How old is too old when you’re a fiction writer? Is there an “age bias” in the publishing world?
The last week has been busy with travel and all that, so I’m just now catching my breath.
Martha posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Hi Randy, I’m a fan, needless to say, and I read your blog daily. This morning’s question brought up one that has been bothering me for some time and that is, when is a writer too OLD to be considered by agents and publishers? One hears all the time that agents/publishers want to develop a career novelist, one who will produce book after book and make the agents and publishers rich. But what about those of us who are seniors. Should we keep mum about our age in our queries or just wait and cross that bridge when and if it comes up? And how about meeting and pitching an agent at a conference? No chance hiding one’s age there, so do you have any advice for what to say or do to mitigate any prejudice they might have about oldsters?
Randy sez: I’m told that age bias is a serious problem in screenwriting. I wouldn’t know, since I don’t do screenplays.
In the world of novel writing, there may possibly be an age bias, but it’s really the least of your worries.
Your main worry with fiction writing is “craft bias.” Agents and editors are massively biased against poor craft. They are massively biased in favor of excellent craft.
It’s that simple. There are any number of examples of fiction writers who’ve published novels in their 70s. Fiction is about life, and the longer you’ve lived, the more you probably know about life.
If you were extremely old, your age might even be a selling point, as it was for 88 year old Helen Hoover Santmyer’s novel “… And Ladies of the Club.”
This is a good time to mention the “Fiction After 50” blog, by my friends Ron and Janet Benrey. They published their first novel after the age of 50, and their blog is about the advantages of being an older writer.
Martha, my advice is to not mention your age at all in your queries. It’s essentially irrelevant. What matters is your craft. Great writing is great writing. If you write well, you can get published at any age.
Go to it.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
Martha Rogers says
Since I received my first contract for a four book series at age 73 and my second contract for five books this year just after I turned 74, I wholeheartedly agree with Randy. Good story and knowing your craft outweighs anything else. The readers know I’m older because my picture is on the back of my books. Doesn’t seem to matter to them as my books are selling well. Now I know to go for it, but to make sure my writing is better than good.
Richard Mabry says
Randy, I have to chime in and voice my agreement with your advice and my appreciation for Martha’s comment. My non-fiction book was published when I was 70 years old, and since then I have two novels in print, another coming out soon, and a fourth in the works. If God wants it to happen, it’ll happen.
I’ve never had an agent or editor ask my age, never had it come up in one-on-one interviews, so I’d suggest anyone worried about age affecting their writing career remember the words of Satchel Paige: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you was?”
Andrea Stein says
I don’t care if age is a factor, I’m gonna write anyway – I could chew my nails over being old for months at a time, or . . . I could crank out another book – two down – I’m on a roll – just had the full manuscript of the first one requested by a publisher – can’t change how old we are, but we can control how we enjoy aging
Judith Robl says
My devotion gift book will be published by Harvest House the year I turn 72. And I’m working on a historical novel as we speak. I’ll be lucky – very lucky – if it sees print by the time I’m 74 or 75.
But I still have hope.
Sheila Deeth says
I used to think I’d go gray dreaming of being published. Now I’ve gone gray, maybe I’ll get there faster.
KS Brown says
I’ve met a couple of writers in online writers’ communities who were first published in their 60s or 70s.
Personally, I think you’re never to old to seek publication.
Pam Halter says
Randy, you’re right about the age bias in screenwriting. Hollywood doesn’t even want to look at you once you’re 25, unless you’ve been in the biz before then.
My 17-year-old daughter is determined to be in the film production business and is applying to USC. She sat under the teaching of Dr. Ted Baehr (MovieGuide.org) in 2009 and also worked a 6 week internship this past summer with Dr. Baehr at the MovieGuide offices. MovieGuide works closely with Hollywood, so she was able to get insight and direction with her college and career choice.
Novels are diffrent. I hope we never have to give our ages when submitting a query letter! I’m over 50, even tough I’m told I don’t look it, and am waiting to hear from an agent who is reading my whole manuscript. I’m ready, too. And I wouldn’t have been before now.
Doc, I like that saying! 🙂
Anna Jacobs says
PG Wodehouse was still writing at age 93, taking his latest, half-finished book into hospital with him. Sadly he died before he could finish it. He is my role model, but I’m aiming at 120 not 93, because medical technology has improved since then.