There has been an interesting discussion going on at Nicola Morgan's Help! I Need a Publisher! blog on whether a publisher will accept an older author who lives in an isolated area. This leads to a much wider issue that applies equally to both young and old because both suffer the same problems from living in isolated places as do others of any age group.
The discussion started from a post on Catdownunder's blog where she described a meeting (at a party) with an unnamed publisher. Cat was introduced to the publisher as a writer – and, since she is a sensible, well-mannered writer, she avoided the subject of how to get published and stuck to social chit chat. Later the publisher came back to her and offered some advice. He told her in effect that she had no chance of being published because she was too old and lived in an isolated area (in this case Adelaide, the capital of South Australia). Apparently publishers like writers who are young and will produce multiple books, not just one or two. Even if the book is outstanding no-one would be interested because an author has to put in other work like publicity. They have to be able to go out into retail centres and schools and do book signings – and Cat would not be able to do book-signings in any case. I have no idea why he assumed this.
Now I don't know how old Cat is and I really don't care but the casual assumption that she is not a worthwhile investment bothers me – a lot. You see I know of a number of writers who have had their first books published when they were over fifty and are still writing well past what would be retirement age in other employment. Some of these writers have produced ten or more books since their first publication and many also live in isolated parts of the world (I'm assuming isolated means away from major publishing centres) They do publicize their work. They use media interviews, writing associations, websites, Facebook pages, tweets and blogs to keep in contact with their public. They visit schools and bookshops, take up writing residencies, travel to writers' festivals, genre related conventions and conferences in their hometowns and anywhere else they think might be useful, and they do book signings at home and all over the globe. They are nominated for and win major awards in their writing area.
I also know other authors (both young and old), who do none of these things. They write their books, acquire agents or publishers, send their manuscripts off and that's the limit of their involvement. They may be living in isolated places or they may live in a major city. Either way their publishers and agents may never see them. They still sell. They still win awards.
Although this discussion was sparked by the comments of a publisher to an older writer, the issues of isolation are just as relevant to others. Let's say you are a twenty year old full-time student (who is also working because you have to fund your studies – but that's an issue to talk about on another day) living in Perth, Western Australia (We like to describe our city as the most isolated capital city in the world. Look at a map and you'll see why.). Does this mean you will be excluded from consideration by an agent or publisher? You won't be available for book signings, school visits, etc etc? Maybe you are a forty something working mother or you have a disability that precludes you from travelling. Will you be able to do all the things listed by the publisher? If not does that mean your novel, even if it is good enough, will never be published?
So what do you think? Is this just the opinion of one man or is it the view of the industry? Do the old, middle-aged, disabled, isolated or young for different reasons have to abandon their hopes of publication? And if they do who exactly is going to provide the fiction of the future?