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?