BELLINGHAM BAY, WASHINGTON STATE - APRIL 29, 2025
April 27, 2023
THE GUARDIAN, AMELIA HILL, 25 FEBRUARY, 2023
'Things are definitely opening up': the rise of older female writers
Unpublished authors in their 60s, 70s and 80s are now at a premium in the book world – with radical, edgy women in high demand
The literary world is often accused of an obsession with youth, from multiple awards targeted at authors under 40 to publishers who hunt for new voices exclusively among young writers with a thriving – and instantly marketable – social media following.
But all that is changing, experts say: older, unpublished writers are now at a premium – with radical, edgy women aged into their 80s particularly sought-after.
Cherry Potts, the founder of the independent publisher Arachne Press, said: "There has been a sea change in publishers' understanding and acceptance of older women's experience and their voices, which are no longer dismissed as safe or cosy.
"It started with small presses like us but our ripple is now working through to the industry as a whole," said Potts, who has recently published debut works from women aged 70 to 85 and in October will publish a menopause-themed anthology.
Importantly, Potts added, there is a "very willing readership" for the work of older women "including that most elusive of reader: the white middle-aged man".
There are very few literary awards to help older writers break into the industry. But this is starting to change: in May, Jenny Brown Associates is launching a prize for debut writers over the age of 50.
Lisa Highton, an associate agent at Jenny Brown Associates and a former publisher, said: "It's now almost an advantage to be coming into publishing for the first time at a senior age with an amazing story. That's almost saleable in its own right.
"The publishing world is working hard to normalise and celebrate the vast diversity of women over 45 and to value their collected, distilled wisdom, their lifetime of reading and radicalism that is not possible for younger writers," she added.
"The book world is working hard because it's in our interest," she said. "The vast majority of books are bought by women aged 45 and above. They're a hugely important demographic and increasingly, want to see themselves represented in books."
The new interest in older female writers has been given momentum by recent high-profile successes: two of the bestselling books sold last year were by older women, The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller and the debut novel by Bonnie Garmus, Lessons in Chemistry.
Other lauded debuts by older women – all of which have been heavily promoted by their publishers – include A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe, Trespasses by Louise Kennedy, The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn, Wahala by Nikki May and Go As A River by Shelley Read.
Jane Aldous, who had her publishing debut recently, aged 68, said: "Things are definitely opening up for older female writers. Everything feels like it's up for grabs."
Anna Fodorova, published for the first time at 77, said that while she was previously told by agents that she needed 40,000 followers on social media to get a book deal, "the distinct voice of the older woman is now seen as saleable, commercial".
Benedicte Page, deputy editor at The Bookseller magazine, agreed. "It's a well-rehearsed issue that the industry is often too focused on new, inexperienced, young debut writers at the expense of older writers but this is changing," she said.
Lesley Kerr recently had her first story published at 52 years old. "My story isn't only written by an older woman but it's about an older woman, too," said Kerr, who is now writing her first novel. "That's two things that might, in the past, have worked against it.
"I was stunned to be published at my age," she said. "I absolutely felt that you had to be discovered when you were younger. But I've realised that not only isn't my age a barrier, the fact that my writing is based on experience and mature reflection is really welcomed and valued."