I am honoured to be part of the WOW! Women of Writing Blog Tour for Linda Jämsén’s memoir Odyssey of Love. .
Today Linda is visiting my blog for a wonderful guest post about the pros and cons of publishing as a midlife author .
The Perks and Perils of Publishing in Midlife
When I first started to write my recently released memoir, Odyssey of Love, I was in my late forties and had no inkling that my words would one day be released into the world. At that time, I was teaching English in Helsinki, where I lived with my Finnish husband, and my focus was on settling down in my newly adopted country. Writing was purely a form of therapy I engaged in after the unexpected death of my father weeks before my wedding.
At first, I penned vignettes about my dad, such as imagining the father-daughter dance that never was. Then, I started writing about people I had met while living in Budapest prior to meeting my husband, including some of the comical situations and romantic close calls I’d encountered as an American expat. These musings later became chapters in Odyssey of Love, although it took some years to string them together.
Feeling a bit bolder as I entered my fifties, I workshopped the first chapter of Odyssey at a pitch session in New York City to gauge initial reactions. After receiving positive feedback, I contemplated finding a literary agent and pursuing the traditional publishing route. However, I still wasn’t sure how comfortable I felt sharing such a personal story. I needed time to mull over that decision.
Time was the biggest advantage I had as an aspiring midlife author. I didn’t feel pressured to publish to make money (not that that’s a realistic goal), as I was financially secure and already had had several careers. I could also take my time with editing, let scenes settle, and come back to them weeks later without worrying about deadlines.
Over the next several years, a series of family challenges and an eye illness set me back. Unable to use the computer due to light sensitivity, I found refuge in my first love—music—by singing in several choruses and playing piano. While I continued to write in my diaries and pen poetry, my manuscript was never far from my thoughts. With a heavy heart, I wondered if I’d ever be able to complete it.
As my eyes slowed healed, I reunited with my computer, revised my manuscript, and hired a professional editor. A few writer’s conferences and meetings with literary agents later, I decided to self-publish Odyssey of Love. Even though professionals had warned that the industry was “flooded with memoir” and suggested I fictionalize the entire story, I was not deterred and would do it my way. Likewise, if Odyssey was “too similar to Eat, Pray, Love,” well, that was a compliment in my book.
Last fall, with all my concerts and rehearsals canceled, I decided it was time for Odyssey to take flight. So many people were struggling and suffering during the pandemic, and I thought that if even a few were touched or helped by reading about my personal experiences, then it was worth the investment in time and resources. I enrolled in an online marketing course for indie authors, which revealed the steep learning curve I faced with social media as a midlifer. Upon hearing the words “instagrammer” and “bookstagrammer,” I felt about 100 years old. Even though I was active on my Instagram social account, I’d no idea Instagram was a magnet for drawing book lovers and authors together. The instructor advised me to set up an author account, which seemed premature as I didn’t even have a book launch date. I also cringed when I noticed that most book-related accounts were geared toward thirtysomethings. However, because my book is targeted at women included in that age group, I began posting and engaging. To my delight, Odyssey continues to be reviewed and recommended by “influencers.” Who knew?
In the end, I wound up hiring the company that ran the course to help me self-publish and promote Odyssey. I’m grateful that I was able to afford this professional assistance, an expensive “splurge” I never could have taken in my youth.
Yes, there are benefits to publishing at “a certain age” if you are ready to face the challenges and constantly be willing to learn and adapt. (Next up: BookTok.) Overall, it’s been a joy to be immersed in a new creative outlet when many people my age are dreaming of retirement. I agree with Betty Friedan that: “Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”
If you are considering publishing in midlife, I encourage you and wish you a lot of luck!
Thank you so much Linda for this fascinating post on the pros and cons of publishing as a midlife author. You’ve given me much to think about as an older author.
Be sure to check out all the stops along the way for this book tour.