Thursday, March 15, 2012

How to Get Adults to Take You Seriously

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.


  1. Amazing post! I had no idea you would been a teen writer, that is so inspiring :)

    I need to work on accepting criticism better... I rarely get it- for some reason people always say I'm doing pretty good, but there is this one person who always has something to say.
    She even said all my characters seemed like me '2.0' and 'people I want to be' once! She doesn't know me all the way anyways, as she is an online friend and she hasn't read any of my writing beyond snippets and the roleplay we're both on.
    Gah, I'm rambling now. Great post, I'll be sure to read your book, it looks interesting :)

  2. Oh no... that typo at the top... is embarrassing. I knew I was too excited. I'm sorry.

  3. Great post! That is so true about criticism. It used to be that I would give up on something I was working on if an adult even hinted that I change something to make it better. (I was a very sensitive child) I'm much better about that now...Thank goodness!

    Oh, I have a question: Was it hard to balance the things Zondervan wanted you to do (like edits) with the rest of the things in your life (like school and family)?

    Also, how much editing did your book go through? I know some books need more than others. I once went to a book signing where the writer pulled out a 15 page editor's letter talking about everything she needed to change, and a color coded manuscript that marked where all the changes were. Seems like that would be daunting for anyone, but especially for a teenager who already has six hours of homework every night!


    1. Thanks for your questions, Laura! I wish I had more advice about editing, but the truth is that my first book just didn't go through that many rounds of editing. Most of the work was already done by the time Zondervan signed it, and I only had a few small things to change with my editor. I can't imagine that I would have time to make 15 pages of editing! I guess I would have to really prioritize if I had all that work to do! I'm sure that my writing would be much, much better if I did more editing, but unfortunately that's not the case. :)

  4. So, when you were first looking around for a publisher, did you come right out and say your age, or did you wait a little bit?
    Thanks for posting! I'm so excited to get to see you on Go Teen Writers once a month!
    ~Sarah F.

    1. Yep, I advertised my age very freely. The thinking was, I need to stand out as much as possible. I wrote a whole article on the query letter/publisher searching process on my blog if you want to check it out: :)

    2. Thanks! I'll go check that out!

  5. Hi, Rachel, it's really great to have you here. Believe me, I totally understand what you're talking about with the whole respect issue. I avoid telling people, especially adults, that I want to be a publisher, because they give me that "look." You know the one, the that's-nice-darling-now-why-don't-you-go-play-with-your-dolls look. I'm very grateful that my parents are so supportive of all my crazy dreams. Dreams are never off limits in our house. ^_^ (Stories, either.)

  6. Your book is out? Alright. In a week I will be wishing for it to be on my lap. Pages open. Devouring its words... oh I can't wait!
    And Steph, guess what... your book is offically in our school library. Although it's in the 'new books' section and I'm pretty sure Me, Just Different isn't THAT new. :P

    I love how in this post, adults are the people and kids are kids. Not being sarcastic. I do love it. "Argh, don’t you just hate it when people (grown-ups)" :D

  7. This is great! :D I was smiling all the way until I came to the criticism part. I love criticism and often crave it. However... I mostly get it through emails. When I'm NOT staring my critic in the eyes, I tend to do just fine. Great even. Rolling with the punches. So my question is- what do you do when you ARE critiqued in person? I have this problem that I can't seem to master. If somebody were to critique me in person (it doesn't even have to be mean), I would start crying. No sobbing, just some tears and a red face (it's usually followed by somebody saying, "DON'T CRY!!!" :O and me- "I'm noottt"). It's completely involuntary. Ugh I can't help it. I'm not even sad! I think I just get nervous and it all shows on my face. What advice do you have on composing yourself in a public situation like that? Anything would be much appreciated.

    1. Oh, I know what you mean! I haven't experienced much criticism face-to-face (I find people aren't usually brave enough to do that), but I have had a lot of comments sent to me through email! I think the hardest thing is when someone that you like and respect and view as a friend says something negative about your writing. It's always hard to accept criticsm from someone you admire, but I do think that friends and family members probably give some of the best advice. You just have to be tough enough to take it! :)

  8. Yet, somehow, I manage to follow every guideline you listed, long before you ever mentioned them(like, back in 6th grade I was following those guidelines, basically), and I still manage to get treated like a child. How, I do not know. Any other advice?

    1. I'm not Rachel, but I'll answer :) Samantha, I think that's just kinda the way it goes sometimes. Just like some people are uncomfortable around babies or kids, some people really don't know how to talk to teenagers. It wasn't until I got married that I felt like others saw me as a bonafide adult. Just keep doing what you're doing, keep following through on commitments, and don't worry to much about it. Sounds like it's not a "you" problem.

    2. I totally agree with Stephanie! It probably has nothing to do with your book, Samantha. Some people just can't see past the age thing at all. :(

  9. Knowing that people are actually prejudice of your age just makes me sad, just sad. SO dumb. Especially when that young person has got a good head on their shoulders and is very mature for their age.

  10. So Rachel,

    I have a question. :) You sound like a girl that's very similar to me in the sense of lacking self-confidence in situations like trying to get published (or stepping out and making friends, etc), so my question for you...

    How did you get over fear and doubt's whisperings in your head?

    1. Hi, Jazmine! Sorry it took me a while to respond--I just now saw your comment! Yes, I definitely lack self-confidence at times (read: most of the time). I think that's part of being a teenage girl. ;) I have doubts and fears all the time--mainly the fear of being rejected and hated by the people who read my writing. But I just have to keep remembering that I write because I love it, not because I owe it to anyone. I will continue to write whether or not people love to read it. And if it is successful, praise God! But even when people criticize my work, I just have to remember that *I* like it, and that is what keeps me going. :) Hope that helps!