Thursday, April 01, 2010

Can Teens Publish a Novel?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

In every school visit I've done so far, at least one budding writer asks me about getting published. It made me realize that I've never really talked about how a young writer (teens) would go about getting published.

Same way the adult writers do it.

Yep, I'm serious. Publishing a book is about the book, not the age of the author. If you happen to have a professional skill level at age 15, you stand just as good a chance at getting published as anyone else. The only difference is that if you're under 18, you'll need a parent or guardian to sign the contract for legal reasons.

With all the information out there about writing, from books, to sites like this, to forums like Absolute Write, it's much easier for writers to develop their craft and submit their work than it was ten or fifteen years ago. While it's unusual for a writer to reach that level in their teens (30s and 40s is more common), it can and does happen.

Want examples? Try these...

The most famous is SE Hinton, who wrote The Outsiders. She was 16 when she published that.

Den of Shadows Series by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. 13 when she wrote it. There's a great Q&A on her site.

And of course there's Christopher Paolini and his Eragon series. He became a bestselling author at the age of 19.

Break by Hannah Moskowitz, 17 when she wrote it.

Kody Keplinger sold her YA novel, The Duff, at 17.

There are others of course, and a little time spent searching will bring up more for those curious. But if you're a teen writer hoping to get published -- go for it.


(you knew there had to be a "but" didn't you?)

It's good to know going in that publishing is a business, and a rough one at that. No one is going to go easy on you or give you a break just because you're a teen. They'll expect you to handle yourself like an adult, revise and edit your work same as any other author, and they'll treat you same as any other author. They won't sugar-coat comments to spare your feelings.

And most writers suffer through a ton of rejection letters before they write the right book and get an agent or sell their novel. Rejection after rejection can be disheartening. It can feel personal, even though it's not. Even adults get frustrated and wonder if they have what it takes or if they should just quit. Be prepared to be stomped on.

If you're scared about showing your work to friends or even a critique group, or any negative comments are taken hard and upset you, if revising at all is a terrifying thought, odds are you're not ready for publication yet, even if your work is. It can take time to develop the objectivity needed to be a pro author, same as it takes time to develop writing skill. That doesn't mean you won't get there, just that you might take a little longer. Publishing is great, but it can be very stressful and a lot of pressure falls on your shoulders. If you're not sure you're ready, don't rush it. You have plenty of time.

But if you are ready...

There's nothing keeping you from trying.

If you're not sure where you fall?

You can test it a few times, maybe try it with short stories and see how it feels. Try markets where the pressure is less and selling a story doesn't immediately heap everything that selling a novel does onto your shoulders.

And to help there, here are three posts that deal specifically with what to do after you have a novel polished and ready to submit, and a link to a great resource for short story writers.

You've Written a Novel, Now What? Going from first draft to first submission.
How to Write a Query Letter.
How to Find an Agent

Duotrope Digest. Database of publications and info on what they accept and how to submit to them.

And because I'm on a theme here, tomorrow let's talk about what you can do as a budding writer to start developing your craft.


  1. I think it's amazing to see such young adults walk away with a published book, as long as you have the passion, the idea and the hardwork to go with it you'll have a book that sells!

  2. I was a budding author after I got my AARP card. Never realized it was "what I wanted to do" until I ran out of wall space for needlepoint.

  3. I like this post, but I think that the most common situation is that it's better for younger writers not to jump on the publication train too early. To be honest, I would probably advise them to wait until after college.

    First, out of all the examples mentioned, I think only The Outsiders was truly ready for pulication. No offense to Chris or Amelia, or any of the other teenaged writers out there.

    Second, getting a book published is an extremely disruptive event no matter what your age. Paolini would be an exception, because he was homeschooled, and so his schedule is was more flexible in terms of promotions and such. And he had his parents as prime movers behind his novel. And, of course, he became a best-seller.

    Most teen authors, even if they were published, would not have that kind of support system and open schedule.

    I do like the idea of these younger writers putting out short work, such as short stories and poetry. That's something that will be much less disruptive, and can give them some experience with the world of publishing and commercial fiction. It's also much less of an investment to make, emotionally and temporally. While I think that some people just don't do short work, it's a great option for younger authors with a lot of other issues on their plate.

  4. This is a lovely post, and I agree completely.

  5. I wish I would have known I could write a book at 17. I always assumed you had to have a Masters degree. Little did I know.

    Great advice for young writers!
    Best Bedtime Story Ever!

  6. Atsiko, those books were all published by big houses, so by definition, they *were* ready for publication. They may not be to everyone's taste, but they sold. You can say the same thing about adult novels, and some of them are on the best seller list.

    Since The Shifter came out, I've been doing lots of events and speaking with lots of teens. I get asked ALL the time how to get published, and a lot of young writers out there are asking serious craft questions. Teen athletes are encouraged for the Olympics, teen musicians for Julliard. Plenty of activities that require maturity are being sought after (and encouraged) by and for teens. If writing is the dream, why not encourage them to go for it?

    Publishing *is* a rough biz to get into, but if a young writer is out there researching what they need, polishing their work, spending time on the forums and putting in the effort, odds are they have the maturity it takes and can handle the pressures. If they can't, they'll most likely get discouraged before they reach the sale point. Age doesn't mean you can deal. Not all adults can handle the rejection or the pressures.

    And in my mind, a teen with or without a support system isn't much different from an adult with or without a support system. I have writer friends trying to juggle careers, kids, spouses, mortgages, and finding time to do events is nigh impossible. It's not easy no matter what age you are.

    I think teens would certainly face additional challenges, and they shouldn't rush into anything until they can emotionally handle it, but how do they know until they try? Adult authors sometimes don't realize how hard it is until they're there and struggling.

    If I'd had the resources teens have today, I totally would have been submitting as a teen. (and getting rejected more than likely, LOL)

    I say chase your dream. I know some 15 years olds who are a lot more emotionally stable than some 40 year olds I know. Age does not always equal maturity.

  7. janice these was a phenomenal post. thanks for sharing, and looking out for the younger authors.

    you rock.

  8. Amazing post, Janice. :) I'm a teenage writer that's been writing and querying for a year. I have more rejections than I care to count, but I don't let that stop me. I love researching the industry and someday I might even work in it.

    I have teenage writer friends that are published, agented, or on the way to being. Some of the teenage writers I know are absolutely phenomenal. It's not an industry for every teenage writer, but then again it's not an industry for every adult writer either.

  9. Thanks for posting Horserider! Nice to see a teen writer chime in.

  10. I have a fan-fiction I want to publish. Do you think anyone will?

    1. No, they won't. You can't publish fan fiction because it's based on another author's work. It violates their copyright.