A friend of mine, an author I have huge respect and great fondness for, so I’d never say anything to make her uncomfortable or feel as though I do not care for her, said something to me privately that went like this: “There is ageism in publishing. I advise you NOT to tell anyone your age. Take it from me — someone a bit older than you who has been around the publishing industry as a writer a little longer.”
I so understand what she meant. I’d already encountered ageism in the corporate world when I was just in my mid forties. It was ugly, and obvious. And, yes, there is ageism in the publishing industry. Agents and publishers generally want to sign young, promising writers under age forty who have a long career ahead of them. So….yeah….I listened. In fact, I always listen to her. She’s far more successful as a writer than am I, and has been writing for quite a while. She is both wise and wonderful.
But when talking to another writer last week, a man in his 70s, who is working to get his first novel published, I came to realize something. I CAN be an advocate for older people who are just starting their writing career, or I can keep my trap shut about my age and just hope that no publisher or agent knows I’m over 60 beginning my career.
I’ve just gotten my first book published (thank you to Dragon Moon Press) at age 61. Although I will continue to work extremely hard to make it a success, THE RAVEN’S DAUGHTER — which only came out in Feb 29th, 2016 so as I write this, we are just now building momentum — is among over two million new book releases annually, so chances are slender that….well, you know. Let’s just say I don’t have any inflated expectations. BUT, the women in my line are long-lived, and unless I contract some awful incurable disease, or I’m hit by a Twinky Truck, I expect to live well into my 90s. I have at least thirty more books in me, so I’ll be writing books (and getting better at it) for many years to come.
There are writers who are in their 90s who are still active. Ray Strait, a good friend of several years, will be 92 in May. He just signed with a huge New York agent, and is writing novels. Why not?
Success is relative. The fact that I’ve completed three novels in four and a half years, even with an injury that took me out of commission for a year, and I’ve gotten THE RAVEN’S DAUGHTER published by a small but reputable publisher who has been around for twenty-one years, and I’ve managed to sign with not one but three agents since I began writing, is to me, success. And, who knows? Maybe one of my books will somehow rise to the occasion and earn some real money. In the mean time, I will continue to market and promote my existing title, and write, and write some more, and query and query and write some more.
I’ll say to anyone who wants to write: “It’s never too late to embark on a writing career. You are never too old to get a book published, or to be a successful author. If I can launch my writing career at age 61, and Ray Strait at nearly 92 can sign with a big NY Agent, so can you. Go for it!” I think I will tell absolutely everyone how old I am so maybe in some way I can inspire other older writers.
Good luck to us all, and to those of you who write, no matter how old you are, I wish you a long and successful career.
Here’s how to sign with a literary agent:
- Write a great book that people want to read. Make sure it’s error free and well-researched, and doesn’t contain a bunch of worn out clichés. Better if the story has great characters. And you better have an outstanding query letter.
- Find out where all the conventions are where lit agents are going to be. Go. Make sure you take your manuscript with you, and meet the lit agents in person.
Cultivate on-line relationships with lit agents. By that, I don’t mean going to one site and declaring over and over that you want an agent. Find the agents, and actually make friends with them….way before you pitch your book to them.
Try sites like Duotrope or Query Tracker or AAR. Query, query, query. When you get rejected, query some more. Be sure to follow submission guidelines exactly.
Do NOT keep pimping your book over and over to the same audience or individuals. After a short while you just become a nuisance, like a Scamway salesperson, ya know? If you keep coming to me, I’ll keep telling you the same thing. Go to Query Tracker or the cons, or whatever, but because I have a lit agent, doesn’t mean I can get you one. I wish I could, but it doesn’t work that way.
Do not ask, or expect, a writer who has an agent to pimp you and your book to his/her agent. That is considered extremely poor manners in this biz.
IF your book is already published, whether traditionally, or self-published, (or as a blog, or on Facebook, or Wattpad), unless it’s sold something like thirty-thousand copies in its first month, NO agent will want to rep it. Just saying you’ve sold thousands of copies won’t do it. Agents can easily check the stats to see how many actually did sell…and if it’s not in the multiple thousands within a super short period after release, they won’t bother with a book already published, no matter how wonderful the book might be. If it has sold thirty-thousand copies in a month, the agents will be knocking on YOUR door. So, if your book is published, and has not gone viral, and agents aren’t pounding on your door begging to rep it, go back to No. 1.
Best of luck to all of us. We are in a tough biz, and it’s not easy being a writer today.