Marcionette was never much of a reader.
mom always screamed at me to read, but I never really
enjoyed it," says the 13-year-old, lacrosse-playing
Maryland resident ó whose debut novel just got picked
up by Penguin.
lot of middle school books are too babyish," he
says. "Almost Disney-like. They talk down to the
reader and dumb things down. They donít take on enough
day-to-day stuff, like bullies."
channeled his frustration into "Just Jake," a
160-page middle school story about Jake Ali Matthews, a
sixth grader struggling to adjust to a new school and
fly under the radar of a bully.
feel like I can really capture middle school because I
experience it every day," he says. "Itís
loosely based on my life."
Jake," scheduled for a February release, is part of
a growing collection of books by teen authors ó some
published through traditional houses, many of them
self-published ó that represent, in many ways, what it
means to be a contemporary teenager.
no secret that disseminating the written word is so
simple these days," says Amy Pelman, digital
services manager for the Arlington Heights (Ill.)
Memorial Library, who writes for The Hub, the Young
Adult Library Services Associationís blog. "Itís
kind of a natural progression for this modern type of
writing ó blogging, websites ó to attempt to be part
of the traditional publishing world.
books," Pelman continues, "are perceived as
having their own kind of authority and quality, and they
also enjoy the possibility of becoming a blockbuster. So
just as some teens dream of becoming famous pop stars,
some dream of becoming famous authors."
thanks to a culture in which notions of privacy are
ever-loosening, the innermost fantasies, observations
and obsessions that used to live in locked and hidden
journals are now, for many teens, fair game for
audiences to lap up at their leisure.
of them are simply unafraid to put themselves out
there," says Pelman. "I believe this is a
direct effect of the Internet ó that vast and powerful
mode of expression in which you can be as anonymous as
you choose, or cultivate a whole group of friends and
Ewell, an 18-year-old freshman at Stanford University,
just landed a deal with HarperCollins for an April
release of her debut novel, "Dear Killer," the
story of fictional, 17-year-old serial killer Kit Ward.
fantasies make up a large chunk of the stories teens are
churning out, says young adult novelist Stephanie
Morrill, who runs a website called Go Teen Writers (goteenwriters.blogspot.com).
teens grew up reading Harry Potter," Morrill says.
"For a lot of them, writing is an escape from a
mundane life. If youíre going to escape, why not
create a really unique story world you can escape
as the world of Ewellís Kit Ward, who chooses her prey
through letters and cash that arrive in a secret
been writing for a lot of years," Ewell says.
"ĎDear Killerí is something like my eighth
found the agent who led her to HarperCollins through her
previous book, "Bloodline of Queens," a
science-fiction tale that became a semifinalist in
Amazonís 2011 Breakthrough Novel Award contest.
mutual friend, because I had done well in the contest,
showed my book to her agent, and she picked me up as a
writer," Ewell says. "I wrote another book and
sent it to her, and she started sending it out."
was working a summer job at the John Wayne Cancer
Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., when she got the call
from her agent that "Dear Killer" had been
picked up by a publisher.
couldnít actually pick up the phone until I got in the
car to go home," she recalls. "I called her
back and she told me HarperCollins wanted to publish my
book. I kind of freaked out a lot. It was surreal."
who wrote "The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt" (Revell)
and "The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet" (Playlist),
teamed up with fellow author Jill Williamson, best known
for the "Blood of Kings" trilogy (Marcher Lord
Press), to create Go Teen Writers. The site encourages
and instructs teens throughout the writing and
was inspired to launch the site after fielding repeated
how-do-I-get-published questions from her teen readers.
advice is always, ĎGo to a writers conference; take
some classes; pay a professional editor to give you a
really good critique,í" she says. "I was so
focused on being published when I was a teenager that I
didnít realize how much I needed feedback that wasnít
from my parents, who thought I was wonderful."
says the teens she talks to donít see much risk in
putting their early, unpolished work out there for the
world to see, which partly explains their willingness to
self-publish (along with the fact that self-publishing
is easier than ever.)
the next few years there will be so many people whoíve
self-published who are looking for a literary agent or a
traditional publisher," she says. "If it is a
risk to have a lousy book out there, itís one that can
easily be worked around."
in 2006, science-fiction writer John Scalzi penned a
much-visited item on his blog (whatever.scalzi.com),
titled "10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About
Writing." Item No. 1? "The bad news: Right now
your writing sucks." Item No. 2? "The good
news: Itís OK that your writing sucks right now."
says he took some heat from teen writers for his list
(which also contains many pieces of salient advice about
the importance of being well-read and learning the ins
and outs of the publishing industry). But he stands by
going to be a lot of writing out there that in 10-15
years the writers will wish had not been out
there," Scalzi says. "Thatís not necessarily
specific to teenage writers. But I look at it like
tattoos. Fifteen years ago, if you had a full-sleeve
tattoo, you werenít going to get work outside of a
Subway or the artistic industry. Today, almost everyone
under 40 has some sort of tattoo, and theyíll still
15 years weíre going to have a bunch of really good
writers who, when they were teenagers, were impatient
and put their stuff out there," he says. "No
oneís going to count it against them. Itís like
putting an ill-advised selfie on Facebook. I donít
really think itís going to make a huge difference,
because everyoneís doing it."
isnít to say that books by teens arenít any good.
Lest we forget, S.E. Hinton was just 18 when she
finished writing the coming-of-age novel "The
Outsiders," first published in 1967 by Viking
have always been teenagers good enough or marketable
enough ó or some combination of the two ó to be
published," Scalzi says. "But letís be
honest. Out of 1,000 teenage writers, there are going to
be two or three who are genuinely, preternaturally
the end of the day," he says, "if teenagers
getting published convinces other teenagers to stick it
out through the horrible periods of struggle and
self-doubt and growth, I donít see much to be
do the teenagers.
like and respect stuff that their peers like and
respect," says Pelman. "Theyíre not super
trusting of the stuff that adults are into."
no further than Marcionette, who is already at work on a
"Just Jake" sequel.
I finished ĎJust Jake,í I thought it was really
good," he says. "I thought it was a lot better
than the stuff my mom had been handing me to read."
STORY CAN END HERE)
AUTHORS WHO DEBUTED BEFORE AGE 20
Keplinger was 17 when "The Duff: Designated Ugly
Fat Friend" was published by Poppy in 2010.
Moskowitz was 18 when Simon Pulse, Simon & Schusterís
teen imprint, published her first book,
"Break," in 2009.
Bachmannís "The Peculiar" was published by
Harper Collins in 2012, when Bachmann was 19.
Kluver was 19 when Harlequin Teen published
"Legacy" in 2011.
Naidooís "Fall to Pieces" sold to Marshall
Cavendish a week before the authorís 18th birthday in
2010. It published in 2012.
Elconin was 17 when "Never After" was
published in 2009 by Simon Pulse.