Ageism in Writing and Publishing (a birthday post)

I was reading an online message board in which an author asked about whether anyone had experienced ageism when trying to find an agent or publisher. While I didn’t feel qualified to answer, it did make me stop and think.

I’ve noticed many writers—well, the ones announcing having landed agents and made deals—are younger than me. I guess that happens as you age; everyone seems young! But I do think that things have changed. It used to be that authors were relatively invisible aside from occasional book tours (if they were big enough names) or conference appearances. But with the advent of social media, being an author is now like being any other famous person. Suddenly it matters what you look like. And just like aging actresses get booted to make room for the young, pretty things, I do sometimes suspect the same about authors.

It probably varies by genre, though. I think it’s YA authors that skew young. Agents and publishers seem to think that younger readers want authors who “get it.” And of course us old fogeys can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be a teenager these days. We can’t even imagine, despite our jobs being to do just that. However, romance writers can be older because *ahem* “experience”?

There are surely gender biases, too. Just as handsome older actors continue to get cast in big motion pictures, old white men get to keep writing and publishing books.

At the same time, this is impossible to prove. That’s the difficulty with ageism. Especially in a subjective business where it’s perfectly reasonable for agents or publishers to say, “This just isn’t for me.” Whether it’s the work or something about you—age or otherwise—you may never know.

To be clear, I’m not bitter. This is really just meant to be a reflection piece. The nice thing about modernity is that, even if agents reject you because you’re “too old to write YA,” that doesn’t have to stop you from being published because you can publish yourself. It’s hard work, to be sure, but at least then you can know for certain whether your writing is good enough (and your age never mattered), or if the agents/publishers were right all along. As the saying goes: You’ll never know until you try.