Thursday, September 20, 2007

Age Discrimination Does Exist

For some reason I get a lot of queries where the writer feels the need to share her age. Most commonly it’s people who are in their 70s or 80s and feel the need to tell me they don’t have a lot of time left, or people in their 20s or teens who are concerned that age might be an issue.

Don’t bother telling your age. As Cynthia Shapiro, the author of Corporate Confidential has said, “age discrimination does exist.” So why tempt fate? Frankly, I don’t care how old you are, but if you tell me you’re only 15 it’s going to make me immediately wonder whether or not you are ready to write a book, and that’s not fair to you. And if I tell a publisher you’re 8,5 they are going to wonder whether it’s worth making a financial investment in your career. Remember what I’ve said before . . . publishers are looking for a reason to reject a book. So why give it to them so easily?

Not pleasant to hear, I know, but these are the hard truths of any business, not just publishing. Listen, it’s hard enough to get published, so why set yourself up for possible rejection when you don’t have to? If it’s unlawful to ask a question in an interview, don’t give the answer voluntarily. The same holds true for query letters. I don’t need to know your age, marital status, or any health issues you might have. When sending me your query, stick to what is really important, and that’s your book. And only your book. I care only about what makes your book different from anything else ever written, and if the only thing you can come up with is that you’re 14, that’s not going to be enough.



jodi said...

...yeah, I agree. What does it matter if you're sixteen or a gazillion and sixteen, if your book is the hottest thing to slide down the chute since Outlander?

Maybe some people just have this complusive need to share?

Anonymous said...

There was a writer a while ago that I met that told her age in queries because she was worried - being under 18 - that there would be legal troubles (because she couldn't sign things or something) and that an agent would be angry that she wasn't upfront about it.

Robbie H said...

I see this question occasionally posed on writer's forums: "Do I tell them I'm only 15 or not?"

I also see (mostly younger) writers mentioning their ages when posting their query letters for critique.

Imagine, though, if you were either 15 or 85 and finishing up a novel. Dontcha think that for the past two years you've been listening to your family brag about you? "And to think, she's only 15 and already has written a novel!" or "I hope I'm sharp enough at 85 to write a book!" Truly, after listening to that kind of talk for two years, how could you not think it's a big deal when writing a query?

It'd be nice if there were these sections in bookstores: "Not bad, considering a teenager wrote it" and "Pretty good for an old geezer!", but,'s all about the writing isn't it?

Anonymous said...

A while back Miss Snark had to backpedal on this issue because she said that she wasn't likely to take anyone over a certain age. (I think it was around forty.) Snarklings jumped out of the woodwork, furious. But I think she, and a lot of other young agents, would prefer a client who has a chance of being there in thirty or forty years.

From what I can gather, BookEnds has clients of all ages, which to me seems a more intelligent approach. Not all readers want to hear things from a twenty-five year old's point of view. Not to mention, how much life experience and insight can you possibly have at that age?

Still, I think the best policy is never to mention your age, regardless of which side of forty it is on.

Chumplet said...

Love it, Robbie! I hope writers don't discriminate against agents who are of a certain age. After all, we want representation for the next thirty or forty years!

Andrew said...

That's a good point, Robbie; people include it because they think it's a selling point, because it's something people talk about when you mention you're writing a novel. And perhaps there's some logic there. Sometimes writers should consider what's outstanding about themselves when submitting. If you don't see many fantasy novels in bookstores written by African-American writers, and you happen to be an African-American who's written a fantasy novel, it could be presented as a selling point. But, even though you don't see many books by teens in the bookstores, to an agent or editor, it doesn't suggest that the writing is saleable. Agents apparently see enough submissions from teens that the reaction isn't "Wow! A teenage novelist!" so much as "Oh, crap. A teenage novelist."

I'm comparatively young for writers in my genre, which has been kind of dominated by a few big baby-boomer names. My editor asked me my age... but only after he'd offered a contract.

Sally MacKenzie said...

Oh, my. FORTY is old??? [Sound of jaw hitting desk.]

Hmm, you know, I don't believe there's any guarantee that if you publish at thirty, you'll still be publishing at thirty-five. Second contracts are sometimes harder to come by than first contracts, since everyone has your sales numbers second time around. AND markets change--what's hot today may not be hot tomorrow, and what you couldn't give away yesterday might be just what everyone's looking for now.

But...oh, dear...FORTY is old?

I think I'll just totter off to bed now.

dan said...

Perhaps the age question is trying to figure out how much time you have left to write books, and if it's worth investing time and energy in you.
Probably are agents who go for the quick buck of the one-shot deal, but most of them want endurance, and if you're starting late it may cause them to wonder. Still, James Lee Burke was no chicken when he started, and look at him now.

Kate Douglas said...

Oh, Sally...I'm with you! I've got children almost forty! I don't mind a bit being the old broad on the block, but I will admit, one of the funniest things that ever happened was at a lunch in NY with my agent, editor and some industry professionals when one very nice man looked at me oddly and said, "You don't LOOK like you write those books!" I replied that no, I probably looked like a grandmother of four, which is what I am! That doesn't mean I can't write some really hot erotic romance--I have readers from eighteen to eighty and it's the stories that count, not the age of the author who wrote them.

AstonWest said...

Maybe some people just have this complusive need to share?

Sounds like my wife... :-)

In regards to what information to share, one just needs to figure out what the agent wants to see. People you talk to (friends and family) about writing a novel are not agents, generally. So, what they find notable is not always going to be relevant to an agent.

People tell me all the time that it's just amazing an engineer could write fiction (with correct spelling and grammar). That doesn't mean I should convey that information to an agent, since it has no bearing on the book itself.

Megan said...

I share my age because an agent wanted to work on revisions with me, found out about my age, and then said they wouldn't feel comfortable working with a fourteen year old. I'd rather be rejected off the bat then have my hopes risen and dashed.

Anonymous said...

I'd only mention my age (venerable) to assure the potential agent or publisher I was NOT a green around the gills teener with angst to spare.