Friday, May 19, 2023

Good News for Older Women Writers: Your Age Is a Bonus!

Imagine my surprise when I came across this article in The Guardian: older women writers (in their fifties, sixties, even seventies) are now a hot item with publishers.

The trend is slow but steady, according to the editors and agents interviewed. My surprise came because of decades of reading the "30 Under 30" lists and being dismayed at the publishing industry's romance with youth, youthful appearance, and many years ahead to write.

I was even told--before I signed with my agent--that trying to get another agent after sixty was iffy. You may have a good track record, you may write publishable books, but do you look like an author with a long future? How do you look, actually?

Post-pandemic, I welcomed the gray. I decided not to return to the hassle of coloring. Many of my friends did the same (and if you did not, no worries--this is all so personal). But it has worried me as I've prepared for my first photo shoot for my new novel. I'll need a headshot, some "writerly" photos, maybe some of me in my natural landscape, with garden as background or puppies in my lap. Sounds like fun, and the photographer is the nicest, most authentic man, except when I consider my hair.

Don't laugh--this is a reality for women in most art arenas. We're even concerned about writing narrators who are past 50.

Courtney Maum, in Before and After the Book Deal, has two insightful sections on this tricky topic. One discusses debuting after forty (maybe, at the time of publication, this was considered aged) and debuting as a disabled, queer, or author of color. Marginalization happens with older women, we all know that. As an author, we fight harder to be seen--but how do we want to be seen? As younger? As ourselves, right now?

Again, if this doesn't worry you, don't take it on, but I clearly remember a recent conversation with three women colleagues in their sixties who are publishing this spring. It's a subject on all our minds at this age of life. How does an older woman writer deal with the visibility disadvantages in the publishing world today?

It's not just looks, either. Maybe you don't have the energy to travel to dozens of cities to promote your book. You like being home. You're not up to speed on social media like you want to be. You even (horror!) write female narrators in midlife or older and you're openly passionate about the issues they face.

You're also at the age where you want to be who you are, at least most of the time.

But still the question remains: If you don't try to look thirty, or even fifty, will you be able to (1) attract an agent, (2) get published, and (3) get read?

Such concern doesn't fade if you've already published well. With each new book, I think about my presence in the world, what I am able to do now, what I want to do. I haven't had a new author photo since the pandemic--haven't needed to, thankfully. Zoom is forgiving.

So you can imagine my delight at this article in The Guardian.

A well-respected British publication, it revealed that the rise of older female authors who are making their debut is now an industry trend, supported by publishers, agents, and sales teams. One agent in the article even said it was an advantage to be coming into publishing now as a debut author in her later years. The article cited many examples, including The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller, Bonnie Garmus's Lessons in Chemistry, and A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe, among others.

Anna Fodorova (who published her debut, In the Blood, last year at age 77) was told that she'd need 40,000 followers on social media to get a book deal. Obviously, not true at all.

I did visit my hair stylist this weekend, just to see what could be done to update my look for this photo shoot, though. I am not going back to my younger look but I want something fresh, as well. She'll work magic, I hope--we'll see!

But in the larger world, I sincerely hope that publishers are getting wise to the wisdom of older women writers.

No comments:

Post a Comment