Book Business

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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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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Welcome Back, Dan Balow!

by Steve Laube

I am very excited to announce that Dan Balow has joined our agency as the Director of Publishing Development and Literary Agent. This gives us four members of our team, me, Tamela Hancock Murray, Karen Ball, and Dan.

I’ve been looking for ways to increase the services our agency provides to current and potential clients. I have known Dan for 15 years and by adding him to our agency we can expand our role in helping to maximize our client’s sales, work with ministries and organizations to develop their publishing efforts, and expand our reach internationally. Dan’s strengths are his understanding of book marketing, what it takes to be successful in the current publishing environment and how all the pieces of the publishing “puzzle” fit together. Our team has expertise in all facets of the industry, writer, bookseller, editor, marketer, agent, executive management, and publisher.

Dan is a 30 year veteran of the Christian publishing industry. He was the director of marketing for Tyndale House Publishers working with authors Francine Rivers, James Dobson, Josh McDowell, Charles Colson and many others.

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Are You High Maintenance?

by Steve Laube

Last week I was asked to define what is meant when an author is deemed “high maintenance” by an agent or a publisher. The more I thought about this the more I realized how difficult it is to quantify. Any attempt to do so is fraught with potential misunderstanding because most people are looking for specific rules to follow.

Normally “high maintenance” is a description of someone who is difficult to work with or is constantly in need of attention. It can be anyone from a “diva” to a “rookie.” The best way to express the issue is in the following word picture:

When you contract with an agent or a publisher you are granted a large measure of “Good Will” in the form of a bag of gold coins. You are free to spend these coins however you wish during the course of the business relationship. The cover design is completely wrong? Spend some coins. The marketing plan appears weak. Spend some coins. And as time goes by and positive things happen you receive more gold coins for your bag.

However, many authors make the mistake of spending their entire bag of coins the first time something goes wrong. And then the next time they need a favor or a special dispensation there isn’t any “Good Will” left.

I think there are three areas where these relationships can break down.

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Ten Commandments for Working with Your Agent

By request, here are my Ten Commandments for working with your agent. Break them at your own peril.

Thou shalt vent only to thine agent and never directly to thy publisher or editor. Thou shalt not get whipped into a frenzy by the rumor mill fomented by internet loops, groups, Facebook, or blogs. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s success. Be content with thine own contract. Thou shalt not get whipped into a frenzy by the rumor mill fomented by internet loops, groups, Facebook, or blogs.
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What if You Get a Book Deal on Your Own and Then Want an Agent?

One of our readers asked this via the green “Ask us a question” button.

What happens if you get a book contract before you have an agent? What if, by some miracle, an editor sees your work and wants to publish it? (1) would having a publisher interested in my work make an agent much more likely to represent me, and (2) would it be appropriate to try to find an agent at that point (when a publisher says it wants to publish you)? My fear is that querying an agent and receiving a response could take several months, but I’d need to accept a potential contract with a book publisher right away (I would think). Is it appropriate to ask the editor to speak with an agent on your behalf to speed the process?

This is a great topic but there are a few questions within the question. Let me try to break it down.

Many times have had authors approach us with contracts in hand and seeking representation (happened just last week). Of course this will get an agent’s attention immediately. But there are caveats:

a)      Who is the publisher? There is a big difference between a major company and your local independent publisher. Not all publishers are created equal (see the Preditors & Editors warnings).

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Learn the Lingo

The opening scene of the Meredith Wilson musical The Music Man begins on a train, as a bunch of salesmen debate the best sales techniques. One salesman, however, insists repeatedly, “You gotta know the territory.” That applies not only to selling “the noggins, and the piggins, and the firkins,” but …

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Don’t Know Much About Editors

A literary agent is not an editor–or a publicist. That may seem obvious to some, since the words are all spelled quite differently. But I occasionally get a submission from an aspiring writer who wants me to act as one or the other. I have been an editor (of both …

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Barriers to Effective Communication

By Steve Laube

It has been said that ninety percent of all problems in the universe are failures in communication. And the other ten percent are failures to understand the failure in communication. In the publishing business, or any business for that matter, this is so true. There are a couple common barriers to effective communication, assumption and expectation.

But I Assumed

Often one party assumes knowledge that the other person does not know. Or someone without knowledge fails to admit their lack and try to fake their way through the situation for fear of being found ignorant. Simple to fix. Just ask if you don’t know and alternatively make sure the other person knows what you are talking about. I learn something new nearly every single day and hope to continue that streak for the rest of my life.

But even  worse, and more common, is assuming the other party is mad at you for some reason. The fear of that “assumed anger” prevents an open dialogue or at least delays it.

Much of our business comes down to relationships and fear or anger prevent them from being healthy.

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