her name was actually Mary Ann Evans. Her first novel, Adam Bede, came out when she was 40. It’s a book about quaint rural life where occasionally someone murders a baby.
7 | Alex Haley, 44
The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published when he was 44, and Roots came out 11 years later. (And the Roots spin-off, Reading Rainbow, was seven years later.)
8 | William S. Burroughs, 40
He was published for the first time just after he turned 40. Naked Lunch didn’t come out until he was 45. And yes, I can think of two things wrong with that title.
9 | Sherwood Anderson, 50
Were kids who didn’t grow up in Ohio required to read Winesburg, Ohio, aka the Canterbury Tales of the northeastern Midwest?
10 | Richard Adams, 52
Adams stormed out of the gate at age 52 with Watership Down. It was an instant classic, won a ton of awards and vaulted him toward the top of the modern author pyramid. Since then, he’s been publishing books that didn’t have the benefit of five decades of prep time… and none has come close to Watership Down in acclaim or success. He’s like the M. Night Shyamalan of books.
11 | O. Henry, 42
O. Henry (also known as “William Sydney Porter” and “No, not the candy bar, stop being hacky”) got started late and continues to captivate readers with his clever twist endings. He’s like the M. Night Shyamalan of short stories.