- By Steve Dempster
- Published 03/24/2008
Many people take up writing as a hobby or as a more serious undertaking later in life – maybe even after what would be considered by many retirement age. This article looks at one way the older writer can compete with younger rivals on a level playing field. There you are, sitting looking at your finished book manuscript. It’s probably taken at least a year – maybe a lot longer – to get to this stage. Now, you say, it’s finished! Sorry to correct you here – but it’s not. It will only be finished when it is published, in book form, and sitting on a shelf in a bookshop where people can buy it. So you send away your manuscript, bracing yourself – you have been warned about this – for rejection. You may be very fortunate and have your work accepted: if so I take my hat off to you! It is far more likely that the work will be returned. If the reason given is that is out of fashion, or not right for that particular publisher, or just plain badly written, then you can do something about it. Sometimes though – and this an older, unpublished, writer’s pitfall – your age may work against you. I know, it’s wrong – but there it is. You may have written a great book, a truly stunning piece of work – but an agent or publisher, being hard-headed businesspeople, have to ask themselves two very crucial questions. These are: 1. Has this writer got more than on book in them? In other words, is this book something you have taken a long time – maybe years and years – to bring to a conclusion? If so, do have any more ideas or are all your guns fired? 2. Now this is not the greatest thing to dwell on – but how much longer are you going to be around? Let’s say you’re a fit 70-year old lady. You could, these days, reasonably expect another good fifteen or twenty years at least. How does this work with your writing career?
Well – a book – any book – can take five years from first rough to publication. Three years is good going. As you can only write one book at once (unless your name is Simenon!) that means you could well be hitting 90-plus if a publisher gave you a five-book contract – together with all the sales and marketing investment that implies. When they
look at these sort of figures you can understand – even if you do not agree with – their concerns. So – this leaves us with the old problem: how to get into print? Well, one excellent way is via the short story market, particularly those published within popular women’s magazines. Hang on, though – what about your age in this environment? Does it not still hold that it may count against you? Happily, the answer is a resounding NO. Magazine editors aren’t offering you a contract beyond purchasing publishing rights from you – hardly a big investment – so concerns regarding your longevity aren’t present! Also, many older writers find they have the depth of experience concerning the human condition so essential to many stories found within the pages of this type of magazine. Then there are other types of magazine – the science fiction short story is one of the types enjoying a keen readership, as popular today as it was seventy years ago. Maybe it’s not your thing – but it’s worth considering! The other thing about short stories is that they are, when compared to a novel, quick to write. You could probably write twenty or thirty short stories in the time it would take you to write your book. Too, they give a new writer great exposure. It’s fair to say that the buyers of women’s magazines probably don’t do so just to read the short story tucked away towards the back – but read them they do and some magazines have readerships in the hundreds of thousands. If you sold that many copies of your novel it would be a best-seller! Maybe the best things about getting your short story published is the great boost to confidence it brings to any fledgling (or indeed seasoned) writer. There’s nothing quite like having your name in print as the author! Add to this the bonus of getting your name known to editors and agents – yes, they do read these stories, spying out talent – and it can be seen that writing for the short story market can be a great way to get noticed.
You may decide, if following this route, that short stories are the thing for you – a writing niche that suits your talents and needs. On the other hand, should you again experience the desire to write The Novel, you have a good grounding in economical, well-planned writing (as all short stories must be) that will shine out to any publisher whose desk your manuscript lands on!