An Age-Old Dilemma

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, explains why the longer a writer waits to “go for it”, the harder it is to reach that lofty goal of publication.

Discrimination is a dirty world.

When I worked for the county, we had a big poster on the wall listing all the things that couldn’t be discriminated in the work environment: gender, sexual persuasion, religion, politics, race. We couldn’t discriminate against anyone with for these reasons or push our opinions on others. Ageism was also one of the no-nos. I’m not in that world anymore. Now I have political correctness and my conscience to guide me.

Having said that, I find myself in an awkward position. As acquisitions editor, I have to find not just the best manuscripts offered to me but authors I feel can handle the physical strength to do all the marketing necessary.

This is where age becomes a factor.

I understand that writing improves with years of practice and life experience. What an author has to offer at 30 and  another at 65 are two different things. But, I also have to consider the length of productive years ahead. Authors beginning their writing career after retirement are already behind the game.

A hard truth, right? Well, here’s an easier one: being an author takes a physical toll. Long sessions sitting in front of a computer, fighting eyestrain and doubting our memories isn’t good for anyone’s health. I’m experiencing these symptoms already at the age of 60.

Worse yet, traveling to conferences on a tight budget is an economic and physical strain. Ask me how fun it was to schlep a suitcase with a broken wheel from a ferry to the airport to get out of Canada. Ask me about Phoenix airport changing gates three times and making me wait five hours for the next flight. I’ve developed an intense hatred of airports.

Three days at a conference feels like six. Energy is high, time to eat is scarce, everything happens at  breakneck speed. Hauling books requires the strength of a body builder. It takes me a week to recover from all the fun.

What am I suppose to do when an author blithely adds in their query letter “I have macular degeneration, can’t drive anymore, get around with a walker, have a phobia about flying and I don’t know how to use a computer. My dream is to have a book published before I die.” Why anyone would give full disclosure so early in the game is beyond me. What can I do except send a rejection?

I know the other side of the argument. Grandma Moses started painting in her 70’s. Lilian Jackson Braun, author of the Cat Who series, was well into her 90’s when she wrote the final book. I plowed through the 1,184 page bestseller “And the Ladies of the Club” by Helen Hooven Santmyer. She published it at the age of 88 and died two years later.

Good for those folks. I don’t think they went at it without publicists doing most of the leg work. Unfortunately, a small publishing house can’t provide limo service to take author to books signings. We need them to be healthy and mobile. This is a tough business in more ways than one. Even the strongest are ground down by the demands.

I don’t want to discriminate but I’m forced to decide. The later an author puts off their career, the easier the decision becomes.