Missed the boat

I’m ancient. I’m at least 44 – and perhaps as a sure sign of aging I can’t remember exactly how ancient. I lost count in my late 30s and have had trouble figuring it out ever since.
So I’m one of those people about whom it is announced in earnest tones, “first book published at 44”.
Well, I would have done it earlier – I certainly meant to, but then I forgot.
I’m too wrinkled to pretend I’m any younger without actually perpetrating a hoax, but, hell, it might be worth it.
The younger you are, the more likely a huge advance, apparently.
“Literary prizes promise large chunks of cash to the best work of fiction by somebody under 35 (the Somerset Maugham Award) as though being young and creating good fiction is to be lauded above being middle-aged and doing the same,” writes Alexandra Jackson over at Spiked. Not only that, but:
“Luke Brown, assistant editor of Birmingham-based publishers Tindal Street Press, agrees that it is a ‘more attractive proposition’ to a publisher if a book is written by a young slip of a thing as it gives ‘an extra edge’ when trying to publicise the product.”
Funnily enough, while Jackson bemoans the cultural implications of this Author Idol fetish, her main concern is for the poor wee things rushed into print before they’re fully cooked.
“We run the risk of turning them into one-hit wonders – like Donna Tartt who disappeared for 10 years after her debut novel The Secret History’s astounding success, only to return with a critical failure, The Little Friend. And Alex Garland, whose follow-up to The Beach was a fraction as successful. Or we turn them into dashing Israelites, bringing forth unleavened bread. Anna Stothard’s Isabel and Rocco, for example – published when she was 19 in a gap year between school and university – is reviewed on Amazon by reader Laura Bennett, who compares the novel to ‘a flower which had been forced to bloom too early’.”
Granted, no book should be published before it’s ready – that’s the editor’s job. Perhaps it wasn’t ever going to get any better, or perhaps once you’ve written one, like anyone else, and learned the discipline and sharpened the skill, the second one may be better? Perhaps people get invested in your original voice, and don’t like it if you choose not to write the same book over and over?
But what’s the alternative? Tell Donna to wait a few years before submitting Secret History? Would that have made it any better? How would it have helped her write her next novel (unless you believe that great art only arises from poverty)?
The problem may not be so much at that end of the career, as the other – or indeed even the middle.
“Brown confirms that mid-range authors are now dropped by publishers rather than being allowed the steady development and natural progression that they once were.”
That gives late-bloomers like me something to look forward to…

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