How to Publish a Book as a Teenager

teen reading her new book

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

There are plenty of things teenagers can’t do — buy alcohol, vote, rent a car — but one thing teens can do is write and publish a book. In fact, not only is it possible to publish a book as a teenager, young voices are something the publishing industry is clamoring for.

What’s the youngest age to publish a book?

Let’s get the legal concerns out of the way first. In the United States, there is no age limit when it comes to publishing a book. Yes, if you are going to sign a contract and you are under the age of 18, you will need a parent or guardian’s signature, but that’s the only legal obstacle standing in your way.

Young voices are in demand

The notion of teenagers publishing books might sound surprising — and it is rare — but it’s not a new phenomenon. S.E. Hinton started writing The Outsiders when she was 15 and published it when she was 18. That was back in 1967. Christopher Paolini’s story is similar, he started writing Eragon when he was 15 and self-published it in 2002, when he was 18.

Publishers are always on the lookout for fresh voices and, as a young writer, you offer a fresh perspective and an authentic voice to young readers. And because teen authors are rather rare, they are highly marketable to news outlets, giving them some instant publicity, which also makes them attractive to publishers. All of which is to say, if you’re a teen and have written a great story, your age will be a feature, not a bug.

Finding your unique story

Even though your age is on your side if you’re looking to publish a book as a teenager, you still need to write a great book. Even if you decide to go the self-publishing route instead of the traditional route with one of the Big 5 publishers, your book needs to be amazing if you want it to sell. Here are some pointers to help you.

Choose a genre

Write in the genre and/or subgenre you love. Don’t go chasing after fads because those aren’t going to be the in-thing by the time your book is finished. Whether it’s young adult fiction, fantasy, contemporary, or even nonfiction, selecting a genre you’re mad about will make it that much easier for you to find the passion you need to finish your book and still be interested in it through the rewriting process.

Explore personal experiences and passions

As the saying goes, “Write what you know.” Draw from your personal experiences and passions. Authenticity and relatability are key components of a compelling story. That doesn’t mean you have to write a memoir or a teen story, it just means you should draw on your experiences to write the story you want to tell.

Conduct research and gather inspiration

Immerse yourself in books, articles, and experiences that inspire you. Learn from established authors and discover what makes a story truly captivating. Read what’s selling in your genre. Better yet: read best-selling books outside of your genre to see what makes them tick. Drawing inspiration from an unusual source can help make your story unique.

Join a creative writing class and/or writer’s group

The best way to grow as an author is to get feedback, either from a teacher or your peers. Plus, giving feedback on others’ writing will help you develop a critical eye that you can then use on your own work.

Planning your book

Crafting a well-structured and engaging book requires planning.

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Develop a compelling premise

To quote another famous saying, “Write the book you want to read.” To sell a book, you’re going to need a great premise — one that will grab a reader’s or agent’s or editor’s attention and compel them to read on. The premise isn’t everything — you’re still going to need great characters and a solid structure — but it’s the most important start.

One way to approach this is to constantly ask yourself, “What if?” If you see a movie you like, ask yourself, “What if this was set in space? Written for teens? Done as a comedy? Had the genders reversed?” Once you have an idea that sticks with you, see if you can clearly state it in ten words or less. Now you’ve got a premise!

Define the characters

Readers come for the premise but stay for the characters — your flat, round, and in-between characters all have a part to play. Make your protagonist compelling but flawed — after all, readers are going to want to see your character grow over the course of your story. Flesh out your secondary characters, too.

Create an outline — or don’t

There are two basic approaches to writing: outlining (aka “plotting”) or just plowing ahead and writing (aka “pantsing”). There are benefits to each approach. Plotting and creating a book outline can help you make sure your entire story is sound before you begin writing chapter one.

Pantsing allows for a more organic approach to storytelling and can allow for more focus on character, rather than plot. Then again, some authors (like yours truly) take a hybrid approach, pantsing until I run out of steam and then stepping back for some outlining action to rein things in.

If you’ve never written a novel before, my suggestion is to start with an outline first and see how that feels. Before outlining your story, however, it’s a good idea to know about basic story structure. If you feel that plotting is stifling your creativity and you just want to start writing, by all means, give that a shot!

Writing and editing

With a plan in place, it’s time to start writing.

Set writing goals and schedules

Set achievable writing goals and create a writing schedule that fits your daily routine. Consistency is key.

Overcome writer’s block

Writer’s block is natural but conquerable. Techniques like freewriting, using a writing prompt, changing your writing environment, and seeking inspiration from different sources can help break through creative barriers.

The Do's and Don'ts of Planning a Book LaunchI have a few tricks I use whenever I get stuck, like going for a walk. It’s amazing how much just stepping away from my computer and getting the blood flowing can help clear my mind. Another trick I like is to write a scene where I take my characters bowling. Or shopping at the supermarket. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing high fantasy, it can be liberating and inspiring to take your characters out of your story and write something funny or weird.

Another trick, if I’m bogged down in one part of the story, is to skip ahead to another scene where I know how/what to write. And if I’m still totally stuck, I’ll start writing another book entirely. Anything to just keep writing.

Draft your manuscript

Once you’ve completed your manuscript, your work isn’t done. Here are essential steps for refining your book.

Put your book away

If you’ve finished your first draft, take a deep breath and put it away for a month. Start working on your next book. That time away will give you the distance you need to be able to read your book with a fresh perspective.

Seek feedback and beta readers

Share your manuscript with trusted friends, family members, or writing groups to gather constructive feedback. Beta readers can provide valuable insights before you finalize your work. Sometimes, it can be hard to find friends or family members who have the bandwidth to read your book or who are interested in your genre. I’ve had great luck hiring beta readers off of Fiverr. They typically do a very thorough job and offer great feedback.

Editing and proofreading

Self-edit your manuscript for clarity, coherence, and grammar, and then hire a professional editor. You cannot skip this step!

Navigating the publishing industry

Now comes the crucial decision: Should you pursue traditional publishing or opt for self-publishing? As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, if you are a teen author, agents and editors will be interested in taking a closer look. That doesn’t guarantee a book deal, of course, but it does give you a leg up over the faceless other authors that agent has passed over. But even if you’re offered a traditional publishing deal, should you take it?

Traditional publishing pros and cons

The biggest plus side to getting a traditional publishing deal is you will get an advance. That’s cash money upfront going into your bank account, rather than you having to shell out money to publish the book yourself. Plus, a publisher will have a marketing team that will help you sell your book and hopefully get you a lot of press (especially since you, as a teen author, will already be something of an anomaly).

There are some downsides to traditional publishing, though, including loss of control over your work. To clarify, I don’t mean you will be giving up your rights, but rather how the book is designed, formatted, where the book is sold, how the book is marketed, etc.

Your publisher will try to get access to your subsidiary rights (the right to exploit your book in other media, like film, TV, stage, etc.), though if you hire a lawyer, you can retain your rights. (And yes, you — or rather, your parent or guardian — should hire a lawyer on your behalf.)

Furthermore, traditional publishers offer pretty skimpy book royalties. Between 5-10 percent is common.

And finally, publishing takes a long time. It can take up to two years for your book to hit the stores!

Self-publishing pros and cons

When it comes to self-publishing, the pros are pretty great.

  • Total control over your work
  • Much higher royalties (between 40-85 percent)
  • Much faster publishing times. Your book can hit the stores in a matter of weeks.

The downsides to self-publishing are:

  • No marketing support. You will have to do all the marketing and promotion yourself. (Then again, even traditionally published authors have to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to promotion.)
  • You may have to shell out your own money. You will want to hire a designer for your cover and book formatting, as well as having to pay printing and eBook conversion costs. That’s where BookBaby’s Complete Self-Publishing Packages come in — you get everything you need to produce, distribute, and sell your book in one place.

As a teenager, the world is at your feet, and so is the realm of publishing. Your unique perspective, experiences, and creativity deserve to be shared with the world. So, pick up your pen or sit at your keyboard and start crafting the story only you can tell!

5 Steps to Self-Publishing 
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Related Posts
How to Self-Publish a Book With BookBaby
The Power of Self-Publishing: Why It Outshines the Big 5 Publishers
How To Outline A Novel
How To Pants A Novel
Understanding Book Royalties

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