Thursday, August 24, 2006

Fuss and Feathers

Seems the chick-litters have freaked out the lit chickers and the resulting fuss has lit up a few sand boxes. PBW had a good take yesterday on this latest conspiracy.
If I were Erle Stanley Gardner I would call it The Case of the Sour Pussies.

Remember the furore over writer's looks awhile back? An agent implied she was influenced to offer representation based on how gorgeous the writer was.
Some writers freaked out about that.
Almost developed into an on-line version of Snow White.
Raised spin-off discussions about the need for an author's photograph, the affect on sales, platform, publicity, etc.

Recently, another agent inadvertently raised the related question of a writer's age - as in: if the first-time writer is 70 and took ten years to write his first book, said writer is not a high producer and therefore not likely an ideal client - which comment was promptly simplified to industry ageism .
The productvity angle immediately developed tread marks.
Some writers on the wrong side of 45 went into depression, wondered if they had been damned by actuaries, and decided to spend their advances on face lifts and body tucks and counterfeit health cards.
Others immediately launched into tirades about the culture and arrogance of youth. Various defensive comments on depth and experience climbed unto the table. Don't trust anyone under 30.
Young and restless writers smirked.
Still others merely shook their canes and smirked.
Some concluded, based on the perambulations of agents and editors, that if a writer could provide 20 years of production they were reasonably safe from the "too-old" taint, and noted that some agents were themselves in senior territory.
With new writers desperately seeking an "edge," the quality of the product somehow got lost in the kerfuffle. So did the question of productivity.
Don't ask, don't tell, works for me, whether the writer is 19 or 99; but the important consideration remains - can the writer produce more than one opus? Agents want staying strength. A writer's age is only one factor in deducing that result.


Ric said...

Ranted about this so much over the past years. I think the ageism is just another hurdle to overcome.

Careful reading of agent blogs, etc., will bring you to the realization that new agents, - those with spots on their roster for new writers - are mostly under 35. They are selling to their editor friends - also mostly under 35.

As much as I love younger folks, I'm also experienced enough to see that 'dimissive' look when they have to deal with older folks. (remember that time when your Grandpa said something especially insightful and you rolled your eyes?)

As Miss Snark says, "The writing trumps all."

We should all stop looking at these things as obstacles and more like challenges.

My Mother says, "The worst bridge you cross is the one you never come to."

Jaye Wells said...

It's unfair for everyone. If you're not old, you're poor and can't afford stamps. If you're not poor, you're ugly. If you're not ugly, you can't write queries for shit even though you swear your prose is magnificent. If your queries rock, then you might have gotten into the wrong critique group and had your feelings hurt.

Ah, life, she is unfair.

I do my share of complaining just like everyone else. However, I think Miss Snark (and the other agents) would agree that if we put half the effort into learning our craft as we do complaining about our chosen path, we'd be much happier--not to mention closer to publication.

Save the drama for the prose, people.

Great topic, Bernita.

Flood said...

Ric says, "Careful reading of agent blogs, etc."

This is really good advice for anyone whose ms. isn't close to being finished. It can be overwhelming to see the battle coming before the weapon is ready.

Bernita said...

There probably is a young Turk factor, Ric.
On the other hand, they are supposed to be professionals and look at the market more closely than the writer's age.
I think if an agent was unnaturally curious, I'd think they were not for me.

Whole heartedly agree, Jaye. Very few writers don't fall afoul of one or another pot hole in the road.
And there's the danger of such obstacles becoming a convenient excuse.

We must reject these opportunities to scare ourselves silly, Flood.

Candice Gilmer said...

Myself, I can't see why age would have a factor... mental stability? Now that I think could have some true cause for concern in the agent's life.

I mean, age really won't be an issue as long as the work is worth it. At least not in my mind, but I do think whether the person is 30 or 50, there is an important mental discipline needed to produce the work.

Granted, most writers are NOT exactly normal, (I'll be the first to admit that, with pride, as a matter of fact) but that doesn't mean we all aren't stable. Some writers, though, I have to wonder about.. don't you?

M.E Ellis said...

It's a shame that age, looks and whatever else comes before the book itself.

A sad world.


Bernita said...

Frankly,Sela, this convention that writers are a little crazy, any more so than other occupations, doesn't wash with me.
Particularly when I see the discipline required to handle families, jobs, plus writing ( and all that it entails), by people like yourself.
Smacks a bit of "special" and "exlusive."
Talent does not equal
Do we, as a group tend to glorify our particular neurosis? Because we can?
I suppose it's a carry-over from ages past.

But I think you've applied a name to a valuable quality that an agent might - and probably do - look for.

Bernita said...

Not sure that it does, Michelle, except for those who focus on the tail and not the dog.
But if it does, then e-publishers becomes more attractive to writers.

Scott said...

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a software developer ten years ago. He told me that being in our profession was the kiss of death when it came to dating, and I told him that it's all in the attitude. If you are a good writer and have a hot story, it will sell. Of course it helps to look like Fabio or Brooke Burke, and maybe inordinately so, but don't let that distract from the fact that talent sells. Otherwise, how in the hell did Lyle Lovitt make it big?

Erik Ivan James said...

I'm old, over 45. I bounce off the walls frequently, and I'm uglier than road kill. Hmmm...maybe I'd better go on a diet.

Bernita said...

Think women are more prone to these anxieties about looks and age than men, Scott. Societal expectations and all that.
Even though we have seen charming and fascinating women with faces like a bag of hammers.
Still, I think age is a factor when it comes to how many books an agent can expect from the Parkinson's pen and it is necessarily a secondary or tertiary concern if the presented novel is fabulous.

Bernita said...

Don't cut yourself off at the knees, Erik!

EA Monroe said...

My greatest worry is not having enough time to write all my stories. I enjoy reading the "youngsters" and find their "voices" energetic, fresh -- sure opens my bleary eyes. When I was 30 I complained to my Grandma, who was 86, that I was getting old. She cackled and said, "It's all a state of mind." I better go and get busy, because the years spin by faster and faster!

Ric said...

Scott - Lyle is good enough looking to get Julia Roberts (if only for a couple weeks..)

Had a young (presumably) agent at big firm tell me one of my novels (set in 1968) "Historicals, such as this, need much more research."

So close, but yet so far away.

Seems to me that if an agent likes your work well enough to THINK about representing you and then doesn't because of your age - it will be her loss because someone else WILL pick you up.

Bernita said...

Think it really IS a state of mind, EA - which is why some writers were appalled at the idea that their chronological age should matter a damn.
One-shot wonders can arrive at any age.

To describe a period still within the living memory of a goodly part of the population as "historical" still cracks me up, Ric.

kmfrontain said...

Age is bull shit. Why? Because any successfully published author can team up with another younger author and groom said younger author to start writing stories in the older author's mythology. Example: Anne McCaffrey and her son, Todd. Todd recently finished a solo book in the pern series. Who owned Pern? Ann. Who's she passing it on to? Family. There's one solution to age. Let your children pick up the story and run with it. Not to mention, she's also written with other authors besides her son.

Age is bullshit. It's planning that matters. Any good mythology can be kept going for as long as it can sell.

kmfrontain said...

And to follow up, any unpublished older author needs only plan any future books out and team up with a trustworthy younger author to keep a series going, and if need be, use that to woo an agent into buying into a story. However, any agent, these days, who isn't smart enough to see this potential with any good novel, should wake the fuck up.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

At the recent writers convention I attended, the agents weren't concerned with age, but they each wanted to know what was the next planned project. In other words they were looking for more than a one hit wonder!

James Goodman said...

So, if I'm old, ugly and write fairly slow, I'm well and truly screwed...

Bernita said...

Well put, Karen!
Even if age is a factor for a first time novelist's chances, there are ways around that prejudice.

Makes sense to me, Bonnie.
You can see how an agent's legitimate concern about more books got twisted in the cited instance.
Writer's fears can shoot themselves in the fingers.

MissWrite said...

"The case of the sour pussies"


That was too funny.

As far as all the ageism, sexism, and any other 'ism' that can be thought of by little minds with little else to do, they all apply in all areas of life, but none apply at all when it truly counts--the end product that we create.

I seriously doubt any agent (worth his/her salt) would stick their nose up at the next 'DaVinci Code' even if the author was older than dirt, and looked like Rocky Balboa after a fight. If he did, his loss.

Bernita said...

Not at all, James, unless one stretches "slow" to mean a new book every decade or so.

Bernita said...

Right on, Miss Write!

Savannah Jordan said...

Productivity. Age. Appearance. It's all superfluous. What should really matter is whether or not the author penned a good book. (I guess I agree with Ms. Snark) I'd rather buy one damned good book for an aged author, and hold something magnificient in my hands than worry about what the author looks like, or how many other books said author might produce.

Robyn said...

This may be a stupid question, but here goes: Every author dreams of being as successful as Stephen King. I'm sure every editor/agent dreams of representing the next SK. But realistically speaking, how often is that going to happen?

I've seen a LOT of authors touted as the second coming of Rowling whose second book didn't do quite as well as the first, and the third was disappointing, etc. And there was a period of years inbetween the releases. Agents may want 'staying power' but wouldn't they want an author to be prolific as well? A great storyteller who can fill ten years with successful books is just as good as one who takes thirty years for the same number of tomes, right?

Bernita said...

If the book is good, Savannah, I can't see a sensible agent being deterred by much.

I would think so, Robyn.
A writer who produces a saleable book every year or two looks like bread and butter to me.

Gabriele C. said...

The Case of the Sour Pussies.


Btw, my grandmother got some short stories published when she was 90.

Bernita said...

Just washing my whiskers, Gabriele.
Clearly you grandmother was one who could shake her cane and smirk at the fuss.

Dakota Knight said...

Interesting post. I'm sure there's a bit of ageism going on; it happens in every other industry, so why not the publishing world?

I've seen a bit of this on My Space. Forced to submit a birthdate, some people will end up being between 90-101 so they don't have to reveal their true ages. I understand it, to a point, because although many of us say age doesn't matter, to many more of does.

Bernita said...

One assumes there is some, Dakota, if only as part of a rigid marketing paradigm based on social stereotypes.
The thing is not to make it an insurmountable obstacle.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Bloody screwed-up publishing industry! I swear, it's almost as bad as Hollywood...