Friday, April 04, 2014

Query Question: so, I'm old

So, I'm old. I've written what I think is a very readable book, and have just started sending out queries and begun another book. When writing, I have readers of my age bracket in mind.

This week an acquaintance (admittedly a jerk but often right) advised me not to bother with literary agents, as they would not want a first time author of my age. They would be looking for novelists of an age that might promise a longer career and more market interest. (To me, this is counter-intuitive to the burgeoning senior population and many seniors living into their vibrant 90's, but those are other discussions.)

I accept the dauntingly long odds every writer faces with a first book, but I don't want to waste my time. Go straight to self-publish as this person counseled or file the advice under wrongheaded input and keep going?

So, this jerk acquaintance of yours, he's an agent? Cause that's the only way he's going to know what agents want. And then, only what HE would want.

And unless you're writing your query letters on an manual Royal typewriter and including the idiotic phrase "I don't do email" how the HELL is someone going to know how old you are?

So what if Abe Lincoln was your date to the prom?  I bet you've got some good stories about it.

Much of querying is conducted at a glacial pace, as is publishing in general. If you feel you're wasting your time by waiting, don't. Self-pub, and may you make a million dollars.

But, BUT I don't view it as wasted time, so much as time invested in your writing career. While you're waiting for those whippersnapper agents to get off their poorly punctuated asterisks and reply to your query, keep working. It's the WORK you love, right?


Jennifer R. Donohue said...

It never ceases to amaze me how many people at the library (largely what I guess would be considered 'Baby Boomers') give kind of a laugh and say "Oh, I don't know anything about computers. I guess I'm a luddite!" They wear their computer illiteracy like a badge of honor which drives me bonkers. Even hipsters email.

I guess I should be pleased at their vocabulary?

Yvonne Osborne said...


LynnRodz said...

Here's my opinion, for what it's worth. Unless you're no longer a kid (and I go by Nat King Cole's definition in The Christmas Song - " kids from one to ninety-two...") then perhaps you don't have time to wait for an agent. But, if you are still a "kid", then why not try to go the traditional route first? If it doesn't work out, you can always fall back on self-publishing.

As Janet put it so well, you don't need to tell someone who took you to the prom! (Where you come up with these phrases, Janet, I don't know, but you are definitely one hilarious lady! Thanks again for another good laugh.)

@Jennifer: My mother is still a "kid" according to Nat King Cole, but not for long. She not only sends emails and texts on her smartphone, she has her own Facebook page, and she Skypes whenever she sees one of her kids or grand-kids online. Her latest thing is playing Candy Crush on her iPad while she watches her soaps! Forget about the "Baby Boomers" - they don't call her generation, "The Greatest Generation" for nothing!

Susan Bonifant said...

I appreciate this response. You have already advised (rightly) against over-disclosing any quality that might create a bias, including age. But publication can take a long time, and we writers are reminded at every turn, whether we're older or younger, of the odds against us - as if quitting is an option.

If it's ever true that strong writing, and great story can transcend the age factor, offering this observation as well is generous and respectful.

whiporee said...

Janet, thanks for the last line.

Whenever I've go to AW, or read your blog, or anything else writer-related these days, I tend to forget that it's not about getting published. It's about the words on the page. Writing isn't a means to an end, it's the end by itself, the satisfaction of coming up with a story and putting it down on paper. As I'm going through the glacial hell of submissions and editor rejections, I need to remember that we write because we want to tell our stories, not because we want to get rich and famous. Rich and famous would be nice, but it's the icing, not the cake. So thanks for reminding me of that, even in such a small little way.

MNye said...

I paused after ' so I'm old...'. That just means I'm smarter than the college freshman taking remedial English. But I am very interested in getting a manual Royal typewriter.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Sorry Janet, pour yourself another cup of coffee, I would like to comment directly to this questioner.

Having been told often not to mention my age, I wrestled with, and finally relented to, the prejudice agents and publishers secretly (and not so secretly) exhibit regarding older writers. They say, no age discrimination, but that’s bullshit. Because we can’t all be Grandma Moses, don’t reveal your age in your query, is usually the norm-advice. But do you really want to be accepted as someone other than who you are?

With the bulk of our years behind us it is daunting, and some say, ludicrous to imagine ourselves as debut authors. Is it foolhardy to spend so much time on a project; is it ridiculous to think we have enough time to traverse the glacial range of traditional publishing Janet speaks about so often? Every single day I wish I had started earlier, every single day I wish I had more time but you know what, none of us is guaranteed a future. (Cliché alert) - What we have is now, that’s it babe, now.

Though you may be teetering on the edge of old age, or are already over, and tumbling down, the other side of the hill so many speak about, if you enjoy writing, do it. If you enjoy the challenge of going traditional, go for it. If you want your work out there now, go digital. We have choices today that did not exist when we were younger.

I took a different approach. After ten years of effort put forth on two novels, and querying well over a hundred agents, I said, fuck it, and became a newspaper columnist. Essays and op-eds have been my meat for twenty-five years. I love to write them and I’m pretty good at what I do. My age is my advantage because I write about experiences which are common to us all and about how absurd and amusing life really is. I could not do that if I had not lived as long as I have. My ‘now’ project is a memoir about my opinions and observations, the force and fallout of each, all stitched together with transitions with actually make sense.

Janet’s reaction to my query regarding this project was really quite funny, something like, “...a bunch of essays, you’ve got to kidding.” Nope I’m serious. Though I could have signed up for Medicare this year and my platform is the size of my front stoop, I do have a fan base. Honestly, I am a minnow in a mud puddle but I LOVE what I am doing. And that is what this is all about.

Janet is right; embrace technology, it places all of us on common ground. And another bit of advice - shed antiquated verbiage. Nothing screams ‘old’ more than the words our teachers taught us when we all liked Ike. Oh and here’s another piece of advice, don’t take advice from anybody. You call the shots my dear, now that was antiquated.

Stacy said...

Another lesson I would get from this is to not solicit the advice of people I know to be jerks. They're often right, but just as often, they're wrong.

Cindy C said...

I'm not old--but I'm close to the Old Town city limits. Like carolynnwith2Ns, I wish I'd started writing seriously, with publication as a goal, much earlier, but I've always written and I don't see that stopping even if I never get published. Sometimes I forget how much I love writing when I worry about age and publishing changes and query letters. Thanks for reminding me.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Unless your book is "The Really Old Person's Guide to Being Really Old," or "I Went to the Prom With Lincoln (No Really, I Did,)" then your age is irrelevant.

The only "however," is that you are entering a profession that is heavily tech-dependent and if you aren't ready for that, it could be a problem. I doubt that is a problem.

Heck, one of the Shark's clients, Stephanie Evans, wished her awesome dad Happy Birthday on Facebook this morning and he answered from his account, hipster oldster that he is. I find tech being embraced by older folks to stay connected .

I consider myself firmly ensconced in middle age. All that means is that I got to cruise main street when gas was 50 cents a gallon and see all the really cool bands. I also used this touch of gray in my hair to make a cop feel like he had pulled over his mom (ah, that trip to Houston is the gift that keeps on giving.)

It is your existence and your identity. Embrace it. Take a ride on the query-go-round. You'll know fairly shortly if it is a ride you want to stay on.


Mindy Tarquini said...

Please list all vocabulary which betrays my antiquity, as well as advise most efficient tool for removal of the Technodolt Merit Badge I've managed to earn despite my best efforts. In return, I'll send you an almost filled book of green stamps and my Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring that I got for 25c and two Ovaltine labels.

Here's the silly thing about aging. Nobody wants to do it, but it takes great and good fortune to actually achieve it.

Michael Seese said...

Remember: on the internet no one knows you're a dog. So no one knows you're an OLD dog either. And (I would defer to Janet here) will the publisher learn of your age at any time before you submit your photo for the book sleeve?

MNye said...

I'm gonna need photo shop and a hip dictionary. Or is it hep?

Elissa M said...

Many excellent authors die young. Some just burn out, or only had one book in them. Age is completely irrelevant to career length.

Of course, if publication is your goal, and you think you're at death's door, self-pubbing might be your most viable option. But for me, writing is what matters, publication is just icing.

Laura said...

Anonymous questioner, you might be interested in Bloom, a blog dedicated to featuring writers (and sometimes artists in other fields) who didn't publish until after they were 40: It's a welcome antidote to those "Top 30 Under 30" lists, and I've gotten lots of great recommendations for books to read from there.

Lance said...

I think the bottom line here is that Ms. Reid wants to hear about the story, not about your age, whether one leg is longer than the other, or your relationship with your budgie. Her other point is: if you are banging it out on a manual, get a friend to set you up an e-mail account and act like you're in on the deal.

Anonymous said...

Ditto Elissa M. Who comes to mind? Lucy Grealy, Sylvia Plath, Emily Bronte, David Foster Wallace and there's a ton more...but it's a valid and true point.

Erica Eliza said...

It always amuses me to see people complain about others defining them by things like age....when really, they're the ones doing the defining. Janet, I love your attitude.

Raisa Stone said...

Sounds like the jerk has writing mixed up with American Idol. And even then, you can find success in middle age by coming up with something like, "You Look Like A Fool With Your Pants On The Ground, On The Ground."

I'm 52, sold my first article at 20, and have absolutely never heard of age being a determining factor in whether writing gets accepted. I've always assumed others know you get better as you age.

I just no longer show up at conferences in sleeveless hot pink spandex.

My book, in fact, is currently #2 in Ukrainian Culture on Amazon. Topic? Stories I collected from survivors of Stalinist and Nazi terror. Yeah, old people talking to a middle aged woman. Even when readers have all those yummy young Ukrainian women to ogle.

Steve MC said...

Good for you to check this out with someone who knows rather than listen to wrongheaded advice.

If you're curious, Ralph Keyes covers this worry about age in his Writer's Book of Hope.

Do a search in it at Amazon or Google Books for "I'm the wrong age" (with quotes) and it'll take you right to that section.

And good luck!