Now that I am very close to submitting my novel to an agent (or several), I thought that it would be a good time to think about my status as a teen writer. I have read a lot of different things on teen authors, making me unsure whether or not to disclose my age when submitting Tacita. Some things I have read were very critical of teen authors, and claim things to the effect of ‘I would NEVER read anything written by a teenager’. But why do we have such a bad rep? It is probably partly due to the rise of fanfiction, which is largely written by teens and can be notoriously terrible. A quick Google search can dig up all sorts of awful fanfiction, even lists compiled of the truly worst. Bad fanfictions are littered with spelling, punctuation and grammar mistakes, and the stories can be simply laughable. After reading a bit of bad fanfiction, it’s easy to see how someone could get the impression that teen authors are not great.
However, I beg to differ! I’ve read stuff by teen authors that is amazing, and one novel written by this girl I once knew when she was around 16/17 was actually accepted by a publisher. Good writing by teenagers is not rare, and many famous authors started young and those works are still considered great. Despite this, I am still not sure whether to mention my age when submitting my novel to a publisher or agent. There are a few pros and cons of doing so, and a few pros and cons of not doing so. Let’s go over some of them.
One thing that is arguably a good thing, if disclosing your age to a publisher, is that they can market it and really use it to sell your novel. It’s a common thing to see people praising a book, saying things like ‘this book is stunning– I can’t believe the author is only 16!’. If you want that sort of publicity, revealing your age would be beneficial. Personally, I wouldn’t want this, because the other side of doing this is that people may judge your book as some half-hearted teenage effort, and say ‘well… it was good, for a teenager’. I want Tacita to be recognised for actually having a good storyline, characters, whatever; not that I was 13 when I started to write it. In some people’s eyes, a book having been written by a teenager is not going to be anywhere near in the league of ‘proper’ books written by adults. So an upside to not revealing your age is that your book won’t be judged purely by that, but by the quality of the writing, as books should be.
Another good thing that I can think of about disclosing your age is that everyone will know that you have far to go. By saying how old you are, prospective publishers and readers will see that you are still young, and you have far to go. Your novel may not be a masterpiece, but if it’s good, they will know that you’re only going to improve. So playing upon your young age can be to your advantage.
However, one downside to revealing your age is that the content of your novel will be automatically assumed to be middle grade or YA (that is, aimed at teens or young people). Of course, I’m not condoning teenagers writing explicit novels including tons of violence, swearing and sex, but you don’t want to be tied into a box of political correctness and kid-friendly material. I am not going to lie: Tacita is a pretty violent book. There’s blood, guts and gore, which was unavoidable because hello, it’s a novel about gladiators. If I tell my age to a publisher or agent, I don’t want them assuming that Tacita is aimed for people my age or younger. I personally don’t really care who reads it, as long as they won’t be scarred or anything by the content, and I am certainly not saying this is an adult book (something that is impossible, because I am not an adult), but I don’t exactly want it put in the middle grade section of the bookshop (as far as I’m aware, that’s for 10-11-12 years of age, not exactly my target audience). What I’m trying to say, in my long-winded little way, is that by disclosing your age, you might be tied down to only writing very kiddy material. Also, readers may be pretty judgmental or disturbed that, for example, a book written by a 15-year-old contains sex scenes (which would be a little weird, IMO).
So overall, I don’t know whether I want to reveal my age to the publisher or agent. If I do, I really don’t want that used as the USP of my novel. I don’t want to be forever known as the ‘teen author of Tacita’, because if writing becomes a thing I do for many years to come, it will be hard to shake that off. You’ve seen how well actors and singers try and get rid of their child-star image… Obviously the world of writing isn’t as controversial or glamorous as the world of celebrity, but I don’t want to have to pen XXX novels in order to get rid of the ‘teen author’ label. That won’t work, and come on. That is not my style.
Now time for the obligatory questions. What do you think are the pros and cons of revealing (or not revealing) your age to publishers? Should I mention my age when submitting Tacita? Thanks for reading!
Your questioning blogger, Jaz
PS. I think I am going to categorize all my posts, and put a little widget in the sidebar, so it’s easier to access posts about a certain topic.