The other day some truly awesome people began talking about ageism in publishing via Twitter. I first heard about it from Ashley Hearn, an editor at Page Street Publishing, but here’s an awesome thread from Susan Dennard, NYT bestseller author of the Witchland series.
I encourage you to get online and read some of the ongoing threads/comments, especially if you’re struggling with this particular pressure.
A lot of writers feel ageism in a variety of ways.
Many feel like they have to have an agent by 20, or a book deal by 25, or become a NYT bestseller by 30. Others expressed the pressure to graduate from a master’s program or have a bazillion short stories under your belt before you submit anywhere else. And the symptoms go on and on.
I get it. I do.
The pressure to be someone sooner rather than later feels as if it getting worse.
In my opinion, ageism has grown over the last decade. I’ve been published since 2007, even before eBooks went on the rise, and never saw ageism the way I see it now. Everyone wants that fresh-faced 20-something straight out of an MFA program with the next best thing. And I think we can all understand that from a marketing perspective, but it is very disheartening from…well, any other perspective.
Why should a book be judged on anything other than the writer’s capabilities?
It shouldn’t be, but we don’t live in a perfect world, so many writers struggle with pressure, anxiety, disappointment, and overall hopelessness, because—let’s be real—aging is out of our control.
I’m not immune to this pressure.
I have this weird obsession with wanting to be a NYT bestseller before I’m 32. Why 32? Who cares. The point being is that I have no logical reason for this, and yet I think about it all the time. And it doesn’t do me any good, especially when I start adding up the “future” years that publishing lives in. What are “future” years, you ask? Well, the years that I know it would take to get something out right now if I miraculously signed with an agent tomorrow.
Here’s an example breakdown: I’m 26, almost 27. Let’s be super kind and say I signed with an agent on my 27th birthday, and somehow another miracle takes place and that agent signs one of my manuscripts within a year. Now I’m 28. And that book is slated for release in another two years. So I’m 30. And let’s not even get into the chances of it hitting any sort of list.
Basically, I’m always living five years in the future, and that age constantly feels like it’s getting worse, and though I logically know that is ridiculous, I can’t help but feel that way, and I know I’m not alone.
With more pressure being added for authors to be public personas—often extremely public personas—the “young” face has been an inevitable repercussion.
We see extremely photoshopped faces or out-of-date photos used all the time, (which there is nothing wrong with if the author wants their photos that way, but I have heard many authors who felt pressured into it, and that is not okay). One author online pointed out that older authors are less likely to get their photo printed on books, not because they don’t want to, but because publishers don’t want to print them. And that’s super messed up.
Age is a beautiful thing.
With every year, we learn more. We grow more confidence. We step out of our comfort zones and meet new people and try amazing things. Age can bring a lot of positivity to literature and life in general. But don’t get me wrong. Being older doesn’t automatically mean you’re a better writer or understand life more. I know tons of young people who’ve been through much tougher lives than many adults I know. There are fantastic young writers and fantastic old writers and every age of writer in between. But it shouldn’t be a defining factor in publishing. It shouldn’t feel like one either.
So if ageism is getting you down, here is a list of amazing articles about authors succeeding later in life:
Reading conversations about this happening and how others feel has really opened my eyes about how I was perpetuating this by putting age-related goals on my calendar.
This is my pledge to stop putting pressure on myself to reach a certain goal by a particular age.
My age doesn’t define my career. My writing does.
I hope you’ll join me,