Too old to be published?

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One of the diligent and professional writers in my manuscript groups shared advice from Writer’s Digest about getting published after age 50. Some people don’t have the time or resources to turn to a full time career of writing until they get older. WD’s advice seemed to run adrift, to me, once I read the article.

Yes, it’s good to see Writer’s Digest, which makes its living off of giving advice to us writers, is addressing this topic. Some of the advice seems to apply no matter how old the author is making the query, so it’s useful — to a point.

But saying you’re retired in a query letter is not so far away from being a retired detective, like the successful romance science fiction novelist Linnea Sinclair. She says in a bio on her Web site that she’s “a former news reporter and retired private detective.” Frankly, that experience from those jobs lends credibility to her writing.

She’s won the publishing derby, having published six books at Bantam and eight in all. Not at all shy about leaving another career to be a writer. But it’s clear that she works at being a writer, with appearances at conferences and lots of signings.

The other part of the Writer’s Digest article that twanged me was the magazine’s usual vanguard of “you won’t believe how old these writers were on first publication.” Here’s how it reads:

And if there’s any doubt that older novelists can succeed, keep this in mind. Anna Sewell didn’t sell the classic novel Black Beauty to her publisher until she was 57. Karen Blixen, the Danish author who wrote under the pen name Isak Dinesen, didn’t publish her first book until 50—and her blockbuster, Out of Africa, hit the market when she was 52. Laura Ingalls Wilder, the beloved author of the Little House on the Prairie series, didn’t have her first book published until she was well into her 60s. Richard Adams, author of the children’s classic Watership Down, remained unpublished until he was in his 50s.

All those WD writers published their first books in a different age. WD reminds us that older writers can sometimes overlook the fact that publishing is a business. Well, the work of these four authors succeeded in a very different business era for publishing.

Sewell’s Black Beauty published in 1877
Ingalls’ Little House published in 1935
Blixen’s Out of Africa published in 1937
Adams’ Watership Down published in 1972

Ya know, there wasn’t even cable TV in 1972, or TV at all during Blixen’s and Ingalls’ successes. Sewell published her one and only book before there was radio.

Of all the advice from Writer’s Digest in the article, being enthusiastic about self-promoting and making it clear you’re not a one-shot-wonder seem to make best sense.

Write a good book. That’s what matters the most. The agent who’s going to represent it best is the one who can get acquisition editors to pick up their phones or answer e-mails. If they want to know how old you are, it’s a good sign that it’s time to move on, in my opinion.

Acting in Hollywood is a young person’s game. Telling a story well and getting behind it seems ageless.

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