Blog: King of the Hill

Acquired from the internet hive mind

Ever play King of the Hill as a kid? My clearest memory of the game was a lose dirt mound outside of some youth thing I was attending. The kids all tried climbing with the person on top pushing everyone else down. With over twenty of us on that little dirt pile, no one stayed on top long. We all went home dirty, exhausted, and somewhat bruised. 

High ground wins. Every battle strategy is based on this concept. Winners stay winning – but with enough competition, winners will be unseated.

Traditional publishing is a King of the Hill type situation. put together statistics for “Ages of Authors When They First Publish a Bestseller”: ‘s%20over%207%20years%20longer. (Note 9/20/2023 – Looks like the link has been discontinued.)

The statistics are drawn from NY Times bestsellers through wikipedia articles, breaking things down by genre, age, and decade.

Average age for a FIRST bestseller is 48 for both men and women taking into account 1940-2010’s, with the age creeping up. The age in the 1940’s was 47 and the age in 2010’s is 51. Science Fiction, Romance, and Fantasy genres are mid-stream in age, while Mystery/Crime and Thriller skews older. Horror draws the youngest crowd of first-timers at age 41, and thriller at age 52 has the oldest first-timers. 

Interesting women and men have the same age for first-timers on the NY  Times best selling list.

The biggest takeaway for this page is the last graph – the number of first time best-sellers. It stayed steady from the 1940s through the 1990s – then the internet took off, and the number of first-timers doubled. More people had access to writing and to submitting for writing. The hill suddenly had a lot more people vying for the top. Which means that people reaching the top are staying there shorter periods of time.

Writing is an older person’s game. Like every profession, it takes time to master a skill, and since writing is rarely anyone’s primary profession until they can master it, that time runs decades.

Secondly, the free time it takes to crack down and work on a manuscript isn’t available to the younger crowd usually – early twenties is establishing and setting up a career, later twenties to mid-forties is raising the next generation. Only mid-forties do people start having free time again and that book nibbling at the back of the head can come out on paper finally. A few other books had starts and jerks before between other action, the stories that helped master the craft. But actual full-attention, best work from a fully-skilled writer, that is after the nest gets empty.

Interesting to think when most people considering life is on the downside, writing careers are just kicking off. Forties to fifties is when the games begin.

Time to play King of the Hill.