Monday, August 21, 2006

Age, Looks and Publishing

An article in today’s New York Times is interesting and probably will stir up some controversy. It’s already getting the attention of bloggers, like Jason Pinter. The article is about the debut book by Marisha Pessl, or more specifically, about the way Pessl looks.

You may be thinking, what the hell does that have to do with anything?

The idea has been put forth that Pessl got the six figure deal for the book because she’s young and attractive. The Times article points out, though, the book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, has been getting good reviews and is expected to appear on the New York Times extended best-seller list.

There has always been a grumbling about how youth-oriented the publishing industry is. Not as prevalent as it is in Hollywood, but definitely there. Even Miss Snark addresses the issue in her blog and admits to an age bias. Just as the age of an author can affect the deal as well as the house’s marketing push, so looks can influence decisions.

But if you’re young and pretty, does it also influence sales? Do bookstore browsers ever rate a book higher than another choice because they like the author’s cover picture?

But even more important to the thousands and thousands of unpublished authors, do looks hurt the chances of getting an agent? Would looks stop an editor from making an offer on a manuscript?

There are plenty of authors who never even see their agent or editor. So how could it influence them? They may not meet them in person, but agents and editors are internet savvy and know how to google someone. Most people, if they have a website or a blog, have pictures up. And clearly some agents and editors ask for a pic upfront. Yes, there are agents who want a picture of you BEFORE they’ll sign you.

There are those who say it’s not how you look, or how old you are, or even whether you can write a good query letter … it’s the writing that sells. Perhaps that’s the bottom line, whether you can write. But don’t think for a moment it’s the only thing.

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