I have been getting an astoundingly high number of queries from novelists under 18 lately. What was once a steady trickle has now turned into a…. um, more steady trickle. I’m not sure why this is — maybe because it’s summer vacation? Maybe everyone wants to be the next Chrisopher Paolini? Maybe everyone had their XBox 360s taken away?
But for all the young writers out there — here’s the thing. You’re up against people who are much older with much more experience, and you don’t really get bonus points for being young. Sure, publishers would probably appreciate the marketing angle of a young writer with a great book, but you have to write that great book first. It’s not, unfortunately, enough to write a book that’s good for your age (and most of the young writers I hear from could easily beat the pants off of whatever drivel I wrote at that age) – you have to write a book that’s as good as what the best adult writers in the country write, and they’ve been writing for years. That’s really, really hard and really, really rare.
There is a silver lining — Mary Shelley wrote FRANKENSTEIN at 18. S.E. Hinton wrote THE OUTSIDERS when she was 16 (I’ve seen a copy of S.E. Hinton’s query letter in the Curtis Brown office — gives you goosebumps!). About once a generation there is a prodigy who makes it happen. But it does happen!
Really though, I think the most curious phenomenon about young writers these days is that they are much less likely to send a personalized letter and to have read agent blogs or to be familiar with industry conventions. Come on now, teens! You’re supposed to be teaching people to Google and laughing at your parents when they ask what a “blog” is.
So if you know a young writer, I would be honest with them about the realities of the business, but encourage them to keep writing (and point them to some industry blogs). The best thing is that young writers turn into adult writers with a world of experience.