Never too old for a debut novel

While all the headlines in the book section of the news are grabbed by young authors, there’s still plenty of room for an older writer to make a debut.  That was the conclusion drawn by almost-30 something K.W. Colyard, who wondered if she was missing a chronological “sweet spot” and should perhaps get moving on her writing career.

She was inspired to search for late in life first-time authors and discovered a list of a half dozen women authors who got that first volume published later in life.  We liked the idea so much we’re sharing her list of notables from her Bustle story here. As  her list suggests, you may never be dismissed due to age if you have something to say.

  • Mary Wesley, Jumping the Queue
  • Anne Youngson, Meet Me at the Museum
  • Harriet Doerr, Stones for Ibarra
  • Lorna Page, A Dangerous Weakness
  • Norma MacMaster, Silence Under a Stone
  • Sarah Yerkes, Days of Blue and Flame

But the list of authors who started late doesn’t stop there.  Other ‘late bloomers” who published later in life include Margaret Walker, who wrote her first novel, Jubilee at 51;  Toni Morrison, a Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winner who wrote her first book at 39, Alex Haley, who wrote the best-seller Roots at 55, and of course Senior Planet member Calvin Alexander Ramsey, who has written books and plays (read his story here).

What’s your story?

How to start? Most writers have trouble getting started at least sometimes. Solution? Just start.

A nudge from a friend may help.  If you need a little pep talk, we found this from another successful woman writer. She sees women writers and women book readers as a most natural, unsurprising thing.


Want more inspiration?  We will be hosting author John Leland to talk about his bestseller “Happiness is a Choice you Make” at the Senior Planet Center in NYC at 127 W. 25th Street on  October 23 from 6-8pm…or watch the talk live-streamed as it happens on our YouTube Channel here. The talk is free but registration to attend is required; call 646-590-0615.  


Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

  • Hugh WEst

    Thank you for the inspiration. I am interested in writing about the incredible women in my family. Although the succumbed to their illness they did raise families, and instilled their sense of propriety, pride and tenacious endeavour to their children and in many ways help their husbands raise their families as if they remained alive.. Persistence and force of will were character values that guided themselves. Like wait until papa comes home (I think).

  • Elisa Peterson

    I’m currently writing and illustrating a series of graphic essay memoirs in a collection I call “Unreported Damages and Retroactive Repairs”. I’ve been invited to read my work at a local literary gathering so am also studying interpretive reading.
    I have found that, for me, memoir demands a sort of honesty I had not expected. I hadn’t really considered how the back door can open on a lovely story, and in comes darkness. I want to leave more than my Facebook story for my grandchildren I want them to know that, yes, I glimmered and shone, but that I also failed and broke and picked myself up. I want to leave them the gift of hope.

  • Janet Givens

    My husband wrote five novels during his early morning downtime while we were serving in the US Peace Corps. He was in his mid 60s at the time. Since coming home, he’s been editing, tightening, and publishing: Four down, one to go. (And I did my first memoir of those two years). Age is too often used as an excuse.

  • Linda Stern

    I became a self-published author at 69, of a non-fiction book about my paternal grandfather who was a policeman in Philadelphia in 1917: “Bosses and Blackjacks – A Tale of the Bloody Fifth in Philadelphia.” It took me three years of research and writing, but I got it done!

    At 72, I’m now working on the third novella in my historical fiction trilogy: “The Mari Mort Theater Trilogy.” And, just to add to the fun, I’ve started a political thriller novel: “Dead Justice!”

    Keep writing, folks – you’re only limited by your imagination!

  • Jeanne Felfe

    I published my first novel at 60 and just recently re-released it as Bridge to Us. I am working on three novels right now. A critique partner who recently passed was busy writing her memoirs (published one) and a steamy romance well into her 80’s. You’re never too old.

  • Bellamy Gayle

    ok – so, I’m 77. It seems that puts me at the top of this heap. KEEP ME SAFE, my debut novel, has been in my editor’s hands for a couple of weeks now. That hopefully means this book should be published in early 2020 unless I hold it back. It’s prequel, HATTIE, is half-finished and the 3rd book in the series is half-blocked. (For safety’s sake, I’ve secured a family member’s promise to publish, should I meet my demise before I can follow through – not that I’m worried. Mom reached the age of 96 before she succumbed…)

  • Donna K. Wasley

    I am 76 years old and have written children’s story but publishers want thousands of dollars upfront to design and publish my book. Are there any other options for my story to get published without paying up front? Thank you

    • Jeanne Felfe

      Donna K. Wasley – please don’t pay a publisher. Those who want money from you to publish are vanity presses. Money should flow to the author, not the other way around. Your best bet is to query agents who accept the type of books you write. The agent (once you sign with one) with seek out a legitimate publisher. Your other option is to approach mid- and small-sized presses who often take work that isn’t submitted via an agent. Just make sure they aren’t asking you to pay.

  • Kate Walter

    My first book , a memoir, came out when I was 66.
    Looking for a Kiss; A Chronicle of Downtown Heartbreak and Healing
    (Heliotrope Books, 2015). Took years to write and went through many drafts.
    But I was so happy to be a book author.


    Those ‘senior’ writers look too young to me: at 76 I am starting to write novels !
    An in addition to age I added another difficulty: writing novels about middle size industrial businesses in Europe, US and Asia !
    Industry thrillers…Many books are already treating this subject but I like to think my 59 years of experience are unique !
    Nobody would normally like to read about a business next door but what and who is normal today ?
    Certainly not me accordind to my wife, children and friends…
    And I am convinced my subject can make passionating novels if mixed properly with the right ingrédients such as love, hate,sex ,mystery, etc..
    Will I be able to make it ? Lets wait some years..
    Thanks for your attention, sincerely.
    Didier Lombard

  • Neil Hitz

    Great article on Elder writers.
    From an age standpoint I think I have them beat. I am 79 and this year launched My Life Directory. It is a hard cover or PDF that encourages people of any age to write in the location of the important documents and contacts they use to manage their lives. Then when they are removed from the day-to-day, even for a short time, family members know where to find everything.

    After just a few news articles and radio interviews MLD is catching on across the US. This project is my Mission, not a profit venture. I have experienced the stress and emotion when dealing with this situation as have many others. This is my attempt to provide people with the means to lessen that stress.
    Check out Neil

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