Does ageism exist in publishing?
In short: heck yes.
If you don't believe me, read this.
I want to start with a clarification: this works for both ends of the spectrum. I've seen agents reject a YA proposal from a 60-year-old because, "How in the world does she remember anything about high school?"
However, going into this blog post, I realize I come from a young person's perspective and can therefore only provide advice based on my experience of reverse-ageism in the publishing world. I'll share some examples of what I personally had undergone as well as some tips on how to overcome the biases of middle-aged gatekeepers.
Ageism Experienced: Every Conference
Every conference I have a Bingo sheet (not literally, but a mental one). The boxes on the Bingo board make up moments that happen at every conference:
- I will get hit on by a not-so-gentleman
- I will get lost because I can't follow a map to save my life
- Someone will tell me I'm too young to be in this business
Or "too young to know all of this," or "too young to have this much experience," or worst of all, "young enough to be my granddaughter." Now keep in mind people tell me these things whilst doing a one-on-one pitch with me.
A one-on-one pitch is the equivalent of a job interview in the publishing world. An agent interviews an author to see if they'd make a good pair. You don't want to insult your interviewer.
And yet, at least once per conference, I get told, "Wow. You're really wise for such a young person."
First of all, that insults an entire generation, making me out to be some sort of exception to the rule.
Secondly, I don't understand why age has to equate with wisdom or savvy.
I especially will experience a higher degree of ageism at Christian conferences, even though we have a Bible verse that talks against discounting people because of their youth (1 Timothy 4:12).
But I digress. Each conference I get out my Bingo board, fake a smile through the insult--and end up pleasantly surprised if it doesn't happen.
Ageism Experienced: Crosswalk.com
Can you detect a pattern? Often Christians have a harder time taking youths seriously (don't worry, everyone else does too, religious or nonreligious).
I write for a Christian website called Crosswalk.com. I really do enjoy the chance to write five articles a week based on my Christian education of 17 years. Nevertheless I have received disgruntled letters, comments, and the like from readers who didn't agree with some points in my article. Never mind that I back up each article with Bible verses, commentaries, and other sources, usually trying to keep an unbiased angle, the readers come up with the same reason every time for why they don't have to listen to my views:
"Look at her picture. She's young. She's an idiot. She doesn't know what she's talking about." (My other favorite insult I've gotten is "This is why women should be silent." Gotta love some nice sexism in publishing too).
My editor asked me to take a dowdy picture in which I looked about ten years older than my actual age and in which I caked on way too much foundation so the comments would stop.
Let's keep in mind the ages of important figures in the Bible when they were called to do something great for God:
- Daniel (14-15 years old)
- The Disciples (18 years old)
- David (16 years old)
- Mary (14 years old)
And yet readers wouldn't listen to me unless my picture looked 30 years or older.
I could, of course, list countless of other examples of ageism I've experienced in the writing world. Long story short, it exists. Now what do we do about it?
How to Battle Ageism in Publishing
As an author, I know that with every "ism" it can take centuries if not millennia to fix. Knowing that ageism probably won't leave publishing any time soon, here's what I've discovered to help combat it.
First, prove them wrong.
If they think a young person can't get five books traditionally published by the time she reaches the age of 24. If they think someone who is 60 cannot understand the YA voice properly, prove them wrong.
Young and older people in publishing start at a disadvantage because 30-40-somethings often run the show. This requires for us to go the extra mile and have to work harder than our 30-40-year-old counterparts to earn the same contracts, same deals, and same advances.
Second, don't point out your age, until after you get a contract.
I learned the sad truth that if I provided my graduation date on my CV that employers wouldn't give me the time of day. They didn't believe I could have accomplished all that I listed at my age. When I took off my graduation date, all of a sudden I got requests for interviews.
So many young authors like to make a point of their age in their query letter. Don't. Wait until after you've secured a contract.
Third, support young and older authors.
If we want to have a wider range of ages in publishing, we need to support the authors who don't fit the typical 30 to 40-year-old age of a debut author. Writers already have to work so hard to prove themselves, let alone battles with ageism.
If you think releasing a book is hard try doing it while people don't think you have anything valid to say due to your age.
But if we support authors of various ages we show that age is just a number, and that anyone (young or old) has something important to contribute.