As the sponsor of my school’s writing club, I think about my own start as an author—the first short story I wrote as a high school freshman and how much I wanted to publish a book (or two or three) sometime in the future.
A young author publishing a novel was unheard of back then. Of course, self-publishing wasn’t a thing back then either, so I never pursued it until later in life.
Now I coach fifth and sixth graders as they write their own stories and wonder what the future in publishing holds for them. Will they finish their stories? Will they eventually publish them? What is publishing like for young authors?
To learn more about the perspective of young authors in today’s publishing world, I interviewed three young authors—Meadow Schmidt, Maggie Beeler, and Michael Evans—who shared their thoughts about their own journeys.
At what age did you publish your first book?
MS: 14 years old
MB: I published my first book at 21 years old. I started writing that very same book at 12 years old in a spiral notebook, which I still have and cherish. A nine-ye
Me: 15 years old
What genre do you write? Do you write in a genre that you also read? Do you think it matters? Explain.
MS: Young adult romance with a hint of paranormal. I don’t read any paranormal romance or the same genre that I write. I don’t think it matters. It’s my preference.
MB: I write young adult portal fantasy (very similar to Narnia or Alice in Wonderland, for example). I actually do not write in the same genre that I read. I primarily read thrillers or romance (the more gritty the thriller, the better!). I do not think it matters. In fact, I think it actually helps me a lot more. If everything I did was fantasy, I think I would get burnt out a lot quicker, and maybe my ideas would get muddled. Reading different genres than I write is refreshing. They are entirely separate, and I like that. It’s like a breath of fresh air.
Me: I write science fiction thrillers, specifically dystopian and post-apocalyptic. I used to read extensively in those genres, but find myself reading business and philosophy books nowadays along with more near-future sci-fi thrillers from authors like Eliot Peper. I think being able to empathize with your readers matters a lot. This doesn’t have to come from reading a book in that subgenre, but it sure helps!
What is your writing style? Do you prefer writing in a more upbeat or lighthearted way or a serious way? Why do you think you write in this style?
MS: I prefer writing in a more serious way because upbeat/lighthearted is not my thing.
MB: My writing style is very lighthearted. I think the real world is dark enough, so I want my fantasy novels to be fun escapes. Of course, there is tension and some dark scenes, but my themes revolve around friendship, found family, and discovering who you are in the world. I like fun adventures (unless I’m reading my thrillers), talking animals, and wholesome vibes. Let the smiles rain in!
Me: I don’t really know how to describe my style. My stories are dark in tone, but I’d say my style is more conversational. Over time and as I’ve gotten older (I’m 21 now), I tend to use less complex words and sentences in my writing.
How do you budget for editing, covers, and marketing?
MS: My mother is an author and a designer. We co-wrote a book, and with my half of the royalties, I was able to have a small budget to cover the editing cost for my debut. I’ve managed to cover the cost of one book with the other since.
MB: A lot of market research. I have my team nailed down now, but when I was first starting, I did a lot of poking around. I would not advise going with the first person you find—whether that be for a cover designer or for an editor. Get quotes, get samples, get references, and get lots of them. Emphasis on the references. Ask authors who are currently killing it in the game (not authors who have two reviews) who their editors are. Don’t settle on the first editor you find, and, chances are, if any editor or designer or whoever, is coming to you soliciting their work, they are not the one you want to go with. I compile all my quotes and find my average. That is how I budget.
How do you market your books? Do you think it’s easier or harder for someone your age? Why do you think this?
MS: I use social media a lot and think it’s easier for me when it comes to TikTok for instance. I like making short videos and images to spread along social media and know my target audience.
MB: I market my books with the power of authenticity! For real, though, I have not done much paid marketing. I really only post on Instagram and Facebook and send newsletters out to my some odd 250 subs. I have really been focusing on growing an organic audience until my second book is out. I wanted to see how far I could go with just me. And I am quite pleased. I think being yourself, showing your readers that you are a real person with a cool story, goes a long way. I post a lot on my Instagram and engage with everyone who engages with me. I really focus on relationship selling. I think this builds a really strong base of readers who will support you no matter what, and it has been proven! Be you, be authentic, and try to be more than just a sales pusher (aka a “buy my book, buy my book, buy my book” type of person…hint: this doesn’t work). I do not think that being a young author has made this easier or harder. I think that passion and authenticity, no matter your age, shows and is appreciated by readers.
Me: I am not actively marketing my books as I’m the CEO and co-founder of a technology start-up called Ream that helps authors make money with subscriptions. I used to create YouTube videos and road tripped the country and live streamed 1000 hours as a full-time creator. Nowadays, my best marketing comes from relationship building and networking.
What is one positive thing you’ve learned about publishing books?
MS: That I can touch a reader by using my words.
MB: Nothing needs to be rushed. As a new author, I fell into that stigma that you have to get things done and out as soon as possible. It was stressful and ultimately led to my creative burnout for almost a year. I got too caught up in sticking to a strict schedule and pushing myself to the maximum, and this took the fun out of writing for me. As a self-published author, you have the gift of choosing your own schedule. Choose one that works for you. Do not push yourself to do things that aren’t possible within your means.
Me: There’s no one path. The Story Paradox by Johnathan Gottschall taught me that the world needs stories—that what makes us human is being storytellers. There is no one way to be a human, no one way to tell a story, and no one way to share your story with the world. That’s the beauty of this career. It’s as diverse and flexible as nature itself.
If you could change anything about publishing books at a younger age, what would it be?
MS: The ability to publish myself because now an adult must handle the actual publishing since they don’t allow anyone under the age of 18 to publish a book by themselves.
MB: Honestly, nothing comes to mind here. I had a lot of learning experiences, and they all ultimately added up to what I would say is a successful launch for a first book at my age. Don’t rush things. Take all the time you need and do not let anyone ever tell you that you are too young (or too old) to publish. If you have a dream, I believe that you are entitled to follow it no matter your age. It’s okay to make mistakes. That is how you grow.
Me: I think being young is an unbelievable advantage. There was little expectation as a young person for me to be working full-time and supporting a family. As a result, I was able to invest the majority of the income I made at my job after hours from school into my publishing business and had the time and risk-tolerance to make mistakes. The challenge with school is that it’s a uniquely busy time of life. However, getting crucial lessons in time management and prioritization as a young person is essential and only will help more as someone ages into adulthood.
Based upon your experience as a young author, will you continue writing books as an adult? Why or why not? If yes, will you continue writing in the genre you are now?
MS: Yes! Definitely. Though I will probably switch from young adult to romance and maybe adding other genres since I’ve started writing books with a hint of paranormal and romance and recently added horror. I write what I love and like and will continue to explore.
MB: Absolutely yes! I am so glad that I got into the industry at the age I did. I have a whole life ahead of me to learn and grow (and make more mistakes and learn from those). I am eager to learn and see where this career goes. I plan on writing a lot in my fantasy world, continuing on my Sacred series, though I also have plans to write a romance and a thriller at some point.
Me: I will certainly continue writing books. I’m mostly focused on writing nonfiction books now after writing a dozen fiction books. I do plan to continue writing novels about technologies and the future, but I will be also creating in other mediums as well—podcasts, videos, and maybe even music.
Is there anything else you’d like to add? Feel free to share anything about your publishing journey that hasn’t already been asked.
MS: I’ve been lucky to have a mother who is also an author to help me and have most of the answers and ways to publish a book. I’m still finding my way, but I love writing stories. Harley’s Choice is my favorite book. She’s a character from Cove’s Choice where she was the villain. She needed her own book to show her side of the story.
MB: Go for it! Do not let anyone tell you that you cannot do something because of your age. If you have a dream, you owe it to yourself to follow it. Be likable, be authentic, be real. “If you really want something, nothing can stop you”—my favorite quote by James A Owen. I believe in you, and if you ever need inspiration, there is a whole community of authors out there ready to motivate you (including me)!
Me: I’ve focused on writing and being a creator for six years, and my life has changed forever. I’ve met and worked with the people I idolized, traveled around the world, and have a community of unbelievably bright and creative people around me. As a young author and still in just the beginning of my career, I feel as if I have accomplished and experienced far more than I could have ever dreamed of. Every day I wake up grateful and excited—even on the days that are hard. And because of that, I want to let anyone reading this know that you have nothing to lose in pursuing your dreams. You have nothing to lose in following your heart. It will take years of hard work, years of learning, years of stretching your comfort zone, but if storytelling teaches us anything, it’s that all of us can be heroes. So go slay that dragon. I believe in you.
Nowadays, young authors do have a better chance of publishing a book than they ever have. I hope you’ll take the words of Meadow, Maggie, and Michael to heart and pursue a publishing career if you desire.
Meadow Schmidt Maggie Beeler Michael Evans
Article originally Published in the April / May 2023 Issue: Voices.