So You Want to Be a College Author?
Writing a book is not easy. Publishing a book is even harder. But for writers in their mid-twenties or younger, there are distinct challenges stacked on top of these endeavors.
Growing pains, financial need, self-discovery, lack of connections, and stigma against youth are factors all younger folks have to reckon with. Now add a book into the mix, and you’ve got yourself quite the hurdle. Can it be done? Yes, barely. Is it fun? Yes and no.
My first warning to potential young authors is to make sure your priorities are straight before embarking. You need to adore storytelling, the writing craft (the actual act and technique of writing itself), or both. You need to embrace hard work, accept negativity with grace, and shun many other pursuits. Publishing a book is not your ticket to fame and glory, and likely never will be. Unless you already have fame and glory.
I do, however, have a promise for authors who fit this well-intentioned mold. Your book will reward you. Whatever your path of writing and publishing, the completed and continued act of being an author has it many highs. They just might not be the ones most envision.
So, if you are a young, aspiring author, you must be asking yourself where to begin For potential novelists, pour out a story you love, then refine it with editing and self-inflicted change. For non-fiction authors, this is your chance to explore topics you’re invested in, presenting thoughts in a way that gets others invested. Poke around with short stories and essays until you know what to commit to. Then commit.
Organize a new routine with writing as a fixture. Compromise heavily on life’s other offerings. Your professional, personal, and student goals might suffer. Your hobbies and relationships might take a backseat. But then again, these things might cyclically be enhanced from your efforts as an author.
Between ages 12 and 19, I lost out on much because I was writing Iberian Claim. But, now facing new challenges post-publishing, I fully appreciate the past eight years of effort. I wanted to be an author; through hard work, external support and circumstance, I was able to become one. If you hold a similar desire, then every bit of “lost time” is not lost.
For other younger authors further along in the process, with finished manuscripts and eyes set on publishing, I can only offer lessons from my experiences:
Universities are not publishing houses. Though they have been falsely built up in public consciousness as a catch-all for early adult opportunities, universities, on the whole, provide little to no support for student authors. A campus bookstore carries my book as an alumnus author, but this is only after successfully publishing elsewhere. And after being rejected by a different campus bookstore.
Traditional publishing is not the only route and is often not practically an available option. Do some research on self-publishing, small/indie/hybrid publishers, and the agent querying process to determine what’s best for you and your book. Don’t let stigmas stop you from dismissing a possible path, but do let gut checks and raised eyebrows stop you. That gut is what got you here, and those raised eyebrows are supposed to be your readers.
Your book, though very heavily your own, should be a semi-collaborative project. Yes, even for first-time self-published authors I recommend at least hiring an editor(s) and cover designer (unless you’re experienced in graphic design). Your publishing house might provide these, and they provide them for a reason.
Publishing a book will cost you money before it earns you money. It is a monetary as well as temporal investment. You might not face a major upfront cost; perhaps crowdfunding (looking at you, Brandon Sanderson) or publisher royalties are the forms it takes. But if your manuscript is good, then it deserves the proper finishes and fittings. Avoid going cheap or getting ripped off.
The words author and writer are not synonymous. An author is also a businessperson. A marketer, salesperson, and entrepreneur to be more exact. After publishing, your career viability relies on your ability to promote and manage your work. If you hate outreach, too bad. If you hate blabbing about your work online, in a random bookstore, to your closest connections, then that’s also too bad. Successful publishing requires this of authors. As a writer at heart myself, I feel your pain. But push yourself until it’s less painful.
As a young author who has literally grown up with his book, being on the other side of publishing has opened up a new world of insights and opportunities. While I initially only pictured writing Iberian Claim and releasing it into the void to fend for itself, I’ve discovered purpose in what it means to be an author at every phase of the process. There is so much to look forward to beyond simply drafting a heartfelt manuscript.
Okay, younger authors. Here’s to you. Take pride in your work, for you are one of only a handful. I wish you the best.
Stay tuned for a YouTube video series on this same topic, where I’ll douse you with more niceties.