Writing Craft

Age Is Just a Number

Awhile ago I spoke at a writers conference where one of the attendees asked, “Do older writers have a chance? Especially if agents and publishers are looking for a long-career investment?”

That 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 nonwriting 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 truly “fallen in love” and couldn’t quite express it authentically and with deep emotion.

We have a number of clients who signed their first contract in their 20s, and we also have a number who were in their 70s. What matters is whether they’ve written a great book and have a platform to sell it from.

Maybe some examples from publishing history will illustrate the range in ages:

Christopher Paolini started writing when he was 15 and published Eragon when he was 18. (Published by his parents. Then, a year later (2003) Knopf, a division of Random House, published it; and it became a New York Times bestseller.)

Mary Shelly published Frankenstein when she was 19 or 20.

Ken Follet published Eye of the Needle at age 25.

Stephen King published Carrie at age 26 (1974).

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

Laura Ingalls Wilder published Little House in the Big Woods at age 65.

Katherine Anne Porter published her first collection of short stories when she was 40. But she 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. (Click the link if you don’t believe me.)

Franz Kafka’s first published work, The Trial, was released posthumously. (The fascinating book Franz Kafka’s Last Trial is the story of his loyal friend Max Brod who could not bring himself to fulfill Kafka’s last instructions: burn his manuscripts. Instead, Brod devoted his life to championing Kafka’s work, rescuing his legacy from both obscurity and physical destruction. [from the back-cover copy of the book].)

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 it’s clear you are more than a one-trick pony.
4. Don’t date yourself.

Read the whole article for a full discussion of this topic. 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 they are 60 years or older.

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

(A variation of this post ran in January 2013 and was inspired by a comment on our agency’s blog in 2012 by accomplished author Dr. Richard Mabry who stated, “Age is just a number.” Thank you for the inspiration, Doc!)

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A Writer’s Lorica

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, which tradition marks as the day of his death. Some mark the day with parades, drinking, and other festivities. I think it’s a great day for prayer, especially for writers, since the famous prayer known as “St. Patrick’s Lorica” (or “breastplate”) is attributed to him. …

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Proofreading: Tips and Tricks

[Since today, March 8th, is National Proofreading Day I thought I would re-post this article from a few years ago, with some revisions. I’ve left the comments attached below since so many were illustrative. Please add new thoughts as well.] I have regularly displayed my lack of proofreading skills in …

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Writing Advice I Took to Heart

Today’s guest post is by Lori Hatcher. She is an editor, writing instructor, award-winning Toastmasters International speaker, blogger, and author of three (soon to be five) devotionals, including Refresh Your Faith, Uncommon Devotions from Every Book of the Bible, and Hungry for God … Starving for Time: Five-Minute Devotions for …

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Am I on a Deadline?

Many authors submit book proposals to agents and editors with the thought, If this doesn’t work, I’ll self-publish. That plan is reasonable. However, when strategizing your career, consider the timeline. As an agency, we set a time frame to respond to author queries. Often, we miss our stated deadline. In …

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A Cliché Simile Is a Bad Simile

One of the many things I fairly harp on when I teach at writers conferences (full disclosure: I’m a fair harper) is the need to eliminate clichés from your writing. Seriously, they’re old hat.  One of the places clichés seem to creep in most often is in similes and metaphors. …

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God at Auschwitz

Back in 2019, I had the opportunity to travel to a conference in Poland and afterward tour Auschwitz/Birkenau, one of the more infamous Nazi death camps. More than a million people were murdered there at the hands of the SS from 1942 until its liberation by the Russian army in …

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God’s Autonomous Zone

In the late 17th century, Catholic theologian and scientist Blaise Pascal authored a book titled Pensées. In it, he wrote: What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? …

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Bring the Books (What Steve Laube Is Looking For)

“Bring the books, especially the parchments,” is a sentence in 2 Timothy 4:13 that has teased readers for 2,000 years. What books did the Apostle Paul want to read while waiting for trial? Theology? History? How-to? (Maybe a little escape reading? Pun intended.)

Another writer chimed in a while ago by saying “Of making many books there is no end.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12) And if we read the statistics he wasn’t kidding. 300,000+ published in the United States alone last year.

And yet there is an allure to the stories of great novelists and a fascination in the brilliance of deep thinkers. It is what drew me to the book industry in the first place having been a lifelong reader and a burgeoning collector of my own library.

I can safely say that the allure and fascination remains unabated. I’ve had and continue to have the honor and privilege of working with some of the finest minds and talented writers in our industry. The photo above is from my office showing every book represented by our agency. Hundreds of amazing books by amazing authors.

Meanwhile I am still searching for the next great story, the next great concept, the next great writer. So, to answer the question, “What are you looking for?” I will attempt to clarify a few things.

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