“A 60 year old female protagonist is an automatic problem with most mainstream publishers who prefer much younger characters.”

This is part of the email response I got yesterday morning from a New York literary agent, who shall remain nameless. I read it on my IPhone, while my husband and I were driving back to San Francisco from a quick weekend trip to Los Angeles. The thumbs-on-phone approach wouldn’t work for my reply, and I wouldn’t have time to write back on my computer until later in the evening. But I had plenty of time to think about it the challenge it presented. Those “fighting words” were a clarion call to action!

If this male agent is correct, do “mainstream publishers” have a clue as to why their industry is on the skids? To state the obvious, there are millions of 60 (and 60+) year old female readers. Baby Boomer marketing is as hot as we are!

The whole agent thing is an approach-avoidance issue with me. I tried to get one in my quest to have AFTER THE AUCTION published in the traditional “mainstream publisher” way. And here and there I take another stab at that route as I work on the next book. My years in business taught me about gatekeepers, and on the path to a conventional book deal agents are the first line of defense. If you interest one in your work, they’re supposed to become advocates. But hooking one is not so easy. Candidly, they usually say my writing fails to impress. Well, okay, I’ve learned to live with far greater rejection than that. Of course, readers way beyond six degrees of separation of family and friends have enjoyed the book. But those who don’t, including agents, well, isn’t that why there are chocolate and…strawberry?

But to say that women of a certain age aren’t interesting to publishers?

Instantly, I remembered an interview in 1980, when I was looking for my first job in the investment business, a major career shift from marketing/PR/journalism at a time when I badly needed a better job. One local office manager at a then prominent (now defunct, like so many others) national firm told me, “No regional manager would ever hire a woman with a six year old child.” Today that would be grounds for a juicy lawsuit. A few weeks later another manager took a chance on me, and the rest is history.

I wasn’t anywhere near 60 then, but it’s all part of the same phenomenon. Discrimination.

Now, I’m not the kind of person who sees Nazis or the Klan or Male Chauvinist Pigs around every corner, but today you’d think at least political correctness would deter statements like the agent made. Or maybe, to be fair and extremely generous, this isn’t what the agent thinks is right, but he was just taking me into his confidence by sharing an ugly truth about publishing industry reality.

This is a time when even Hollywood is managing to find good roles for women of a certain age. Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Judi Dench, Diane Keaton–I rest that case.

Which brings me to the juxtaposition of yesterday’s morning email and the event I attended last night, back here in San Francisco. It was a kickoff event of a conference on women’s economic self-sufficiency sponsored by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, part of an APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) summit here this week. I tried to get into this conference playing all my political and volunteer cards: HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, a Hillary/Bill “cause”) USA vice-chair; American Jewish Committee Asia-Pacific Institute board member; NCJW ex-national board member. Contacts with my congressperson, Nancy Pelosi’s, DC office. Nada, no dice. Nothing worked. Until I got an email from A Band of Wives, a women’s networking/action/support group I recently joined after learning about when I went to a political event, and everyone I met there seemed to be a member.

Last night’s sponsor was Friends of the SF Commission on the Status of Women. After presentations by corporate, anti-trafficking and political representatives, we saw the documentary, “Miss Representation,” a powerful look at media treatment of women that reinforces stereotypes about women regarding issues ranging from body image to political power to aging (a stunning actress “encouraged” to have botex injections). The filmmaker is Jennifer Seibel Newsom, wife of our ex-mayor and current California Lt. Governor, Gavin Newsom, herself a stunning blonde, former actress AND Stanford MBA (a credential she was encouraged to leave off her Hollywood resumé).

To say the least, it was like an exclamation point to my reaction to the agent’s statement.

Stay tuned…


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