Age Is No Barrier To Getting a Novel Published, by SM Johnston
I’ve got a lot of teenage friends who are aspiring authors that I’ve met through online writing communities and they are such great writers. For the past couple of years I’ve watched them grow as writers and so have their aspirations to be published.
In my circle of friends we talk a lot about querying and whether age is a barrier, and it’s not.
Firstly, let’s look at some facts. Agents and publishes are looking for amazing stories that sell. They find them written by people of multiple age groups. They also look for marketability. If they’ve found a teenage protégé, then it adds a new dimension to how they can promote the book.
Here’s a few Australians who have been published as teenagers:
- Alexandra Adornetto published The Shadow Thief at age 15 and Halo at 18 and her sixth book is due for release this year and she’s only just turned 20.
- Steph Bowe published Girl Saves Boy at age 16.
- Jack Heath published The Lab at age 18 (which he started writing at age 13).
If you look at the journey of these three writers there’s one thing in common – dedication. Age isn’t the barrier to being published. Your writing may need to be stronger and your industry knowledge may need to improve, but they are things that can be worked on:
- Research – there are lots of blogs dedicated to the craft of writing that cover things like “show, not tell”, characterisation, cutting superfluous words, world building, voice, word lengths and other aspects of crafting a novel. You can also find information on how to write a query letter and information on agents who represent YA and the genres they’re looking for, such as YAtopia and Literary Rambles.
- Go to conferences – there are many great conferences around for writers. I highly recommend the CYA Conference in Brisbane, but if you contact the writers centre in your state they will have a comprehensive list of what’s about. If money or location is an issues then try WriteOnCon, a free online writer’s conference.
- Take a course – writers centres hold lots of courses throughout the year, both in the capital city, regionally and online.
- Get a mentor – this is a tough one to describe just how this can happen. Networking is the main key, but it still needs to flow naturally. My mentor was someone who I met at my state’s writers centre and we clicked. It went from discussing publishing in general and evolved in specific advice to me on writing and querying.
- Join online writing groups like Figment, Wattpad and Teen Ink – The first online community I joined was Inkpop, which has now merged with Figment. I loved it as I made great friends, learnt a lot about writing and was able to post my work and get feedback. It helped me as an editor, as you read other people’s work as well as them reading yours, and I formed strong bonds with some members that then progressed into being critique partners (also known as beta editors) and blog partners. This is where I became friends with now published authors Jeyn Roberts, Leigh Fallon and Wendy Higgins. I also have a group of friends affectionately known as The Insomniacs that I met on Inkpop. We’ve remained close friends and help each other refine our query letters, naming characters and project titles, get over writer’s block and war words (which is where you undertake writing sprints with friends, sharing and critiquing the work when the times up).
- Entering competitions – this is another great way to focus your writing, and it builds up a resume for querying. I’ve entered competitions with The Australian Literature Review and was runner up in the YA themed competition and was shortlisted in the Troubled Family themed competition. Agents see placing in competitions like this as writing credentials.
There has never been a better time than now to aspire to be published as a teenager. There are different schools of thought on whether you should include your age in a query. My advice is work hard on your writing and let it speak for itself. An agent and publisher will probably see it as a positive marketing tool, but don’t let it define you. Let your work define you.