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How do authors over 60 define success? Marylee Macdonald investigates.

How Do Authors Over 60 Define Career Success?

by Marylee MacDonald

Career success for writers over 60 looks quite different from the success of writers profiled in such places as The New Yorker’s 20 Best Writers Under 40 or Granta’s  Best Young American Novelists.

Writers in their 60s, 70s, and 80s can’t enter these literary beauty contests, nor would they win.

First novels written by older writers will, most likely, be self-published or “brought out” by independent presses using print-on-demand (POD) technology. (For more on independent presses, read my blog post “Independent Publishers: The Good, the Bad, and the Sleazy.”)

To find readers older writers are likely to hire publicists or rely on Facebook. Our books’ sales may never top  a thousand. However, if it’s any consolation, according to an NPR report, most traditionally published, debut novels don’t generate big sales either.

What this means is that writers of a certain age must come up with their own definitions of success.

Here are three writers who have defined what success means to them. Paramount is the notion that they have written books worth reading.

Connecting With Readers

Andrew Levkoff, award-winning author of The Bow of Heaven, historical fiction set in the Roman Empire, started his writing career at age 13 with a forty-page space opera. “A worthy effort. A prodigious flop.” This was followed by a gap of about 40 years, filled with the unforgiving demands of career and family. Then, about a decade before retirement, he set to work on his first book.

Levkoff never expected to make an independent living storytelling. He says that he is “more than satisfied with the knowledge that readers around the world have been exposed to my work, and as long as Amazon remains extant, my books and stories will continue to be available.”

When asked about the intangibles of publishing late in life, he cited the “unexpected joy from the ability to interact with both readers and authors one-on-one, in a way that just wasn’t possible in previous generations.”

The Joys of Practice

Chicago author, Lynn Sloan, recalls an old joke:  “How do I get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” She took up fiction writing in her early forties, and practiced, practiced, practiced writing short stories, then publishing the good ones, before she wrote her novel Principles of Navigation.

Her goal at the beginning wasn’t to get to “Carnegie Hall,” which for writers might be translated as publishing a best-selling novel. Instead, she says, “My goal was to write a story good enough that people who know something about good writing would like, not just my mother, my husband, and my generous friends.”

Sloan finds success-after-60 very sweet. “It feels great to find readers who enjoy my book; it feels great to have reviewers like it, too. If I were younger, I would feel compelled to follow up immediately with another novel, to build my career. Now I don’t. Yes, I am writing another novel, but now I understand that for me, the deepest pleasure is in the practice, practice, practice.”

Celebrate Each Achievement

Barbara Lorna Hudson is a British author whose novel about internet dating, Timed Out, found a home at Driven Press, an independent publisher based in Australia.

When asked about success, Hudson responded, “Success is the next Big Thing, your next goal. So it’s a good idea to identify them one at a time and celebrate each achievement – a story written, a story published, a competition listing, a novel finished. And be proud! These retirement years could have been a lot less productive.”

How about sales? I asked.

“My novel  is doing far better than I’d dared hope,  despite the disadvantages associated with print on demand, a small publisher, etc. But I have to acknowledge that part of the interest I’m getting is because I tried internet dating myself in my sixties as well as putting it in a book, and am willing to talk about my experience.”

Journeys of the Imagination

As for me, writing fiction lets me inhabit other worlds.  The characters in Bonds of Love & Blood travel  to Turkey, Thailand, Mexico, and Prague, among other places. I zip myself inside their body-suits and observe the world through their eyes. When I sit at my computer, the next journey begins.

We older writers have lived through six, seven, or eight decades, each with its own life’s task, whether that be finding a partner, raising children, or supporting aging parents.

At this point we are storytellers with stories to tell.


Marylee MacDonald is the author of Bonds of Love & Blood , short-listed in Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Awards, and Montpelier Tomorrow, winner of the Gold Medal for Drama from the Reader’s Favorites International Book Awards. Her website is https://maryleemacdonaldauthor.com and her Twitter handle is @MaryleeMacD.


5 thoughts on “How do authors over 60 define success? Marylee Macdonald investigates.

  1. Oh I do relate. I am 63 and I started doing the work of research to write the book I’m writing now – 3 years ago. It has been rewritten, chopped up, parts discarded and have participated in online writing classes, because I realized that writing a blog and writing a book are nothing alike. It has taken awhile to feel as though my writing is improving. I see it in chapter revisions. I’m far from done because it is based on a true story. ( and I don’t want to get sued) I’ve enjoyed the process. I’m also recording a piano soundtrack for each chapter and making music videos to promote the book as I write. Will it be successful? Yes. Because that is what I see and we are what we think. But we decide for ourselves What the definition of success is. You can read some of my book chapters and hear The music at http://mynameisjamie.net

  2. Janice J. Richardson

    Good article. Over 60 and becoming an author is a pleasure. Money doesn’t buy happiness and as a ‘senior’ I am comfortable and happy with my self-published work. I love connecting with readers, meeting new authors and reviewing. It is fun to educate and entertain readers through my books. I know I would not have been as content with that scenario when I was younger, I had a family to support. in the journey to becoming a mature storyteller, I have nothing left to prove and the work is it’s own reward.

  3. Thank you for the encouragement! At 58, I’ve just started to consider myself a writer. I know I won’t be able to support myself with writing, but I am finding joy from connecting with readers and other writers. And I’ll agree with the authors in this post, that is success.

  4. This was a fascinating post but I’d like to add that you didn’t really focus on writers who started their writing careers late in life. How about finding someone who didn’t major in English Literature and is in her sixties? There are many of us out here struggling to gain exposure but our voices are drowned out by the voices of the traditionally published or those with the money to hire a publishing house. Help. http://www.tinthiaclemant.com

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