Monday, July 19, 2010

Age Ain't Nothin' But a Number

Lately I've noticed a trend in query letters that does not involve overused supernatural beings or the dreaded rhetorical question. This trend is new to me, but maybe other agents have experienced it. In several letters, the authors, those who happen to be teenagers, are apologizing for their ages. 

As far as query trends go, this is probably the least annoying, but writers - young writers - don't do this! Apologizing for yourself not only weakens you right out of the gate, but it's also completely unnecessary. I mean, did Mozart ever say "Sorry guys, I know I'm only six years old, but I'm about to blow your mind?" No. All he did was blow people's minds! No apology offered or needed.

Evidence of amazing teen writers is everywhere. S.E. Hinton, Amelia Atwater-Rhodes, Nick McDonell, and Christopher Paolini were all successful teen authors. And the new class featuring the likes of Steph Bowe (GIRL SAVES BOY) and Kody Keplinger (THE DUFF) looks pretty impressive too! (Both writers were highlighted during the Glass Cases "Teen Writers Week" back in April - see Steph's profile and Kody's profile for more info on them!) I doubt today's young writers feel as if they don't deserve recognition for their work just because they never had to write it on a typewriter. Just as I'm sure the former teen all-stars don't feel guilty or ashamed of their early successes.

When I am reading queries, I never wonder how old the writer is. Honestly, I don't care at all until they tell me, and even then I just say "hm.. that seemed unnecessary." If you want to stick in at the end of your pitch that you are a freshman in high school (well, only if this is true), then go ahead. It might catch my eye ONLY if the novel is of any interest to me. And if you are a freshman in high school and researching agents at all, I think that's pretty impressive, so please don't apologize for it!

Likewise, I've received queries from people in their sixties and seventies who have also felt the need to tell me their ages. This, I understand even less. As with their younger counterparts, these writers also ask for forgiveness for being "so old," especially if they do not have previous writing credentials. But when they're not apologizing for things they cannot control, they are attributing various obstacles involved in completing their novels to their ages, as if being sixty-eight years old is somehow akin to having no legs, arms, or eyes.

If I reject a ninety-year-old, it's because the novel wasn't for me, not because the writer is ninety. And if I make an offer to a twelve-year-old, it's because I loved his or her work, not because I love the idea of exploiting their wunderkind-ness to my advantage. The writing is what matters, and good writing transcends age. Always. 

Sure, I might be impressed if I read what I think is the next Gatsby, only to find out the writer is eleven, but age will never be a deal-breaker, whether positive or negative. On the flip side of that, sometimes it is obvious that a writer is not quite mature enough to tell the story he or she is trying to tell, but again, it has nothing to do with their actual age. In the same way a memoirist requires distance and perspective to create a truly effective piece, young writers need time and space and, more often, practice to create an objectively "good" story. Just like the rest of us.

So whether you were born in the Clinton administration or the Hoover,  please stop being so sorry and let your writing speak for itself.

11 comments:

  1. It’s so refreshing to read: "The writing is what matters, and good writing transcends age. Always." Writers have one definite advantage over many other jobs. In many businesses, teenagers aren’t hired for advanced positions and people are laid off or considered unemployable after a certain age. Writing does seem to come with many freedoms. We can even work in pajamas and slippers, if we choose to do so. :)

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  2. Great point, and glad to know that in the end, it's just the query and writing that speaks for itself.

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  3. Very interesting. I am very excited to read The Duff when it comes out and all things Kody are incredibly interesting to me. It is because of her age though. To be so accomplished by 18. But I do wonder what her agent thought when she found out her age..was he/she surprised??

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  4. Interesting trend. See, I like to keep my age secret anymore . . . unfortunately my 6-year old knows it and doesn't mind sharing it with the world. :)

    There are some amazing teen authors out there. And it IS good to hear you reiterate that the writing is what matters.

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  5. Great reference to Mozart! This is very true.

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  6. I disagree. I believe that all uber-talented, advance-check-cashing authors who aren't yet legally allowed to pop open a bottle of champagne in celebration of their success DO owe the rest of us an apology for being so damned talented at such a young age. It just isn't fair. I'm nothing if not forgiving, however, and would be willing to accept a small percentage of their future royalty checks in lieu of an actual apology, which I know after eight years of marriage can be quite painful.

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  7. It's almost as if they're not really apologizing for it or they wouldn't say it. I think teen writers (some of them) are aware their age gives them a marketing edge. If I were under 20, I'd probably find a way to sneak it in too. But I'm actually just 23. (See what I did there?)

    I guess it depends on the phrasing in the letter... so I don't know. Just a thought.

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  8. I've noticed this, too, (I love being able to say that haha) and I don't really get it.

    That and sharing personal information that doesn't relate to the plot: seeing this book published was my dying great-grandmother's last wish. That makes me feel kind of bad, but it doesn't change the outcome at all. :/

    Thanks for this! :)

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  9. @Jaimie - 23?? Sorry, but now I'm totally throwing away your manuscript that I was looking forward to reading...

    Side note: I get the strategy involved in putting your age if you're under 18, and it does actually work on me. Not (as I mentioned in this post) in regard to actually requesting/rejecting a ms, but they do tend to avoid a form rejection. Those types of rejections are never fun, but I think most writers understand they are part of the business, whereas someone who's 14 might not.

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  10. Actually, Mozart would have said, "Ich entschuldige mich, Jungs. Ich weiß, ich bin erst sechs Jahre alt, aber ich freue mich über deinen Geist wehen."

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  11. Haha. Good one. *sits back* *looks around nervously* I mean, wait...

    That's interesting about giving a younger kid a personal rejection letter. That's really nice.

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