Now, allowing for the fact that Cat probably paraphrased the guy slightly, so his actual words might have been a little less stark, was he right? Or was I right to say, very rudely, and for which I actually do apologise, that he was talking out of his arse?
The reason I said that was that, without seeing her writing, he is wrong to say that she should forget the idea of ever being published. If Cat really wants to be published and if she is good enough and if she goes about everything the right way and has written a wonderfully publishable (that's to say "sellable") story, there is no reason for her to forget the idea. It is her writing which will be the deciding factor. Not her age or location or her ability to promote. I'm not going to rehash the examples of people getting published at an older age; and promotion can be done from an armchair, or at least a desk, so that's a nonsense.
I regret to say that there is some truth in what the publisher said, in the sense that there are some reasons why age and inability to do active promotion will make publication harder. Certainly not impossible, and certainly not so much harder that someone should be told to give up, but harder. Statistically. And therefore, perhaps the guy was only trying to protect Cat from statistically more likely disappointment. But, statistically, most people of any age who approach publishers with an MS won't get published. Because most MSS are pure shite. Most MSS are so far from publishable that you'd really need to blindfold the monkeys before you put them in front of the type-writer. I'm not being horrible: I've seen this stuff. So maybe everyone should be told to give up, based on statistics.
So, what about the truth in what the publisher said to Cat? Because it's important and he wasn't talking completely out of his arse.
Part - most - of the problem is prejudice. But it's a prejudice that exists and we have to deal with it. Also, the prejudice is based on some realities:
- Older people will tend, statistically, to have less of a career ahead of them
- and be less able to be energetic in self-promotion (though NOT necessarily)
- and be less marketable. Sorry. (Sometimes, however, they are more marketable, so a good publisher with a sensible marketing dept who really believe in the book will just have to use their imagination and skills. Marketable means sellable, remember, so we need to be able to inspire trust in the reader. Some older writers in some genres can do this even better than younger ones. But some can't. It comes down to many intangibles, chemistry if you like.)
In short, therefore, if you are older, you have to be better. Just as many types of people in many professions have to try harder, be better, in order to overcome prejudice. Be a better writer and more savvy, more willing to be imaginative. And that's why the guy was mainly wrong to say what he said to Cat, because if her book is good enough and if she does all the right things to submit it and if she finds ways around the problems of not being able to do some types of promotion, there is no reason why she can't get her book published at 50, 60 or 70. Or 80. It just gets harder. And remember: most other professions are much harder or impossible to enter when we're older. As writers we're luckier in that sense.
- Take extra care to keep up with what's being published in your genre NOW - don't fall back on what you were reading 20 years ago.
- Don't tell your age until you need to. It does not need to be in your submission. If your style of writing in your letter reveals your age, then there's something dated about your style of writing and it is THAT which will stop you being published.
- When you do tell your age - when the agent or publisher asks - accompany that information with several reasons why it won't be a barrier to promotion: you have connections with schools (if you're a kids' writer) or libraries and bookshops; you already do public-speaking; you have a platform already and know how to use it. Actually DO something that proves you'll be great at this.
- Make sure you are digitally very connected. Use blogging, Twitter and/or Facebook.
- Make sure you understand everything that's going on in publishing: be an expert and sound like one.
- If you are writing for children, make sure your writing voice has kept up with the times: I'd actually say that older (by which I mean perhaps 70 plus) writers and children's writing are the toughest combination. Eva Ibbotson is a rare example of someone who continued to stay fresh-voiced until her lamented death last year.
- Just be better.
Anyway, the bottom line is: writers write. Keep writing until you don't want to or you can't. Regard that publisher's comment not as a barrier but a challenge.