Does age matter in publishing?

Monday, May 17, 2010

I've been getting a lot of emails asking me this, and the answer, in short, is no.

Your age does not dictate how good of a writer you are. The only real things that will affect you, as a younger writer, are that: a) some agents and publishers (note: some) will make judgements about you based on your age, and may be reluctant to work with you or expect you will not be able to work to a professional level (of course, you will prove them wrong), b) your parents will have to be very involved through the entire process - signing all the contracts, talking to everyone you'll work with, accompanying you doing publicity, managing your money and taxes, etcetera, etcetera, and c) it's an adult world. As in, you have to be mature. You have to be a professional. You have to be prepared for an editor to rip your work apart. Then for reviewers to do that. And you have to write in spite of it and sacrifice other elements of your life in order to write, and manage the business of writing. I think some unpublished authors are a little bit deluded as to what writing professionally entails. Know that you won't be a different person when you get a book deal. You'll be a living the same life you live now, but with more responsibilities.

Now, a few words of advice for teenaged authors seeking publication:
  • It is not a race. Okay? I'm going to repeat that because it is so, so important: It is not a race. It does not matter what age you are published at. If you reach legal age without a book on shelves, guess what? It doesn't matter. You have plenty of time to become a professional writer. It doesn't need to happen right now. You are still a success, irrespective of when and whether or not you are published.
  • I'm 16. I got a book deal when I was 15. There are authors that were published at 13 and 14 and I always find myself thinking, God, must I fail at everything I do? They were published younger than me! I think a lot of young, motivated people set impossibly high standards for themselves. Know that no matter how much you succeed, you're still going to feel like you could have done better. Ignore these thoughts. You are an amazing person, regardless of what you achieve and the age at which you achieve it.
  • Don't expect that agents and publishers will be racing to pick up your book and throw a six-figure advance at you because you're a teen. More than one teenager has written a book. Plenty of teens, actually. And while that's a great achievement, not all of them are publishable, same as not all novels written by adults are publishable.
  • Don't mention your age in a query letter and make out like the fact you're a teenager means the book will be an easy sell. Say that you're a student. When an agent offers representation, and calls, tell them you're a teenager then.
Questions? Feel free to ask in the comments, or email me.
And if you've got any advice to impart, go ahead!
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