Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Case of the Middle-Aged Author - Youth's Revenge

Cold Youth Soup.

In a previous post regarding the list of the Top 100 Mystery Novels assembled by the British Crime Writers' Association (CWA, 1990), I examined the ages of the authors when they wrote their celebrated works. In that analysis, I emphasized the success of middle-aged authors. The average age was 44 and, in deference to the elderly, the extreme age was 69. Furthermore, some of these authors continued to write thrilling mysteries through their eighties and into their nineties.

That previous post: The Case of the Middle-Aged Authors

However, to quote someone who must have been very confused when they said it, youth must be served and they are a dish best served cold. Youth are vichyssoise.

Another way to look at the numbers is to examine the median age (the midpoint between high and low) and the mode (the most frequent occurrence). These can tell you something average won't tell you, something which that number is hiding. While the average of 44 is bumped up by those twenty years older, those authors who are in their thirties can not have their influence lowered by authors in their teens and preteens. In other words, the peak production of these authors lives as measured by having an entry on the CWA list ranges from 23 to 69, not over the whole of their lives.

Let's add in the Mystery Writers of America (1995) and Mystery Writers of Japan (1985 and 2012) lists and see how the ages string out.

Ages:     Mean     Median    Mode   Range
CWA       43.5       42       46    23-69
MWA       43.0       40       34    25-79
MWJ '85   40.8       40       36    25-70
MWJ '12   41.5       40       36    23-60

Here the thirties fair better. The ages can be represented graphically.

The individual bars represent the number of authors who fit in the specified age range (e.g. 30s). In each case, twenties plus thirties have more authors than do the forties.

The MWJ lists are skewed by the fact that they loved the early Ellery Queen (5 entries from their twenties, 9 overall). Perhaps the takeaway message is good news: you can succeed old or young.


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