For the first interview in my Teens Can Write Too! post series:
(this is his favorite picture…yikes!)
Hi! Can you introduce yourself (include age and place of birth) & the book you’re querying?
Sure! I’m John, a lit agent intern, a YA writer, an obsessive blogger and tweeter, and a teen writer activist. I run the blog Teens Can Write, Too!, a teen writer support site, and I’m a high school student living in the U.S. I’m currently querying INEVITABLE, a YA thriller pitched as THE BOURNE IDENTITY meets THE FUTURE OF US. My pitch is: “For sixteen-year-old Alex Tanner, finding a webpage about himself five years into the future is totally awesome and all until he logs on one morning and his status reads: DECEASED.”
What is the first story you remember writing?
When I was six, I wrote my first story about some sort of epic battle between talking fruit and vegetables. They had knives and spears and cannons and everything. Needless to say, the fruit won.
What is the best piece of constructive criticism you ever received?
“Give yourself permission to suck.” When writing first drafts, as writers, we’re naturally obsessive about how bad we’re sure the draft is, or how bad it is going to be, or every little thing that can possibly go wrong. I know because I’m like that. All. The. Time. But sometimes, you need to ignore that self-doubt and just write. You need to give yourself permission to suck. It does amazing things for you.
Why did you start Teens Can Write Too?
Let’s set the scene: I’d just written my first novel, and I was so incredibly proud of myself. I was certain that what I had written was a literary masterpiece, and it was going to be snatched up by a major publisher looking for a “guaranteed bestseller” in an instant. Of course, both things were false, but I specifically remember Google searching “advice for teen writers” a few days after I’d finished my novel, hoping for some amazing and inspiring advice from professionals. The first result I got was from a published author whose name I won’t say, and the advice was basically (I’m paraphrasing): “Your writing is terrible as a teen. Keep at it, but you won’t get published until you’re an adult.” The second result, by another published author, said almost exactly the same thing. The third result talked about the pros and cons of teens writing, and it ended with a poll asking the blog readers whether teens should be writing seriously. Almost everyone answered “No.”
At the time, I felt really discouraged. All these professionals saying that teens–that I–should not be writing seriously. It hurt. It made me question whether they were right, whether I should just give up now. And all of the “advice” I found was like that–negative. But then, a few weeks later, I realized that they were wrong, that your age is not a factor in writing a publishable novel. And I wanted to spread the word about this. So I made a blog. TCWT started as a group venture with a blogger friend of mine who’s no longer a part of it, and it was all about supporting teens and giving them the encouragement, support, advice, and opportunities that I was not finding.
How did you land your internship with a lit agent?
To be blunt, I got lucky. I was roaming the interwebs (who knew that would actually help me for once?) when I saw that a literary agent put a call for interns up on Twitter and, since I’d wanted to be an intern for a while, I followed a whim and sent in a brief resume. Just a few minutes later I got a response telling me I’d gotten the internship. It’s been only a few months since, and I’m still incredibly grateful for the opportunity.
What are your future career plans?
This changes every day, to be honest. Ideally, I’d love to make a living writing YA novels, but considering how tough the market is nowadays and how difficult it is to sell enough books to live, I’m not sure that’ll happen. The prospect of becoming an agent or editor is also very intriguing to me, because I love to work on books I feel passionate about, and I like to think I’m pretty good at it, too. I guess we’ll see, although I’m really hoping I end up working someplace in the publishing industry.
What is some advice you would impart to teen writers?
I constantly tell teen writers, “Keep at it. You’re closer than you think.” It may feel like you aren’t good enough to get published yet, and honestly, maybe you aren’t good enough right now, because the more you write, the more you improve but your age should not hold you back. Your age does not matter. Getting published may seem millions of miles away, but it might be just around the corner. Don’t count yourself out just yet. With the right attitude, you can be seeing your book on the shelves in a couple of years.
Imagine you are writing your memoir…what is its title?
I’d title it “The Mostly True Story of A Teen Turned Author Turned Back To Teen.” I doubt that title would actually hold up, but it makes sense in my head (which, to be fair, is fairly insane).
Just a big thank you for interviewing me! I’m really honored. Also, for those of your readers who are of the ages 13-20, TCWT is hosting a critique contest with ten industry professionals right now. It’s a great opportunity!
Thank you John, I absolutely loved what you had to say about being a teen writer 🙂 Keep at it guys, you (we) can & will be the writer of your dreams!