Further Ruminations on “Hot Young Author Chick Syndrome”

By Carmen Comment

Remember the time when it was almost impossible to get a novel published if you were under 40? Remember when author photos were nixed if you looked too young for a serious endeavor? Yeah, I don’t either, but I have it on pretty good authority that’s what publishing was like in the thirty years after World War II. And then the photogenic boom set in and now we get articles like the cover story of this week’s Boston Phoenix about why authors must look goooooooood to get published. All the usual suspects – Pessl, Kunkel, Krauss & Foer, Freudenberger, Vachon – are namechecked and analyzed for why their looks helped get them a big publishing contract (a topic Ron covered in similar detail for Writer’s Digest last year.)

“It’s easier in life to be attractive. That’s reductive but true,” says HarperCollins editor Gail Winston to Sharon Steel. “On the other hand, a brilliant book by an author who is not young and not attractive isn’t going to fail. It’s just, I think that those other books – for those reasons, those authors maybe get a little bit of an advantage.” But Gawker’s Emily Gould wishes the story was a little different. “The combination of fair-to-middling – or even strong but underdeveloped – talent with attractiveness and youth seems to be eternal catnip to publishers, if not reading audiences, and I think that’s a shame. What I am deeply, passionately opposed to is all the ridiculous praise that’s heaped on just-okay books because of the looks and pedigree and other accomplishments of their authors.”

Another feeling the adulation and backlash is Katherine Taylor (first talked about here last fall when I speculated she was a good bet for a Starbucks pick, which didn’t happen.) “I haven’t had a very long career as a writer, but while I was publishing stories, and when I got this book contract [for RULES FOR SAYING GOODBYE, published last spring by FSG] nobody knew what I looked like or who I was at all. My appearance had nothing to do with anything,” Taylor says. “But I’m not terribly concerned…The book is there, the book is always going to be there…I think the book stands on its own. All the noise surrounding it is just noise. I feel like whatever you have to do to get your book in the cultural conversation is all fair,” Taylor continues. “Because the bottom line is, you’ve put so much of yourself and so many years of your life into what you’re doing. The greatest tragedy would be if nobody noticed.”