Closing in on three decades as an author writing non-fiction books for, from and about the Boomer generation, I thought my career was over. I’d recently produced what assuredly was the best of my 20-plus non-fiction books, a memoir of the tumultuous year I’d spent transiting into the wild space beyond midlife. After repeated rejections, my longtime agent and friend gave me the sad news. “Everybody’s saying the same thing. Boomers aren’t buying non-fiction books about aging unless you’re a celebrity and/or have some great anti-aging diet, financial, reinvention, fashion or health advice. Otherwise, nobody cares.”
Happily, on this occasion, my agent was proven wrong. Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn was published by Turner Publishing just in time to rise to #1 on the Kindle bestseller list in the category of aging on Mother’s Day. Of course I’m thrilled. But I’m still pondering why it is that with the superior numbers in our demographic (77.5 million in the US alone) and the impressive number of books we purchase (second only to Gen Y) why we haven’t at least rivaled let alone surpassed books about earlier life stages, such as parenting young children and books about life balance as the juiciest apple in the industry’s eye?
In a word, I believe it to be nothing more, nor less, than garden-variety ageism. After all, the interesting parts of aging to many authors of inspiration, self-help and memoir—the rising to meet the challenges of loss, the negotiation of a new life stage without a roadmap, the erosion of identity, the grappling with questions of mortality and meaning—are just too confronting to individuals who truly believe they’re going to be forever young. Like the other ism’s of our times, ageism is not logical nor defensible. Rather, it is the kneejerk response to buy into outdated images of aging that equate old with bad and young with good out of personal discomfort and professional insecurity.
Quietly, many of the Boomer-aged authors I know complain about the age of most editors, realizing that the first reader on most of our books will be our own daughters’ ages or younger. These gatekeepers naturally resonate with the sex appeal of coming-of-age stories but are rarely in a sufficiently advanced life stage to recognize the potency of coming into age—including struggling to embrace the shadow as well as the light sides of transitioning beyond midlife into old age. When they do publish a book in the category, they gravitate to titles like Younger Next Year, 10 Years Younger and of course The Life Plan: How Any Man Can Achieve Lasting Health, Great Sex, and a Stronger, Leaner Body. These and most of the other non-fiction books on the best-seller list--aren’t books about aging. These are, more to the point, books about anti-aging.
It was Turner acquisitions editor Diane Gedymin, who believed there would be a market for my life-stage appropriate book. Notably, Diane is one of those rare and precious publishing professionals who knew of my work decades ago back when I was still “Carol Osborn ” and publishing books about, yes, parenting young children and life balance, and, like me, who is still in the business.
It is precisely because I have been a cheerleader for the Boomer demographic so long, stating only what I thought was the obvious—that Boomers are important to publishing—that I can only stand back, equal parts gratitude and awe, that a mainstream publisher—Turner Publishing—actually still agrees.
So here’s to Turner, to Boomer Lit—and to the arrival of that breakthrough non-fiction book that will punch a big enough hole in the stereotypes of aging to let the best of the rest through. Meanwhile, if you, too, have found it challenging to get published by a mainstream publisher with your Boomer Lit non-anti-aging offering, especially if your earlier life-stage Boomer work has been published in the past, I’d love to hear you thoughts.
About the Author
Carol Orsborn, Ph.D., is the author of 21 books including her newest book: Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn (May 7, 2013). ). She is founder of Fierce with Age, the Online Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration and Spirituality. Dr. Orsborn, who earned her doctorate in history and critical theory of religion from Vanderbilt University, is a sought-after speaker/retreat leader and Boomer marketing consultant. Dr. Orsborn lives in Madison, Tennessee with her husband and faithful squirrel-chasing dog, Lucky.
Fierce with Age: The Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration andSpirituality