Monday, March 08, 2010

Too old to be published?

There's an interesting debate on Nicola Morgan's blog today about the difficulties that older writers might face trying to land an agent or a publishing contract in today's market.

For me it made depressing reading because, if it is correct, both my age and my recent diagnosis will put me at a significant disadvantage. Obviously I don't need to disclose my age (and I am told I look younger anyway), but my MS will most likely be evident to anyone I might meet, as I now usually walk painfully slowly, often with a stick.

But then I looked at it another way. I have had so many life experiences, in a professional career, as a mother and a carer. Elements of all of these have fed into my novel. In other words, I couldn't have written the book I have just finished when I was much younger. Neither could I have done the OU distance creative writing courses, which built my confidence enough to attempt a novel, when my boys were very small ( apart from anything else they didn't exist then).

I've been writing seriously for five years. My writing has come a long way in that time and will no doubt continue to improve. I have been published, with my work having been selected for anthologies by writers I admire. The potential must be there and, unlike many other jobs, there is no need to retire from writing at a particular age. I have many, many writing years ahead of me and due to changes in family circumstances I now have more time to devote to writing than I ever did before.

I just hope that when I start to submit my novel in the next few months, agents and publishers will be able to look beyond such prejudices. So how can I sell my ability not only to write but to promote my work? Well I blog. I'm on Twitter and Facebook. I network with other writers. I live in London, not the middle of nowhere which could be more restricting while I can't drive. For the first time in 18 years I am not the sole carer in the family, which gives me much more flexibility. Perhaps most of all I now have more hunger to get it right and have been willing to invest time and money to do so. Finally, I write Women's Fiction which I hope would appeal to women across a wide age range rather than a narrow demographic.

Would all that convince you?


Anonymous said...

Some of these articles are very dramatised and made to make us older writers look as though we're passed it. How old do you have to be to be a good writer anyway? 20, 30, 40? Should age or indeed medical diagnosis matter? Surely it's the quality of the material that the agent/publisher should be looking for.

CJ xx

Nicola Morgan said...

Cathy - indeed it would (convince me)! There is no doubt that the literal meaning of the word "prejudice" is very apt here. The thing is, prejudice - ie tendency to make a judgement/decision before having the full facts is something which is arguably built into us by biology: the deer in the grass needs to make a pre-judgement about the golden movement between the trees, the early cave-dweller needs to make a pre-judgement as to whether the person walking towards him means harm or not... etc. You know what i mean? We often don't think things through and just react, unfortunately. I am not condoning it and I absolutely do hope that we fight against prejudice wherever it disadvantages anyone, as it so often does. However, as I'm sure you also recognise, there are often two sides to the story. Relating it to getting published, I do think that the knowledge (and I don't necessarily mean acceptance) that publishers may be behaving and thinking in this way is actually useful: forewarned is forearmed. Not being able to get published is very stressful; believing that one may be too old is even more stressful; understanding that actually, no one is too old or unfit, is important; knowing that age and ill-health can raise the bar is simply challenging. And the hope that a better book may come from it is inspiring.

Nicola Morgan said...

Crystal - you said: "Surely it's the quality of the material that the agent/publisher should be looking for." Of course - and "should" is the operative word. And my blog post was saying just that. But that fact is that there is a prejudice going on, even if a slight one (and the agents I spoke to all said it was there but that they could overcome it if the writing was great). So really all it is is a statistical disadvantage which is quite outweighted when the writing is good enough. So, a good enough writer shouldn't need to worry, whatever the age. Unfortunately, life is not always pretty or fair and I don't like it either I simply have to tell what I see, though

Cathy said...

CJ - it might sound dramatic, but sadly I'm sure it's true. Publishers are looking for a 'package' nowadays, rather than just a good writer. Much as it pains me to say this on International Women's Day,I think that means the bar is even higher for a woman. We all know that there is already a lot of prejudice against older women in the TV and movie worlds for example. Yet many women are not in a position to write seriously when they are younger because they already juggle so much.

Nicola - thanks for dropping by. I'm not disputing that what you wrote is sadly probably true, I just feel that if agents and publishers let themselves get too bogged down with such prejudices they could be missing some real talent. I know some excellent writers who would not be the PR department's dream clients for exactly those reasons.

I'm not actually too worried, I do have a usp for my book which might just tip the balance. But it's sad to think that a few grey hairs or a walking stick could be such a turn off.

Nicola Morgan said...

Cathy - I couldn't agree more. Except that it's not just sad, it's awful to think that.

And I know you weren't disagreeing but I wanted to make sure your readers knew what I was saying in the original piece, in case they didn't go to read it!

Lacer said...

Hi Cathy

I think you should feel confident in your usp for your book, if I remember correctly it features autism doesn't it and I can imagine the cover blurb now, any publisher would mention your life experience and they would relish that, to bring it all down to the horrible pounds and pence, your life experience would help sell the book. Whereas with my book, I may be younger but I have no life experience to sell my manuscript, I've written about Egypt and I'm sure a publisher would much rather say I was some experienced Egyptologist rather than the reality of a suburban mum of two who has never even been to Egypt, just watched one too many Indiana Jones films! It almost makes me wish I could write crime fiction, as that would match my life experience, but I can't.

Cathy said...

You're absolutely right about my book, Lacer.

You know what, I'd love to write crime fiction one day. I used to read a lot of that genre and we watch far too many crime/forensics programmes on TV as they are virtually the only thing Hubby and I both enjoy. One day, maybe...