Q: I've been a writer since junior high (not a very good one) but now I'm 16 years old in High School and I feel very strongly that my work and skill has gotten a lot better. So much better that my work might just be publishing material. I was wondering would my age keep me from being published or should I just not mention it?—Angie P.
A: While there are plenty of things you can't do when you are 16—vote, drink a beer, watch an R-rated movie, be seen in public with your parents—there are plenty of things you can do, and that large bucket includes getting published.
The basic proof lies in the facts: There are several teenagers who have scored book deals and have found success, like S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders), Christopher Paolini (Eragon) and Zoe Trope (Please Don't Kill The Freshman). In fact, being a teen could be an advantage—yes, an advantage—to landing a publisher. Let me explain.
Publishers constantly look not only for great books to publish, but also look for authors who have a platform. Being a teenage author who wrote a great book immediately makes you marketable to news outlets, therefore giving you a built-in platform.
Now before you go spending that six-figure advance, keep in mind that the reason published teenage authors are newsworthy is because they are very, very rare. Why? Teenagers typically lack two important elements that adult writers tend to have: experience and high-level writing skills. Most folks competing with teenage writers to get published have studied the industry for years, have written many manuscripts (published and unpublished) and understand the business side of the writing world. This is experience gained over time, which puts anyone under the age of 20 at an unfortunate, but natural, disadvantage. Also, while a 16-year-old's writing skills may be better than every other 16-year-old in the country, that doesn't necessary mean it's on par with the best of the best adult writers—and it certainly needs to be to stand any chance of getting published. In fact, very few teens measure up to that level, which is why so few receive publishing contracts.
So where does that leave you, the teenage writer? Motivated to work even harder, I hope. Continue to improve your skills and your understanding of the industry. If you've finished a manuscript at 16, you're already ahead of the game. Stay that way by staying determined.