I’ve been thinking about an article posted by a Facebook friend: “The route to literary success: be young, gifted but most of all gorgeous.” The same friend quoted from the Quill and Quire: “Ageism is a dirty little secret in the Canadian publishing world. I know at least a couple of people who generated a great deal of interest from publishers until the acquiring editor asked…how old they were.”
As a writer with a novel manuscript that’s good to go, this gave me pause. One has to work awfully hard on the gifted side of things nowadays, competing in a sea of enormously talented writers, but to have to score on young and gorgeous too? For women writers of my ilk, it’s like trying to sit on a three-legged stool with two of the legs missing.
I don’t know how much ageism — specific or subconscious — actually occurs in publishing. But if it’s there — speaking now as a reader not writer — it profoundly misjudges audiences. There are a lot of us keen older readers, for one thing. I recall that events at Winnipeg’s annual literary festival, THIN AIR, which I attended when I lived there, were filled with women, and many, perhaps the majority, were middle-aged or older.
Further, I and older readers of my acquaintance know there are brilliant, beautiful young writers, some with uncanny depth, and we’ll read them with admiration if they satisfy, but it’s the satisfy factor that matters, some essential integrity in the work apart from everything else. We don’t mind if authors are ordinary-looking, men or women, old or even dead, as long as the words they’ve written shine with at least some extraordinary light.