Still, I thought it would be interesting to take a snapshot of well-known SF&F authors and look at the ages they were when they debuted, and the results are surprisingly varied.
Coming in at the bottom end of the range is Catherine Webb, a British science fiction and fantasy author who has published critically-acclaimed work under her own name and under two pseudonyms: Kate Griffin and Claire North. Webb was 16 years old when she published her first novel, Mirror Dreams, 23 when she published A Madness of Angels (her first Matthew Swift urban fantasy novel) and 28 when she published arguably her best-known novel, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August. She's only 32 now, with twenty novels under her belt in a career spanning sixteen years. More impressive is that Webb has attracted immense critical acclaim for her work, which is imaginative, thought-provoking, restless and constantly innovative.
Better-known, although considerably less artistically accomplished, is Christopher Paolini. His Inheritance series of fantasy novels began with Eragon, published when he was 19 years old.
Next up is that well-known young gun George R.R. Martin. His first published work was "The Hero", published in 1971 when Martin was 22 years old. His first novel, Dying of the Light, was published when he was 28, and he was 47 when his best-known novel, A Game of Thrones, was published.
Terry Pratchett got his novel-writing career off to an early start, publishing The Carpet People at the age of 23. However, he had long waits between his early books. His Discworld series kicked off with The Colour of Magic, published when he was 35.
China Mieville was 26 when he published his first novel, King Rat, but, overwhelmingly impressively, was only 27 when he published the massive, classic fantasy Perdido Street Station. He was still only 36 when The City and The City, one of his best-known novels, was published.
Robin Hobb aka Megan Lindholme was 27 when she published her first short story and 31 for her debut novel, Harpy's Flight. Her most famous novel (and debut as Robin Hobb), Assassin's Apprentice, was published when she was 43.
Arthur C. Clarke got into science fiction writing early, with numerous fanzine stories published in the late 1930s and early 1940s, but his first professional sale was "Loophole", published when he was 28. His first novel, Prelude to Space, was published when he was 33. However, his best-known novel, 2001: A Space Odyssey, was not published until he was 50, and his most acclaimed, Rendezvous with Rama, until he was 55.
Scott Lynch was 28 when he published The Lies of Locke Lamora, narrowly beating out Brandon Sanderson, who was 29 when he published Elantris.
Statistically, especially in SF&F, most debut authors are in their thirties when they start publishing. Falling in this bracket are Iain Banks (30 when he published The Wasp Factory, 33 when he published his first SF novel, Consider Phlebas); Robert Jordan (31 when he published The Fallon Blood and 41 when he published The Eye of the World); Joe Abercrombie (31 when he published The Blade Itself); Ursula K. Le Guin (31 for her first short story, 38 for A Wizard of Earthsea); Terry Brooks (33 for The Sword of Shannara); and Patrick Rothfuss (34 for The Name of the Wind).
For those starting publishing a bit later than the median, there's Raymond E. Feist, who published Magician when he was 37. Gene Wolfe was 39 when he published his first novel and 49 when he released his best-known novel, The Shadow of the Torturer, which opened his Book of the New Sun sequence.
Steven Erikson was 39 when he published his debut novel, This River Awakes, and 40 when he released his first Malazan novel, Gardens of the Moon.
J.R.R. Tolkien was 44 when he published his first novel, The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, and 62 when he began publishing its sequel, The Lord of the Rings.
Terry Goodkind was 46 when he published his debut novel, Wizards' First Rule.
David Eddings was an impressive 50 years old when he published Pawn of Prophecy, beginning The Belgariad.
Richard Adams was 52 when he published his debut novel, Watership Down.
Outside of SF, there are a lot of examples of famous writers who got going in middle age or later. Raymond Chandler was 45 when he published his first story and 51 when he published The Big Sleep. George Eliot aka Mary Evans was 40 when she published her first novel, but 55 when she released her masterwork, Middlemarch. Frank McCourt was 66 when he published his debut novel, Angela's Ashes, which won the Pulitzer Prize.
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