There’s a question I’ve been asked a lot lately: What’s the next step after writing a book in order to get it published? I know this is a common question but the twist is that I’ve gotten this question from teens and from parents and teachers of teens.
The question should have an easy answer — revise the book, revise it some more, research the industry and start querying agents. This is pretty much my standard advice to that question. But when it comes to teens querying, I find myself a little hesitant to give that advice. It’s not that a teen isn’t perfectly capable to writing a spectacular book and getting it published (there are plenty of great writers who sold their first books as teens: Jen Lynn Barnes, Jessica Burkhart, Kodly Keplinger to name a few). But instead I sometimes wonder if teens are jumping the gun — looking at the industry as a sprint rather than a marathon.
So sometimes I answer that question by starting with a few qualifications:
First, as a friend pointed out during one of these conversations, the publishing industry can be blunt and brutal. There are adults that have a difficult time taking the criticism and rejection and sometimes young authors aren’t prepared for this (esp. if they’ve only ever shared their work with people who do nothing but praise their efforts). I know many authors who lost their love of writing once they published because of this.
Second, publishing is a job. Simple fact: publishers have a bottom line and authors have to fit into that. It’s a lot of responsibility and again, there are a ton of teens who are more than capable of fulfilling that level of responsibility but parents should also be aware of this before encouraging publication. If you wouldn’t want your kid pulling late nights behind a cash register, understand that pulling late nights in front of a computer can be just as exhausting.
Furthermore, some teens like to write because it’s fun — they want to do it on their own time in the way they see fit. Having an editor changes that. Suddenly you have deadlines and other people wanting to steer the story. Even adult writing friends of mine struggle with determining how much they’ll change a story in response to editorial guidance.
Third, how you sell your first book has a big impact on your career. You’re creating a brand for yourself and establishing a threshold — unless you decide to change your name down the road, every decision you make impacts later decisions. I’ve spoken with several authors who first published as teens and this is the point that most say they didn’t consider enough: how they began is how they continued. One author pointed out just how much her craft grew as she went through college and lamented how her first book didn’t reflect that and yet that book has defined much of her career.
A corollary to this is that writing isn’t a sprint but a marathon (though sometimes it can feel like a series of sprints if you have lots of tight deadlines – lol). I think it’s easy to look at “being published” as an end-point rather than the start of something new: a career. If the teen just wants to be published, that’s one thing. If they want to have a career, that means continuing to write and hit deadlines month after month, year after year. That means sticking with it. And sometimes… I just want to shout, “Go play and have fun while you still can! Adult responsibilities will come soon enough!”
But then after giving those qualifications I realize that I’m selling a lot of teens short. Because a lot of them out there are hugely talented, responsible and dedicated to their passions. They’ve done their research and know what they’re getting into. There’s no difference between them and any other writer I know except for age and really… should age matter that much?
So this is always my conundrum when faced with this question. I’m torn between wanting to make sure a teen or parent of a teen knows what they’re getting into and encouraging them as I would anyone else. To that end, I usually revert to the advice Maureen Johnson gives in this vlog (at the 2:20 mark): basically, writing a book and getting published are two different things and teens (and really everyone) should focus on writing and growing their craft first and not worry about the publishing part of things until after the craft is in place.
What are y’all’s thoughts on advice to teens wanting to publish