Recently I’ve had a number of letters from teenagers wanting advice on how to get their novel published and wondering whether their age will make it harder for them to get it into print. Specifically, would they be discriminated against because they were only thirteen or fourteen or fifteen or sixteen or whatever?
The simple answer is no. When you submit a query letter to a publisher or agent you don’t have to tell them how old you are. You’ll be rejected or accepted on the quality of your submission.
She also goes on to say:
Up until I was 15, I had a number of other poems and stories published. Without motherly intervention even. Every one of them with my age beside my name. After that, nothing of mine was published until I was in my thirties.
Another simple answer: I started competing with adults. I stopped listing my age and started sending to more grown up venues. My work was not as good as that of the grown ups. I didn’t find my way into print again until I was way past my child prodigy days.
Like Justine or Sartorias, I also started out a young writer (I guess I still am according to some). My first serious attempts were when I was ~15 and started entering the Writers of The Future competition. Justine gives some good advice in general. Unlike Justine I don’t think anyone considered me a prodigy or anything decent (what my parents might say after-the-fact notwithstanding, they were very puzzled by the writing thing for a long, long time) or even above average. And I wasn’t. I was kinda stubborn though, and I kept at it.
I did shamelessly mention my age when I started submitting. My cover letter had a line in it that went something like ‘I’m an 18 year old SF/F writer recently moved to the states who is just starting out, as a result, any critique you might have in response to this piece would be extraordinarily welcome. Thanks, Tobias.’ It got me a fair number of editorial comments back that helped me out.
So I do think that focusing on the craft and Justine’s advice is great (at any level).
The place I got hung up on and stopped nodding and agreeing, and found I had to bookmark and respond (several weeks later now) was in Sartorias’ comments, where she says:
Age is necessary, I think…young authors who publish have a certain amount of skill at telling others’ stories, but except for Carolyn Glyn, there isn’t much original there. It takes us time and life experience to both get the skill–and have something to say that just isn’t regurgitation from our most passionate reading.
If you’ve read my blog over the years you might guess this always annoys me, because right now there are 14 year olds in New Orleans who are racking up the kind of life experience that a 30 year old in a factory in Ohio won’t ever achieve. The ‘life experience’ canard is one that annoys me. You don’t need to have aged like a fine wine to tell a good story, and there are many people who master their career at a young age because they spent a lot of time working at it.
I do think there is an apprentice period when working up to becoming a writer. It may be X number of garbage words, or X number of hours spent writing, or X years before things click, and it varies from writer to writer. But often enough I talk to someone jokes (half jokes) that I’m ‘too young to be published’ and I often find out in terms of words written, stories written, and years practicing, I have them beat. For 11 years now I’ve sat down and tried to write as often as I could during the week, and I’ve written over 100 short stories since I started at 15 (averaging about 1/month, if you think about it over the big picture), 1/2 of a novel at 17 that got lost in a hard drive crash, a full novel, and I’m close to finishing my second. I’m not Asimov (who started publishing in his teens, btw), but I’ve put in a fair amount of work. And
I’m always beating myself up about getting better to compensate for all the things I’m horrible at.
I really think the work and focus on learning and self-improvement put in has more to do with it than the age.
So, um, yeah, I respectfully have to disagree 🙂 Younger writers can get published, and you don’t need to collect a certain amount of life experience points to have something worth saying.
But, you will have to put in the work. Just like everyone else.