Saturday, March 14, 2009

Is A Writer's Age Important?

A recent post on agent Jessica Faust's website addressed the question of whether an author should include their age in a query. As someone who can identify with the sentiment on the picture at left, I wondered about this as well. I've asked this question of a few people in the industry. Let me share some of the answers with you.

Editor Steve Barclift (Kregel Publications):

Sometimes it is important to know the age of an author. In general, editors need to know if an author is qualified to write for a particular audience, particularly for nonfiction.

A thirty-year-old mother of two toddlers usually wouldn't be a great choice to write a practical parenting book because she hasn't been in the parenting trenches long enough; she would lack credibility with potential readers. That same mother might write an inspirational book for young moms, by the way--maybe something showing the reader how she can take advantage of daily opportunities to grow in her walk with God despite the hectic pace of her life--and find a receptive audience. A twenty-three-year-old woman two years out of college might be an excellent choice for writing a Christian-living book for teen girls who want to know what to expect of life in a college setting, away from home.

There are times when it isn't necessarily advantageous to reveal one's age. For example, I have worked with novelists in their late 70s and early 80s who write contemporary fiction that is read by much younger readers. I have occasionally been shocked to learn that I have been working for years with an author of dynamite political suspense who is an octogenarian. Would I have been less inclined to give an older author's work serious consideration than a younger author's work? No, not at all. But I might be predisposed to question whether a seventy-five-year-old man could write credible fiction for teens. In such a case, it might be wise for the author to let the writing itself determine if that author can write for a particular audience. That having been said, older authors are among the easiest and most enjoyable to work with, and I have knowingly worked to help several of them publish first-time novels.

Agent, Rachelle Gardner (WordServe Literary):

I don't think authors sending queries should mention their age unless necessary for a specific reason. To me, age only seems to be a factor when the writer is very young (high school/college age). It's usually pretty obvious from the writing that they lack some maturity and life experience and aren't ready to be published. In the younger novelists, I often see a huge bright spark of potential, but it's still just that -- potential. Other than that, if a person is a good writer, it doesn't matter to me how old they are, and in fact, I love the fact that I get to work with writers of all ages.

Editor Nick Harrison (Harvest House Publishers):

Now that I’m into my sixties, I’m aware of this more as a writer than as an editor. For fiction, I don’t think it matters. If the story is good, that’s what matters. The only time I think this may be a problem is with non-fiction. Particularly writing for a market younger than yourself. If I tried to write a book for young marrieds, I doubt it would work. People don’t like to hear from old guys on stuff like that, unless they’re an expert. For instance, I don’t know your age, but even as you get older, I think your medical expertise would keep you writing for a long time on non-fiction medical issues, if that became of interest to you.

All that said, I have to admit that I do not reveal that I’m over sixty when I send off a proposal. Just in case there are some biased editors out there, I don’t want to give them any reason to doubt my writing future. And that’s the thing some might be concerned about: longevity. We try to look for writers with whom we can establish a long term relationship. If we publish a first novel by an author in his or her late 70’s, there might be the concern that they will either lose interest in having a full-fledged writing career at that age, or that health problems may prevent such a career. But even then, if the writing is good, I would certainly go to bat for them with our publishing committee. In recent years, we have published two writers in their 90’s. Both were already established, but even so…

Thanks to Steve, Rachelle, and Nick for sharing their thoughts on this subject. I have come to identify with ageless pitching legend, Satchel Paige, who asked, "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you was?" Well...?

1 comment:

Timothy Fish said...

I went in for jury duty a few weeks ago and one of the questions the lawyers asked was, “Is there anything about me, about my hair, the color of my tie or anything that puts you off in any way?” When we are trying to make a good impression on people, it is hard to know what irrelevant things might hinder our efforts. Age is certainly one of the things that influence our perception of people and we might no even realize how it affects us. If there’s something about us that we can’t use as a selling point, it might be better not to mention it.