Friday, February 11, 2011

Age Discrimination in Writing

A reader emailed me asking if I believed there was ageism (age discrimination, I guess) in the writing business. My answer? Nope, not if you don't let it. However, this answer merits explanation, because I've spoken to the young and the old who feel they were overlooked based upon their years on this earth.

First, in my prior life, I beat "the man" in a discrimination case. Can't say much more than that because of non-disclosure issues in the agreement. I can say it wreeked havoc on me, making me see shadows in the dark, making me wonder who thought ill of me for who I was, not what I could do. After that case, I found myself in a job where I advised people in the informal stages of filing grievances and complaints. The first thing I always asked them was, "do you really want to look at your situation this way?" I knew the toll it would take.

When someone files such a case, or focuses their viewpoint on the possibility they are being overlooked based upon something outside of basic qualifications, they often become jaded, wanting to teach someone a lesson. Either that or they become depressed, usually giving themselves an excuse not to venture forward. Both situations erode their future.  They lose sight of the fact they will usually excel more in the long run just demonstrating how well they can perform, ignoring what others think, and staying positive. In the long run, they are bigger winners.

In the writing profession, we are so lucky to work "blind." Our writing stands for itself, and we often never meet our editor, publisher or agent. That is, unless we throw age out there for consideration. When we do that, we're asking the person making a judgment call on the other end, to incorporate that in the equation. In other words, don't say how old you are. It doesn't matter. Ninety-nine percent of the time it can only hurt. They aren't looking for age. They are seeking excellent stories. Why sabotage yourself?

Maybe you don't put your date of birth in a query, but there are other ways that give you away. Comments such as:
  • I'm retired...
  • My grandchildren love this book...
  • I worked for thirty years as a ...
  • Back in the sixties, I...
Or--
  • I just graduated...
  • My college professor loves my book...
  • My English advisor says...
  • I just started seeking a job...
  • When I was a kid...
Social media labels you as well. If you don't do it, you're probably in a certain age range. If you do it, clicking on your links will definitely expose your age if it shows parties and awfully young friends, or babies and weddings, or grandchildren and vacations. I'm not saying don't show your personal life on Facebook, but it would behoove you to demonstrate a professional side on a separate page.

Listen...all they want is a good writer willing to self-promote. Period. Don't give them a reason to think negatively about who and what you are. Keep them focused. Keep them on your writing. And keep them thinking you're willing to do the self-promotion it takes to make sales. Outside of that, you risk shooting yourself in the foot.

6 comments:

Linda O'Connell said...

Excellent advice, Hope. Thanks.

Laura Campbell said...

As a teacher, I dealt with it all the time. I'm lucky. I don't age quickly, so I tend to look much younger than my actual age. Great for when I'm middle aged, terrible when I was trying to establish myself as a teaching professional. Lack of respect and lack of trust in my ability were the two problems I faced the most. It was hard some days. I just worked harder to prove myself.

As a writer, I've yet to encounter ageism. Since the writing life is so lonely and most of my interactions with the writing community occur online, I don't run into those problems. I also find the writing community to be more nurturing. Everyone wants to help each other out. Making the career change from teacher to writer was the best thing for me. Thanks for the post.

Mary Ingmire said...

A question to ask before shouting "discrimination" for any reason, is, "Am I really as good as I think I am?" The disadvantage of listening only to friends and family is that they don't always tell you the truth, they don't offer constructive criticism, or, if they do, you become defensive and do it your way anyhow. I'm not saying discrimination doesn't exist, but I have to be sure my product is sound before proceeding down that road. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Susan said...

Hello Hope...I agree with you. One's writing should stand on its own.

Definitely, discrimination suits can wreak havoc on one's entire psyche. It takes a brave and courageous person to pursue justice. Susan

Stace said...

Thanks for a thoughtful post, Hope.

I identify also with what Laura says re teaching. Teaching must be one of the few jobs left where 30 is young. (Especially if you jump ship hoping to go into IT...)

Regarding Facebook, I don't understand why people leave their privacy settings as default. Although we can't control how much of our own lives our FRIENDS will show to the world, well, we can control who our 'friends' are, and we can certainly click the 'friends only' option on the privacy page. I'd encourage everyone other than extreme extroverts to do just that. I've noticed quite a few people seem to think their stuff is private, but it's easy to accidentally leave your wall as public. (I suspect they don't want that.)

Unfortunately, the default Facebook privacy settings are meant for complete transparency (read: lack of privacy), and I don't think this lines up with the sensibilities of most people.

Janette Dolores said...

"They lose sight of the fact they will usually excel more in the long run just demonstrating how well they can perform, ignoring what others think, and staying positive." Hope, this advice rings true for anyone overly-concerned with what others think, and *everyone* is concerned with someone's opinion of them. I agree that pushing forward positively and with self-confidence pays out more in the long run.

On a seperate note, good for you for filing and winning a discrimination case! Not easy cases to prove.

Blessings.