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?


13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rich Amooi
    Jan 21, 2016 @ 05:35:50

    Yes! I love this, Dee. I’m so glad you didn’t change the story for them. 🙂 My fourth romantic comedy (Mr. Crotchety) has been well-received and features a hero turning sixty and a heroine who is fifty. I loved writing it and I have two more coming out this year with older (young at heart) heroes and heroines. I wrote these because I wanted to and not because someone told me they would or would not sell. Keep up the amazing work. I look forward to your new book in June. 🙂


  2. Valerie T
    Dec 27, 2015 @ 16:40:43

    This was a very interesting post! I read a lot of YA paranormal, because I like paranormal, and I like romance. I’m 45. I started to write a story about a 36 year old with 2 kids, who rediscovers an old flame. I like it, but I feel it has very little chance of being published. I’m about half way thru your gargoyle book, but I plan on reading your adult romance, especially if the characters are over 17! Thanks for writing this, it’s given me a lot to think about.


  3. robynroze
    Sep 23, 2015 @ 16:58:58

    LOVE this post, Dee! Your assessment is absolutely correct, and the film industry is just as bad, or worse. I find writing and reading stories with older characters far more interesting and satisfying. And youth is overrated and short-lived anyway. Here’s hoping the publishing industry and Hollywood start marketing to boomers. And congratulations on your publishing deal with Amazon. They, unlike NYC, want to sell ALL kinds of books! 😉


  4. Gina Nisbit
    Sep 23, 2015 @ 14:39:28

    Women of Experience (How I view myself) are the powerful in the marketplace right now. The ’20 somethings’ are busy, for the most part, living the single, childless life that authors write about. ’30 somethings’ are busy settling in their careers, and starting their families. I believe there are some in those age groups that still make time to read, but it’s really when you start looking to the ’40 something’ age group that you find women who have figured out the need for ‘time for yourself’, and these are the women who love to read, and take bubble baths. We buy flowers for ourselves because we’ve learned we don’t need a man to validate our deserving of flowers. We can do that for ourselves. For me, I prefer to read stories of women closer to my own age. Women who have been or are currently married. Their children almost grown and gone, or in some cases are already grown and gone. They’re strong, and confident women who know that having a man in your life is nice, but not necessary. So you just keep right on writing. And we’ll just keep on reading. Because as we already know we don’t need a man to validate us, we also don’t need no big shot publishing company to tell us what to read.


  5. Nan
    Sep 22, 2015 @ 19:08:34

    Oh, Dee–you’re singing my song, sweetie! This has been my huge frustration for years and why I, too, ended up going indie with my “older” heroines. The first book in the Women of Willow Bay series also has the heroine’s 15-year-old son and when my agent tried to sell the book, they told her, “Great writing, love the story, but the kid needs to be way younger, we can’t sell a teenager in a romance novel.” Seriously? How would my over-40 heroine and my over-40 hero have a kid who’s three if they haven’t seen each other in 16 years? Yeesh!! We just have to keep pushing. Baby Boomers are the largest demographic in the buying public–we are the ones with the money and we are willing to spend it. Don’t ignore us!


  6. Ronnie
    Sep 22, 2015 @ 19:01:16

    Firstly, I just adore your books. I love your style of writing specially with so much humor added in. Most of all I love that your women are older and sometimes involved with younger men. Honestly, I prefer the older women stories to the younger women ones. Keep doing what you are doing and I’ll keep buying everything that you write 😘


  7. christineamaryllis
    Sep 22, 2015 @ 17:20:44

    Dear Dee,
    Women over 40 seem to be invisible. Which is sad. I make art dolls, and have been told that women don’t want to see wrinkled, crone like creations, they would rather have younger ones. I find this absurd. And I know many people, men and women, who are not interested in aging gracefully, they try to pretend they are younger than they are…don’t accept the changes that come with age. Don’t want to think that they are 40, 50 or whatever. I just turned 60. I love your books, and yay for you, for sticking to your guns on this!
    Have a peaceful day,
    Christine amaryllis


  8. JenM
    Sep 22, 2015 @ 16:52:16

    Thank you for not listening to those publishers. Your book sales prove that there is a market for what you are writing. Plus, you get to keep more of the royalties anyway if you either self-pub or go with Amazon publishing. I’ve been a fan ever since I read A Different Kind of Forever so I hope you keep writing what you want to write. Heroines in their 20s are a dime a dozen. It’s so hard to find an author who will write them over 30, let alone over 40.


  9. Sandra Nachlinger
    Sep 22, 2015 @ 15:17:50

    Amen! I’ve heard so many women say they’re tired of reading about twenty-somethings whose biggest problems are bad hair days. I’m sharing this post. Maybe readers will speak up and educate publishers on what they want.


  10. Dee Ernst
    Sep 22, 2015 @ 14:20:43

    Hi Lynne – the new book is coming out in June. I’ll be sure to let you know the details!


  11. Lynne
    Sep 22, 2015 @ 14:18:35

    Where is it? Maybe I’ll buy it — just had 70th birthday. 45 sounds young to me.


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