by Rachel Coker, teen writer extraordinaire (Stephanie added that part.)
Hey kids! How’s it going, pip-squeaks? Wassup, youngstas? Argh, don’t you just hate it when people (grown-ups) say things like that to you? They may think they’re being funny or endearing or (shiver) hip, but it doesn’t always come across that way.
Nothing is harder than earning respect from adults. Especially if you are a teenage author.
I think there are a lot of different reasons why adults, specifically in the professional field, tend to dismiss teenagers as not being capable of the same responsibilities and opportunities as those twenty-one and older. I’m not sure what it’s like to view the youth of America from the eyes of a fifty-two year old male, but I’m pretty sure all the bubble-gum snapping girls with ponytails run together.
And no matter how loudly you protest, “But I’m different! I’m, like, responsible!”, all they’ll hear is the unnecessary verb in your second sentence. Sad, but true.
When I first set out on my quest to be published, my age was very clearly one of the biggest obstacles facing me. Because, to be honest, I was just a fifteen-year-old kid. What did I know about life or writing great works of literature? What was there about me that would make a big company like Zondervan turn around and take notice?
The more I thought about that question, the more I realized the answer was nothing. I was another one of those ponytail-rocking teenage girls who uses the word “like” way too much and calls everyone over the age of eighteen “sir” and “ma’am” when she gets nervous. But, even though I realized this about myself, I knew that I had to do better. I had to come across as someone professional and adult-like. Someone that the adults in the publishing world could be comfortable working with.
While I am the first to admit that I am anything but a well-articulated, impressive young woman, I do have some tips to share about how to fake it pretty well. I’ve only been working with adults for less than a year, but here are some pointers I’ve picked up about how to get them to take you seriously:
Learn How to Express Yourself Well Through Writing
I am definitely not the best public speaker in the world (although I’m working on it!), but one of the few things I am good at is writing. If you’re good at writing as well, congratulations! You’ve probably got it made. Because ninety percent of the work I do is through emails. So I’ve learned to express my thoughts to my contacts at Zondervan through short, concise emails. If I don’t like something, I’ve discovered how to politely tell them so. If I have another idea or concept for how something should look, I describe it as best I can. The better you are at explaining your thoughts and feelings through (short!) emails, the more the adults you are working with will grow to respect and value you.
One other free tip: Always use spellcheck. Always.
If You Are Supposed to Do Something, Do It
This may seem totally, smack-your-forehead obvious, but it is something that took me a while to learn. If someone from Zondervan asks me to do something, I have learned to do it, and to do it fast. It’s embarrassing to get emails asking why things haven’t been turned in days after their deadlines. Not only is it embarrassing to me to have to explain why I didn’t do what they wanted me to, but it makes me look bad. It lowers their trust in me. If an agent, publisher, or any other adult you may be working with asks you for something, get it to them ASAP. You will come across as pulled-together, prompt, and dependable.
Try To Cut Back on the Teen-Lingo
I tend to be very sarcastic and youthful on my blog, but that is mostly because I know that my primary audience is teenagers. I try to keep a very different tone when interacting with agents, publicists, or editors. Throwing around words like “totally sweet”, “awesome”, or “epic” just doesn’t look good in work-related emails. No matter how much I overuse those words in my everyday life, they don’t have a place in my professional vocabulary.
Obviously, no teenager is perfect and you may slip up every now and then (I certainly have—especially when I get excited—I’m pretty sure I have abused exclamation points on several occasions). Hopefully the people you are working with will remember that you are a teenager and have a right to exclamation points, but for the most part try to keep it professional.
React to Criticisms With Graciousness
There’s a reason why people call complainers “cry-babies”. It’s because there is nothing professional or adult-like about someone throwing a hissy fit. If someone in the publishing or writing world has some criticism to offer about your book, you should listen to them and respond graciously. Whether or not you agree with what they have to say really doesn’t matter. Instead, listen with an open ear and be willing to make changes if it means improving their work.
Maintaining a gracious tone when someone criticizes or even bashes your writing can be extremely difficult, but it can also make you look like someone who is mature and ready to take on the responsibilities of an adult.
Well, that’s about all I have to say about that. On this topic at least. Hopefully, you’ve either learned something about achieving a professional mystique, or you’ve just been totally humiliating over the memory of an email you sent with about seventeen exclamation points. Either one is an appropriate response.
I love answering questions, so if you have any, feel free to ask them here or hop on over to my blog! You may want to order my book while you’re at it, since it’s finally available!)
Note from Stephanie: Rachel is away from her computer for a bit, so it may take her a couple days to respond.