from the mixed up files of Agent Manners – age and writing

Dear Agent Manners,

I’ve got a bit of a problem. I’m a very young writer (18), but I’ve been publishing work in magazines for pay for a few years. I know that an agent would have no clue of my age in a decent query, but a friend suggested that I should intentionally mention it because it would make me “marketable.” I suspect this is madness, because if I were an agent and someone told me they were barely even a legal adult, I probably wouldn’t assume much of their writing.

Then again, the boy who wrote “Eragon” got a great deal of his publicity thanks to his age. Thoughts? Should I mention it and be a novelty-item of sorts, or does it really have no place in a query letter?

Dear Agent Manners:

A thousand warm wishes for your speedy return to 100% health and wellness. Enough gratuitous grovelling … on to my question. Is there life after 50 for a first time author? If so, do you have any recommendations for how I can get noticed by an agent, many of whom were dancing in their Pampers Pull-Ups to the Teletubbies theme song when I graduated from law school?

48 and Cresting

Dear Nameless but Young:

Eragon’s success is often cited as a rationale for attempting to use youth as a marketing ploy. Indeed, since Eragon and its sequels found a major publisher, the number of queries in which the under-18’s declare their age has been on the rise. However, Mr. Paolini’s experience appears to be somewhat singular, and the support he received from his parents was in no small way helpful for giving the book a raise in visibility and securing the attention of a major publisher. While it is possible that his youth has also contributed to his notoriety as a published author, if the books were not finding an audience, it would be irrelevant. Your current credits are far more likely to garner notice whether you mention your age or not, though if you are writing YA and happen to be in the YA demographic, it doesn’t seem like it would hurt either. As an aside, it has been noticed in some queries that the under-18’s have a better mastery of both language and courtesy than some of the older crowd…. Isn’t that peculiar.

Dear 48:

It seems Agent Manners has similar advice regardless of your age. Age is unlikely to get you noticed. Brilliant writing and marketable concepts will. If you don’t mention your age in an inquiry, it’s unlikely an agent will ascribe any weight to such a statistic. However, if you are writing a book in which your age is actually relevant (e.g. fiction for older women experiencing life changes that you, yourself, have recently dealt with), then perhaps you might reference it. As for the age of the agent, that may also be irrelevant, whether they were forced to watch the Teletubbies or not. If you do not wish to be dismissed for your age (or skin color, or geographic location, etc., etc.) do not apply same to the agent you seek. Look to the agent’s skill as a measure. Their sales and networking ability are the key.

To both of you, I can only say that Agent Manners doesn’t care what age the author is as long as any requested samples, partials, or manuscripts hook her hard and keep her up until 3am.

Agent Manners is, in fact, uncertain of the age of many of her clients (it’s just not polite to ask) but suspects there are some in their 40’s and 50’s and possibly even their 60’s (some of them have grand-children). The youngest may be in their 20’s.

20 responses to “from the mixed up files of Agent Manners – age and writing

  1. As an aside, it has been noticed in some queries that the under-18’s have a better mastery of both language and courtesy than some of the older crowd…. Isn’t that peculiar.
    “In 2002, Eragon was published by Paolini International LLC, Paolini’s parents’ company. To promote the book, Paolini toured over 135 schools and libraries, discussing reading and writing, all the while dressed in “a medieval costume of red shirt, billowy black pants, lace-up boots, and a jaunty black cap.” Paolini created the cover art for the first edition of Eragon, which featured Saphira’s eye. He also drew the maps on the inside covers of his books.”
    Oh, I’d say any parent willing to publish, promote, then have their kiddo tour 135 schools and libraries was a little more than helpful.
    On a side note, a ran across a blog relating tales of a recent event with Mr. Maass speaking. He spoke re: blogs, and blog publicity pushing sales etc etc..
    The bottom line in every case I’ve seen of “Do Agents care about…” was just worry about writing good fiction (and please no more pictures of abs, cute dogs, or cover jacket treatments).

  2. Dear Nameless but Young,
    The only ones to whom you should really fear to mention your age would be older writers who do have yet to sell anything. Their jealousy might be dangerous.
    I jest, of course, but I am impressed that you have been selling work for a few years, which means that you were writing publishable material while you were fifteen? Sixteen? Good for you!
    From a thirty-nine year old writer. Le sigh…

  3. I often wonder if younger authors–say 20’s/30’s/possibly younger 40’s–are “pushed” a bit harder than older authors.

  4. I love this post. I did make a point when I was querying (at 19) to include my age and magazine credits. My agent has said repeatedly that the credits (not age) were what hooked her.

  5. Thank you, Agent Manners. (From the Young One.)

  6. Paolini’s age was a bit of a selling point for a friend of mine, but… He’s not actually a fantasy reader, and had no idea that Knopf isn’t a fantasy publishing house. And, to cap my recitation of his naivete, he actually thought Eragon was good…

  7. As Miss Snark would say, “Good writing trumps all.” Age has nothing to do with it. Although, for me, my writing has vastly improved from when I was younger.

  8. Dear Agent Manners
    Please excuse my intrusion onto your blog, and allow me to proffer my thanks for your dependable guidance, and invaluable insights into the gloom-shrouded and dauntingly mysterious workings of Publishing Protocols. As a proto-author — that is, one who writes, but does not yet draw either pay, nor particular notice for the act, hence not an author, precicely, — I find it a great comfort to know that agents like you are willing to illuminate and elucidate the arcanities, inanities, and profanities that haunt the business of buying and selling words.
    In short, you give me hope that on some level, it all makes sense. For that glimmer, ma’am, I consider myself in your debt.
    a not-so-secret aspirer.

  9. Hi. Aspiring author here. Curious to know if I need a complete novel to query you. I have several short stories and one comic issue written with no door in the door. Any and all advice would be great.
    I’d email, but I don’t know your address. Thanks.

    • Sorry, I meant one comic script. And no foot in the door.
      I’m very fried from being rejected for having no representation in any of my chosen fields. Thanks again.

    • New authors should definitely have a complete manuscript before they start querying. Our submission guidelines are on the website when you’re ready.

      • The novel is incomplete, but the short stories and comic script are complete. Does Donald Maas work with these formats as well as novels?

        • So far any short stories or comics that I have ended up working on have been for people I already represent for their novel-length fiction, which is the concentration of the agency, so you’d have a far better chance starting with a complete novel of fiction probably.

  10. Dear Agent Manners – Age and Writing
    Thank you so much for your insightful answer — essentially, strong and marketable writing trumps age! Now that I know you have “grandmas” amongst your author ranks, don’t be surprised if you find yourself representing me one day! Love the blog.
    48 and Cresting

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