What do you mean, too old?

I write about old people. At least, that’s what publishers would have you believe. When my first book was being shopped around, it didn’t sell because although several editors liked it, they thought that the heroine was “too old”. She was forty- five.

So I self-published it. To date, it’s sold around 170K e-copies. Not a lot by some standards, I know, but it’s not just the sales that tell me people liked the book, it’s the emails and reviews I got that praised or thanked me for writing about real women over forty.

That was five years ago. I’ve since published a few other books with “older” heroines, and I’ve done pretty well. Montlake published a few, I self-pubbed a few, and no one ever wrote me and said, “Gee, what I really wanted to read about was another skinny twenty-three-year-old with great shoes”.

I thought that older characters were gaining some ground. After all, I’m a baby boomer, all my friends are, and we read lots and lots of books. And we like to read books, even romance books that are pure escapism, about women like ourselves. Women of a certain age, who have families and careers and great friendships and life experience.

Those books are hard to find. And now I know why.

My latest book was sent out by my agent less than a month ago. Ten submissions. I got an offer from one house right away. I got four “No thanks ” right away. That left five big-name publishing houses who liked the book enough to ask for sales figures on my previous books, ask if I would change the title to reflect a more “woman’s fiction” vibe, ask what else I was working on. Then, someone asked if I would consider changing the age of my characters.

That should have tipped me off.

One by one, the five excited editors took the book to the next level — a senior editor, a marketing meeting, whatever — and one by one the rejection letters came in. The last one was at least honest – they passed because of the age of my characters. They were too old.

The main character, the narrator, was fifty-four.

This same main character was on a girl’s week away at the Hamptons with her good friends, met a handsome stranger, got involved with a fake kidnapping plot, had sex on the beach with aforementioned handsome stranger, drank lots of wine, got in a car chase, shopped, hung out at bars…what, exactly, was she too old for? Which one of those activities could a younger woman do that my character couldn’t?

I sometimes wondered why some of my favorite authors, as they got older, did not age their characters as well. Now I know.

Women over forty don’t sell. At least, that’s what publishers think. My question is, of course, do those books not sell because people aren’t buying them, or are people not buying them because they aren’t there in the first place? Women over forty can do more than knit, bake and solve mysteries with their cats. If there’s an editor who’s a woman and she’s in her forties and she loves a book, why doesn’t the marketing department think other women will also love that book? Why would it be such a hard sell? Anyone who can’t sell a funny, smart, well-written book to a group of readers who are exactly like the main characters in that book should probably be looking at another career.

Don’t those publishers get it that there are thousands of women out there over forty who are once-again single and looking around? For love, for sex, for adventure, for escape? Who do they think are on all those dating sites? Twenty-somethings are looking to hook up.   A forty-five year old woman wants romance and passion. A forty-five year old woman knows herself, in strong and confident, and is unafraid of going after what she wants. Who wouldn’t want to read about a woman like that?

My newest book will be published. By Lake Union. That was the offer I got right away, and I decided to go with them even before that last rejection came through. Once again, Amazon proves that it knows better than anyone else what readers want.   I have no doubt my readers will be happy to laugh and love along with women who could be their best friends. I will sell lots of copies and make lots of money.   Win-win. Amazon gets it. My readers get it.

Hey, you other guys! Over there in NYC? When are you going to get it?

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The Reality Show of my dreams

A few weeks ago, Jasinda Wilder, who happens to be a husband-and-wife team who are not only great people, but write smokin’ hot books, Tweeted about the possibility of a reality show, The Real Housewives of Self-Publishing.  Since I happen to know some of the real housewives she hangs out with, I immediately commented that the world was NOT ready for a show like that.

But it got me thinking about a reality show, like Project Runway, but for writers.  It could be called The Novel Project, and I know exactly how it should be run.

Prizes would be:

$100,000.00 in cash to take a year off work to complete your masterpiece, courtesy of the Big 5 Publishing Houses

Free use of a writing studio, a cabin in the Maine woods, provided by Douglas Preston.

And Amazon, still light years ahead as far as knowing what writers really want and need, would supply five pounds of coffee, delivered weekly, as well a a gallon per week of any alcoholic beverage of choice

The host would have to be a writer who is also well known for being something else as well. A sort of Renaissance person, like Sam Shepard or Steve Martin.  Or Snookie.

There would need to be a mentor, of course, someone warm and supportive, who would appreciate and encourage writers of all genders, races, and sexual orientations.  Jonathan Franzen perhaps?

 And imagine the challenges…

 “Good morning, writers, and welcome to the Romantic Times Challenge.  For this challenge, you have to write a scene in which a dark-hearted Duke, who has married for convenience, takes his virginal bride to their marriage bed for the first time.  To complete this challenge, you cannot use the phrases “velvet shaft,’ ‘ throbbing rod of passion,’ or ‘glistening flower of desire’.

You have one day to complete this challenge.  The winner will have immunity for the next challenge, and will receive a full-page ad in Romantic Times magazine, as well as a weekend in the Inn Boonsboro, courtesy of the amazing Nora Roberts.  The loser will sign a ten-book, two year contract with a New York publishing house. “

The camera will then shift to the twelve contestants, men and women, most of them in various pajama pieces, and all drinking coffee and staring into their laptops.

 Two hours later, our mentor looks in.  All twelve contestants are busy typing away in silence.

 Two hours after that, the mentor returns.  Here is what he finds:

 Contestants #1, #5, and #11 are in the Internet.

 Contestant #2 has replaced his coffee mug with a near-empty bottle of Dewar’s, and has fallen asleep, face down, on his laptop.

 Contestant # 3 is typing, muttering to herself, “Show not tell, show not tell…”

 Contestant #4 is in a corner of the room with Contestants #8 and #9, trying to configure them in the position he described in his story, to see if it’s actually possible for two people to have sex, in a chair, with no feet on the floor.

 Contestant #6 is playing Candy Crush on her phone.

 Contestant #7 is refreshing his Amazon KDP dashboard every thirty seconds.

 Contestant #10 is reading a battered paperback version of Atlas Shrugged.

 Contestant #12 is rocking back and forth in her chair, singing I Have A Dream from Les Miz.

 Our mentor takes one look around, grabs the bottle of Dewar’s, and leaves the workroom.

 I could go on, but my heart is too full.  Who will watch this with me?