Age is Just a Number

by Steve Laube


Last Friday in the comments Dr. Richard Mabry wrote, “Tired after doing a few household chores that never used to leave me dragging. Now I’m ready to be up and dancing. Age is just a number, isn’t it?”

Then on Saturday I spoke at the Christian Writes of the West mini-conference where one of the writers asked “Do older writers have a chance? Especially if agents and publishers are looking for a long career investment?”

It is a great question. Does it matter how old you are? No it doesn’t. When your proposal lands on our desk or on an editor’s desk it is the words on the page that speak to us. I rarely even think about the writer’s age, ethnicity, economic status, or any other non-writing ability classification while I’m reading the sample chapters. Of course there are exceptions. A few times I could tell the author was very young by the way they were writing a romance scene…they simply had not yet “fallen in love” and couldn’t quite express it in a full way.

We have a number of clients who are in their 20s we also have a number who are in their 70s. What matters is whether they’ve written a great book and have a platform (for non-fiction) to sell it from.

Maybe some examples from publishing history will illustrate the diversity.

Christopher Paolini published Eragon when he was only 15.

Frank Peretti was 35 when This Present Darkness was published in 1985.

Mary Shelly published Frankenstein when she was 19.

 Charlotte Rogan signed the contract to publish her first novel Lifeboat with Little & Brown Publishing at the age of 57.

Katherine Anne Porter published her first collection of short stories when she was 40. But didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize until she was 76.

Myrrha Stanford-Smith signed a three-book deal for her first published novels…when she was 82.

As you can see, the ages are quite varied. In a great article written for Writers Digest (available online here) Scott Hoffman suggests four things to be careful about if you are “older” and approaching an agent:

1. Avoid references to the word “retirement”
2. Be energetic in how you present yourself
3. Make sure its clear you are more than a one-trick pony
4. Don’t date yourself

Read the whole article for a full discussion. He presents some good advice. It is similar advice I’ve heard given to those trying to find a job in today’s marketplace when someone is 55 years or older.

In the meantime I return to Dr. Mabry’s comment and the title of the post. Age is just a number. You are as young as you feel. (Today I feel old and cranky!!) But your idea can be timeless. You have time to craft those ideas and make them scintillating.


28 Responses to Age is Just a Number

  1. Lisa January 28, 2013 at 5:16 am #

    I love this, thank you. There is a lot to be said of the wisdom that accumulates throughout one’s lifetime!

  2. Judith Robl January 28, 2013 at 5:46 am #

    My first published effort, a devotional gift book titled As Grandma Says, was released by Harvest House in February the year I turned 72 in June. And I’ve got so much more on the drawing board that I’ll need to live to be 142 to finish it all. Now remind me where I put the jump rope and jacks. 🙂

  3. Connie Almony January 28, 2013 at 6:12 am #

    I used to think I was coming into this field late, but that doesn’t seem to be the case when I look around at writer’s conferences. I mean, really? I’m only … well … let’s just say I’ve been in love before ;o). Hubby and I just passed our twentieth. And if you want to believe I was a child bride, that’s fine with me.
    What Lisa said is true. I could not have written with the same depth of story and character had this been my first career. My characters need to change in the story. I need to understand that change in order to write about it. Though I don’t need to experience all they go through, it helps to have gone through multi-textured challenges to get a sense of what will move them and how they will be moved. Seasoned wisdom can be a good thing for a writer.

  4. Richard Mabry January 28, 2013 at 6:52 am #

    Steve, I try to live by the words of wisdom uttered by baseball great, Satchel Paige: “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?” I didn’t start trying my hand at fiction until I was well past the age to draw Social Security. Now, I’m about to see my fifth novel published. Glad I could be an inspiration to the older generation of writers. And thanks for the post.

    • Terri Weldon January 28, 2013 at 7:46 am #

      Such an inspiration!

    • Jackie Layton January 28, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

      You inspire me, Dr. Mabry.

    • V.V. Denman February 3, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

      Love the Satchel Paige quote.

  5. Jennifer Major January 28, 2013 at 7:40 am #

    As I read through this , I thought, I’m not OLD, I’m only pushing 50. (May 7th, send cash)
    It’s hard to feel old when the youngest child is still in the single digits.
    But ask my spine (actually, Richard? I have this weird pain in my hip…) and then my joints. Gotta love arthritis.
    But I do not feel “old”. I just feel like me.

    • Johnnie Alexander Donley January 28, 2013 at 11:09 am #

      “I just feel like me.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who enjoys your blog comments who’s thinking how glad we are that you do. (And how’s that for a little convolution of a sentence?!)

      • Jennifer Major January 28, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

        Thank you Johnnie, you’re very kind. And brilliant. 😀

  6. Jan Cline January 28, 2013 at 7:41 am #

    I was grateful for the question asked and answered last Saturday. I probably would have asked it myself if she hadn’t brought up the subject. As a 58 year old grandmother who has yet to publish her first novel, I often wonder if I started too late. I appreciated your take on it, Steve. It was a great mini-conference and I learned a lot.

    Richard, you’re my hero :).

  7. Terri Weldon January 28, 2013 at 7:47 am #

    Steve – great post and very encouraging

  8. Ron Estrada January 28, 2013 at 7:56 am #

    While writing novels has always been my dream, I never found my passion until I hit my thirties. Now in my forties, I finally have the confidence and maturity to understand that talent alone will not get me published. Only through tenacity and a humble willingness to learn will I reach my goals. It’s a good thing age doesn’t matter because some of us are slow learners.

  9. Meghan Carver January 28, 2013 at 8:19 am #

    I’ve dreamed of publishing novels since college, but I had a hard time wrapping my brain around an idea that could span 300 pages. Now, twenty years later (give or take!), I’m actively working toward that dream. I’m impressed with 20-year-olds who can craft a compelling novel. I think I just needed some life experience first. Thanks for such great encouragement, Steve.

  10. Lancia E. Smith January 28, 2013 at 8:56 am #

    Thanks, Steve. I appreciate your sharp, clear perspective on this issue and for the link to Scott Hoffman’s article. Both are very insightful and encouraging.

  11. Jan Christiansen January 28, 2013 at 9:16 am #

    Thoroughly enjoyed the workshop Saturday. Thanks, Steve!

    I think I heard half the room heave a sigh of relief when you answered this question (myself included).

  12. Leola Ogle January 28, 2013 at 9:42 am #

    Absolutely loved the conference on Saturday. You are a great communicator. I usually get sleepy during afternoon sessions, but you had my full attention! Thanks so much for this post and elaborating on the question. Age is just a number, I say to myself, heaving a big sigh of relief!

  13. Kimberly E. Lepins January 28, 2013 at 9:44 am #

    thanks for that needed reminder. I remember when I turned 50 and my first fiction novel was complete…. I wondered if I was to old for it to go anywhere but I reminded myself, Abba is not age specific in His works! Our age is just a number that I cannot dwell on and let rent too much space in my head for it will zap me of the energy needed to continue on in the writing journey!
    Thanking Him for U!

  14. Lenore Buth January 28, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    Great post, Steve. Thanks.

    I love Psalm 92:14. The two preceding verses talk of how the righteous will flourish. Then comes v. 14: “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green.” (NIV 1984.)

    I think that’s a wonderful promise, especially for Christian writers.

  15. Emily R. January 28, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

    Thanks for the post! I was just wondering about how age might play into things. Are there any specific things younger (teens/early 20s) writers should avoid mentioning when querying an agent? Are agents concerned that younger writers might not work as professionally or responsibly as people a little bit older?

    • Steve Laube January 28, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

      Good question. Things like “I was homecoming queen last year.” or “My favorite music group is ‘One Direction.'” etc. It is not that we are worried about professional behavior or responsibility. As I mentioned it is usually an issue of craft. The writer might have wonderful talent but not yet able to put it together. And it tends to show most often in the area of romance. The depth is missing.
      But that isn’t always the case. Careful not to hear me establishing a rule. We have a number of younger clients. The point is that Age doesn’t really matter!

  16. Sheila Haemmerle January 28, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

    Thanks for the encouragement, Steve. Even on one of your “old and cranky” days,the Lord still uses your words to lift others up and make their steps a little lighter.

    I had the opportunity to meet with you twice at the Indianapolis Christian Writers Conference. Both times, I came away a better writer, strengthened and encouraged. You pulled me out of a whirlwind of too many “How To Write” voices, made me swear off reading writing advice for six months, then told me I had the gut instinct of a writer and to follow it.

    Those words changed me and I can never thank you enough. Keep throwing those lifelines.

  17. Peter DeHaan January 28, 2013 at 3:59 pm #

    This is an encouraging post, but my concern goes the other way, I want an agent whose career will outlast mine!

  18. Jackie Layton January 28, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

    Steve thanks so much for this encouraging post. In a couple of weeks I’ll celebrate my 52nd birthday, and you’ve helped me believe it’s not to late to find and agent and publisher.

    You definitely lifted my spirits today.

  19. Peyton Jones January 29, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    Steve, I totally dig your wisdom. For a now grizzling, not so young guy who still thinks he’s a teenager, I’m grateful for your wisdom. Just getting into the industry, I’ve listened to young guys and I’ve listened to you. All I can say is that you’re old school in all the right ways, and yet on the cutting edge of the market. You’ve brought wisdom to my Elihu ways. Cheers!

  20. Mindy Peltier January 29, 2013 at 10:01 pm #

    If age is just a number, can I change mine?

    I’m dragging my heels as I approach my 50th birthday in 566 days. Years ago, I set a goal of being published by then. I thought it was WAY OFF in the future and was attainable. Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll keep writing and pulling out the gray…

    • Judith Robl January 30, 2013 at 4:49 am #

      Mindy, you have a year and a half. You could be contracted by 50 if you are working on it… and have found a good agent. I’m cheering for you.

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