Writing and Publishing for Teens

People of all ages want to write stories. Heads bubble over with words that need to get out and be shared. As a teenager, these can provide a great way of letting off creative energy, but how do you go about actually writing and, hopefully, publishing these words into a book?

1: Finding Ideas

Ideas can be found everywhere. From a favourite film, a book, a dream to a chance conversation you happen to overhear. Think about what interests you and your friends and go from there. Sometimes you think of a great title and write your story from there – great, but don’t get too attached to that title because often the story does not turn out the way you expect.

2: Planning and Writing Your Book

Make a plan of what will happen in the story and who the characters will be. Develop your characters so you know their backstory – what happened to them as children, their goals, and what they hope for or are afraid of. Who they are will determine the twists and turns of your plot. Even though they are people you have made up, they often have a mind of their own and do things you never expected them to.  That can be a lot of fun as it makes things happen in your story that even you didn’t expect.

Once you have done this, set aside a regular time to sit down and write. I wrote my first, completed story during my physics class in 11th grade (I am not recommending this! Do your classwork first!). If your book requires research, set aside additional time to do this. Research is important: it gives your book authenticity when your characters delve into a world you aren’t 100% familiar with.

If you get stuck, take a break. A day, a week, but come back to it when you feel refreshed. Sometimes you might get excited about an upcoming scene and need to write it now. Sometimes this works out, but it’s best to just plow through the bits you’re working on to get there. When you get there, it will feel amazing.

Just write. Don’t spend too much time worrying about rewriting or getting something exactly right. Getting bogged down in the detail at this stage prevents you from progressing. There is plenty of time later to find that perfect word or phrase.

3: Editing

Once you’ve got to the end, take a week or two to clear your head, then go back and read what you’ve written. Be ruthless with yourself, fix your grammatical errors, and especially make sure your plot is consistent.

Read it aloud. This helps pick up any problems with pacing and repetition. When you read the words in your head, your brain automatically fills in anything that is missing. Reading it aloud forces you to hear it as you’ve written it.

4: Asking for Reviews

Ask teachers or adults to read and edit it. Your teachers will be thrilled that you’ve taken the initiative to write the book and are generally happy to help you (at least, any teachers you’re likely to ask). Ask your librarian. If you know any adults who specialize in something related to what you’ve written (police officers, doctors, lawyers, etc.), ask them to check it for inaccuracies.

Ask your friends to read it. The more people who read it, the more feedback you’ll receive.

Sometimes the feedback can be very painful or frustrating. You’ve slaved over your story and now people are telling you everything that’s wrong with it. Try to listen to what they have told you and if the feedback seems right, adapt your story to the changes they suggest. But remember that it’s your story and you have the final decision.

5: Getting the Book Published

If you want to submit your book for traditional publishing, follow all the guidelines of the agents or publishers before you send them a query. Their required formats will be on-line, and are pretty consistent (double-spaced, basic font like Times New Roman, single-sided). They receive a lot of submissions from hopeful authors, and one of the quickest ways to weed them out is to throw away anything that doesn’t meet their stated requirements. Even if you have specific fonts or designs in mind for your book, follow the publisher’s formatting for submission and just tell them what you have in mind. Their requirements are for their ease of reading, not your design.

Keep sending your book out. You will receive a lot of rejections – everyone does.

Keep your cover letters short and to the point – no more than a page. If you are young, say so. They won’t publish you because you are 15, but if they like your story and it isn’t quite to the standard they want, they may be willing to take the time to help develop your writing. Write a short hook, to interest the editor and show them you know how to write a story. Tell them the number of words – most don’t want the full manuscript.

If you want to self-publish, there are a lot of platforms for you to do this, including Amazon’s Kindle. Many are free to use – be wary of any that charge you to publish your book. There are costs involved in self-publishing, such as a cover designer and ISBNs (essential if you want to sell your book), but you shouldn’t need to pay to publish. You can design your cover yourself, or ask an artistic friend to help. Many self-publishing platforms (including Kindle and Create Space) will provide an ISBN for you as part of their service.

And enjoy yourself. Writing is fun and rewarding in itself!