Recently I was asked to speak to a group of high schoolers who plan to be English majors or who are interested in writing. I was honored to be asked! I love sharing my story and reassuring young English majors that there IS hope. You can get a job doing something you love!
— TOHS Writing Center (@tohswritecenter) February 16, 2017
These girls are smart, ambitious, curious, and motivated; they reminded me of myself and so many of my classmates during college. It was a small group, so we gathered around a table with their teacher, and I shared with them my publishing journey. They asked questions about college, my experience studying abroad, and my internships. They asked how old I am—and I could tell the fact that I’m 27 (which, thankfully, they saw as young!) gave them hope for how much they can accomplish after college. If nothing else, I’m just grateful to be a positive example of what’s possible for them.
Several of them are interested in writing themselves and getting published. They asked the golden question for so many aspiring authors: How do you get published? I decided that was a conversation that would take longer than the few brief minutes we had that day, so I went back a couple weeks later and we talked more about what it takes to get published. I quickly put together a Google Doc to share with them—and thought it might be helpful to share here as well!
Yes, young authors can and do get published!
There are so many examples of young authors who were published at a young age. You can do it, too!
- Mary Shelley – Frankenstein
- Christopher Paolini – Eragon
- S.E. Hinton – The Outsiders
Some MUSTS for getting published:
Be a great writer
My favorite authors to work with aren’t just the ones who have something powerful to say or a wonderful story to tell—they’re the ones who obviously take joy in the process. They work hard at their craft, they respect my feedback, and they clearly love what they do. They constantly seek to get better. The only way to get to know your strengths as a writer and work on developing your weaknesses is to write, write, write. Get to know your voice, and learn what works for different audiences. Write for yourself (journaling, for example), get feedback in a small writers’ group, and try publishing online in an open forum (like blogging).
Study how to be a better writer. I highly recommend these books:
- Storycraft by Jack Hart (for writing memoir and non-fiction)
- Hooked by Les Edgerton (for fiction)
- On Writing by Stephen King (for fiction)
- Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg (for journalism and non-fiction)
- Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott (for everything)
I also learn about the art of writing from a few prolific bloggers:
- I love Jeff Goins because he focuses so much on writing itself—not just on the “business side” of writing. He also believes firmly in honing your craft, and he clearly loves it himself. He wrote a super handy post recently: “Yes, You Can Get Published (Here’s How).”
- Alexandra Franzen is the author of my favorite blog post ever (“Your Life is a Hot Date. Show Up.”). Her writing is refreshingly authentic; it feels like a caring friend is sharing advice over a cup of coffee. She periodically leads Writing Retreats, and it is my goal to get to one someday!
Define Your Brand
- What am I most passionate about writing?
- What is the most important message that I have to share?
- What am I known for? I’m the _____ girl. (example: I’m the book review girl; I’m the journalist; I write sci-fi romance novels; I specialize in interviewing hard-to-reach political figures… etc.)
- When other people think of ______, they immediately think of me.
We don’t like the idea of being confined by a category, but think about it: you categorize other people! You know that Taylor Swift writes pop songs for a young audience, you know that Jennifer Aniston stars in rom-coms, and you know that John Green writes YA fiction. Yes, all of these people go outside of their category sometimes—and you can, too—but they never lose touch with their core audience.
When an agent or publisher asks you what you write, you should be able to tell them what you “do” without any hesitation. And yes, it’s ok to not have this figured out immediately. You might start with one brand in mind, and then as you start writing about it, discover that you’re actually more passionate about something else. That is totally normal and ok!
Build a Platform
A platform is a vehicle for you to share your message with the world. There are so many options.
- WordPress.org (if you like having complete control over the site)
Your platform is the primary place where you interact with your audience. It’s where you can try something new out and see if it works. It’s where you can ask questions and get responses from your readers. It’s the place where you start sharing your message (brand) first, and often. The most important part of a platform is to be CONSISTENT with sharing your message/brand. If your brand/message changes or evolves over time, that’s ok. Just remember that your platform will always reflect your message – so be consistent.
The goal with a platform is to gather a large audience. Yes, you want to get as many likes, followers, friends, and views as possible. But that should come SECOND to knowing your audience and responding to their feedback. The likes and everything else will follow.
It’s best to start getting your work out there for people to see as much as possible. This goes along with building your platform, but it also provides you with a portfolio of work to prove that you’re an expert on your topic.
Blogging is one of the easiest ways to consistently publish – and it’s the one that I’ve seen be most effective for authors. If you have a large number of people who read your blog, those people are devoted to you. They’ve basically already said, “We like what you have to say, and we’re willing to invest time into reading it.” That’s a huge endorsement! If you have any questions about blogging specifically, I’m happy to answer and help you start a blog. It’s something I’m very passionate about!
But there are other ways to start publishing as well. Writing communities like Wattpad are perfect for young fiction writers (especially if you’re into sci-fi or fan fiction). Look for opportunities with your school newspaper or yearbook as well.
Be someone that others want to work with
I didn’t have this one in my original list, but it’s so important. Many people don’t realize that getting published by a traditional publisher means you’re entering into a partnership. You should be ready to work hard to make your book a success—work hard on the writing, the marketing, the sales, and everything else. Your editor, editorial team, and marketing team will all be working to help make your book as big a success as possible; they wouldn’t be publishing it if they didn’t believe in it! But they can’t do everything—and they may have many authors they’re trying to help. You have to be willing to put in just as much work to make your book a success. The best thing you can do once your book is published is keep building your brand and keep building your platform. Everybody wins!
I would love to answer any questions, share more, or help you get started. Just feel free to email me!