Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Oprah's Book Editor Told Me

Bluestocking wrote:

I’ve heard if you don’t publish by 30, you won’t make someone who’s barely clinging to what’s left of my twenties, statements like these strike fear in my heart.
As someone who graduated from Harvard when I was 20, I once feared the best was in the past...but no longer.  Let me tell you why:

In 2009 I went to the Literary Writers Conference in NYC - my first conference.  The panel that inspired me the most was Anatomy of a First Novel with Eugenia Kim, who talked about her debut The Calligrapher's Daughter.

I came up to her afterward and told her what an inspiration she was to me as a debut author who is NOT 20 years old.

Sophia the Fangirl: Everyone I went to Harvard with is already published, and I'm almost 30.

And you know what happened?

Sara Nelson, the books editor for O Magazine and former editor-in-chief of Publishers Weekly, who had been moderating the panel, jumped in and said to me:
They've peaked already!

Eugenia added:

I didn't publish until I was over *NOT 20*

(age redacted for privacy)

Ms. Nelson's quip was possibly the most encouraging thing I could hear at the beginning of my fiction career.  From that moment on, I didn't give one more thought to my classmates who took a different path than I.  They got MFAs and moved in with their parents/worked at their parents' companies until they made it.

I went to Hollywood with ZERO contacts and made a living as a film and TV actor - and hey, I had several plays and solo shows produced on both coasts.  So technically, I did work as a creative writer fresh out of college.

So pish posh to anyone who thinks us geezers have no chance. :)

I'll leave you with my favorite quote from Cindy Lauper on an episode of Celebrity Apprentice.  She said to a burgeoning country singer:

Nothing really happened for me until after 30.
 We got plenty of time, baby.


  1. Thanks Sophia! This post makes me feel so much better. I know it's silly to put an arbitrary deadline on creative endeavors, but my scaredy cat inner editor likes to be soul crushing. Glad to know I'm not the only who has dealt with this issue. "They've peaked already" -- I love it! I'm still growing everyday!

  2. I'll be 32 by the time my book hits shelves, so I'm already over the age limit, lol. :)

    Most writers I know did OTHER things besides write when they got out of college because--hello--some of us needed to support ourselves. I think there are probably many more second career writers out there then there are people who haven't done anything but write since college. It's never too late--well, unless you're dead. :)

  3. So stupid to make a statement like that. Read "Late Bloomers" in What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell and you'll feel better too. It appears some people are ready young and others need to develop their craft. I'm in the latter category!

  4. Plenty of time. I've had this conversation with quite a few writers/creative types. It's never to late. It really isn't. And girl, you are YOUNG!

  5. I love this, Sophia. It gives me a lot of hope and confidence that I'm not the only one with those fears. Never put a time stamp on creativity!

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Gee whiz! I'm so touched and very pleased for you. And thank you for redacting my ripe right-ancientness, which, being of Asian descent, is a proud thing when one becomes the elder. Go Sophia! ~Eugenia

  7. This is indeed fantastic advice, and it makes me feel better because I do often freak out as I inch further and further away from the college-ages.

    And OMG yes, I'm in the SGV, but isn't that where all the SoCal Taiwanese peeps are at? Haha. I don't think I was in that long-o line at Borders though. Missed that 40% off coupon!

  8. I'm 31 this year, so that does make me feel a lot better. Plus, there are loads of authors out that didn't publish until after their 20's. What does anyone know in their 20's anyhow?

  9. What I love about this is that you ARE pursuing your dream at a young age. For me, I did grad. school, work and children before I got serious about writing. I couldn't have handled the rejection or discipline in my 20s, but I do wish I'd started this long apprenticeship earlier.

    It's so cool when people find and pursue their passions in their 20s, but in the end, I feel like there's a plan for our lives. Things happen at the right time. May this be your season of success in writing!

  10. It was the 70-something screenwriter of "The King's Speech" that quipped about being a late bloomer the other night. My personal heroine (and not for her politics) is Sandra Day O'Connor--she didn't really begin working until she'd raised her children.

  11. Amen to this post...there is more to come indeed!! Thanks Sophia!


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