I don’t comment on my reviews.
Generally, I’m pleased with how things are going. The last time I checked, my debut book had a pretty good average. Naturally, there are a mixture of opinions out there. Some think the characters are great and really capture that youthful nostalgia, others don’t particularly enjoy the voice of the characters. That’s fine: it’s a taste thing, so I can completely buy that.
I’ve taken my fair share of 5, 4, 3, and 2-star reviews, and pretty much all of them have revolved around a matter of taste and preference rather than content or quality of writing. For that, I’m happy.
However, there are two comments in (otherwise well-argued) reviews that have always stuck with me and probably always will.
They read as follows:
‘Overall, the writer needs to grow up a bit…’
‘At several times I concluded that the writer was disconnected from reality, then I realised they were young…’
Probably two of the most scathing comments I’ve ever received, and what’s the common theme? Age.
Despite being aware of ageism, I’m very open about my age in my books, on my blog, across social media, etc. In case you don’t know, I’m 21. Yeah — I’m just finishing university and I’m publishing books. If you find that uncomfortable, then don’t read my stuff.
Something else: I’m proud of my age. I’m proud that I’m not just writing for a hobby at 21 but actively going out there investing in editing and cover design, and putting my work on the market.
The notion that age correlates with quality is, quite frankly, absurd. Now, I totally appreciate that writers improve with experience — that’s a given. And sure, people naturally put out more books the older they get. However, by this logic, a first-time novel from a seventy-year old is automatically better than a tenth novel by a twenty-five year old. Right?
That first-time novel might be fantastic. I’d imagine it won’t be quite as fantastic as the writing of someone who has been studying and practising craft for ten years, even if they are half their age. Writing quality isn’t a matter of age — it’s a matter of experience. Well, that, and a whole load of personal preference.
99.99999% of the writing and publishing community are fantastic. I was actually stunned by the lack of ageism between authors when I first started writing. I rather cynically expected at least some ageism, but it just hasn’t worked that way, so thank you for that.
99.99999% of readers, whether they love or loathe my stuff, are also great, and I appreciate every comment. It is interesting how what I believe is reader ageism affects things, though, even if it is in the minority. If I leave something open and ambiguous in a novel, it isn’t because of a desire to provoke debate from the reader but because, ‘oh, he’s young, so it’s wrong, so he’ll learn.’
Think about it: if I decide in my own conscious mind that I’ll break convention somewhat by not hooking up the protagonist and his love interest, refusing to give readers a clichéd ending, it’s not because I’m ‘just young’ — it’s because, as a writer, I’ve decided to make that conscious decision. If you didn’t like it, that’s a taste thing.
But of course, I’m young, so that conscious decision is probably wrong.
This post isn’t a rant, by the way. Like I said, ageism is something I came into the field expecting and I’ve been rather surprised by the lack of it I’ve encountered.
This post is also not not NOT a way of branding all negative commenters as culprits of ageism. If you read my book or anybody’s book and you don’t enjoy it, you’re 10000% entitled to feel that way and express those views, but just do us all a favour and give us legitimate criticism that we can take and work on in future rather than putting it down to age. In my case, sadly, I can’t get old with a click of the fingers.
I can imagine some would suggest to hide my age in my books but the truth is, I’m proud of it. I’m writing and publishing books at 21. Yes, 21. If you can’t deal with that, then I apologise, but I’ve got another book to work on and more experience to gain.
Have you ever encountered ageism in writing?
Image courtesy of MC Speedy via Flickr
Great points. You’re right–judging the quality of someone’s work by their age is ridiculous. Plus, if your current work is any indication (and I know that it is), the best is yet to come–by the time you’ve hit your tenth novel, people will be looking back at your first and having such a quality book at 21.
Thanks, James! I think aiming to improve with every book is a very realistic goal for writers to target. I agree though that age/quality have no bearing (other than the obvious lack of experience, but that’s the case for any new writer).
Excellent post. You write with the wisdom of someone twice your age. The fact that you’re clearly aware of the importance of having an editor, proofreader & pro do your covers puts you way ahead of so many Indies. These posts are always like a breath of fresh air. Keep at it.
Author: Lustmord: Anatomy of a Serial Butcher Vol. 1 (of 6)
You mean people point out to you that you are the age you tell them you are? hehe
I wouldn’t worry about it – the reverse is MUCH more likely to be a problem: it is a fact that several authors whose work I loved have faded as they age (if they are still writing). If they are ‘big’ enough, no one tells them their stuff is not publishable (Emperor has no clothes phenomenon).
As a late bloomer, I may have a lot more problems – and you have plenty of time to write more.
Maybe it’s envy – writing ’21’ is a lot easier if you ARE 21.
If you get a high proportion of such comments, you may want to do something about it (ie, run your stuff past someone a bit older). For the occasional one – just scratch your head. And bear in mind that people who leave negative comments often think they could do it better themselves – but won’t bother to try (at which point they’d probably find out that they couldn’t).
Writing is hard, and valuable. Leaving snarky comments is easy.
Thanks for the comment!
It’s not so much that I’ve had people point out I’m the age I tell them I am, more a decision to correlate value with age. Saying ‘X author is 24 and here’s my review’ and ‘X author is 24 and that IS my review’ are two different things entirely.
It’s not a huge problem as it could be — like I say, it’s a vast minority — but it does exist and I guess it’s just a topic I’ve always fancied writing about. I’ve no doubt it works in the reverse way too, just I can’t from personal experience really talk about that.
Anyway, a whole other blog post written here. Thanks again for the comment/encouragement and happy writing!
Thanks! I think it’s definitely important to integrate those people into the writing process. In the early days, it was more rare, but I think there’s a fantastic indie community now (evidenced over at KBoards’ Writers’ Cafe) with some real quality products.
Indie is the new normal, as DWS one said!
I wish I’d been as prolific and successful when I was 21. *sighs* Now, as the approaching footsteps of the big five-oh vibrate my dashboad coffee, I’m happy that I’m finally up and running – finally. My only excuse is that the world was a different place in 1985 (just ask Marty McFly!) and publishing was a great deal more difficult without blogging, eBooks and Kindles.
So enjoy your head start, grumpy reviewers aside! 🙂
And when you get to 2042, look me up, will ya?
You’re right. Ageism is ageism. Best wishes for success with your work.