Tuesday, May 19, 2015

New York Times Bestsellers: Ages of Authors

One aspect of literature that fascinates me is the fact that it celebrates accumulated wisdom. Authors often bloom in their middle and senior years. 

I examined the ages at which the authors had their bestsellers. To simplify the process I subtracted birth year from year initially appearing on the bestseller list rather than seeking out birthdate versus list date.

A special award goes to J.R.R. Tolkien who, 34 years after dying at age 81, had the novel The Children of Húrin rise to the number one position on the bestseller list, 115 years after his birth.

Another remarkable story is that of Helen Hooven Santmyer. In the 1910s, she was a suffragette and in the 1920s, an Oxford scholar. For the bulk of her professional life she worked as a librarian in Dayton, Ohio. At age 86, and in failing health, she published her 1200 page epic, "...And the Ladies of the Club." It sold several hundred copies, languishing in obscurity for two years until it got noticed. In 1984 it was selected as a Book of the Month, and rose to the number one position on the New York Times Bestsellers List where it stayed for seven weeks.

Eleven novels reaching the number one spot on the New York Times Adult Fiction Bestseller list between 1960 and 2015 were by authors over the age of 80. Another 38 were by authors between 70 and 79 and 133 novels were by authors between 60 and 69. The average age was 54.1 and the median 54.

On the other extreme, two novels were by authors in their twenties. Rachel Van Dyken with her novel The Bet, owns the position as the youngest.

Martin Hill Ortiz is the author of one novel, A Predatory Mind (2013) from Loose Leaves Publishing. His mystery, Never Kill A Friend, will be available June 15th from Ransom Note Press. The sequel to A Predatory Mind is set to come out later this year.


  1. I tweeted this! It's a great post, I hope you tweet it too!

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