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Although the indie publishing world sometimes seems to be populated by young entrepreneurial authors, in fact a lot of writers publishing books today are at the other end of the spectrum—senior citizens.
It may be hard to pin down what exactly we mean by “older authors,” but I generally take it to mean people 50 years of age and over who haven’t published their own books before.
And this is a particularly good age for anyone who has dreamt of writing a book to actually do so. And there’s never been a better time for these people to publish, either.
Why Seniors Should Self-Publish
One way to look at the span of human development is through the lens of three major stages of life.
- The first stage, from birth to young adulthood, when we are formed and educated
- The second stage, what you would consider our “working” life, when we make our way in the world and raise a family
- The third stage, after we are done with the basics of establishing ourselves and enter into the indeterminate phase before our time runs out
It’s this third stage of life I’m talking about.
Once you’ve lived 50 or more years, you have a different perspective on life. The crazy energy and passion of youth are great memories, and the long development of skills and expertise we’ve gathered in parenting and making a living are gradually coming to an end.
Many of the normal developments of life create a positive environment for those who want to set to work putting a book into the world.
What kind of positive environment?
- Time, as the weight of worldly responsibilities begins to lift
- Disposable income, because older people have had a lifetime to save
- Skills gained during your career that may come in useful in writing and publishing
- Community, gathered from friends and shared experiences throughout life
- Technology that has brought low-risk book publishing into the realm of possibility
- Wisdom that comes from a longer perspective on life, one that only time can bestow
In addition, there are very compelling reasons seniors take to writing and publishing their own books:
- Giving back—After a lifetime of accumulating, older people often want to give something back to society, to the culture that has allowed them to thrive, or to a group our cause that has enriched their own lives. This can be a powerful motive for writing a book.
- Family legacy—A lot of seniors want to memorialize their own knowledge of their family tree and leave personal accounts of relatives who will be seen as ancestors by succeeding generations.
- Eyewitness to history—Seniors today may have lived through, been affected by, or even participated in World War II, the Korean war, the civil rights conflict, the Vietnam war, the rise of a counterculture, the advent of technology, and all the other tumultuous events of the past decades. Memoirs that revolve around these kinds of events are a great reason to publish.
- The call of the storytelling gene—Surveys consistently show that over 80% of Americans would like to write a book someday, yet few actualize this dream. However, more and more people take the leap because it has become easier, faster, and less expensive than ever before.
- Passive income for retirement—While most senior self-publisher publish for reasons that have nothing to do with profit, there are also many who would like to create additional revenue to help in retirement. This will move an author into the ranks of the entrepreneurs, but it’s a path that can work well for the right authors.
- Working on the “bucket list”—Do you have “finally write that book” on your bucket list? If so, you know your time isn’t unlimited, and that book won’t write itself, will it?
Michele DeFilippo, owner of 1106 Design, and someone who helps many seniors self-publish, tells me that “Many seniors publish a book to share the wisdom they have accumulated over a lifetime. Sometimes the books are published for personal satisfaction and distribution to family and friends only and the authors don’t expect to recoup their production costs. Other times, the authors embark on a full marketing plan to share their wisdom with a wider audience.”
Perhaps you have your own reason; an idea you came up with that you’d like to spread more widely; a unique theory of historical development; innovations you created during your working life.
Michele goes on: “Topics range from family recollections, stories of growing up in a certain region, life advice for the younger generation, or a medical professional setting down a lifetime of discoveries that were ignored by peers during a long career. The topics are endless.”
All the same benefits will accrue no matter what subject you write on, but keep in mind that the audience for some of these books is going to be very, very small.
Ruth Schwartz, a publishing expert with lots of senior clients, says “Many seniors feel compelled to write their memoirs for their family members. However, I have seen many senior memoir authors get interested in getting the word out wider than family, once the book is finished. Then there are others who have been writing for a long time in a variety of genres and feel like it is now or never, that they had better get off the dime if their books are going to see the light of day.”
Obstacles that Seniors Confront
It’s important for senior authors—for every author, really—to understand their own motivations going into the publishing process, because it’s going to take time and dedication to get to the point where you have a copy of your book in your hand.
Most of these authors I’ve dealt with over the years aren’t driven so much by the chance to make money on their books, but for the reasons mentioned above.
Judith Briles, known as The Book Shepherd, deals with many seniors who want to publish, and loves doing it. She emphasizes this point as well, saying, “I become a creative partner with my clients as the book is shaped, always with ‘how’ the book will be visually presented and marketed… narrowing down the WHO the book is for; the WHY, and CORE of what brings them to create the book; then the HOW it will be pushed out, via which marketing avenues. For me, it’s important to get on the table what the author’s true objective is and what they are willing do on his or her side to deliver it.”
The three obstacles I see most often that bedevil seniors in book publishing can be summarized:
- Technology—Let’s face it, many seniors are uncomfortable with the technology we use to produce and market our books. Simply putting up a website for the book can be a daunting challenge unless the author can learn this herself, or finds someone to help.
- Finances—Many seniors are living on a fixed income, and that may not allow for expenses like a custom professional cover design. Luckily, there are more and more low- or no-cost offers that can blunt this problem. Seniors, like all authors, need to realize that the goals they’ve set for the book should determine how the book is published.
- Confidence—If you’ve never had a “public voice” or taken a stand or put yourself out into a public arena, it’s normal to be uncertain or wary of what the effects may be. Luckily, social media sites like Facebook are giving seniors a way to experience publish “sharing” gradually.
If seniors can get over the technology problem, they will find that new publishing processes are really assets in controlling the costs and risks of book publishing. As Ruth Schwartz says, “Print on demand has certainly helped seniors (and others) move forward, actually making getting a book published a reality. That’s not how it used to be in the experience of these seniors.”
And Judith Briles points out, seniors also need to confront the question of what kind of author they want to be: “Do they just want to write? which is fine, or do they want to get their book published so others can read it? If they just want to write, I encourage them to join local writer’s groups and have fun writing. If they want to publish, then start connecting with authors who are also writing to publish or who are already published. Learn some of the ins and outs and understand that they are vulnerable to the growing number of publishing predators. Their writing time should be matched by “learning” time.”
This last point can’t be over-emphasized. Just like scammers selling fake reverse mortgage or tax schemes, there are “bad operators” in the indie publishing world, and seniors need to be educated and informed to make good decisions.
Seniors Can Write and Publish, Too!
I’m not sure it’s very well known that some of our most famous and successful authors started very late in life. Examples include Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prarie) and Frank McCourt (Angela’s Ashes) among many others.
Judith Briles says, “What’s exciting for me in working with many in the post-60 area is their enthusiasm for writing and eagerness to learn what publishing is all about. Those who come from a business background quickly ‘get’ that this is a business and their book will be a product. They are open to learning the multitude of ways to build fans and connect with them. Social media doesn’t spook them and they are open to getting help. Many have come from amazing backgrounds and have a story to tell.”
And for all those who help seniors get their books written and into print, Judith speaks to the satisfaction to be gained from this work: “For me, the ‘win’ is that I get to go through their history, marvel at their stories and experiences, and help shape them. For the authors, the pride is what they have accomplished and the mentoring that it delivers to new audiences. It tickles me as so many of the ‘silver hairs’ head to the classrooms and share their story telling gifts.”
If you’re a senior author, what has your experience been like? Let me know in the comments.