Why Age isn’t Relevant to Publishing

Yesterday, I did a blog post about how age is relevant to writing. That post got me thinking about another misconception many teens have: They believe age is relevant to publishing. This misconception seems to come in many forms, but the most common versions I’ve seen are:

  • So what if my novel has 1,200 grammar mistakes? And so what if I can’t spell? Everyone should still buy my book, because I wrote it when I was only thirteen!
  • It doesn’t matter that my book costs an outrageous amount! I’m still going to become a bestseller, because I’m only fourteen.
  • It’s totally okay if I write snarky replies to every negative review I receive! After all, I’m only fifteen, so readers shouldn’t say anything negative about my book in the first place.
  • Obviously, I need to spam everyone on the internet about my book! And I need to include my age every single time I mention my novel, because the most important part of it is that I’m only sixteen.
  • It’s okay if my writing isn’t nearly as good as most authors! Considering I’m only seventeen, it’s really good, so everyone will still buy my book.

And my response:

No, NO, NOOO, NOOOOO, NOOOOOOOOOOO!

 (Before I go any further, I should clarify something: In most cases, I don’t mind if teens self-publish unprofessional books. Most of these teens don’t market their books, and only publish them to share with friends and family. Personally, I think this is 100% okay.)

What’s not okay is when teens seriously market an unprofessional book. When this happens, teens expect strangers to pay money for a low-quality product, and the results are often disastrous. Not only does it make the individual author look pretty terrible, but it gives a bad name to other teen authors. And when all this bad stuff strikes, the teen author almost always uses the same excuse:

But I’m just a teenager! What else did you expect from me?

Quite simply, I only expect one thing from authors, whether they’re teens or adults or toddlers: I expect professionalism. Simply put, all the misconceptions I listed above usually result in an unprofessional product and author. And this leads back to my original point: If you’re going to act like a professional writer, you have to realize age is irrelevant to the process of publishing. The only way age ever impacts publishing is if you use is as a feeble marketing gimmick or an excuse–both of which show a lack of professionalism.

So what makes a professional writer? Personally, I think it’s a myriad of things, and none of them have to do with age. I believe some of the most important aspects of a professional writer are:

  • They don’t use marketing gimmicks.
  • They have nice-looking covers.
  • They don’t constantly spam people with their buy links.
  • They gain positive reviews the honest way.
  • They put out well-written, well-edited products.
  • They price their books reasonably.
  • And, most importantly, they respect their readers.

Alright, I’m done ranting for now. Do you agree that age has nothing to do with publishing? And what do you think makes a professional writer?

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Why Age is Relevant to Writing

Let me start this post by saying that I think teen writers are pretty darn awesome. I feel slightly awkward saying that, since I’m a teen writer. But I’m not talking about myself right now. I’m talking about the community of teen writers, both online and off, that has more passion than I thought possible.

That being said, I see a lot of misconceptions haunting teen writers. I did a post of all the ways adults misunderstand us, so I figured I’d better make things fair and do a post about how teens misunderstand themselves.

I believe teen writers aren’t all that different from adult writers in many ways. However, I do see a giant misconception that floats around the heads of many teen writers:

Age has absolutely no impact on writing.

I’m not going to point any fingers, but I’ve seen a lot of blogs/websites/people say this. And every time I see it, my initial reaction is, “Whaaaat?” Simply put, this just isn’t how I see things. I know I’m the odd-man-out, so I figured I’d take a moment to break-down my thoughts.

Basically, my thought is this: Age has a HUGE impact on writing.  

Like most writers, I cringe when I look back at my old writing. But I cringe about something different than most adult writers. For me, it’s the drama that’s the worst part of my stories. Everything–and I mean everything–is painfully dramatic. A typical scene in my first novel goes something like this:

MC wakes up! *GASP*

MC goes to school! *GAAASP*

MC meets up with best friend! *GAAAASP*

MC and best friend gossip! *GAAAAAAASP*

And I’m not the only teen writer to have this sort of issue. In fact, it’s the most common problem I’ve noticed in teen writing: The characters’ emotions are extremely unbalanced. Sometimes teen write over-done emotions (like me), and sometimes it’s the exact opposite. Either way, the writing comes off as immature and naive. I think the reason for these unbalanced emotions is simple: not enough life experience.

If you think about the typical adult, they have a ton of life experience to draw on for their writing. The day they finally graduated college was probably the most relieving day of their life. The day they proposed to their spouse was probably the most nerve-wracking. The day their first child was born was probably the happiest. Ect, ect, ect. These experiences give adult writers an easy way to relate to the trials of their characters.

Now think about teens: What emotional experiences do we have to draw on? Pretty much nothing in comparison to adults.

Quite simply, most teens haven’t lived long enough to truly grasp the essence and impact of emotions. I know I’m one of these teens; even if my life hasn’t exactly been easy, it’s nothing compared most adults. Because the goal of most novels is to draw emotions from the reader, teens are put at a huge disadvantage. How can we convey emotions if we don’t even understand them?

This is why I say age has such a big impact on writing. The older we get, the more life experience we have to draw on. But, until then, we’re left in this awkward stage of trying to rip emotions from readers that we don’t truly understand.

So this leads back to a conclusion I came to years ago: Teens are at a disadvantage when it comes to writing. But the good news? We’re young. If we keep writing consistently, we’ll have years of writing experience by the time we hit twenty-five. And, if you combine that with the life experiences we’ll have at that point, it’ll make a kick-butt combo.

The Comparison Blues

Writers are well-known for their low self-esteem, and I’ll admit that I’m no exception. In general, I dislike my own writing. There are occasionally days when I’ll look at my writing and go, “Hmm, not too shabby.” But, while I love the process of writing, I generally despise all things I write.

 
In some ways, this is helpful. It makes me look at my novels with an extremely critical eye, and it also helps me embrace critique much more easily. But, in many ways, this mindset just isn’t healthy for me. It took me years to realize this, and when I finally did, I knew I had to change my outlook on writing. In particular, I knew I had to stop comparing myself to successful writers, or I would drive myself insane.

 
I think all writers, including me, have examined the work of famous authors to see what works and what doesn’t. While this process is almost always helpful, what comes next just isn’t healthy. After I examined their writing, I found myself comparing myself to the actual author: John Green has such amazing voice, and I don’t. Patrick Rothfuss can build such amazing worlds, and I can’t. Stephenie Meyer can attract millions of readers, and I never will.

 
Thinking like this comes naturally to me, but it isn’t as easy to stop doing. It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others, and it’s not like I could just flip a switch and stop. But, after some thinking, I realized some things that made me reconsider the way I compared myself to other writers.

 
1. People don’t pick up my novels to read John Green.

In other words, if people want to read a John Green book, they’ll pick up a book written by him. When people choose to read one of my novels, they expect to find a unique voice. My unique voice.

 
No, my writing isn’t nearly as good or deep or emotional as John Green’s. But, in some ways, I think being different is a good thing. After all, if I didn’t have a different voice and outlook, then everything I wrote would feel old and over-done.

 
2. I’m not nearly as good as Patrick Rothfuss, but maybe someday I’ll come close.

I don’t think writers ever stop learning. I’ve talked to experienced writers and beginners like me, and everyone seems to agree on this point: There’s always more to learn. Whether it’s about writing itself, or the publishing industry, or marketing–the learning just never stops. Since I’m still a teenager, and since I plan on writing until the day I die, I figure I have about 60 years left to study my craft. And that’s plenty of time to develop some skills, right? So I don’t feel like I need to panic about all my inadequacies quite yet.

 

3. Maybe I’ll never have millions of readers like Stephenie Meyer, but that doesn’t matter much.

This is perhaps the most important thing I realized: It’s my love for writing that counts. Yeah, having a million readers would be nice. But what’s even nicer is that I get true joy out of my craft. Even if I had no chance of being published, I would still write. Even if I couldn’t show my work to a single soul, I would keep writing. And, personally, I think that sort of love is what gets writers places. I could read every writing manual on the planet, but if I didn’t have passion for the craft, my work would still fall flat.

 
So, after realizing all these things, I feel like I can read “The Fault in our Stars” without banging my head against a wall about my own, er… faults. What about you? What are some things that help you stop the comparison-blues?