Tuesday, March 14, 2006

PTC #10

10. Any Age Discrimination: Are agents and publishers scared of first time authors over the age of 50?

Not in my experience, but I've probably heard some of the same rumors you have, and I can see where it might happen.

First off, age discrimination is illegal in the United States. That said, we all know that it is practiced widely throughout the entertainment industries. We've watched it happen to writer friends who are also performers, like Beth Ciotta (who after getting hit with age discrimination on the stage turned around and sold three books, if I remember correctly.)

Our society places great value on youth and beauty, and almost none on age and wisdom. Young workers are almost always going to get preferential treatment over older workers. We may see that change as America's age demographics change, although that's not always going to be a good thing.

Because writers are not personally in the public spotlight nearly as often as actors and musicians, we're probably least affected by this type of discrimination, but you hear enough stories to make it reasonable to assume that it's still out there. Some agents and editors may, like society, gravitate toward younger writers and in the process actively discriminate against older writers. I was 37 years old when I sold my first novel, and I haven't personally encountered any age discrimination since then, but I'm in my mid-forties now, so that may also change.

Age and wisdom apparently does get you on the bestseller lists more often than youth and beauty. Last May Lulu.com created a bit of a stir when they put out a press release stating that literary life begins at 50, evidently the best age to write a bestseller.

Related links:

Ronni Bennett's post on Advantages of Older Workers.

James Challenger's article Barriers to Hiring Older Workers Falling.

Dave Simanoff's article Gray Matters.

The Senate Special Committee on Aging Forum on the Older Workforce met on September 3, 2003 to discuss the needs of older workers. You can download a .pdf file of "Older Workers" by Debra J. Cohen, Ph.D., who appeared before the Senate Committee, here.

Professional authors, editors and writers, find out about the PTC meme here.


  1. It's not just older writers who get discriminated against. Some agents and publishers refuse to accept manuscripts from under 18s. At least older writers are allowed to submit!

    I couldn't count the number of times I've been told I shouldn't (or won't be able to) write, because I'm 'too young'.

  2. Never thought about it in the writing biz. At the "day job" we give 30 year-mortgage loans to borrowers of ANY legal age who qualify.

  3. I've read several agents' blogs who said they had no interest in knowing an author's age when he/she submits.
    At one publishing house I write for, there are a lot of grandmothers. :-)
    I don't think age matters in the publishing business at all.

  4. Ageism in entertainment. Don't get me started! Thank you for the mention and link, PBW. That post was from this time last year. Gee, I was just a tad bitter. Thank goodness I've been able to tranfer my passion to writing. I feel for my contemporaries who lack alternate creative outlets. Major ouch.

    I think age matters less, if at all, in publishing. However, I have read/heard that publishers look at it as a marketing bonus when the author is 'attractive'. Excuse me while apply another layer of makeup. ;)

  5. Well... Someone I know -- who may or may not have a beard -- was once told to take five years off his age, because 'The media aren't interested if you're new and over thirty'.

    So maybe it's not publishers at fault, but the wonderful world of journalism...

  6. Anonymous6:57 PM

    "So maybe it's not publishers at fault, but the wonderful world of journalism..."

    Wonderful world of Marketing, don't you mean? It's much easier to sell books in some genres when the author is young and attractive. Young attractive authors are good in any genre, but chick lit, for example, well, can you imagine the next big thing in that market with a picture of a 50-something on the back cover? Whenever a book doesn't have an author photo, I always wonder if the publisher thought they were too old or unattractive. Sad, but true.

    Voice should be all that matters, but Marketing folks don't care so much about the words inside. For them, it's the outside of the book that sells it.

  7. I actually did hear this from a writer friend of mine (about agents). She's probably in her early 60's (I'm guessing and she's got a daughter my age) .....

  8. Anonymous5:25 AM

    Coming in late...

    Most debut writers are middle aged. Will being young generate more excitement? You betcha--if for no other reason than a 10-year successful career makes an order of magnitude less money than a 40-year career on the same trajectory. I used my youth shamelessly when I was getting pubbed, but I don't feel sorry for it because age is balance by life experience and the feeling from editors that you're more "mature".



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