Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Getting Published as a Teen

This is a question that came up in the discussion of another post: Can you get published when you’re a teenager? It’s something that I wondered about—that I hoped for—as a teen, so I’m guessing there are a few of you out there who’d like to know the answer.

Here’s why it’s difficult:

You have to be every bit as good as writers who have spent years and years honing their craft. People who have gotten creative writing degrees in college, who have spent money to go to writers’ conferences and seminars. And people who have lots of life experience to draw on.

I remember about five years ago when I read an article about a group of teen girls who’d written a novel for teens. In the interview, they were quoted as saying something along the lines of how it seemed dumb to them that only 30-year-olds were writing for teens when they (fellow teenagers) understood them so much better.

I don’t remember any of the girls’ names. I don’t remember the title of the book. I remember nothing except what appeared to me as an obvious marketing ploy. The publishing house, whoever they were, saw a great marketing angle and took it. My guess is—and since I don’t remember names, I could be totally wrong on this—none of these girls have a writing career five years later. And my guess is that you would rather have a career as a writer than become some marketing strategy.

Here’s why you might not really want to be published just yet:

I know it sounds like crazy talk, but bear with me.

1. Being a published writer is totally different than I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome. But it’s hard. I’m not talking about the writing part. The writing part is a breeze. If that was all I had to do, how sweet life would be. But guess what? Books don’t just land on bookstore shelves and sell themselves. Selling those books is up to me. Yeah, my publisher does marketing stuff too, like ads in magazines, but I’m not their only author. This means the bulk of marketing efforts (and marketing expenses) fall to me.

2. Unfortunately, there’s no IQ test for posting reviews on Amazon.com. Oh, if only there were… Same goes with blogs. Anybody—anybody—can start a book reviewing blog and say whatever moronic thing they want about your book. In high school, this would have totally crushed me. But after spending several years in a critique group, going through the horrendous process of finding an agent, my skin has thickened.

3. Time. Wow, does this job suck away the time. And if a publishing house signs you, they’re expecting you to treat this like a job. Much like you have school that demands your time and attention, I have a 2-year-old daughter who demands mine. When she’s sleeping, I’m working. I work evenings, weekends, whatever it takes to make deadlines and stay on top of my very demanding job. Guys … this isn’t something you need in high school. Or even college. Those are days for staying up too late and sleeping past noon. For spending countless hours playing Wii. Being an author is not a pressure you need.

Okay, so then what’s the point of even trying…?

If you’re like me, the above points were really discouraging and you’re contemplating not even trying anymore. DON’T DO IT. No, none of the stuff I wrote in high school got published. Yeah, it all sucks. But if I hadn’t been so focused on writing in high school, I never would’ve received my first book contract at such a young age. (Twenty-four.) You learn more with each word you write, with each story you plot, with each manuscript you complete. If you’re serious about writing, do it. Write.

Obviously, I think there’s great purpose in writing as a teenager. It’s why I started this blog. It’s why I care about questions and fears and concerns that you have. Please feel free to e-mail me.


  1. Some good tho'ts there, Stephanie! Keep up the good work.

  2. The time thing's a great point, Stephanie. Certainly not one I considered when I was 15 and trying to find a publisher. =) And not that I stayed up late and slept till noon as a teen, but there were always other pulls on my time.

    I was kinda amazed when I got to college, had a killer workload, and looked back over the past year or two. Once I really had to prioritize my time, it made me wonder what in the world I'd done with it back when I had some, LOL.

  3. I have another question: What if I did not try to publish my book on a teen, but kept working on it all through the years, until it was finished -- and then, sometime later, sent it in -- probably about a thousand times different that is now -- but do you think it's possible to get a book written when you were 13 when you started it? :)

  4. Emii, in short - yes. I have books that I started as a teen that eventually might see the light of day.

    The biggest challenge with that is pretty much interest. As I've learned more and more about the craft of writing, I find myself much more interested in writing new projects than I do editing old ones.

    I said this somewhere else (maybe our original discussion of this?) but the book that snagged the attention of Roseanna's literary agent is one she started at age 15. (Or 12? I can never remember.) The point is, in her teen years.

    So, yes. Totally possible.

  5. Lol, Roseanna. Same thing happens when you have kids, doesn't it?

  6. What, kids, take up your time?? (Says the mother who just spent her afternoon with a fussy boy on her lap who WOULD NOT BUDGE for anything.)

    As for my teen project . . . the book that was originally known as GOLDEN SUNSET, SILVER TEAR was begun at 12, finished at 13. Rewritten the summer I turned 14. Rewritten again at 18. Rewritten one final time at 24, at which point I redubbed it FIRE EYES, and with which I indeed landed an agent. I have complete faith, Emii, that it will be published someday. It's good enough now, and just waiting for interest in Victorians to resurge. =)

  7. Now, THAT, Roseanna, is totally cool.

  8. Hi, Stephanie! So I should really not try to publish it now? I'm not a very patient person, and I've been working on this since August...it seems painful to file it away for another few years. I also feel like I have more of an advantage at a younger age; that it would interest more people, to see what a 16-year-old can do, rather than wait till I'm older, when "good writing" is just expected. What are your thoughts?

  9. Claire,

    There's absolutely nothing wrong with trying. Like you read in my post on how I got published, I tried to get published in high school as well. Like you said, it's painful to think of filing it away for another couple years :) And you'll never regret trying, whereas you might regret not trying.

    I had similar thoughts about people being interested to see what a 16-year-old could do. (Or in my case, a 17-year-old.) Sometimes, I think my age helped garner interest ... but the comment I always got was, "For your age, this is great." So the thing is that it has to be great regardless of your age.

    The only thing I lost by trying to get published in high school was some of my pride. Frankly, I don't miss it :) So go for it.

  10. Thank you! I could try, because I am aware of a couple of other young girls who have published. Do you have any ideas for agents? (Sorry about all the questions)

  11. Depends on what genre your book is. And questions are the point of the blog :)

  12. It's a fantasy book. :) But it definitely has a very wide mix in it.

  13. http://www.agentquery.com/ is a good place to start, Claire. Let me get some resources together, and I'll post more on this Tuesday.

  14. Such an old post, but really helpful. If I was to be a published teen author, I would have the stress of trying to get good grades in high school to get into a duel enrollment program and writing books, then have the pressure of doing college and high school and writing books.