Writing and Getting Published After 50

So you’re 50 (or beyond) and you’re wondering how that will affect your ability to get your book or magazine article published. The answer? Depending on how you handle the situation, it should make no difference, according to lots of people.

Some time ago I read an article that covered the subject very well. The author was Scott Hoffman, one of the founding partners of Folio Literary Management. He said that writers should avoid all references to retirement, they should be an energetic presence willing to help promote their books, they should not date themselves, and they must convince editors that they have lot of other books inside them. Above all, he said, don’t reveal your age in a query letter to an agent or an editor.

Hoffman was talking about the problems some people have in getting their books published, but most of the situations also cover writers of magazine articles and pieces for the web.

For one thing, even though you are 50 or beyond, you are not retired. If you’re writing a book or magazine articles, you are doing it on a regular basis, not because you have extra time on hand. You might have a new career, but it is a full-time career. And, Hoffman said, “you want to convince your agent and editor that you’re not just a one-trick pony.”

Although you’re at work on more books or articles now, you’re eager to promote your work at the publishers and you have lots of ideas about how and where to do that. You don’t need to tell editors or agents about long-ago work history or about past military service (unless your work centers on those subjects), but do tell them about relevant credentials that don’t date you.

He says there are two times when you actually have to let your agent or editor know your age. When someone asks how old you really are, you must give him or her that information. Never lie. The other time to do that is when you think it might help. Be sure also to fill in the details when information about your experience or credentials will show why you’re the right person to write this specific book or magazine article.

Hoffman ended his article by detailing several specific over-50 writers who published books: Anna Sewell sold her classic novel, Black Beauty, at 57; Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) published Out of Africa at 52; Laura Ingalls Wilder published the Little House on the Prairie series while in her 60s. And Bangladeshi writer Nirad Chaudhuri published his first book at 54, its sequel at age 90, and his final book, Three Horsemen of the New Apocalypse, when he was 100. Their experiences should be enough for anyone to follow.

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