8.20.2006

Geezer Lit

Dear Miss Snark,

Yesterday, I read on an agent's blog (not one of your listed friends) that no one wants to publish a first novel by a 70+ year old because even if the publishers would want more books from that author, they would not want to risk waiting until he/she reaches the age of 80. Thus, she implied she would not handle anything by a senior citizen. Is youth only now an unwritten criterion for acceptable first novels among many agents and publishers now?

As if young writers do not suddenly drop dead or lose the spark.

Tell me it ain't so.



Sorry, it's true.

It's even true here. One of the things I look for is whether a novelist will be a good investment ie will s/he be earning for a number of years to come.

I don't ask people's ages, and if I truly loved a book I'd take it but yes, I'm sorry to say, it's a consideration.

Yes, I know it's unfair. That doesn't mean it's not how the world works.

Yes, I know young writers drop dead unexpectedly but the key word there is unexpectedly. If you are 70 I hope you'll have many more happy and productive years. Actuaries tell us "many" will be about 12. At 35, "many" is 50. All things being equal, knowing you can't read the future, which would you choose?

None of that means you shouldn't write, shouldn't query, and shouldn't work toward your goal. The fact that it's harder for you doesn't mean you give up. If you're 70, you learned that lesson a long time ago, right?






Geezer Lit defined here

50 comments:

Anonymous said...

So lie about your age and get the damned facelift while your heart's still young enough to survice the surgery.

Anonymous said...

It's true. But there are all sorts of ways an aspiring writer can be 'not ideal' in the trade's eyes: age is only one of them, and good writing transcends them all.

Just think 'Mary Wesley' as you query. She spent much of her remarkable life trying to write, had her first novel published at over 70, went on to write 12 more which were smash hits - the best seller of the lot was A Camomile Lawn - and died a rich woman at 90. Her authorised biography looks set to sell extremely well, so her descendants are doing nicely too.

donroc said...

Only the wise know that chronology is not always destiny.

Anonymous said...

Just be glad you're writing for New York, not Hollywood. On the that coast, you're expected to do much more in-person schmoozing in an environment where you're pretty much considered a geezer if you're over 35.

Bernita said...

So, is there an agreed upon cut-off age?
"Senior citizen" is an elastic term - one I've seen applied to anyone over 50 or 55.
Seems difficult to mount a defense against this practice without implying prejudice in the other direction.

Anonymous said...

Miss Snark -- I understand that your policies and those of other twenty/thirty-something agents are based on their belief that rejecting "older" clients is sound business practice.

That being said, I have a couple of questions:

How many clients do you think will still be with their original agents twenty or thirty years from now?

What is the policy of agents who are, themselves, in their fifties or sixties?

And for agents in their late thirties or in their forties, do you really think they'll still be agenting in thirty or forty years?

Rather than dash this gentleman's hopes, I think you should mention that the 70+ policy isn't universal and suggest he keep querying.

And one more thing to remember: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

Sign Me,

A young one at forty

Bonnie Shimko said...

YOW! My stomach just did a backflip! My new medicare card is being printed as I type. Never even thought of the geezer factor. The only thing I was worried about was whether or not "the home" would have a computer hook-up."

Anonymous said...

It goes both ways, guys. If you're smart, you'll sign with a young agent because they'll be around a lot longer too, be more invested in building their career for the long term, and won't retire, leaving you in the lurch. But, as Miss Snark says, talent trumps everything! And that goes both ways too!

Sue said...

Laura Ingalls Wilder - first book published at age 65, 8 books total, much wealth to her estate, probably doesn't fit today's business models.

Anonymous said...

How would an agent know the age of an author?

Signed, Nitwit. P. Oblivious

Sherry Decker said...

I must admit, the 'geezer factor' pissed me off just a little, since like everyone I'm not getting any younger. Hell, why am I reading blogs when I should be writing?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like 'geezer lit' means fiction writen 'about' or 'for' the older generation, not necessarily 'by' the older generation.

yupuyydb said...

Wasn't Confederacy of Dunces published posthumously as a first novel? I don't think there was much hope of getting more from that author.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

This is very sad. Most of the people I admire are quite old. It would be shameful to still a talented voice just because it's aged.

Ernest said...

Harriet Doer was 64 when Stones for Ibarra was published. It was her first book. I thought it was a beautiful book (others did too -- it won the National Book Award). She wrote at least one other book that I know of.

Virginia Hamilton Adair was 83 when Ants on the Melon was published (a poetry collection - her first).

If the work is strong enough, someone is going to go for it. Do the work.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Snark needs to read up on matters actuarial. Once you make it past 50 or 60, your chances of a long life shoot up dramatically - i.e., someone who's made it to 70 actually has a better chance of making it to 90 than someone who is, oh, Ms. Snark's age, f'instance.

Write on, you septuagenarians, and let nothing you dismay.

Virginia Miss said...

Miss Snark, Since agents typically don't meet potential out-of-state clients face-to-face, do you ever sign up seniors unknowingly? Or do you ask probing questions during the phone interview to discover the potential client's age?

Anonymous said...

Uh-oh. Better let Frank McCourt know he shouldn't have bothered with Angela's Ashes.

The Rentable Writer said...

ANGELA'S ASHES.

Anonymous said...

Sure, it is true because it seems the majority of agents and editors make it this way. It's sad and shallow.

But that's life.

Ray Goldensundrop said...

All things being equal, knowing you can't read the future, which would you choose?

If all things are equal and both are strong authors, I would sign both of them.

This doubles the chances of actually selling and potentially doubles income. It's an easy call that also reduces the chances of losing both authors to insane beer truck drivers.

This is of course assuming that all other things are equal. I really haven't found this to be true about authors, or people in general for that matter.

I can understand this dilemma if the agent has room for only one more author. Otherwise, double the pleasure, double the fun and stack the odds (short-term). Isn't going long for the stock market?

Feisty said...

That just plain sucks. In an age where we're so "enlightened", this is an acceptable practice? And admittedly so?

I just might puke.

Miss Snark said...

Angela's Ashes isn't a novel.
Harriet Doer wrote, I belive, one more book (and yes I loved Stones for Ybarra too).

I didn't say this was "a practice" or "a policy". I have a client who's 83...I think. He might be older, I forget.

I said all things being equal, I AM looking for long term earnings.

You come to me with 17 gorgeous novels, and you're 105 years old, yer in.

Anonymous said...

The question left out the fact that said 70-year-old writer took ten years to write the book he was querying on. Which factors into the answer given by the agent.

If you don't want to be judged on age, don't mention it in your query!!

Anonymous said...

I'll be visitin my mother in October to celebrate her 90th birthday. Her parents lived into their 90's also. My paternal grandmother died one week before her 104th birthday. My paternal grandfather was an alcoholic and died in his mid-50's.

I figure I've got age and angst on my side-a great writing combination.

So phooey on the creaky old thinking. I'm writing. And I want my novels to sing. And sell.

(Don't make me lie about my age!)

Feisty said...

So, you're looking for a body of work, not a first time novelist at 80 who has nothing else in his bag of tricks?

That is understandable. But the idea that age (or looks, as some agents are bold enough to say) are deal breakers, is kind of scary.

Actually, it's more than scary.

Thank God I'm not 70 (or ugly) and that I do have a body of work.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I have to say I agree with Feisty, "This just plain sucks." I am in my not so early 40's and my editor is probably in her 60's. I can't even imagine whatI would do without her. When I think about what I know now compared to my 20's; Jesus. I feel as though I am just now starting to get it. My mother is 72 and let me tell you;the stories she could tell if she would... My mother was left broke at 52. I am talking about left with nothing. Today she has net (not inflated) assets of 38 million. No, I'm not bragging she ain't giving me a dime and most the time we don't get along, but she's the smartest damn woman I have ever known. Now, does anybody think she might have a story to tell? Try telling her she's over the hill. She still runs multi corporations and is up and at it every morning at 5. And she still calls all 3 of us by 7 to see if we're up and at it. I'm scared when I hear the phone ring. (-:

Georgia Girl

theraspberrycordial said...

Maybe before an agent signs a writer on they should have to go for blood tests, get weighed, and have their fat checked with skin-fold calipers... AND then they should have to run - I don't know -20 kms with a heavy back pack, singing...

I don't know what I've been told,
But Miss Snark I'm not too old.
I don't know what has been said,
But Miss Snark I won't drop dead
Before my 100th bestseller is read

Anonymous said...

I don't get it.

My agent didn't ask how old I was when I signed. If I'm lucky enough to get a publishing contract, I presume my editor won't say, "By the way, Toots, are you on Medicare yet?"

Anonymous said...

Some of you guys who can't believe that ageism exists in publishing are in for a rude awakening. The point is not how long someone may live but how productive they may be if beginning in their sixties or seventies, as well as how likely it is they may produce something that is Hip enough to capture the reading audience.

The truth is worst that you think--I guarantee you that those in their fifties without a track record of publication are being discriminated against. I DO have a track record and felt it in my last proposal submission.

Think about it like this: when agents are breaking into the business in their mid-to-late 20's and trying to establish themselves in their early 30's and the editors who are buying books are no older, what kind of stuff are they going to go for? Most of these people have not lived long enough to have a secure sense of who they are, let alone look past the fashion of the moment.


They are not looking for boomers writing for boomers but what works for their own age group--with the exception of non-fiction authors who are celebs, hold positions of power and influence, or have expertise in a given area.

While it is not yet as bad as the motion picture/tv industry, publishing is getting there. If you don't think you have a strike against you trying to get your first novel or non-fiction work agented and sold in your fifties, you are fooling yourself--no matter what some agents or editors may say.

And Snarkster, if you had not been honest about this ageism, I would have never come back here. By the way, did you ever consider changing KY's name to KY Booze Hound?

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Didn't Olive Higgins Prouty write most of her novels after she turned 40, and weren't her peak years when she was over fifty?

I realize few read her books anymore, but she was an excellent writer. The story is "dated," but it's hard to fault the prose in Conflict.

And Mary Roberts Rinehart wrote what? At least ten, and maybe more novels after she turned fifty. And weren't there at least three, maybe as many as six, anthologies, all published after she turned fifty? Her last work, not counting a posthumous publication, was published in 1953. She was just shy if seventy, I think.

It doesn't matter that few read her novels anymore. Most authors go out of fashion. What maters is that she was productive well past her fifties.

And, if you never read Circular Staircase, or any of the Nurse Pinkerton stories, you've missed something. Also, Jenny Brice; you should read that too.

Age-prejudice is unthinking.

delilah said...

When I saw the number of comments, I knew it was the snarklings fluttering in to defend the person writing the letter.

We are a lovely, sensible flock, are we not?

Besides, I've heard that 70 is the new 50 and from what I've seen of people this age, it's true! They're doing things our grandparents wouldn't have considered doing after the age of 35.

Feisty said...

I say go for the facelift. Although at 70, it's tough to take 30 years off the top.

What a crazy world!

Anonymous said...

I'm Rachel Vater, and I'm pretty sure it was my blog the writer was referring to. I feel my comments about the 70-year-old writer were incomplete, so for the record, here's what my entry said:

A referral from another agent, who is a friend of mine, who met the writer at a conference: The author's been writing nonfiction since the mid 60s, he says. Man. That was a decade before I was born. This is his first novel, which he wrote back in 1991. (Do you understand how much the marketplace has changed since 1991??) He stopped pursuing writing for personal reasons, but apparently he's recently dusted it off and figured why not try to sell it? Great. According to his bio, the author is 70. It's a YA fantasy with a 9-year-old protagonist. See, I'm figuring if he thinks that this isn't a middle grade novel, he's not terribly clued into the marketplace. And... ah-ha, hidden down at the bottom of his bio, he says he self-published this book in 1997. He revised it several times since and so he wants to publish it. Um... why didn't he instead write something new? He has only published technical writing up to this point, and I think he'd have a terribly hard time building his name as an author this late in the game. Do you know that publishers don't usually make much money on a small first novel? (If any.) They make money when the writer makes a name for him/herself and has more than one book out there to promote the others. If it takes him over a decade to write a book, he'll be 80 before he's finished the next one. This just isn't going to work. Plus, this novel is about aliens, an elf, and a prophesy, so it's not for me.
The moral of this story is: Please do not wait until you are 70 to try to publish the first and only novel you ever wrote. If you wanted to become a successful artist, you wouldn't wait until you're 60, then think you could just walk into an art store, buy some oil paint and a palate and a canvas, and then go paint something, and then, rather than do subsequent paintings, just pull that one out of the closet a decade later, add some more paint here and there, and then sell it at age 70 as a masterpiece for a good price, right? Or wait until you retired to become a concert pianist? Writing is an art too, dammit! That means this is not switching careers from one desk job to the next. I am also frustrated by how many people give me their technical writing background as if that is somehow just the same as exercising their creative muscles all this time and will make one tiny bit of difference in how well they can tell a story. It won't. (Sorry. Rant over.)

That was the entry. As you can see, it wasn't his age that made me decide to decline. It was that the novel wasn't good, he'd spent over 10 years on it, and I didn't feel I could get someone like this up to publication standards in his lifetime or get a next book from him within a decade. If a teenager wrote it, I might write, "Not quite ready for publication, but I hope you keep writing!" on my response letter to him. I don't feel this is ageism.

Ray Goldensundrop said...

Miss Snark, you are a class act.

I will continue to query when I turn 60, 70, 85, 105 and onward.

Make me an angel, that flies from Montgomery / Make me a poster from an old rodeo . . .

Thank you, Bonnie Raitt.

Age is a number. It sometimes makes a difference, but not usually at certain levels.

I might add that youth suks. JMHO (Just My Humble Opinion, arf-arf) gyow (go your own way).

Anonymous said...

Just for the record, I have a client who is 72.
-Rachel Vater

Ray Goldensundrop said...

they may produce something that is Hip enough to capture the reading audience.

Oh wow Anon, but dudette, you know?

You're only a few years away!

The young audience doesn't know what it wants.

My grandaughter thinks KISS is cool. Smuk that.

She reads buks though, n tnks ol grnfuks r way above. SB leven.

She also sees spirits and plays bitchin bass guitar.

Not that I'm braggin or nutin.

Anonymous said...

Now I'm going to have to go back to my website and take down anything that shows my age. Damn! No more using the word groovy. No more pictures of me with big hair. There goes that Twiggy look-alike shot. There goes the mention of Dick Martin, Mr. Ed, and Bozo the Clown. No more talk of Petula Clark and Sky King! (Anyone remember Sky King? Come on, admit it. Some of you are old fogies, I know you are and you can't hide.)

Or, I could leave that all up and post a header on the front of the website that says: THIS WRITER HAS A TON OF VERY DELICIOUS NOVELS READY TO SELL.

NohoGal said...

Re: Georgia Girl's post.
If it hasn't been done already, your mother's story sounds like a very compelling biography or, at least an article in the Sunday paper. Broke at 52 and now worth $38M? That's fantastic.

Otherwise, if I were an agent and had received a really good manuscript from an older person, I'd certainly try to use his/her age as part of the sales pitch. I'd like to believe that it always comes down to one question: Will this make money?

Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating thread--and thanks for your honesty, Miss Snark. It seems ageism is just another hurdle, right up there with mastering the comma.

I'm a nitwit, I started writing fiction at fifty-three. (Hey, who knew?)

Fourteen published works and counting . . .

pjd said...

"The truth is worst that you think--I guarantee you that those in their fifties without a track record of publication are being discriminated against."
That's too bad because fifties is when people suddenly get more free time with their kids having entered or finished college. FINALLY.

"... 70s is the new 50s..."
OK, so people are having their kids later.

"...someone who's made it to 70 actually has a better chance of making it to 90 than someone who is, oh, Ms. Snark's age, f'instance."
Are you saying that people who make it to 70 are much more likely to live to 90 than people who don't make it to 70? Makes sense.

OK, I know that's not what was said. But the statistic quoted is a red herring. It's like saying that salmon that make it back to the mouth of the stream are much more likely to spawn than salmon that make it out of the stream in the first place. True, sure, but meaningless in the final analysis. What you should be asking is not "which group is statistically more likely to make it to 90" but rather "which group is statistically more likely to live at least 20 more years?" A much more relevant question for the situation at hand.

I am not espousing ageism even though eliminating the 50-plus crowd from the competition would be to my benefit. I think any kind of prejudice sux. It exists in every person, and life is a constant battle against prejudice. Just ask Mel.

Cudd said...

I'm rather surprised that so many people freaked out by this, and I'm very thankful now for the philosophy my parents introduced to me.

Life won't always be fair. However, there won't be much that can stop you if you work hard and do your best to be the best in your area.

So quit whining about how agents may be biased on age. Like Miss Snark said, if you write a novel that's so damn good it blows the competition away, they're not going to hesitate to look for wrinkles.

Besides, I think I'd be thankful if an agent rejected me for anything that was less than awesome. There are too many so-so books out there already. I'd honestly rather not add to the sludge, even at the loss of extra income, -_-

Kiskadee said...

Thank you, Georgia Girl, you said it.

An article about Mary Wesley:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/arts/2617393.stm

Like Mary Wesley, I know that my most productive years are just beginning; I'm 55. I can write a novel a year. My grandmothers both lived well into their 90's, my mother is in full power at 86. If nothing untoward happens and if my mind stays as alert as I'm keeping it, I expect to live till 95.

At a novel a year, if I want to I can produce 40 more (I've already done five, three published. By a major publisher.)

Being a writer is not the same as being a musician or a painter. Unlike painting and music, the stuff of novels is the stuff of life, and if you have lived well and learned your life lessons well your best books will come later in life, simply because you have more raw material to work with. No, it doesn't hurt to start early, but like Georgia girl I can't bear to think of the novels I'd have written at 20.

But you must be productive, passionate and write like a pro. We can show these young uns a thing or two!

Yes, breaking in at this age is difficult but all other things being equal there's no reason why we shouldn't write those great books that bowl them over.

Kiskadee said...

Let's not forget, as well, that older people, especially women, are voracious readers, and usually have more leisure time to read. And believe me, we do NOT want to read about 20 and 30 somethings all the time. At least I don't, nor do most of my friends. It is not smart to disregard our reading needs.

Perhaps in future there'll be more publishers like transita http://www.transita.co.uk/ to cater to our needs.
Transita accepts unagented submissions; so if young agents don't want us maybe that's the way to go.

Bonnie Shimko said...

My first novel was published when I was sixty. I didn't realize until now how lucky I was that the husband/wife publishers of the small house in Chicago who bought my book were well into their seventies.

With my new novel at a big house with younger editors, I had to do a lot of revising to get the story out of the fifties and into the present.

I've learned that even though you have a good "voice" your book won't sell unless the reader (in this case young adults)can identify with the characters.

Stuff isn't always fair, but I'm not sure I'd pick a new seventy-year-old agent over one in her forties. Kind of like choosing a doctor. I want one who has some experience, but also one who isn't about to retire.

P.S. The only time I remember having to reveal my age was on the second publishing contract. My agent never asked and doesn't seem to care how old I am. She represents several "geezers."

wrinkled old geezer said...

From the transita website linked above:

"Until now there hasn’t been an identifiable body of fiction that mirrors the experiences of today’s 45+ woman – and yet we make up almost 40% of the female population in the UK. ...
The majority of women’s fiction is published for twenty and thirty year olds. Those are our kids! As much as we love them we don’t always want to be reading about them. We spend enough years living our lives through theirs as it is! We want to read about women of our own age."

This is so true. Remember, it's about content, too. I read several agent blogs, and I love it when they are enthusiastic about a new hot young female writer. But I have to say I would not buy a single one of the books I've seen thus advertised.I'm just not interested. I'm nearing 60 and I'm looking for another kind of novel, writers of my own generation - and not just the established ones, new ones, with new voices! Many writers first find their wings in their 40s. This prejudice is bad judgement on your part. You're ignoring a huge readership.

Anonymous said...

I believe that Patrick O'Brian published his first Master and Commander book at 55 and wrote 20 more before his death at 85.

I'm only 53 but I have an associated concern. I have had several people tell me that I should not use references in my writing to famous people, films or events that took place over 30 years ago because they date me and my work. Of course, that means there was no Vietnam War, and for that I'm thankful.

Dave

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Dear Agent Vater,

Oh! I had to hunt for it, but I found your Blog, Rachel. I like it, though I'm not sure I'd ever comment. Me thinks you bite harder than dear Snarkie does. But I like the frankness anyway.

Besides, I read in umm what? Oh, yes, Kama Sutra, that some people like bites.

Best regards and Pixie felicitations,

Rachael

... and is that Miss or Mrs.? You, not me. I know the answer for me already.

Anonymous said...

Rachel Vater is a good agent, and after exchanging a number of emails with her (even though she my novel didn't fit her list), I found her to be professional and compassionate.

I was relieved when I read her detailed explanation of why this gentleman was turned down.

Now it makes more sense.

Thanks, Rachel.

Dave said...

I am 51, have a book out which is doing well, good reviews etc. I'm working on another one, which has 2 publishers interested. Yet the 3 or 4 agents I've emailed simply haven't replied. I'm not sure if this is my age, appalling social skills or something else - but I didn't think it would be this hard.