Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Senior Moments....Writing and Publishing After 60

Your brain cells begin to deteriorate as you age. You lose coordination and memory. Thought processes begin to slow. We've all heard those dire predictions of what it's going to be like in our "golden years." But doctors aren't really sure what actually happens to our brain as we age. All they've been able to agree on is to disagree. I guess we'll just have to wait and experience it for ourselves, right?

There have been several articles detailing the trials and tribulations of writing if you're an older author. Many of the articles try to remain positive but ultimately must offer reality based advice. If you're sixty-plus and already in the publishing loop, you will have certain advantages....somewhat. But what about those who are late starters and have started writing well into their fifties and maybe even sixties. What are your chances of finishing your manuscript and getting it published? Is there age discrimination among publishers? Yes....and no.

Publishers view authors as investments. They want the most production and longevity from their investment. It isn't hard to see why agents and publishers will skip over a fifty-eight year old novice over a twenty-eight year old with a long life ahead of making money for the publisher. Well, if you're famous, age isn't a barrier, but then, if you're famous, you won't be reading this blog. And publishers want books on a regular basis from their authors. How many books will a sixty year old have in her? How long does it take for a senior to complete a book? Is it true that the brain slows down, hence your writing abilities and speed? If you're a senior author, do you find it more difficult to put your thoughts to paper in an easy manner? Are complex plots too complicated? Does your mind wander to everything but your writing?

Please don't think I'm talking about dementia or worse. I'm asking a serious question that seniors should face as they age but want to continue writing. I know I have slowed down. I realize that each and every one of us will age differently. Some of us will be struck with diseases that might take a bit out of us while others may remain healthier. That will definitely affect your writing. But let's talk about what awaits the senior author once they have a book finished.

The reality is that the senior author will have a much bleaker chance of landing an agent or a publisher if they have never published before. Certainly, there are smaller publishers that will be open to senior authors. Some won't care at all about the age of the author. Still, it is tough out in the publishing business even for younger authors. How up are you, if you're sixty and pushing a manuscript, to wait a year, two years or more for an agent? And are you willing to wait another year or two or more for publication? If you're in your sixties, you might be close to seventy by the time you see print.

Is independent publishing more attractive to the senior author? If you're a late-blooming author or an author who has published before but has since been out-of-print or been dropped by your publisher, does the thought of independently publishing your work appeal to you?

If you'd like to share your thoughts, I welcome other opinions and discussion.


Morgan Mandel said...

Well, I'm 61. I notice I get more easily distracted than I did before, which is a good and bad thing. So, it's harder to focus, but I have more fun also this way.

It always took me a long time to write, so I don't know if it now makes a difference. I do know I don't have much time allotment to write, since I still have a full time job. I write when I'm in the mood and whatever happens will happen.

Also, since I've joined all these egroups and blogs, that has slowed down my book writing.

Morgan Mandel

Kit Sloane said...

I've been writing seriously (eg I stopped gainful employment to "see if I could write a book) since I was 45. The first of my Margot and Max series arrived on my doorstep on my 60th birthday! Nice gift! The latest in my series The Fat Lady Sings was just released. In all that time, with three different publishers and five hapless agents, no one has ever asked my age or anything close to inquiring of same.

Look at P.D. James. She's nearly 90 and I just finished her latest Dalgliesh mystery and it was superb. I don't really think publishers, et al, are that concerned about age since most writers of mystery series are "downsized" by the big houses after the first book or so if it hasn't sold well enough. And that's why I went with Indie publishers since they have much more patience with the slow fan growth cycle that is reality for most mystery writers. We do not, unfortunately, tend to become best sellers! But we do get and maintain lovely loyal, faithful fans.

My advice for any writer is to keep writing, submitting, whatever it takes. It's the writers who don't do the above who will never get their stories in print. Persevere, at any age! And enjoy the process!

Kit Sloane

Rob Walker said...

Don't overlook the fact that many authors who have been very successful began late in life -- Robert B. Parker did not begin writing until in his forties, for instance. Dean R. Koontz wrote me once to "slow down, don;t do your best writing until you turn fifty anyway." In the film industry take a gander at Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman, and in the National Football League have a nod to Bret Favre. So much depends on the individual and the level of drive and passion and faith in oneself and one's work. I just turned sixty one and have been doing my best work as Dean said after fifty. As to the enticements of the new varied avenues to self publsihing like Kindle it is a fast lane to publication but as with any choice a writer makes about taking a path, is it a direction that will make you happy and reach your goal. If your goal is to see your book on a bookstore shelf, you won't get that high if you publish in ebook format; if your goal is to have a book in every library and not book stores, and that would make you happy, then I know a small press for you. Seldom is the author thinking beyond getting a contract or the problems of once being published facing the many, many disappointments that lurk on the other side of publication. However, being so often kicked in the teeth as I have been until my ego is a tattered chewed up and spit out glob of useless refuse, well now ebook publication and the simplicity of it with>Kindle Store is a very lovely thing indeed. So it is all relative and not just about age.

Great blog topic and you covered the subject extremely well, my friend.

Bo Parker said...

You address two points that I can address from experience. At age 65, after many years working in the business world, dealing daily with numbers, I turned full time to my first love. What I have learned, among other things, is that the brain is a muscle. Barring any physical problem, the more it is exercised, the better it performs. As the years went by, cobbling words together became easier. Things progressed to the point that at age 68, I had the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with a literary agent from New York.

What she had said would be a “deconstruction of my manuscript like nothing I had ever experienced” turned into a 25-minute discussion about my background. I finally asked her if she had any comments about the manuscript she had reviewed. She shook her head and only said, “You should have started doing this many years ago.”

I celebrated my seventy birthday this month. The manuscript is undergoing one final professional line edit to insure that the finished product has the quality of one edited by a major publishing house. I have no intention of hoping I stay alive enough to see the book published via the normal multi-year process.

The book will be judged by the story it tells, not by the prestige of the house that published it.

Camille Minichino said...

All very good and interesting points here. Thanks.
My first novel came out in my 60th year also. I'm now working on my 14th.

One thing to note is that with the internet, promotion has taken a new turn. While I still go out to gigs and conferences, I'm able to promote like a 20 year old from the comfort of my home.

And -- there fewer distractions now, as far as children, bosses, and so on.

Earl Staggs said...

I wish I'd started writing earlier, but I think I'm a better writer now that I would have been then. I couldn't have survived criticism then. Now I welcome and learn from it. I didn't have enough self-confidence to trust my instincts then. Now, either I've acquired it or I don't give a damn what others think, which is probably the same thing. I still feel young in both body and mind and will keep writing as long as I do. Another plus of maturity is placing as much importance on having a body of work behind me I'm proud of as to achieving financial success. Both would be nice, of course.

Radine Trees Nehring said...

I agree with what other commenters have said...exercise the brain and keep going.

My first (non-fiction) book was published in New York after I was old enough for AARP. (Writing is a second career for me.) I spent ten years on the air as a broadcast journalist when I was in my 60's. An agent from Author House in NY took me as a client when we interviewed at a conference. She could see I was no spring chicken. But, in no case has my age ever been mentioned.

My on-going mystery series began in 2002 and the sixth book will be released this May 15. The series most obviously features a couple of mature adults, though I never give their ages. I have learned readers who happen to be mature adults identify the characters as being whatever their own age is.

I have worked for two independent mystery publishers who never discuss age. They have supported me with good contracts, excellent editing, and on-going publicity.

I love writing and believe maturity and many years on earth can lead to insights and experience that transfer positively into writing, whether your characters are 20 or 80. I may not be quite as active physically as I once was, but my imagination and thinking ability sure don't seem to have slowed down.

Balony on stereotypical beliefs about age. So many writers and thousands more disprove them.

Radine Trees Nehring

June Shaw said...

I sold my first book after I was sixty. I just sold the third book in the series. No one in the industry has asked my age. I'd retired from my other job and am now fulfilling my lifelong dream. It's terrific!

Patty G. Henderson said...

Excellent comments, all. I love all the positive vibes and I do agree that you keep writing if you still have stories to tell. I have noticed that I do get easily side-tracked more often, while devoting less time to writing. There certainly hasn't been a lack of stories parading inside my head, so I'll keep writing and publishing. Since I do have my own imprint, I feel more empowered and less stress.

Thanks for the comments. It's an uplifting conversation.

Donna Fletcher Crow said...

Ah, Patty, Of course I wish I'd started when I was 16— but that's because everything takes such a long time in this business. I'm at the wrong end of the 60's and feel I'm just starting to do my best work. We'll see what the critics say when A Very Private Grave comes out this summer.

After publishing 30-some books, I had a 10 year hiatus (not voluntarily— life just overwhelmed me). Now I feel I'm starting a whole new career in a whole new world— very little emphasis on electronics 10 years ago. And I couldn't be more excited. It would be nice to have more time to play with my grandchildren, but I wouldn't trade places with my retired friends. I'll keep going as long as the words— or maybe I should say readers— keep coming.

Donna Fletcher Crow

Anonymous said...

Independent,regional and niche presses were just made for older authors. In fact, these days, everybody seems to flock in that direction.

Realistically, the big New York publishers were never an option for most writers anyway, so what's the big deal?

The authors I admire are those who publish with any press that accepts them. Small presses come and go. I can name a couple of authors who lose a publisher, step over the body, and find another publisher. They aren't getting rich but who is?

A good writer who has readers is a successful writer. Age has nothing to do with it. The day of the "starving young artist" has passed.

Pat Browning

Ilene Schneider said...

For years, I said, "If only I had the time, I'd write a novel." When I finally had the time, I was in my 50s and found myself unemployed and too experienced (and "old") to find another position easily. I had the time. I wrote the novel.

CHANUKAH GUILT was published when I was 58. My protagonist, Rabbi Aviva Cohen, is described as a 50-something. In the second novel, UNLEAVENED DEAD (still being written), she is 55. I intend to have her age in each book.

Two points from the paragraph above:

1. Yes, she is an aging baby boomer, with all the regrets and longings of the 60s that many of us have. She also faces, either personally or through her cohorts, the problems of aging and health issues (for them as well as their parents), planning for retirement (who can afford it?), loneliness. I'm tired of reading books with young, fit, carefree protagonists. Books featuring "older" characters fill a definite niche for "older" readers.

2. Why the 2nd book is not finished: life interferes. I'm one of the growing number of "mature" adults with young kids. They still take a lot of my time. I also did finally find a job, and, even though it is part-time, it is emotionally draining (I'm a hospice chaplain) and I often find I am just not in the mood to write at the end of the day (or the beginning, when I'd rather get an extra hour or so of sleep). And whether I'm in the mood or not, there's still a teenager at home who needs to be chauffeured around and nagged to do his homework and clean his room and stop playing video games.

On the positive side, I find that once I do begin to write, I can lose myself in Aviva's world and block out everything else. On the negative, I find that once I get going the plot begins to deprive me of my sleep as I try to figure out how to write myself out of a corner.

Moral: If you want to write, do it. Age is irrelevant. (Now I just need to follow my own advice.)