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Friday, June 7, 2013

Guest Post from Boomer Lit Author Carol Orsborn, Ph.D.

Boomer Lit Non-Fiction: Coming Into Age

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 Rather, it is the kneejerk response to buy into outdated images of aging that equate old with bad and young with good out of personal discomfort and professional insecurity.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




  1. I couldn't agree more your insights, Carol. The gatekeepers in publishing aren't thinking about the purchasing power of baby-boomers when they make their decisions. One can only hope that the sales of books like yours will show them they were wrong and open the door for more great boomer lit!

  2. Carol, your time - our time - has come! I should add: it has come of age. I tried to do the same thing with my boomer novel A Hook in the Sky and got nowhere with traditional publishers or agents. Unlike you, I had been traditionally published in Italy (a children's book first, then a paranormal/historical romance) and didn't have an American agent. I met a good one some three years ago who seemed interested then withdrew, I don't know why, possibly due to my age - I certainly don't look like a teenager and I've learned since that a 50+ year-old author is considered "old" in the industry!

    For whatever reason, she didn't take me on and I was left to fend for myself to try and enter the American market. Being an economist, I was convinced that my novel about a retiree-turned-artist to the dismay of his much younger wife would resonate with anyone facing retirement and would naturally appeal to Baby Boomers entering that stage in their life: this book was written with that demographic in mind! But how to reach them? I tried AARP and quickly got very depressed: these guys aren't interested in books! If they are, their magazine hides it well, there's no section about books and reading anywhere, just occasionally a review of a non-fiction book with the kind of rah-rah advice you mention.

    So I turned to the Kindle Fora and managed to get them to agree to start a thread for listing boomer books. After that initial (very modest) success, I tried Goodreads and created (that was back in October 2012) a group to discuss Boomer books, all kinds, including poetry, memoirs and guides. So far so good, the group grew very fast and is now almost 400 member-strong.

    But I noticed a worrying tendency among many group members to take extreme anti-aging positions that are more denial than anything else. They are certainly not constructive approaches to handling age gracefully and getting the most out of it, even though the Third Act in Life is blessed with self-discovery and happiness if you only would look for it.

    So to come across someone like you with your philosophy on life is a pure moment of joy for me! Finally, here is someone truly mature and intelligent, capable of seeing and pursuing happiness in the last stage in life without wringing hands in despair. What a relief!

    Your book is topmost on my TBR list!

    1. Hi Claude, I know your work and recognize you as a fellow revolutionary! I'm honored. And yes, too many Boomers are in denial about the shadow side. It's impossible to become whole unless one embrace the entirety of the human condition. There are many like-minded spirits (not necessarily writers) gathering at Fierce with Age, my online Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration and Spirituality. (free.) I scout the web looking for the best content about spirituality and aging, and there's actually quite a few of us waking up simultaneously. Thanks, again.

  3. So - I've been noodling an idea with this group on Goodreads. I put my old corporate hat on this morning as I read this wonderful Friday entry. With this great blog, I think we have planted the seeds of creating our own press - not to physically create the books, but to offer a solid marketing platform for boomer books. We can then become the "book section" for boomer websites through partnerships. It would allow us to economize our individual marketing efforts and connect with readers directly as a group. A vetted-out collective of great boomer books in different sub-genres might help us climb the walls of AARP, the Boomer association, and many other rich wells of eager readers. This is becoming a trend with author groups who have become frustrated with traditional publishing. An example is Windtree Press. Their model is an interesting one. Here's their link:

    What do you say? I'm game!

    1. You're really onto something. If you lead, I'm certain others will follow. Let me know if you proceed.

  4. Traditional publishing is now a very top heavy industry that is about nothing but the bottom line. Even celebrity authors bomb out and don't make the money that is expected. And self help does seem to demand that you get something out of it that will make you a bit happier. Few seem to equate getting old with a good time.
    Also there is that group that simply isn't interested in looking back. I, personally, have no interest in any kind of memoir. The best is fiction with protags in my age group showing that 50 to 100 is the best of years and old age shouldn't start until 101.
    But that's just me.

    1. Hi Patg, thanks for chiming in. Here's responses to your points. 1.) There's a difference between people who have devoted years to honing writing skill, expertise and track-records in non-fiction/self-help vs. a celebrity who seizes the occasion opportunistically (often with a ghost writer.) When the book doesn't sell well, publishers say "see, even Celebs can't sell a book on the subject of aging." 2.) Mature spirituality is an opportunity to go beyond aiming for a good time, and developing depth, wisdom, empathy and so on. I know you're saying that this escapes most people, but I believe there will be a point when demographically speaking, we will be at a "we can't deny we're getting old" anymore turning point and people will actually seek guidance about coming into age, just as we sought guidance in the 60's and 70's about coming of age. 3) My memoir is about one year that occurred a couple of years ago when I was 63. For women younger than that, the memoir will help them look forward to facing, confronting and triumphing over their fears (for women the same age and older, it's hopefully affirming. 4) Huzzah to all the wonderful fiction with protags 50-100. Actually, I haven't read any where the heroine is 90 plus. Recommendations? Thanks again.

  5. You give inspiration to all of us in this demographic. Weren't we the group who drove the marketing of fashion, social trends and everything else as we grew older?
    Why not now?

    1. Thanks for your note. Jan has a good point about this below...


  6. I love that phrase "coming into age" as opposed to "coming of age." It's funny. I watch my twenty-something children and their friends who think they're in the prime of life, but little do they know, it gets better. Experience can give us the distance to embrace the beauty and ignore the noise. I'm glad you were able to find an acquisitons editor who understood this.

    1. Sounds like you've gone through the dark tunnel and out the other side. Most people don't want to deal with their fears and ultimate concerns en route to the beauty you are referencing. Thanks for your thoughts.

  7. Thanks, Carol, for your always-provocative and reflection-inspiring posts. Re aging and old age, when a Pew Research Center asked people when old age starts, people between the ages of 50 - 64 said 72, and those 65 and older said 74. In fact, only 35% of those over 75 said they "feel" old. So, although the demographics are there when it comes to aging, it's what's in peoples' minds that count. So the demographic available to buy a book about aging isn't as big as we think, because so many people don't think of themselves in that category! Behavioral economists have a term for this: it's called the "overconfidence bias." Same reason 60% of people think they look younger than other people their age, and why 90% of people think they are better than average drivers. Kind of the Lake Wobegon effect.

    1. Thanks, Jan. Yes, it's true. Most Boomers are in denial. The "forever young", anti-aging bias sells lots of products, but does nothing to prepare us for making the most of the coming years. Those of us who hang on to attempting to be masters of the universe longest are least prepared for when things inevitably slip out of our control. People would benefit greatly from a tremendous shift in personal as well as societal consciousness in which feeling old is actually reframed as an exciting time of life in its own right. I have personally come to think of aging as a mystical path, the lessening of ego and increasing inner freedom. This is certainly not a project for beginners, however. That said, I do hope the folks of Lake Wobegon prepare to make the most of older age before it's too late to make up for lost time. Thanks for your atta girl. Means a lot.