Monday, 8 March 2010

TOO OLD TO DEBUT???

Last month, I blogged about whether publishers would look askance at middle-aged heroines and I asked you to put your thinking caps on and come back with lots of examples of commercially successful books with heroines between the ages of 45 and 60. Tremendous response! I think we were reassured (those of us who wanted to be) that age is no bar to being a heroine - even though statistically we may be in the minority, it is an important and gorgeous minority. The 76 comments are testimony to the interest. Do go and read it and then come back.

During the comments, one reader, calling herself AN Other Old Bag (!), raised the allied issue about whether the age of the author matters. Susie, David, catdownunder and Colette, amongst others, were also interested in this. (For "interested", read, horrified / terrified / damned furious...)

The questions, I guess, are:
  • Is it harder to become published for the first time for an older than a younger writer?
  • At what age does it start becoming more difficult?
  • Is there a maximum age?
  • If age does matter, why does it?
My answers are going to be based partly on my own observations, and partly on the answers which some actual agents and publishers gave me when I asked them, especially on your behalf. I am so good to you.
  1. There will always be exceptions to any rules about this. So, Mary Wesley publishing her first book when she was 70 should not tell you very much at all: after all, the very fact that she was 70 became the publisher's marketing point, and that cannot be used as a marketing point too often. So, while exceptions are interesting, don't rely on them to provide a normality.
  2. Essentially, becoming published happens because of several factors and the most important one is ALWAYS whether the book is good enough and has a discernible readership, regardless of the age of the author.
  3. Having said that, yes, on average and in general, it does become somewhat harder (ie statistically less likely to happen) to have your first book published after a certain age. 
  4. However, statistics are pointless and should be ignored because you only need to think about you and your book. If your book is brilliant, it will go shooting up the likelihood stakes, beating any age considerations.
  5. Also, the "ageism" effect is much less in writing than for any other profession that I can think of. 
That was the good news. Now, you need the bad news.

This was one top children's agent's response:
"I can categorically state from personal experience that the age of the author definitely affects some publishers' responses. I also have the impression that young editors believe that to make their mark they have to find new young authors with the potential to build long careers. It's baloney, of course."
She then told me (after I queried whether writers actually bothered to tell agents their age when contacting them):
"Most authors do indeed tell your their age when approaching an agent. If the writing appeals to me, the age is irrelevant. And that's dependent on the author's own attitude and voice. " 
Do you notice something? Something contradictory? She said that the age of the author can definitely affect publishers' response, but that if the writing is good enough your age is irrelevant to her. Have you worked out what this means?

Well?

What it means is this: this top agent will take your work if she believes in it, and the only reason she can do this is because she also believes that her powers of persuasion and the way she will pitch you to the publishers will over-ride any considerations they might have about your age. It also means that although your age may affect publishers, it does not necessarily mean that they will reject you because of it. Perhaps what it does mean is that you've got to be even better...

So, if age matters even a bit, those of us of a certain age just need to try harder and be better. Well, we can do that, can't we?

One agent also made the point:
"However, as authors now have to do much more in the way of personal promotion, questions do arise to do with their ability to travel and promote themselves."
In other words, younger implies fitter? Hmmm, well, there are younger writers with health problems and older ones with the constitutions of oxen, as I'm sure you'll agree. But the thing is that truth matters much less than perception.

My response to this, if you are one of these "older" writers, is to say that you must indicate that you are going to be able to be active in promotion. For example, casually point out that you understand that today's writers must be active in promotion and that you are looking forward to this. Don't over-egg it by going on about your age. Be subtle.

Another agent who handles both adult and children's / YA books, said this:
"Five years ago, I'd have said it [age] would make no difference whatsoever, but now, because it absolutely matters to most publishers, it has to matter to us. I don't think I've actually turned a really good book down because of the author's age but I know that older (and by that I probably mean 50+) will be harder to pitch."
One agent suggested that one reason why this might be the case was that writers must be able to embrace new technologies and the (quite unfounded) assumption is that older writers are less able to. This is ludicrous, especially if by "older" you only mean 50. BUT, note the obvious learning point here: if you are over 50 (or whatever - honestly, I feel ridiculous setting an age at all), make an extra point of how web-savvy you are. Platform is increasingly important and age is no bar to that. Prove it!

An agent also pointed out that it can depend on genre.
For example, image is important for YA writing and "mumsy" (her word, not mine) is not the ideal image for a debut YA writer. (Crabbit Old Bat with sexy shoes and a chocolate fetish is just fine...). The agent also stressed that there are always exceptions, and, as I said earlier, we're talking about statistics.

And no, there is no maximum age. Perhaps "very old" could be a selling point. And the age at which it seems to start becoming more difficult is in one's 50s. But please remember that this is just about statistics. At the same time, your writing is improving, so you are raising your chances, if you keep trying.

IN CONCLUSION
Those of you who, like me, are on the "wrong" side of 48, please STOP panicking. These are stupid statistics, really demeaning and quite irrelevant to you and your attempt to write the absolutely most fabulously RIGHT book that you can. Yes, age makes a difference, but not so much of a difference that you can't overcome it. The difference is made by perceptions of fitness, the length of your future career and some fairly logical (though statistical and therefore practically foolish) assumptions, assumptions which you can overcome by writing a great book.

No one is suggesting that an older writer is a less good writer - far from it. What is suggested is simply that an older writer might not have what it takes. So, show them they're wrong.

The message that I would like you to go away with is this:

You're only as old as the books you read - so read modern, new, fresh books, and steep yourself in what is being published NOW. I've often said, and will say again, that the importance of reading the most up-to-date books in your genre cannot be over-stated. All writing is contagious and all publishers, agents and readers care about is the age of your voice, not the number of your wrinkles.

NB and PS - edited to add: I have just been emailed by an agent who would like me also to say that she very often comes across writers who have been published for many years and who are now NOT being published, failing to have contracts renewed because they are failing to adapt to modern needs and mores. They can't see what they're doing wrong and may blame age, but it's not age but attitude. And, as she said, this underlines the crucial importance of reading up-to-date books in genre, voraciously and analytically. Don't slacken, folks!

And by the way, who said you have to tell anyone your age?

56 comments:

Talli Roland said...

Very interesting topic and one that I haven't seen blogged about very much. Thanks for approaching it and reminding me to stop worrying and just write the best book I can!

Nicky S (Absolute Vanilla) said...

I heave a sigh of relief, even though I'm on the wrong side of, what was it? 28...? I've never really considered age as a barrier - age is a state of mind. As you say, if you write "young", read "young", are up to date with technology etc, I think one's years of experience in dealing with life, stand one in excellent stead to not only write novels with the write voice, but novels that matter, that really have something worth saying.

Old Kitty said...

Hi

Hear hear and triple hear!

Thanks for the uplifting words. Nothing - not age, disability, etc, etc, should stop you from writing. I think the writing should always speak for itself and so as a writer it's up to you to be the best you can ever be and not be held back or let small minded prejudices hold you back. These stumbling blocks will always be there but similarly - there are those willing to see the writing first.

Loving this piece!

Thanks!

Take care
x

Miriam Drori said...

Thanks for this interesting post. Although, after reading it, I'm not quite sure whether to heave a sigh of relief or panic.

Stroppy Author said...

Crabbit, I read the whole post waiting for the last line - why would anyone reveal their age in an approach to an agent or publisher? It would never occur to me to do so! I don't know if my agent knows how old I am. I meet her, so she has a rough idea.... and of course I have got older while she has been representing me. I wouldn't ask an agent how old they are, even though I would obviously expect them to be representing me for a few years.

Sheila said...

I completely agree with 'Stroppy Author' (what is it about being a writer that makes people crabbit and stroppy? - no, don't answer that!) about not revealing your age. It's not that I am defensive about my own age, in fact the last time I reached a milestone I threw a party and made no secret of what milestone it was. However,I rely on people I know already to accept me as I am, age and all, whereas I can't assume others will.

catdownunder said...

I think that if anyone tries to tell me that I have to be fit and physically able to tear around the country (any country) and 'sell' my writing then I would have to take the up under whatever equal opportunity legislation applies in their part of the world. It would, to say the least, be discriminatory to hold physical (in)capacity against anyone. Indeed if a publisher was to actually say, "I like your book but I am not going to publish it because of you cannot sign it with both hands while standing on your head" (I exaggerate but you will understand I am sure) then, in Australia at least, they would be very close to (if not actually) breaking the law. (We have both age and disability discrimination laws in Australia.)
Growl, snap, snarl...I might be in my 8th or 9th life but I still think I have the right to have something published if the writing is good enough. Miaou!

Whirlochre said...

There are a million and one ways you can be what you're not, all of them impossible.

Too skinny, too tall, too fat...

All of us are going to be someone else's 'too' at some stage, and it may not be to our advantage — even if we have the wit to permit them to be wrong.

All I know is, people have mutilated themselves to undo all the 'too's — and still been thoroughly miserable.

Amanda Acton said...

If being "old" can be a disadvantage, what about being "too young?" Just curious, would publishers look at wee little 21 year old me and scream, "Oh no! But she won't have ANY life experience at that age...."

Of course, I'm pretty sure I'll be 22 before I start querying, and that's perfectly adult enough now isn't it? :P

Karen said...

I always remember feeling shocked when I read in an interview that Louise Rennison, who writes the Angus, Thongs and Full Frontal Snogging series of teen books, was 54. She has the teen speak and attitude in her novels so pitch-perfect that I'd always imagined her as practically a teenager herself! So no, age shouldn't matter.

If anyone asks me, I'm always 39 - so I guess it matters to me :o)

bookwitch said...

This isn't about books, but don't we all know an older 'aunt' type woman who has always been much more fun to be with than many 20-year-olds?

Sorry, Amanda, 22 is too young...

If I wanted an agent, which luckily I don't, I'd want someone older.

Thomas Taylor said...

Looks comes into this too, I suppose. There's probably no way to measure it, but I'm sure someone young and good-looking with a great ms has a rather better chance than someone older and, er, experienced with a great ms. It's a sign if our highly visual times, but I agree that it's hardly an insurmountable problem. Also, to a certain extent, age can be easily concealed on-line, especially if you write under a pseudonym. Take pretty little Lemony Snicket, for example:)

womagwriter said...

Thanks for this post, Nicola. So, to maximise my chances, I either need to pull my finger out and write a publishable novel within the next six years, or just lie.

lacerwrites said...

I too don't get why someone would tell an agent or publisher their age, I can think of a lot of things to say in a submission or query letter, my age isn't one of them.

As for younger people having more energy for book tours and promotion, I think personally, it's probably easier for an older person to find the time to do book promotion. I'd be able to do book promotion but I'd have to find child care first, whereas someone whose kids have grown . . .

Book Maven said...

Well now, it seems the Mary Wesley PR was successful!

Jumping the queue was NOT her first novel, published when she was 70.

BECAUSE SHE HAD PREVIOUSLY WRITTEN AND HAD PUBLISHED SEVERAL CHILDREN'S BOOKS!

Sorry to shout but that's what got my goat about her publicity. Obviously writing books for children simply didn't count.

I do think it matters with your first book if you are "of an age" because of this whole building a career thing. But what matters most it the quality of what you write - if it's good enough they won't care about your age.

KarenG said...

I see writers like actors. If we're good we can take on a voice and a tone in our writing like actors take on a persona. So if our genre is YA, and we have a young voice and sound like a teen, then we're okay regardless of age. Think Meryl Streep in that ABBA movie that came out last year. Dang it-- I can't think of the name, must be alzheimers kicking in because after all I am over 40.

Nicola Morgan said...

Bookmaven (Mary) - you are very welcome to shout about such an important thing! And thank you for telling me!

ALSO (SHOUTING TOO) - I have just learnt that Mary W's son was an agent....

Catdownunder - first, promoting a book does not have to involve tearing anywhere. 90% of it can be done from the comfort of your desk (if that's comfortable). As for the discrimination issue, several things: this is not about workplace discrimination but about writing, which just is not the same because writing for publication is about writing for readers, not to satisfy the desires of the writer; we have the same laws here and I equally believe in their importance in the work-place and other areas; BUT I do not peddle dreams, simply lay out truths. It is unreasonable to expect anyone (publisher or agent) to put disability rights and fairness above the most crucial factor: is this a good book and can we bring it to as many readers as possible? With two identically valuable books, if one is written by someone who can promote it better, for whatever reason, you know which one is going to be taken.

The point of this post was to get us all to face facts, facts of life: some things are more difficult for some than for others, for a variety of reasons, some good and some bad. But nothing, NOTHING should stop each of us focusing on the fact that writing the best book possible is the most important thing.

It's an unfair world and we have to work in it.

David Griffin said...

Thank you also for this post Nicola; much appreciated!

Some of my thoughts: there now seems to be conscious and blatant state of mind by a few agents/publishers that a novel is a commodity, a product, this seeming to overshadow all other aspects. And also, nowadays some agents and publishers want their novelists to appear and react to their reading public like screen celebrities; to become products as well.

I think it's down to writers to "paint the statistics" by insisting to agents and publishers that age doesn't matter to a degree, if or when that subject is raised. What's important as we all know, what's always been important, is the words written, the story told.

There are a lot of writers in the 50 to 60 bracket I'm guessing, who, given the chance - given the impetus and confidence by having their first novel published - could write at least another 7 or 8 books before they are shuffled off. They maybe can't dash around the country like younger people might perhaps, but still can talk on the radio (or TV if they're ultra lucky) or events, etc. People writing as first-time authors in the 70 to 80 or beyond age bracket are rare.

Just for the record, after May this year, I'll be four years away from my 60th. Don't believe it, where has the time gone?!

:-)

Suzie F. said...

Thanks so much for this post, Nicola. This is a topic that nags at the back of my brain every once in a while. Sure I wish that I had figured out 10 years ago that I needed to write. But you know what? In my 40s I'm more confident in myself, dedicated to my writing, and actually have more energy (no more middle of the night feedings). I'm more determined than ever to debut within the next 10 years if I'm good enough.

As far as not being in touch with the teen voice. Who better than someone living under the same roof with teens and being around their friends to capture their voice? I may not be quite as technology savvy as the younger generation, but I'm learning. And I've got 4 computer know-it-alls (aka, my kids) who can help me with the rest.

Katherine Roberts said...

This is totally ridiculous, surely? I'd say writing is one of the few professions where you actually improve with age and experience, as so many older authors' careers show.

I have a personal rule never to write viewpoint characters who are older than me, which rules out anyone who has passed the menopause. But children's fiction should not be a problem for any author, old or young - we've all been 10, haven't we? (Or are publishers wanting to start them earlier than that?)

Anyway, the entire publishing business appears to reward short term profits above long term careers these days, so all this talk of finding new young debuts so they can have long careers is a bit two-faced, in my opinion. How long will those careers be, exactly? And what is an author who hits this glass age-ceiling supposed to do next? We can't all become President of the United States.

Amanda Acton said...

Bookwitch: Gosh, do you think I should wait until I'm at least thirty then? :P

Nicola Morgan said...

Amanda - extreme youth (actually, I regret to say that yours isn't extreme!) can be a selling point, too! But because your youth, though wonderful, is not technically extreme, you don't count!

This stuff about selling points - we may not like it but we absolutely have to accept reality: that for us it's about writing a grreat book, but for the publisher it's about selling it. how could it not be? And IF something may make that harder, for any reason at all, they have to consider that - and then, if the book is good enough, ignore it.

Please, folks, can we be a) realistic and b) passionately focused on our writing?

Victoria Janssen said...

I never mentioned my age to potential agents or editors, only previous sales information, which to me is MUCH more relevant.

Nicola Morgan said...

Emma Darwin has asked me to post this (very interesting) comment on her behalf:

"Such a great post! As ever, the answer to the question ‘does age matter’ is ‘No’, and then again ‘Yes’, so thank you for unpicking it.

"I knew Mary Wesley's editor. According to him, and Patrick Marnham's delightful biography of her, she had been writing for 35 years, in the teeth of considerable personal and practical difficulties. She'd published two children's books, but her agent (not her son, though he is an agent) had said she couldn't sell the third, nor Mary's adult novel - although she didn't technically quite drop her. So Mary set out to sell them herself. After a year of following up every lead, Mary'd got two publishers to agree to read the MS – and both books ended up being bought. Now THAT’S persevering, though I wouldn’t dream of remarking that it’s even more impressive to persevere so at the age of 68..."

Nicola Morgan said...

Also, what Emma's comment shows is that the need to persevere, and it being difficult to get published, were ever thus.

Nicola Morgan said...

I meant to say "it being difficult to get published regardless of age"... because there's no suggestion there that it was because of her age, is there? Of course, that might have been a factor but it equally well might not.

Nicola Morgan said...

Have just added this bit to the blog:
"NB and PS - edited to add: I have just been emailed by an agent who would like me also to say that she very often comes across writers who have been published for many years and who are now NOT being published, failing to have contracts renewed because they are failing to adapt to modern needs and mores. They can't see what they're doing wrong and may blame age, but it's not age but attitude. And, as she said, this underlines the crucial importance of reading up-to-date books in genre, voraciously and analytically. Don't slacken, folks!"

Arabella said...

Well, if you are just 49, then you are an ox on the Chinese calendar. You did mention healthy as an ox, right? The oxen of the world just keep on plodding!

Nik Perring said...

Excellent post, Nicola. And I couldn't agree more when you say it's the reading of what's being published NOW that's important, not the age you are while you're reading them.

And, I know, this might sound daft being as I'm only 28 I do think, rather strongly, that writers get better with age (once we've seen and experienced more) and, more relevantly, practise. I think it's more useful for people to be thinking about practising and getting better and writing a super story than to be worrying about their age.

So. Err, that's my two-penneth!

Nik

Welshcake said...

Nicola,

As I was the person who posted under AN Other Old Bag (sorry!) to ask this question, I wanted to say huge thanks to you for taking such pains to answer it. I send you virtual chocolate.

Anyone who wants to break into this business needs to be realistic about the chances. Reading this post makes me think being in one’s 40s or 50s reduces the chances even further. But we can balance this out if we work hard, are honest with ourselves about our writing, and persist, persist, persist.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy, eh?

Oh, and Nik makes a great point about reading what’s current. I think this is especially true if you’re writing children’s/YA fiction.

Thanks again, Nicola. I’m off to amend my birth certificate. Where did I put the Tipp-Ex?

David Griffin said...

I, like a lot of others I'm sure, agree that it's more about mental attitude than age, not only to one's writing but being up-to-date with the "modern" marketing aspects now almost a pre-requisite for any aspiring author nowadays: a blog, website, online advertising, etc,.

But although I agree wholeheartedly with you Nicola, that it's important to read current fiction, it's also important to remember than the "old" stuff can be just as relevant. Good writing is good whether it's written within the last two years or written 30 years ago, but I'm sure you agree with that anyhow!

:-)

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Nicola, this is the most brilliant post. And if I can add anecdote...

Someone who ought to have known better told me a few years back that a women over 50 would never get published in today's world, for the first time. And if that woman was writing short stories, they might as well curl up and die now (or words to that effect.)

Well bugger that. And actually THANKYOU to the person who said that to me, because there's nothing like a bit of anger to sharpen you as a writer.

So if they are reading this - Hoy! The third book comes out later this year...
and PS - a 77 year old is on The Times shortlist for a £25 k short story prize...

Nik Perring said...

Well said, Vanessa!

Nicola Morgan said...

David - it's not about whether modern or old is better: it's about what is publishable. It's about what publishers are looking for. Language moves on. So does literature. As readers we can still enjoy good writing from whatever era, but as writers we must write with today's voice.

Don't let your age shine through your voice!

Nicola Morgan said...

Vanessa - hooray - for successes of all ages!

Helena Halme said...

Publishers are said to be prejudiced against women, those not living in North London and now 'old' age (50 - *makes a Munch scream face*).

Oh well, one more obstacle to overcome. Did anyone ever say it was going to be easy to get that first novel published?

No.

This is the first post I've ever seen on the subject. Scary as it may have been to read it, I'm glad you posted it, and more importantly glad you gave us ways to combat the possible prejudges.

Helena xx

David Griffin said...

Ah, I see what you are saying Nicola; thank you!

:-)

David Griffin said...

Just one personal worry: in the past, my writing has been described as being influenced by people like Mervyn Peake (especially my first one) and I guess that's true, as he's one of my literary heroes and so was bound to influence my style. But of course, he's not a modern author. I know that, although my 2 and a quarter novels aren't science fiction, there are definite influences from my really ravenous reading period during the 70's and early 80's of mainly Sci-Fi stuff. I'd like to think I've got a fairly distinctive voice, without sounding arrogant or whatever, but it's still definitely "toned" with these early influences.

So my worry is that I'm not writing in an up-to-date style; I really don't know; I'm confused on that point now; and being easily perturbed concerning my own writing, I'm wondering if I have a problem there or not...

Sorry to "wear my heart on my sleeve" here; just what came to mind so I thought I'd vocalise it!

Perhaps I'm hoping that my style, influenced by a past style, might come back into favour... well, half hope, because I've learned that dashing of hopes to do with my writing has really got me down in the past, so I've learned to build a safety net as it were, which includes not hoping too much.

I think I'm babbling on a bit now... ;-)

Nicola Morgan said...

David - very good and interesting question. I think this is something I should blog about as soon as possible. To reassure you - this is not about "sounding modern" as much as "not sounding old-fashioned". Being influenced by an earlier writer does not mean that your writing will be old-fashioned in any bad way. (btw, I LOVED Mervyn P and am currently writing a "Gormenghast for kids"!). Anyway, let me blog about it. As long as you are reading and absorbing modern things too, I don't imagine this is going to be a problem for you, so don't worry. You could send me some paras, if you like...

bookwitch said...

Yes, Amanda. Definitely. 35 perhaps.

catdownunder said...

Oh miaou! I was not growling at what you said Nicola...I was growling at the idea. Put quie simply if two books are of equal value and the publisher chooses to use the attractive young kitten rather than the mature cat simply because they believe they would sell more copies then they would, quite simply, be breaking the law here. Of course it still happens - and happens frequently. The difficulty for the mature cat is showing that the discrimination has actually been made on this basis. Publishers are likely to be even more inventive than other employers in dreaming up excuses for not employing older cats.
Yes. It's a fact of life. I acknowledge it. I live with it - but it does not stop me getting mad (in order to get even). Off to flatten my fur.

David Griffin said...

I look forward to reading that post!

Ah yes, the penny's finally dropped reading your sentence: > "To reassure you - this is not about "sounding modern" as much as "not sounding old-fashioned"." Thank you for that, it's definitely reassuring.

Which brings to mind another blog post idea which I wonder if you might consider, that of writer's confidence? Us unpublished writers, one and all, are such overly-sensitive souls, aren't we!

> "You could send me some paras, if you like..."
That's so much appreciated, Nicola, thank you, that is really good of you! I know I can trust your judgment concerning old-fashioned versus sounding-modern. Perhaps I'll send the complete first chapter of Stubb A Gothic Tale, if that's not too much, so as you can get more of the flavour of it, if that's OK? (Blinking cheek of me, I know!)

:-)

Nicola Morgan said...

Welshcake - thanks for the chocolate!

Helena - read my lips: publishers do not discriminate against women. Really. Seriously. Honestly. It's an even playing field. Well, a bit bumpy and unreliable, but not bumpy in one direction or another.

david - you're welcome to send a chapter, but NB: I can only comment very very briefly on the old-fashionedness or otherwise... Am v v v busy!

David Griffin said...

> "NB: I can only comment very very briefly on the old-fashionedness or otherwise... Am v v v busy!"

Understood! :-)

Elizabeth West said...

I totally never minded telling people my age, since I look about ten years younger anyway (FTR I'm 44). Since ageism is getting to be such a problem, however, I find myself growing more reluctant to do so. (I recently began seeing someone much younger, so maybe that will help keep me fresh and lively!) I love the Internet and am on it constantly. No one has to worry about my web-savviness. If my connection goes down, I throw a fit like I've lost a limb.

As to what you added, Nicola, about writers not being published now because they can't adapt, look at the figure skating world. When the rules changed, skaters who had been stars under the old judging system failed to move forward because they couldn't adapt their skating to learn new, more complicated moves. They simply faded away. No matter what you do, you have to keep up with the times in your chosen field, or you WILL be left behind.

Lizzie said...

I know she's not a writer, but Katherine Bigelow has just won her first Oscar at 59.

She and so many other people prove that creativity doesn't wither as you grow older.

And BTW, I agree with the other posters who wouldn't put their age in a covering letter – it's irrelevant.

Theresa Milstein said...

Thank you for doing all of this research. While I'm on the right side of 50, I'm on the wrong side of 30, so I'd better get moving and stay current!

People always think I look younger than my age. If/when I am in a position for representation and a book contract, I'm not mentioning my age.

Nancy Coffelt said...

I like to keep a roll of bills to pay people to tell me I look younger than my age. :)

Seriously, though, I had a very similar conversation TODAY with a fellow book person.

Stuck in the past? SO yesterday. Taking a fresh new look at the past? Just might work.

I'm hopelessly immature and I like it that way. I love teaching my workshops and shamelessly steal (with their happy permission) snippits of dialogue from hilarious teenagers.

I don't pretend to be a teen - I'm very grateful I'm not (and for hair dye). But it's a blast to get back there. Reading, watching shows, surfing the web, talking to your audience is all a metaphorical Delorean , "Back to the Future" experience.

And it's fun.

Nancy Coffelt said...

I like to keep a roll of bills to pay people to tell me I look younger than my age. :)

Seriously, though, I had a very similar conversation TODAY with a fellow book person.

Stuck in the past? SO yesterday. Taking a fresh new look at the past? Just might work.

I'm hopelessly immature and I like it that way. I love teaching my workshops and shamelessly steal (with their happy permission) snippits of dialogue from hilarious teenagers.

I don't pretend to be a teen - I'm very grateful I'm not (and for hair dye). But it's a blast to get back there. Reading, watching shows, surfing the web, talking to your audience is all a metaphorical Delorean , "Back to the Future" experience.

And it's fun.

Colette said...

Nicola, thanks so much for this post. I had to defer reading it and come back because I wanted to absorb the whole thing. It is absolutely true that age is a factor in other professions. Is it less in publishing? I'm not sure. I do think we have the advantage of being able to craft our identities -- to a point at least. So we should use that to our advantage.

Ann said...

I was feeling very down hearted as I read this post. Until I got to the point about being able to travel and promote your writing. When I was younger, I would not have been able to do this, as I had four children. Now, I am footloose and fancy free. So now I feel better. Thanks for a very interesting read.

Lily said...

Glad you brought this one up; it's been a concern of mine since I re-started my writing career at an age that other people might view as time for retirement.

What I am finding is that young agents are not interested in stories about older women. So I'm writing my new stories about young heroines. My problem there is that I know very few young girls, so all my understanding of modern idiom is laboriously culled from media sources. It would have been so easy if I had a sullen teenage girl in the house!

Meanwhile, I am seriously questioning whether it is worth my time to get face-to-face appointments at conferences with agents and editors since so many appear blandly uninterested in anybody as old as me. These pitch meets are too short for me to let my engaging personality shine. I suspect that won't change until I can interest someone in my writing itself. Then maybe they'll be willing to talk to someone my age after all.

I can remember being this stupid and arrogant in my twenties and I only hold against them the lack of foresight in thinking that book readers only want to read about very young women. It isn't true.

Jane Smith said...

It seems to me that publishing is one of the few arenas where age, gender and appearance can simply be ignored WHEN THE WORK IS GOOD ENOUGH. I've seen some very aged writers debut, and I've seen some very young ones flop themselves into oblivion. If the writing is there, then all sorts of things can be forgiven (I could list examples here, but I've had a lovely morning and feel that would be uncharitable of me).

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks for answering this one, Nicola. I never mention my age in my queries and I'm sure loads of other writers don't either. So - apart from the obvious 'sounding older' you mention - what are the alarm-bells-triggers that might signal to an agent that you are an 'old' writer? The age of your characters, I guess?
Also, I wonder if any writer has been turned down on meeting an agent for the first time, because the agent hadn't realised they were old until then?
I was told to remove 'long career' from my query letter because it implies 'old'. Part of me feels really angry about this, because it's my 'long' experience in the field which allowed me to write about the subject I did.
I wonder if there'll ever be a version of writerly Botox?!?
Susiex

Lynn said...

I find this topic rather worrying since I too am the wrong side of 48 and despite Nicola's optimism, I'm pretty sure my debut novel would have more chance of being picked up if I were an interesting 27 year old at the start of a starry writing career.

BUT

The first publication by Linen Press was by 92 year old Marjorie Wilson. A new young publisher - a very elderly writer! If she hadn't been in her nineties, Marjorie could not have written her luminous, dream-like, gorgeously written memoir about Edinburgh at the turn of the century.

Right now I am considering a manuscript by a writer who is dead. It is a memoir found in an attic, about the start of the first world war.

Anyway, this publisher is deliberately blind to the age of the writer of the submissions that are pouring in. Good luck to you all.

Lynn Michell
www.linenpressbooks.co.uk

Kate said...

While I am not on the "wrong" side of 48 yet I will say that I have read some great books by older authors. In fact I just finished one, Confucius Jade , that was written by a man in his late 80's. If anything I think that his perspective added a lot to the story.