Write well..and?

Dear Miss Snark,

Would you kindly shine the snarklight on a topic mentioned in a recent comment? I was unable to find the original post in your archives.
What's your best advice, in addition to writing good books, for either a published or first-time mature writer seeking an agent?

I gather that agents are reluctant to take on writers in their 40s or 50s or older. I'm a little surprised, since a potential 20-30 years of working together sounds like a respectable run even with a younger writer.

Many thanks for your recent Crapometer. I wrote several hooks based on the discussion and scored not only better hooks but two new book ideas.

I'm not sure why you would ever mention your age in a query letter. I certainly don't ever ask. I've been surprised more than once to discover the number of rings in the tree (or lack thereof as well).

Don't tell me you're 168 and I won't ask. You don't have to tell me you're 15 either..but your mom can't call me up and bitch me out if I send you a form rejection letter.

Write well, and Don't Be an Idiot (tip of the pistachio muffin to Miss Genoese for that gem).


ORION said...

Yanno. I gotta say.
I don't buy it. I am...cough...ahem..er...53.
Check out my blog.
I hear this again and again.
It is an excuse pure and simple.
"It's the writing stupid!"
To paraphrase Clinton.

Anonymous said...

"Write well and don't be an idiot" would look great on a t-shirt. And, I think it would sell.

I liked your comment to this writer. I also look at writing as a business. Why would I want to spin my wheels with something that doesn't seem like it would fly? Queries work both ways and benefit both parties. Certainly you don't give up on a great idea if someone does not see eye to eye ....but you must also be a realist.

One thing I did find disturbing: a writer in her forties is automatically considered to be "mature?" Heavens!

Anonymous said...

I read the link, and I'm not surprised that a parent today would do such a thing. I used to work for a newspaper that would publish most poems in a once a week section, if the poet was patient, it would eventually get in. The only ones we wouldn't publish were plagiarized ones. Often people of all ages would send in plagiarized work and act indignant that we wouldn't accept it. Including parents of the young "writers." Way to teach them ethics. No, it was the editor who was the villain for crushing little Madison's dreams.

Anonymous said...

Where did this poster get the idea that agents preferred younger clients?

A query letter isn't a job application where you list the year you graduated college. My agent has no idea how old I am. I've never volunteered the information (why would I?), she's never asked (why would she?), and we've never met. I could be 17 or 70.

Anonymous said...

We may not say that we're old as the hills or young as tomorrow, but it often shows in that little paragraph in the query about who we are.

That's why I favor the simplest statement--"This is my first novel." (Meaning I've written a few but none of them published, so this is still a first--and my age is irrelevant.)

And nothing else.

No-this novel is based on my experience during WWII. No-I still remember where I was when Kennedy was assasinated. No-I invented the internet. No-Monica Lewinsky was my classmate at college. No-I would have voted for Kerry but I wasn't old enough. No-please call before my bedtime at 10PM or else my mom will get mad --and by the way who's Kerry?.

Just short and sweet.

And if you were famous in the 70's for your article in Rolling Stone or had some book you wrote made into a movie in the 80's or published a midlist novel a decade or more ago--Miss Snark will have to give you more specific advice on whether to mention it.

Thanks for the help, Miss Snark.
(A snarkling trying not to be an idiot.)

Zappadong said...

When my agent found out that we are both 1961-ers, he said: "Great Year!" - And that was it. He didn't sell my age, he sold my book.


Kim Stagliano said...

There's a new term: "Helicopter parents." They hover over their kids 24/7. Then the kids can't wipe their own arses at 25. My brother in law CALLED HIS SON at college every day to wake him. Eessh.

Christine said...

Now you're stealing Anna's stuff, eh? LOL I adore both of you, ya know that, right?

How about a Miss Snark cafepress shop? Shirts that say "Nitwit of the Day" or "I survived the COM".

I Heart Miss Snark coffee mugs.

I think you'd make a mint. :)

Anonymous said...

Here is the (or at least an) original post on the topic, from 20 Aug 06


The link is broken to make it fit in the text space. I have tried a shorter link below:


nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

This is very encouraging. In the my world, screenwriters over 35 are considered ancient. It's tough to get an agent even they come from an established journalism or theatre background.

I'm talking about the U.S. film industry of course. In the U.K. most of the top screenwriters come from the theatre or are novelists.

kitty said...

"Helicopter parents" are not parents; they're enablers.

Kanani said...

Can we just blow the lid off this whole age thing?

First off, I have a physical age, which often does not match up with my mental age which fluctuates wildly over the course of the day.

So age in itself isn't an indication of ability, and I doubt an agent regardless of their age even thinks about yours when reading your query. No, they look at everything MissSnark has laid out.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have to go to my yoga class. When I go in, I feel old, when I leave, I feel twenty. And later, when I look at my wallet, I feel 15.

Diana Peterfreund said...

Kim, is his long distance plan cheaper than an alarm clock? ;-)

I think some people go TMI in their queries -- their age, their marital status, their hobbies, their health while they were writing the book... You don't need to explain your age unless it's important to the book, say it's set at Woodstock, which you went to when you were in college.

Anonymous said...

Allow me a moment to blot the Geritol from my keyboard.

Bifocals in place.

This discussion of ageism is depressing.

Okay, I’ll admit that I’m 63 years old. Few people know my dirty little secret since I look about ten years younger. I will never tell an agent my age, not that I’m not proud of it. It’s bad for business.

The reason for my late-blooming is that I was formerly a visual artist and had to learn the craft of writing. It’s taken me a while since mine has been ad hoc education. I am proud to say that my novel-in-progress (mainstream, with a literary bent) has been awarded in several contests. One, in particular, was quite prestigious. These wins have supported my suspicion that I have the talent and tenacity to create something enjoyable and worth reading by other people than just my writing group.

The reality that this novel will probably not be published makes me a little sad. However, I’m not letting that stop me from finishing it and writing more novels. I figure I’ve got maybe two more in me after this one. But who knows? I could be run over by a big bus tomorrow.

My point is this: Don’t worry about what you cannot control. If you are a writer, you are a writer. You can’t NOT write. Not writing is not the solution. Not writing is a gray day, like today in Chicago. So write and write well because you must. Then prepare for miracles. You never know.

Sign me,
Post youth

blogless_troll said...

What's really bad is ICBM parents. Those kids don't have a chance.

Cheryl said...

I fully expect to be 40 before I'm ready to start querying agents. Hopefully, I'll never have to meet one face-to-face, so they'll never know.

I sure as hell ain't sayin'.

Ryan Field said...

I've been thirty-three in all my bios for the past two years; it's going to stay that way, too, for a while.

Kim Stagliano said...

I am proud to have a cheesey song written about me "Oh what a night! Late December back in '63. What a very special time for me. What a lady (the mom who gave birth to me) What a night!"

I couldn't have written my book at 25. When I get it out there and do signings I'll look attractive. Not 25/dewey skinned atractive, but I've been called a MILF thank you very much! (Did I mention I volunteer for the seeing visually is my Oil of Olay? Pat pat pat, dab dab dab.

MTV said...

This post sparked several things for me.

One is that I didn't even start writing until 40! And, for a while I made great progress and wonderful connections. Then other human interest things (see profile if interested) moved me in directions that I felt could be more beneficial to all people on the planet. I am now looking to get back in the game.

Two - Keeping with Diana's comment all these details in a query are definitely TMI. The agent either likes what I have and can sell it or passes. As I've said before and in the words of the Donald - *It's not personal. It's just business!*.

I see it as a connections game. While the writing itself is important, it is just a important that the idea be relevant in the agent's circle of contacts. The bills in an agency are immediate and so the need for income is also. The more established agencies have a greater spectrum of *proved and professional* clients to draw from. So, in general two things must happen - 1)What you have must be relevant (meaning salable in the agent's immediate connections within a reasonable time) 2) Well written.

Correct me if I'm off here, but, my sense is well written is a necessary, but not sufficient criteria. The topic/genre must be relevant in terms of current/projected market.

As far as age itself goes, it only becomes relevant if you have not kept up with the times and market. Still, even that could sell if done in the proper context. For instance, if you had a good sense of irony, you could counterpoint current thinking with the stogy *old* part of you. That could be as funny as *Borat* to some.

So, I don't see age as an issue, except in the case where it influences the relevance of your writing.

The Beautiful Schoolmarm said...

I've had the priviledge of teaching some very talented young writers, but none of them were ready to query an agent. Sometimes the parents understood.

Any writer of any age who can't handle "Sorry, not for me," in response to a query is in for some sad times. It isn't healthy to spend so much time depressed or angry. Or both.

PS. I would so love to have an "I heart Miss Snark" mug or t-shirt.

Mark said...

Age is a concern when it comes to employment especially writing for television, but not in literature. You get there when you get there. I'm 53 too, but then I got a BA at 51 so...

Anonymous said...

What the f***???

Got agent in July 06. She got a two-book deal for me with a major publisher in August 06.

I'm 57. Just hope I'm still alive when the first book comes out in 08.

Geminipen said...

Ooh, ooh. I want an "I survived the COM" shirt!

Where's the order form?

Mark said...

That's good anonymous if true. Just once I wish someone claiming to be in this illustroius situation wouldn't be afraid if it. On the Internet if it can't be verified, not true is the default setting. We want good news that's actually good.

Kimber An said...

I've noticed that behaving professionally, politely, and with maturity and patience helps enormously too.

Anonymous said...

Just once I wish someone claiming to be in this illustroius situation wouldn't be afraid if it. On the Internet if it can't be verified, not true is the default setting. We want good news that's actually good.

I'm not in this situation myself, but how's this?

Lee Child's agent, Darley Anderson, is also the agent for Elizabeth Waite. She's eighty-four. When he took on her first book and sold it, she was seventy. She's still going strong and has written a book a year ever since. Check out the agency website if you want to see it for yourself!

Mark said...

To clarify since I seem to be chronically misunderstood despite what I see as technically addressing both the premise and the exceptions, I said age is a factor in "jobs and writing for television." If you doubt that look harder. Or just look. It means nothing in literature: you get there when you get there. I do find it odd those who claim to published in comment threads don't dare say who they are.

Fuchsia Groan said...

I know where ideas like this come from. A couple of years ago I read an article in the NY Observer about Sam Lipsyte, who wrote Home Land (a hilarious book). He had an agent already, but his agent had trouble selling it because his first two novels hadn't done well AND he was in his late 30s and not particularly glamorous. Lipsyte remembered an editor asking, "But how can we sell YOU?" -- implying that what they wanted was the latest hot young thing, not a seasoned aging novelist. Well, that was his interpretation.

But it may be more of a problem for aging novelists with poor sales records. I know two literary novelists who published for the first time in their sixties and got nationally reviewed: Mary Hays and Marc Estrin. I'm sure there are more.