I just turned seventy-one. Imagine yourself my age, looking back on the decades of endless revisions, query letters, and the occasional publication and literary prize. Art for art’s sake and all that. I knew how to write a novel, but agents told me the novel I was sending around was not what they were looking for. One agent told me to my face that he was only “taking on” writers under forty. I asked why. “I need young writers to pay for my retirement,” he said.
Was he joking? Absolutely not. I heard the same opinion publicly expressed by another agent on a panel at Arizona State University’s “Desert Nights, Rising Stars” writers’ conference.
The agent said that in a year of reading through query letters, he had only “taken on” one writer of seventy, and that writer had built a regional reputation in New England. He had five books out and his wife managed his website. The agent described how this was all about to change.
The agent had made a deal with a publisher. He’d gotten the author a sizeable advance. The publisher would now “rebrand” the author by giving him a better website, putting new covers on his books, and doing a publicity campaign.
Hands went up. Questions flew. “I wrote a book for my grandchildren,” one woman said. “How do I find an agent who handles children’s books?”
I wondered how many in that grey-haired audience understood that even the best query letter in the world would fail to capture an agent’s interest. The odds of an agent taking on one-book-wonders was slim to none.
The playing field in publishing is not fair. For newcomers to the writing scene, the world of digital publishing offers opportunities. But for anyone of my generation, figuring out how to self-publish a book and find readers presents a whole new set of tasks. Most writers would rather be writing.
Listen to me. No matter what your age, you can write a novel. You can publish a novel, and find readers who will appreciate your work. Wherever you are, it’s not too late. Just in case you’re young enough and willing to listen to some free advice, here’s what I wish I’d done:
You probably think I’m kidding about the last comment, but I’m dead serious. Two years ago on New Year’s Eve, I vowed to find a publisher for both my novel, MONTPELIER TOMORROW, and my short story collection, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD.
I was proud of both manuscripts and had spent a decade polishing them. I didn’t want to self-publish because I didn’t think I had the skills to do my own promotion. But I faced an insurmountable obstacle. Despite repeated efforts, I still didn’t have an agent.
I’m here to tell you that if you want to publish your novel, you must plant the idea that your book is worthy of publication, and then you must stop at nothing until you hold it in your hands. Many websites, including this one, can help you learn how to write a novel, but only you can put the building blocks in place to guarantee success.
What is the number one thing you can do to help yourself? Figure out your own “writing practice.” That could involve getting up at 5:00 a.m. It could involve working all day Saturday. It could involve getting up after everyone else has gone to bed. Whatever habits you develop around regularly showing up at your desk are the habits that will turn you from a dilettante into a writer. As James Baldwin said, a writer’s job is “to fill the bookshelf.”
This website is all about helping you write the best book you can write, helping you find a path to publication, and helping you connect with readers.
I know a good bit about the writing craft, and I’m eager to share my successes and failures, including what I am still learning about how to find and connect with readers.