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...)
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Also, the "ageism" effect is much less in writing than for any other profession that I can think of.
"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?
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.
"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.
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.
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?