Young authors abound in modern and classic literature. While age brings wisdom and experience, youthful imagination and perspective have served many writers through the ages, as evidenced in this post.
In “It’s Never Too Late To Start Writing,” I wrote about notable and outstanding authors who first published in their fifties, sixties, seventies, and beyond. Now, I’d like to take a look in the other direction.
Young writers have wonderful stories to share, but can easily feel overwhelmed simply by the idea of writing a book. They can also assume that “real” authors need decades of exotic experience, or plenty of gray hairs, or serious physical and/or emotional scars to pen anything worth reading.
This is not how it really works. Whether you’re a writer in your twenties, teens, or even younger, your dreams and ideas are worthy and can translate into a compelling story that readers will want to experience.
Here’s just a brief sampling of young authors who successfully published and gained notoriety for their work.
The great Charles Dickens was born in 1812 and his first novel, The Pickwick Papers, was published twenty-four years later. Originally written for serial release, the book showcases early examples of Dickens’ signature character building, which focused on humorous exaggeration and satire. At the same time, the book showed the author’s knack for reflecting difficult truths of everyday life in nineteenth-century England in a way that resonated with readers. Dickens’ bibliography would go on to include timeless novels like Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and more.
Jonathan Safran Foer
Jonathan Safran Foer published the critically acclaimed Everything Is Illuminated at age 25. The book grew out of a thesis the author wrote while a student at Princeton University and tells the largely autobiographical story of Foer’s trip to Ukraine, a journey during which he seeks the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. The book was a New York Times best seller, a Guardian First Book Award Winner, and was adapted into a movie.
Mary Shelley was reading ghost stories with her husband Percy, Lord Byron, and others when Byron recommended that all gathered try crafting scary stories of their own. The resulting novel from Shelley changed the face of horror literature. Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus was a landmark philosophical horror novel that sparked countless movie adaptations, Halloween costumes, and nightmares. Shelley was twenty-one when it was published.
English author Zadie Smith secured a publishing deal for her first novel, White Teeth, based on a partial manuscript and completed the work while a student at Cambridge. The book became an instant best seller and earned Smith numerous accolades, including the Guardian First Book Award and the Commonwealth First Book Prize. The New York Times described the work as “a novel that announces the debut of a preternaturally gifted new writer — a writer who at the age of 24 demonstrates both an instinctive storytelling talent and a fully fashioned voice that’s street-smart and learned, sassy and philosophical all at the same time.”
Huffington Post describes Jake Marcionette as the youngest author to ever be featured on the New York Times best seller list and the youngest author to ever land a publishing deal with Penguin Books. His Just Jake series launched when Marcionette was 12. “I think a lot of young people are scared to write a book because they think they can’t do it . . . You have to be fearless and be passionate and take all the chances you have and do it with an open mind,” he told Huffington Post.
Nancy Yi Fan
At age 11, Nancy Yi Fan dreamed about birds—and wrote about them when she woke up. She emailed the resulting manuscript, called Swordbird, to executives at HarperCollins. “I began reading and knew immediately that this was very good,” said HarperCollins’ Phoebe Yeh in an interview with Publishers Weekly. “I knew that a child had written the book and that was part of what caught my attention, yet the writing was truly top-notch and very imaginative. Other editors [here] also read the book and were very impressed.” Fan was 13 when the book was published.
When it comes to naming authors who published in their earlier years, this list is just the beginning. If you’re among the young authors working hard on your first book, remember that you are in outstanding company.
As a side note, I’m proud to count myself among the group of authors who published young. At 21, I was asked by a small, education-themed publishing house to write an advice guide on studying abroad—and gained a tremendous amount from the experience. Among other things, I learned first-hand that, whether you’re writing instructional material for a niche market or grand novels for the history books, publishing a first work can be pivotal for craft, confidence, and creativity. Taking a work from initial conception to final, finished volume teaches you a huge amount about yourself and writing in general. And knowing that you are and will always be a published author, no matter what else happens in life, can give you momentum to elevate your art and writing career in ways you’d never imagine.
Who is your favorite author who started publishing in the single digits, teens, or twenties—or are you yourself in this category? Tell us in the comments below.
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