And no, it’s not a silly question!
In the Teenage Novelist: Publishing class, I always start by saying, “Read and read and read; write and write and write.” It’s pretty hard to write publishable material if you’re not reading. That sounds like a no-brainer, but I know plenty of people who want to write books, but get all their stories from movies and television. I love movies and television (and we watch a lot of them in Geek Fiction Writing for Teens), but you have to read good writing to write well. Really. If you can’t find time to read, think about swapping out some of your gaming or social media time, or even (gasp!) some of your writing time. I am a big fan of audiobooks, too–for some reason things I hear stay in my head longer. And if I listen and ALSO read the book? YOWZA! (Here’s where to get some free audiobooks.) How many books will you read/listen to this summer? I’m aiming for ten, beginning today.
Don’t forget that we have new classes each week at Bellevue College North Campus, starting Monday! Come take a bunch of ’em. So much fun with such great people. (We’re all a little weird, but definitely great!)
If you’ve got the reading thing down, here are ten steps that will move you along the path to publication.
- Get critique
I’ve told before about the first short story I submitted in college–how it came back with a big, fat “C” accompanied by comments like, “Cliche” and “One wonders why the protagonist’s girlfriend would have any interest in him at all.” I was arrogant enough that my first thought was, “This professor does not know talent!” (By the end of the quarter, though, I realized he kind of had a point.) Critique is hard to hear at first, but good critique is essential to your growth as a writer. In my writing classes I strive to provide feedback that is specific, honest, encouraging and usable.
2. Form a writing group
You need a tribe to keep you going in this crazy endeavor called writing. Find some like-minded friends and get together every Saturday at a coffee shop, bookstore or library to read and critique each others’ writing. If you’re part of Epicwrite, you can also post stories on the Epicwrite Forum for others to read.
3. Take writing classes or workshops from a published author
I would be delighted to see you in my classes, or at Epicwrite, but there are plenty of other opportunities as well. Lois Brandt’s short story class, and Dana Sullivan’s graphic novel class, for starters, but also the teen program at Hugo House in Seattle, and The Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas. Additionally, Go Teen Writers is a website for teens run by Stephanie Morrill, who was herself published as a teen. Local libraries also sponsor free writing classes with local authors.
4. Enter contests
Many contests that require an entry fee for adults have a free teen category. Winning Writers has a good list of Resources and Contests for Students and Educators. And don’t forget the prestigious Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Contests are a good way to learn to write to specific guidelines, meet deadlines, and stay within a word count–all essential skills for the pro writer.
5. Go to writer gatherings
When you hang out with writers, you end up with writers for friends, and you learn what writers do. When what your friends do is publish books, it doesn’t seem like such a strange and difficult thing. There’s no reason to let age stand in the way of your getting involved in the writing community. Check out the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and the Write on the Sound writing conference, for a start.
6. Meet authors
As well as taking classes from local authors, don’t forget book signings. Check with your local bookstore , with your favorite authors’ websites, and with your library. Your presence at an event is appreciated by authors more than you know. Even very famous authors can find themselves in front of tiny audiences. Buy the book and introduce yourself to the author. Sometimes amazing friendships get started that way.
7. Start a book review blog
Did you know that you can get free books before they are released if you run a book blog? You have to work at gathering lots of followers, and you have to follow through on the commitments you make to read and review the books, but I know of many bloggers who learned their way around the publishing industry this way and went on to publish their own books. Here are a few successful book blogs started by teens: Peace Love Books, The Tale Temptress, IB Book Blogging. (What? You say they are all reviews for the same book? Don’t know what happened there…)
8. Pay attention to who publishes writing you love
Start a list, noting the title, author, date published, publisher, imprint, editor and agent. These last two may take some treasure hunting: Sometimes authors name their editors and agents in the acknowledgments. Other times, you have to do a lot of online searching to track these names down. Over time you will become familiar with who publishes what kinds of books, so that when it’s your turn to submit a manuscript you can do so more intelligently. Start separate editor and agent files as well, because editors and agents often move around as their careers advance and change. You’ll want to keep track of your favorite ones. Agentquery is a good resource for learning more about specific agents.
9. Submit to magazines, journals and anthologies
Make sure you’re writing more than just the Great American Novel. Write poems, stories, articles, and essays. There are many publications that seek work from teens. And there’s no rule against teens submitting work to publications not specifically for teens.
But don’t be hasty about it. One advantage of traditional publishing is that so many eyes have looked at your book before it is released to an audience. By the time a publisher has released your book, you have revised it many, many times, it has been through a difficult and competitive selection process, and you have revised it even more. If you decide to self-publish instead of going the traditional route, you’ll want to get a lot of competent critique, revise the living daylights out of the manuscript, and then take it by people in-the-know like a bookstore owner, a librarian, or a professional editor. Have a different set of eyes than yours do the final copy-editing, as well. Also, have an idea of how you will market your book. If you’re good with social media and have a large following on your social networks, this will help a lot. Smashwords, and Createspace are inexpensive options for self-publishing. (Cheapest Createspace printing option is here.) Teens I know who have self-published beautiful books are Maya Ganesan and Logan Fenner.
I’d love to see you in one of my classes!