Two publications take predictable stances on beautiful & young/old & wise authors. The Boston Phoenix has this article on the new hotness, remarkably free of interesting excerptable material; you’re stuck with this:
Literature, unlike so many other media industries, is technically a meritocracy. But that won’t stop book marketers, bloggers, critics, and the literary community at large from collectively slobbering over a pretty author. No, the literary rules changed ages ago. Books no longer need to be serious in order to be published; there are fewer and fewer venues available for reviews (rendering competition more intense with every passing catalogue season), and critics aren’t doing their job unless they are merciless. Perhaps as a response to all of this, publishers have begun to count on their authors to do double-duty — to act as sex symbols as well.
The definition of beauty worship is still evolving, but if you thought phrases such as chick-lit or post-apocalyptic were annoying, wait until bloggers and reviewers start pegging authors as everything from “Lit Boys” (WASP-y Ivy League graduates with floppy hair who’ve written yet another coming-of-age book) to “literary wunderkinds” (they’re changing the state of fiction as we know it, right here, right now, grab your inhalers!) to “literary ingénues” (so endearingly innocent they’ll wrap you and your $24.95 hardcover book budget around their soft little finger). Armed with such superlatives, many of these writers go on to be inducted, from the first flush of their careers, into the postmodern canon of Hot Young Authors. Every published writer is bound to receive a varying amount of raves and pans, sure, but this group is special: each has been held to scrutiny not simply because of the hype their books have received, but because it has been suggested that their youth and appearance have given them an advantage that a less striking yet more gifted writer would never achieve.
Essentially, some young authors are hot and maybe this plays a part in their success, maybe not. The word "bodice" is used. Is being Young and Hot (and Author) now postmodern? They appear to have gone to Linklater’s Waking Life/Scanner Darkly rotoscoping team for the Freudenberger photo; does this mean she is less attractive unless animated? These aspects of the new hotness are confusing.
The Guardian, stodgy old codgers, they think everyone under 30 should be banned from publishing a novel. (Full disclosure: I am thirty-three, and my novel remains unpublished.) (And unwritten.) (I’ve thought about it, though.) They are displeased with the flatness of the new hotness:
So why is it that our bookshelves and book columns are filled with work by young and talented but underdeveloped writers? One quote from an unnamed publisher will probably suffice: "When I saw the new writer was under 30 and very photogenic, I breathed a sigh of relief." The majority of publishers do not want to publish great books by older, maybe less attractive authors. Sex sells, beauty sells, and – wouldn’t you know it – youth sells. Look around at the current crop of much-vaunted young writers, male and female: there’s not an ugly duckling among them. Coincidence? Perhaps, but go to their work and it just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The writing is as flat as the paper it is printed on.
Ultimately, publishers and marketing folk have to take some responsibility for this systematic denigration of our precious culture. Brilliant writers will be lost forever, and publishing young, not-yet-ready authors and hyping them into oblivion does the writers themselves few favours. Where do they go from there? If they are told they are good when they’ve yet to develop, how can they judge the validity of everything they do afterwards?
I’ve got to agree, though I’ve been lucky enough to read a few of the exceptions that are out there. However: publishers of a smaller nature (read: independent) are savvy enough to be open to older writers, and thus carry some of the more interesting works being published. Thankfully. (Which is why I follow their catalogs.)