In 1950 she married Horace Wright Johnson (died 2009), who shared her interests in music, opera and ballet. They had three children: Alec Anthony, born 1952; Todd, born 1956; and Georgeanne ("Gigi", Georgeanne Kennedy), born 1959.
McCaffrey served a term as secretary-treasurer of the Science Fiction Writers of America from 1968 to 1970. In addition to handcrafting the Nebula Award trophies, her responsibilities included production of two monthly newsletters and their distribution by mail to the membership.
McCaffrey emigrated to Ireland with her two younger children in 1970, weeks after filing for divorce. Ireland had recently exempted resident artists from income taxes, an opportunity that fellow science-fiction author Harry Harrison had promptly taken and helped to promote. McCaffrey's mother soon joined the family in Dublin. The following spring, McCaffrey was guest of honour at her first British science-fiction convention (Eastercon 22, 1971). There she met British reproductive biologist Jack Cohen, who would be a consultant on the science of Pern.
McCaffrey had had two short stories published during the 1950s. The first ("Freedom of the Race", about women impregnated by aliens) was written in 1952 when she was pregnant with her son Alec. It earned a $100 prize in Science-Fiction Plus. Her second story, "The Lady in the Tower", was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction by editor Robert P. Mills and published again by editor Judith Merril for The Year's Greatest Science Fiction.[a] McCaffrey said "she thought of the story when wishing herself alone, like a lady in an ivory tower".
Judith Merril matched McCaffrey with her long-time literary agent Virginia Kidd (died 2003) and invited her to the Milford Writer's Workshop (to which she returned many times), where participants each brought a story to be critiqued. After her first Milford workshop in 1959 she worked on "The Ship Who Sang", the story which began the Brain & Brawn Ship series. At the story's end, the spaceship Helva sings "Taps" for her human partner. Decades later, McCaffrey's son Todd called it "almost an elegy to her father".In interviews between 1994 and 2004, she considered it her best story and her favourite. "I put much of myself into it: myself and the troubles I had in accepting my father's death  and a troubled marriage."
McCaffrey then wrote two more "Ship" stories and began her first novel. Regarding her motivation for Restoree (1967), her son recalled her saying, "I was so tired of all the weak women screaming in the corner while their boyfriends were beating off the aliens. I wouldn't have been—I'd've been in there swinging with something or kicking them as hard as I could". McCaffrey explained that it did not require a sequel; it "served its purpose of an intelligent, survivor-type woman as the protagonist of an s-f story".
Regarding her 1969 Decision at Doona (which she dedicated "To Todd Johnson—of course!"), her son recalled that he was directed to lower his voice in his fourth-grade school play when his mother was in the auditorium. That inspired the Doona story, which opens on "an overcrowded planet where just talking too loud made you a social outcast". As a settler on Doona, the boy talker has a priceless talent.
McCaffrey made a fast start in Ireland, completing for 1971 publication Dragonquest and two Gothic novels for Dell, The Mark of Merlin and The Ring of Fear. With a contract for The White Dragon (which would complete the "original trilogy" with Ballantine), her writing stalled. During the next few years the family moved several times in the Dublin area and struggled to make ends meet, supported largely by child-care payments and meager royalties.
The young-adult book market provided a crucial opportunity. Editor Roger Elwood sought short contributions for anthologies, and McCaffrey started the Pern story of Menolly. She delivered "The Smallest Dragonboy" for $154, and four stories which later becameThe Crystal Singer. Futura Publications in London signed her to write books about dinosaurs for children. Editor Jean E. Karl atAtheneum Books sought to attract more female readers to science fiction and solicited "a story for young women in a different part of Pern". McCaffrey completed Menolly's story as Dragonsong and contracted for a sequel before its publication in 1976. The tales of Menolly are continued in Dragonsinger: Harper of Pern, and Dragondrums as the "Harper Hall Trilogy".  With a contract with Atheneum she was able to buy a home (named "Dragonhold" for the dragons who bought it). Her son wrote, 20 years later, that she "first set dragons free on Pern and then was herself freed by her dragons."
Some time after their move to Long Island, Todd McCaffrey recalls, his mother asked him what he thought of dragons. She was brainstorming about their "bad press all these years". The result was a "technologically regressed survival planet" whose people were united against a threat from space (in contrast to an America divided by the Vietnam War). "The dragons became the biologically renewable air force, and their riders 'the few' who, like the RAF pilots in World War Two, fought against incredible odds day in, day out—and won."
"Weyr Search" covers the recruitment of a young woman, Lessa, to establish a telepathic bond with a queen dragon at its hatching, thus becoming a dragonrider and the leader of a Weyr community. "Dragonrider" explores the growth of the queen dragon Ramoth, and the training of Lessa and Ramoth. Editor Campbell requested "to see dragons fighting thread [the menace from space]", and also suggested time travel; McCaffrey incorporated both suggestions. The third story, "Crack Dust, Black Dust", was not separately published, but the first Pern novel (Dragonflight, published by Ballantine Books in 1968) was a fix-up of all three.
Agent Virginia Kidd and editor Betty Ballantine provided advice and assistance for its sequel Dragonquest. It was almost complete (and the contract for another sequel signed) before the 1970 move to Ireland. Both Ballantine and fellow writer Andre Norton made suggestions for the mutant white dragon.
Readers waited a long time for the completion of the original trilogy. Progress was not made until 1974–1975, when the New England Science Fiction Association invited McCaffrey to its annual convention (Boskone) as guest of honour (which included publication of a novella for sale on-site). She wrote A Time When, which would become the first part of The White Dragon.[b]
The White Dragon was released with new editions of the first two Pern books, with cover art illustrated by Michael Whelan. It was the first science-fiction book by a woman on the New York Times best-seller list, and the cover painting is still in print from Whelan. The artists share credit for their career breakthroughs.[c][d]
McCaffrey said of her collaborations with son Todd McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, "While I would dearly love to have the energy to tell a tale all on my own, I really cannot say that I am not ably represented with my collaborations". In the Pern collaboration with Todd, she was mainly "making suggestions or being a sounding board". According to Todd, McCaffrey also gave Todd and his sister Gigi permission to write their own stories set in the Pern universe.
McCaffrey considered most of her work science fiction and enjoyed "cutting them short when they call me a 'fantasy' writer". All the Pern books may be considered science fiction, since the dragons were genetically engineered by the Pern colonists. Regarding science, she said "I don't keep up with developments, but I do find an expert in any field in which I must explain myself and the science involved". Astronomer Steven Beard often helped with science questions, and McCaffrey acknowledged reproductive biologist Jack Cohen several times.[example needed]
The Science Fiction Hall of Fame citation of Anne McCaffrey summarises her genre as "science fiction, though tinged with the tone and instruments of fantasy", and her reputation as "a writer of romantic, heightened tales of adventure explicitly designed to appeal—and to make good sense to—a predominantly female adolescent audience."
McCaffrey said in 2000, "There are no demographics on my books which indicate the readers are predominately of an age or sex group. Dragons have a universal appeal"! Formerly, it was another matter:
I started writing s-f in the late 50's/early 60's, when readership was predominantly male. And their attitudes unreconstructed. [... Women] began reading s-f and fantasy—and, by preference, women writers. My stories had themes and heroines they could, and did, relate to. I never had any trouble with editors and publishers. I had trouble getting male readers to believe I was serious, and a good enough writer to interest them.
In 1999, the American Library Association gave McCaffrey the 11th Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for teens. The librarians credited her with "over 50 novels for young adults and adults" and cited seven published from 1968 to 1979 for the "significant and lasting contribution to young adult literature" that the award features: The Ship Who Sang (1969) and the first six Pern books (those sometimes called the "original trilogy" and the "Harper Hall trilogy"). The panel chair observed that "McCaffrey's focus on the personal and emotional need of human beings mirrors the quest of today's teens to find their own place in society."
McCaffrey's first novel was Restoree, published by Ballantine Books in 1967. Unlike most science-fiction books of the era, Restoree's heroine is a strong-willed, intelligent woman who is willing and able to think for herself and act on her own initiative. McCaffrey was widely quoted as saying that Restoree was intended as a "jab" at how women were usually portrayed in science fiction.
Several of McCaffrey's series (and more than half her books) are set in a universe governed by the "Federated Sentient Planets" ("Federation" or "FSP"). Although Pern's history is connected to the Federation, McCaffrey only used it as a backdrop for storytelling and did not consider her different "worlds" to be part of the same universe.
McCaffrey's best-known works are the Dragonriders of Pern series. These are set on a planet known as Pern, settled by colonists from Earth. The advanced technology of their ancestors has been lost, so the inhabitants of Pern have reverted to a society similar to western medieval Earth. However, before the loss of this advanced technology the original colonists produced genetically engineered dragons. These dragons are now flown by elite "dragonriders", who communicate telepathically with them. Together, they defend Pern against pernicious "thread", spores which cross space periodically from a nearby planet (the "red star") and threaten to destroy all life on Pern.
The Brain & Brawn Ship series comprises seven novels, only the first of which (a fix-up of five previously published stories) was written by McCaffrey alone. The stories in this series deal with the adventures of "shell-people" or "Brains", who as infants (due to illness or birth defects) have had to be hard-wired into a life-support system. With sensory input and motor nerves tied into a computer they serve as starship pilots (or colony administrators), seeing and feeling the colony or ship as an extension of their own body. They perform this job to pay off their debt for education and hardware, and continue as free agents once the debt is paid. To compensate for the Brains' inability to move within human habitats they are paired with partners known as "Brawns", who are trained in a wide array of skills (including the protection of their Brain counterparts). It was considered impossible for a person to adjust to being a shell after the age of two or three. An exception, in The Ship Who Searched, was a shell-person who was seven when she became quadriplegic.
The Ship books are set in the same universe as the Crystal Singer books; Brainship-Brawn pairings were also characters in the second and third volumes of that series.
The first book (and first of the trilogy), The Crystal Singer (1982) is a fix-up of four stories published in 1974–1975.
The Crystal Singer series revolves around the planet Ballybran. Under a permanent biohazard travel restriction, Ballybran is home to one of the FSP's wealthiest (and most reclusive) organisations: the Heptite Guild. Source of crystals vital to a number of industries, the Heptite Guild is known to require absolute, perfect pitch in hearing and voice for all applicants (especially those seeking to mine crystal by song).
'The Coelura' explores the theme of environmental abuse, as a precious animal is hunted to near extinction for its remarkable pelt. The Lady Cassia must choose between protecting the Coelura or meeting her obligations to her father and mother.
The Ireta series (as catalogued by the Internet Speculative Fiction Database) comprises five novels: two "Dinosaur Planets" by McCaffrey in 1978 and 1984 and three "Planet Pirates" co-written during the 1990s.
They share a fictional premise, and some characters and events overlap. "Dinosaur Planets" follow the Exploration and Evaluation Corps team on the planet Ireta, which did not expect to find dinosaurs. In "Planet Pirates", all is not well in the FSP: pirates attack the spacelanes. Survivors on Ireta and the survivors of space pirate attacks join forces.
"The Talents Universe" (as catalogued by the Internet Speculative Fiction Database) comprises two series: "Talent" and "The Tower and Hive" and share a fictional premise. Eight books (all by McCaffrey alone) are rooted in her second story (1959) and three stories published in 1969.
The Talents universe involves a society built around the Talents of telepathic, telekinetic individuals who become integral to the connectivity of interstellar society.
Two civilisations in near-identical circumstances – an overlarge, lethargic population and a tragic history with sentient aliens – end up attempting to colonise the same planet by accident. What the humans do not know is that the people they have misidentified as nomadic natives are more technically advanced than themselves (and under no such illusions regarding the humans). The books are set in the time of "Amalgamated Worlds", but a sentence in chapter ten of Crisis at Doona hints that there is "a desire to form a Federation of Sentient Planets". This sets the books just prior to the FSP universe (which comprises much of McCaffrey's work).
The "Acorna Universe series" comprises ten novels published between 1997 and 2007: seven sometimes known as Acorna and three sometimes known as Acorna's Children. The first two were written by McCaffrey and Margaret Ball, and the rest by McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough.
McCaffrey also published two short-story collections, several romances and young-adult fantasies. Her nonfiction work includes two cookbooks and a book about dragons. McCaffrey collaborated closely with musicians Tania Opland and Mike Freeman on two CDs ("The Masterharper of Pern" and "Sunset's Gold"), based on her lyrics and the music described in her Pern novels.