Does Age Matter for Writers?

Grandpa & GrandsonHi Rachelle, I’m 62 and about to retire; I’m preparing to dedicate my retirement years to writing full-time. I wonder whether “age discrimination” would enter into my efforts to get published. I realize the quality of the product is the most important thing, but do you think my age would detract from consideration of my manuscripts?

Dear Rachelle: I’m 16 and have written two novels. Should I mention my age in query letters? If I do, will it be a problem?

? ? ? ?

I think most agents receive this question regularly, from people at both ends of the age spectrum. And it’s no wonder — in this age-conscious society, it’s a perfectly legitimate question. I don’t think age is a big consideration, and as far as I can tell, most agents hold similar viewpoints.

→ The book is still the main thing.

It’s by far the most important consideration. If it’s fiction, then the story itself and the quality of the writing are what matters. With non-fiction (as always) the uniqueness of the idea, its marketability, and your author platform will all be considered. The book itself is where we place the most emphasis rather than age.

→ Don’t include your age in the query.

There’s just no need. In fact, there’s no need to bring up your age until you are in discussions with an agent or publisher who’s interested in your book(s). You may want to mention it at that point just to save them from asking.

→ Writing is one of the careers you can do well past “retirement” age.

Regardless of the fact that our society is youth-obsessed, writing remains one of those skills that people generally get better at over time. You have a lot more to say when you’re older, right? There are lists and lists of “late bloomers.”

→ Writing is a craft that some people master at a very young age.

While there are fewer young people whose writing is of professional quality, it can happen. Some people just have the gift! There are prodigies in just about every discipline. Some people do get published as teens.

* * *

Now, I think we’d be a little disingenuous if we didn’t acknowledge that some publishers with their eyes on the “long term” and wanting to maximize their investment might bring up the age factor in an acquisition meeting, when considering a retired author. They just want to be assured that you’re healthy and have a reasonable chance of being around for awhile. But if they see a great book or series that they think they can make money on, they’re not going to worry much about your age. And no publisher has ever mentioned an author’s age to me.

My final answer: You can’t do anything about your age anyway, so don’t let it worry you. Good writers will find a way to get published!

Are there other “side issues” — things other than your writing — that concern you in your pursuit of publishing? Let me know so I can address them in future blogs.

 

 

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  • http://ibischild.blogspot.com marion

    What are potential logistical challenges faced by people living overseas?

    I’m in Egypt researching my novel. I might stay here long term.

    The internet makes a lot of things easier. You don’t have to mail bulky paper manuscripts back and forth, etc.

    If I’m lucky enough to get an agent & publisher in the US (where I lived previously), obviously I’d have to travel to the US to meet face to face with them at some point. Ditto for publicists (if my agent thinks these are needed.} And to do a few talks/signings at bookstores where I used to live, & show my face at churches I used to attend (which I’d do anyway!)

    If the book makes a big splash, I guess I’d have to do the US book tour. If it goes global, I guess Egypt might be a pretty good hub, although Doha is the air-travel hub around here.

    Any thoughts? Because, as you see, I’m pretty clueless about this.

    • April

      My question is similar. I live in Japan. How difficult will it be for me to find an agent/get published if I don’t live in the US, but I’m querying US agents?

      Also, an e-query is easy enough, but when I send in snail mail with a SASE, I don’t have the US stamps to have it sent to me in Japan. I can stick a forever stamp on it (I brought some with me) and have it sent to my grandparents’ address (they’re handling my US mail), but that means it’ll take a while before I see what’s been sent to me. A rejection, fine, but what if it requires a reply? Won’t it be rude that I can’t answer for a couple of weeks?

      • Jackie Ley

        My side issue also relates to geographics. I’m a UK writer seeking an agent and am aware that there are some dynamic US agents who could well be the right fit for me and my novels. Given that every fiction writer has to have an eye to the US market, are there any logistical reasons why a UK writer should confine queries to UK agents? The internet has broken down so many barriers and these days, any writer has to embrace the fact that(with any luck!) international travel is part of the marketing process. As a US agent on my dynamic list, Rachel (okay, I’m sucking up but I mean it)I’d appreciate your thoughts on this.

  • http://ibischild.blogspot.com marion

    Several years ago, I was so relieved to read that Daniel Defoe published his first novel at age 60. Now that I’m pushing 60, that is still a reassuring fact!

  • http://crowproductions.com joan Cimyotte

    My side issue is credentials. I have songs, plays, and novels I have written but nothing has been published except in my blogs. So it is difficult to have an agent consider me.

  • http://mrhmccann.blogspot.com/ McKenzie McCann

    Well, I am sixteen and got a contract with an indie publisher. There are more advantages to writing as a teen than I first thought. It’s easy to crack into the school systems, which is an great place to being if you’re selling YA. My college application is instantly stronger. I don’t have to worry about making money from writing because I don’t pay for any of my living expenses. Being so young generates good questions for interviews. It definitely makes you stand out as an author, which is never a bad thing.

    • http://www.examiner.com/childrens-literature-in-chicago/elizabeth-mackinney Beth MacKinney

      Good for you!

  • http://www.junebourgoauthor.com June Bourgo

    I’m 63 and my first novel is being published by an indie publisher. I thought age might be an issue as well, but I never mentioned it in my queries and when offered a contract, I wasn’t asked either.

    My publisher recently asked for my birth date for some paperwork and we joked about it. I intend to be around for a long time and write more books. So for all of you elders wondering about age, I’m a testatment to the fact that you’re never too old.

  • http://www.facebook.com/pages/P-J-Casselman/176559919090167 P. J. Casselman

    This may sound odd, but being a pastor is a concern. Especially when I have dedicated my life to small church renewal (i.e I am not called to K churches.) Yes, I can write religious material and do so all the time for local and denominational purposes, but, when it comes to fiction, I wonder if it is a turnoff. My first two novels are a historical/fantasy and romance. Whenever I queried, I felt the person reading it would see my bio and just presume my writing was theologically based. This was especially true in querying secular agents.
    Does my profession pose a problem?

    • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

      P.J., although I have no personal experience in this area, it seems that known Christians writing secular fiction may have some extra hurdles to cross.

      On the other hand, it may be an advantage in the “Christian fiction” market.

      A good post on this subject at http://mikeduran.com/2011/11/is-it-dishonest-to-not-label-christian-fiction/ has been generating a lot of discussion among Christian Fiction authors.

      • http://www.facebook.com/pages/P-J-Casselman/176559919090167 P. J. Casselman

        Thanks for the article, Joe. It was enlightening.

        My novels are not Christian Fiction, however. From Chicago with Hope is a modernization of the book of Ruth. I kept it very Jewish on purpose because the Biblical Book is Jewish. Ruth has to learn about modern Jewish observances of festivals found in the Torah. Angel Blood is about Nephalim who have been deceived into thinking they are aliens. It is a fantasy book that retwists the King Arthur background around the idea that magical folklore was cause by angels. Yes these are religious ideas, but not Christian fiction. On the other hand, perhaps I’m too much of a believer to not infuse everything I write with faith. LOL

        • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote

          They sound fascinating!

          They also sound distinctly Judeau-Christian.

          My advice would be to take the time to clearly think thru your specific target audience, then construct both the books and the marketing stategy accordingly.

          Based on what you’ve told me here, they sound to me like the primary target audience would be Christian…which makes them Christian Fiction.

          I think defining your target audience is always essential. However, I think it is even more essential when writing from a Christian perspective.

          I explain why in my latest post on my blog. You should be able to link to it by clicking on my name in the corner of this comment.

          Good luck!

  • leisuretime

    My question is similar to Joan’s credential issue – with a twist. I am published in magazines, local and national, including cover stories and ongoing columns. I have done extensive editing/ghostwriting on two books that were published by major publishing houses, but I got no credit. Before I start to sound like a whiner, I’m fine with no credit. I didn’t ask for it, didn’t want it. I got paid for doing what I love to do. It doesn’t get any better than that! I mention the “no credit” because that’s my twist.

    Currently I’m doing an all out ghostwrite for a client who has never been published, nor is this client talking to an agent or pub house. The book is a great concept with potential to be a leadership series. I also have some ideas for books that I’d like to write myself one day.

    Here’s the dilemma. Besides the magazine articles I’ve written, I have experience editing/ghostwriting books that have been published by major pub houses, but no one knows. Is there any way to let that uncredited experience speak for me to attract the attention of an agent/publisher? The more immediate concern: As the ghostwriter, is there a way for my client to use my experience to help get this book published?

    I’m enjoying and learning from your blog. Thanks for the opportunity to ask questions!

    • April

      I feel like I’m a copycat, but I have this issue too! I’ve ghost written a good number of things as an editorial assistant when the editor needed something but didn’t have time to contact the writer about it (we made mostly coffee table books and puzzle books). No credit/proof of all that work, other than the proof that I was employed by that publisher during that time.

      • Janet Bettag

        Ditto on these “hidden” experience posts. I’ve been writing for decades – most of which was published under the names of others. A savvy local newspaper reporter recognized that I was the author of the press releases I was sending out and told me that her editor would like to hire me part-time. Unfortnately, I had to decline due to a potential conflict of interest, but at least locally some people know my work. I’ve also had some magazine articles published under my name.

        Rachelle, I would be interested in knowing how to communicate this experience without sounding like I have no REAL experience.

  • http://thereandbackbytricycle.blogspot.com Cat

    Interestingly I was told that I was (a) “too old” and (b) lived in the wrong location (Australia) to succeed. The person who told me this was a well respected figure in Australian publishing. The third strike against me was that I would not be able to sign books for readers.
    I am afraid I ignored that “advice” and am trying anyway!

    • http://www.facebook.com/pages/P-J-Casselman/176559919090167 P. J. Casselman

      Good for you, Cat! If every great writer listened to advice like that, we’d never have many of our finest literary works. R.K. Rowling lived in England and we all know how her books flopped in the USA and Australia.
      Nobel prize winner Patrick White, as well as Peter Carey, Thomas Keneally, Colleen McCullough, Nevil Shute and Morris West are all Australians.
      Laura Ingalis Wilder published “Little House on the Prairie” in her sixties. Kenneth Grahame’s work, “The Wind in the Willows,” was a post retirement release. These are just a few examples of the stunning number of individuals who did not listen to canned advice from pencil pushers. Take heart and go for it!

      • A C Flory

        As another oldie – also from Australia – that list of success stories was very heartening! Becoming a published author is hard enough without being disadvantaged by age and geography as well.

        May the god of Muses smile on us all.

  • http://astridparamita.com Astrid Paramita

    Well, I’m an expat living in Germany and English is not my first language. Sometimes I do feel like I’m going against all odds here. But all of these could be an advantage for my point of view. I’m counting on the fact that when my book is great (I’m still working on it), we’ll find a way :).

  • http://www.wizardofotin.blogspot.com otin

    Good to know. Sometimes I wondered if I was too old.

  • Amy Boucher Pye

    Interesting discussion on the international aspect of things – maybe a blog post here, Rachelle?

    I think as the book market tanks increasingly that it’s going to get harder and harder for authors to get published, and unfortunately being from overseas and trying to get published in the US market will be just that more difficult. Not impossible, but harder.

    I’ve worked with a Christian publisher who tried to launch a couple of (over here, top) UK authors in the States, with not as much success as we would have wanted.

    Not impossible but harder. But hey, whoever said this would be easy!? (And an international viewpoint can be so interesting; for instance, if you’re writing a novel based in Egypt or Japan you will get it right!)

    • http://sharonalavy.com Sharon A Lavy

      I don’t see the book market tanking anytime soon.

      • Amy Boucher Pye

        I’ve heard anecdotally that it is in the US; in the UK it definitely is in decline. According to Nielson:

        The latest Total Consumer Market (TCM) figures show the market continuing to
        decline.

        To week 40 of the year (week ending 8 October) the market is down 4.8% in value
        and 6.7% in volume in comparison to the same period of 2010, showing a sharpening
        of the decline.

      • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

        I agree. There has been decline recently, but it is far from tanking. The fact is, the whole economy is struggling right now, so people who might otherwise have money to buy books are likely turning to cheaper sources for a while.

  • http:///www.billrogers.co.uk Bill Rogers

    At The CWA Theakston’s Crime Writers’ Festival in Harrogate a couple of years ago I asked one of Britain’s most successful Literary Agents the Age question. Her reply was “I don’t take on anyone over 55.” The gasp from the 80 or so middle aged audience led her to add. “You see I look to built a long term relationship with my authors.” I understood that, but what I couldn’t accept was that as far as any of us could tell she older than that herself!

    Your advice to not reveal your age when first submitting is therefore spot on. My advice to older aspiring writers is Go For It. I started writing fiction at 62. I had a London Agent who submittedto the top five publishing houses whose editors were very positive – but I suspected that the BUT had more to do with my age than the quality of the writing they consistently praised. So I am now a publisher, and I have six books in the best seller crime thriller, detective, and British crime fiction categories on Amazon Kindle UK, generating a very nice second pension. More importantly thousands of people are reading and enjoying them. So there is an alternative, and it’s a great way to enjoy a second career. PD James is still writing and selling as she approaches 90! Onwards and Upwards!

  • http://deborahserravalle.wordpress.com Deborah Serravalle

    What a great discussion! I’m fascinated by all the comments from people of ages (oddly enough) from around the globe.

    The age question has crossed my mind also. As Rachel acknowledged, we live in a society that worships youth or at least the allusion of it. Although I’ve had a late start, my attitude has been just to push that concern aside as there’s nothing I can do about. However, it’s gratifying to know that for most agents the first consideration is the quality of your writing.

    Once again, thank you for the post!

  • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

    Age is such an odd thing. A teenager could die within a year of publishing a book. A 60 year old could have enough time left to publish 40 or 50 more books. We just don’t know.

  • Janet Bettag

    I guess I am a bit naive. Other than having an intense desire to retire early (at 60) so I can write full time, I didn’t give the age issue much thought. Since I’ve already had a brush with death in my 40s, I feel an urgency to write as much as I can since that’s what I love to do. Not because I’m the age I am, but because I understand on a very personal level that everybody’s days are numbered – we just don’t know when our number will come up.

  • Marielena

    How about the reverse side to that age question — dealing with agents fresh out of college and new to the field? I was put off by an agent’s intro at a conference when she said, “And don’t tell me I’m too young to review your work.” She was young (I’m 62) and her statement didn’t help.

  • http://www.sarahamacklin.blogspot.com Sarah M.

    Issues? Haha. Let’s see….

    1) I’m an African American who’s writing epic fantasy.

    2) My fantasy is outside of the Northern European mold usually found in the genre.

    I’m not really concerned about getting an agent once my novel is finished. I’m more worried about my future readers and if they’ll even pick up such a different book. It’s not going to stop me from writing, but it’s just a little concern at the back of my head.

    • Sra

      Eon and Eona (by Allison Goodman) are like that.The series is very much fantasy, but based on chinese culture. They’re doing extremely well. So I think there’s plenty of chance for other not-medieval-england stories too.

  • http://claudenougat.blogspot.com Claude Nougat

    Excellent post, Rachelle and spot on! Particularly for us elders, he he!

    Another issue:what are your chances of finding an agent and getting a book published traditionally (I mean printed on paper!) if you’re self-pubbed (e-books only). Since (most of) the stigma attached to self-publishing has been removed by the digital revolution, a lot of aspiring writers – or at least the most entrepreneurial kind – have jumped in and self-published.

    But I have my doubts. Isn’t some stigma still attached? And what if you don’t sell millions like Amanda Hocking but just a few copies…Can it hurt your chances of ever getting traditionally published? I believe it does. In fact, I think that’s why anyone considering self-pubbing should think twice.

    What is your opinion?

  • http://rmabry.com Richard Mabry

    When I began writing, I had no thought that my age might be a hindrance…just never considered it. Glad I didn’t let it stop me. One non-fiction book published, four novels out, three more in the works. Age hasn’t been a factor so far.
    I like what Satchel Paige said. “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?”

  • http://thoughtsthatmove.blogspot.com/ Wendy

    always feel a sense of peace when it comes to my chosen career. It’s something I’ll be able to do until the day I die. That both comforts and excites me.
    ~ Wendy

  • CG Blake

    Great post, Rachelle. I’m in my mid-50s with 30 years of journalism experience. More importantly I don’t believe I could have written fiction focusing on families and relationships without all of my life experiences, especially becoming a parent. Age brings a certain perspective and depth to a writer. It should not be discounted, but rather valued.

  • https://www.facebook.com/lynettesowellauthor Lynette Sowell

    The only time I’ve seen age hinder an older author is when they fail to do a “culture check” on their younger characters. There are some writers whose characters sound much older than they are. If you’re writing about characters in their mid 20’s, make sure they sound like it, if only just a little. Make sure you’re not inserting your own jargon into their dialog, for example. Other than that, write away and don’t retire!

    • Sra

      I think the same holds true for an adult writing kids in books. It’s too easy to make them not really kids. Either that or they try too hard and dumb it down too much.

  • http://www.patriciaraybon.com Patricia Raybon

    Great post, Rachelle. I’m coaching an author who just turned 99. She’s working on her second book and could write a third. So, no. Age doesn’t matter one bit. Skill and story sure count. But age? Just a number! Thank you for this post!

  • http://babblefromtheburbs.blogspot.com/ Kathryn Elliott

    Writing has no expiration date.

    And to the 16 year old with two novels under her belt, you go girl! (I’ve got a son your age in need of a nice, motivated girlfriend, any interest?)

    • http://www.timothyfish.net Timothy Fish

      It sounds like you and my mother are two of a kind.

  • http://marilyndwalker.com Marilyn

    I’m wondering why age would ever come up or need to be mentioned, unless it was after a manuscript had been accepted and age was relevant to the author’s bio. That situation would only be true for extremely young or old authors.

  • Vera Soroka

    I never started writing till I was 43 and it was by accident. I’m 49 now and have written four books. I certainly would hope that age would not stop anybody from wanting to write.
    Now authors have more options in the publishing world so age should not be a factor.

  • http://www.jillkemerer.com Jill Kemerer

    Love your answers on this, Rachelle. I teach an annual fiction workshop to 7th and 8th graders and I like to encourage them about writing. Some already have the desire to become published–I tell them to work hard and dream big.

  • http://www.rosemarygemmell.com Rosemary Gemmell

    Really interesting post and replies. Both my grown up daughter and I are trying to get novels published – she is just into her 30s and I’m in my 50s. My first historical came out in May and my first tween novel is coming out in March. Daughter is still trying to find an agent for her excellent YA novel. Neither of us had even considered the age question!

  • http://differentcornersinmylife.blogspot.com/2011/08/questions-questions-questions.html karen

    Gosh! I really hope age doesn’t matter, because I’m 53 and just started writing, but I just started following a lady on twitter who is 91 a writer and published author. So for me, I would think age should have nothing to do with it!

  • http://julienilson.wordpress.com Julie Nilson

    I agree that you probably don’t need to mention age in the query, but once an agent is interested in a novel, they might be intrigued by an unusually young author–makes for a good “hook” when marketing the book! Christopher Paolini’s agent probably thinks so anyway…

  • http://www.davidleyman.com David S Leyman

    I am unutterably old. The only worry I have is whether I shall still be alive when the cheque from Amazon for my stories, drops through the letter-box!

    No single age group has a stranglehold on imagination, just keep your ‘idea sprites’ working for you.

  • http://terri.treasures.blogspot.com terri tiffany

    Thank you for this:) I’m glad you said it is the story and work that will make the difference. I do find so many age discriminating factors in real life and so for me writing is one of those places I don’t have to worry about so much with it.

  • http://tomhonea.wordpress.com Tom Honea

    the phrase i use is: ” … i plan to spend my ‘fishing-years’ writing! (i haven’t been fishing in 40 years.)
    the only negative i feel about writing in my 60s & 70s is that there is no way to gain the 30-40 years of expericence of having started at, say, twenty-five. (Barry Hannah and I were college classmates when we were twenty. he was writing then. i started at sixty-two.)
    .
    on the other hand, my imagination is as good now as it ever was. and, i have that lifetime of “living” that i didn’t have thirty years ago. i have been fifty, i know how fifty year old think, what they do.
    from where i stand, there is every reason to go for it!

  • http://neuroticworkaholic.blogspot.com Neurotic Workaholic

    One of my favorite writers, Frank McCourt, didn’t start writing full-time and publishing novels until he was retired.His memoirs would have had a very different tone if he had written them twenty years. One thing I wonder about is the lack of publications for aspiring writers. I’ve heard that writers should try publishing short stories in literary magazines first since they don’t need agents for that; that way, they can have a list of publication credits to show to potential agents. So I’m wondering if it’s better to go that route, since I figure it might be harder to get an agent’s attention if I’d never had anything published before.

  • Neil Ansell

    I got an agent, went to auction, and got a publisher without anyone asking my age. The first time I was asked was after publication to determine whether I fitted the criteria for an award submission. Age really doesn’t matter, the book is the thing. My publishers this year released a debut by a 79 year-old (and it’s brilliant.)

  • http://www.examiner.com/childrens-literature-in-chicago/elizabeth-mackinney Beth MacKinney

    Another consideration might be what you do for a living and how it could come into play considering the genre you write.

    There was a story recently about a high school teacher (I think maybe in her 50s?) who had been writing and publishing erotica on the side with a pen name for years. When it came out that she did this, parents were very upset. As a parent, I can understand this, because you hold teachers up as a roll models, and writing for that genre while also being a teacher could send mixed signals to kids.

    Just an interesting example of how your writing could impact your professional standing.

  • Bret Draven

    Is there any known height restrictions? My former agent said I was way too tall to write effectively!

    • April

      What?! That’s crazy. They had to have been joking.

      • Bret Draven

        To clear any misnomers, I reconnected with the agent and requested a more direct quote. Apparently, it didn’t actually have anything to do with my height. I think it was more along the lines of, “Nothing remotely resembling talent… blah, blah, blah!” Same diff right?

  • http://missionsuntold.com Jordan

    Great points. Thanks for your wisdom!

  • http://kristinlaughtin.blogspot.com Kristin Laughtin

    Age is just one of those things you have to put out of your head. Sure, many agents would probably prefer to build a career with an author who’s likely to be around for a while (forgive the bluntness), but they’ll still take on good books. Wasn’t Frank McCourt rather advanced in years when ANGELA’S ASHES came out? And there are quite a few authors known for being published in their teens or very early twenties as well.

    I’m almost 28 and sometimes feel like I won’t be taken seriously for my age. At the same time, I’ve got people spurring me on and wondering why I didn’t start querying several years ago. Age isn’t going to be the determining factor when I do start querying, nor was it a factor in my decision to wait a while. (Hello, grad school.) Honing your skills and feeling prepared as you can is all that matters.

  • http://byline.peterdehaan.name/ Peter DeHaan

    Correspondingly, I wonder about the age of agents. I want an agent whose career will outlast me!

  • http://www.quora.com/Sybil-Wieners Sybil Wieners

    I believe “Age” does not matter not just in writing but in all aspects of life. Thanks for sharing your wonderful thoughts and insights.

  • http://www.awomansview.typepad.com Lenore Buth

    Great post, Rachelle. Thanks for the morning dose of encouragement. Plunked down amid the endless warnings of change and uncertainty in the publishing world, this post is a keeper.

    What fun to read the comments, too.

  • Grace

    I am on the younger end of the spectrum. The one issue I have is that I am attempting to write adult fiction and most agents/publishing houses etc. want to know the author’s prior writing experiences. What would you suggest for someone who is an avid writer but hasn’t lived long enough to have the experience of others? It sounds kinda iffy when you have a sparce bio.

  • http://tomhonea.wordpress.com Tom Honea

    i answered this question on another post a week or so ago:
    .
    i started writing at 60, am 70 now. my imagination is as good now as ever, my life experience is certainly more advanced now than ever.
    Barrah Hannah and i were college classmates at age twenty. he was was writing then. the thing i am keenly aware of is that there is no way to recapture those 40 years when he was writing, getting better, gaining exposure. … while i was doing other things.

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  • http://kirabudge.weebly.com Kira Budge

    Oh my gosh, I can’t even tell you my experience with this. I started sending out to publishers and agents when I was 12 (I’m almost 19 now, still no success). I got so many borderline-rude replies mentioning that I was too young to be submitting and that they “don’t publish young writers because they will be ashamed of their work in the future.” It made me so angry. I’m glad to be out of the underage zone now.

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