Tips for Young Student Authors
It’s good to try out a lot of things and don’t worry about success or failure. Most readers, agents and publishers are not going to want to read or publish a writer still in school, but there are always exceptions to that rule. The important thing is to finish the project you started and make it the best it can possibly be. Even if the book amounts to nothing, 10-20 years later you will always look with pride at how you managed to pull everything together.
The biggest challenge a writer faces is indifference and rejection. The other big problem is that people are less interested in reading books by people who are not famous. The battle to convince people that your books are interesting takes a lot of patience and perseverance.
The other big challenge is that writing a book is hard. It takes a lot of work and a lot of revision. It is hard making it as slim as possible and also easy to read. Just organizing plot and character is complicated and hard. It can frustrate many people (even many smart people). Often you don’t realize why your book is hard to read. It’s also hard being original, or trying an idea that doesn’t just copy what another author has tried.
The big overwhelming question the author must ask is, “so what?!” Why is this book important? Why should someone care about your character? Why should someone read this book instead a book by Hemingway or Tolstoy? Maybe friends or family can appreciate something you’ve written, but keep in mind that most potential readers are never going to meet you or know how interesting or unusual you are.
Finishing or publishing a novel is a worthy summer or school project, but many writers have the sense that their writing style will improve, and so there’s no rush in publishing when your style is not yet ready. That raises a paradox. Practice makes perfect; the more you write, the easier it becomes. Also, every writing project is in a sense a practice project, so there’s no harm in perfecting it until you are completely happy with it — regardless of how old you are. (Many sci fi authors and poets get started early though).
A writer can end up waiting forever for the right publishing opportunity. The submission/rejection process is long and frustrating. It is not unusual to self-publish your first or second book just because you’re sick and tired of waiting for opportunities.
If you want to self-publish commercially, I recommend publishing as an ebook — either through Draft2Digital or KDP. Both are free. The main problem with KDP is that you are using proprietary tools that work on only one platform (i.e, Kindle). Ideally you want to create an ebook which is readable on several reading systems. Draft2Digital uses its own tools, but I think they produce epub which can be submitted to any bookstore. Alternately you can use Calibre or Adobe Indesign. The main problem with printed books is that the options either require your buying a 100 copies and selling it yourself — or uploading it to a print-on-demand place (like Amazon, Lulu, etc) and then being forced to sell it at too high a price.
If you want to self-publish noncommercially, I recommend Wattpad or something similar. Many writers have developed a following of loyal readers that way even if they are giving away stories for free.
If you want to produce something you can show your friends, consider printing it informally from Kinkos or Office Depot and selling for a few bucks (as a zine, etc).
There is no shame about waiting until you finish graduating from college to start publishing; you’d still be ahead of most writers. One important reason for completing a book while still a student is so you can include it with applications for college or graduate school.
Paying for editors to edit your fiction is always an option, but it’s too expensive for most people.
If you are under 25, the easiest way to get feedback for your fiction is to join a writers’ group or sign up for a creative writing class (at community college or at a university). Often you can find information about local writers’ groups at your public library. Or you can start one yourself! Don’t be alarmed if people in your group are significantly older or younger than you. A variety of perspectives always provides the best feedback.
Alternately you can join an online writers’ group; the main problem is people don’t have to be polite or civilized, so it can quickly get nasty.
A good place for getting started is publishing to magazines. If you want to submit to magazines, submit to contests, find literary agents, I recommend signing up for duotrope $5/month or $50 per year.
Nowadays it’s becoming common to pay a submission fee to enter a contest or submit to a magazine. This is not a scam, but you should be careful not to pay too much for this. $5 or less per submission is reasonable.
Some good books for starting out: Stephen King — On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Also Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark and A Worker’s Writebook by Jack Matthews (which my publishing company publishes!) I love the Roy Peter Clark book even though it’s more about nonfiction writing and journalism.
One first step to being a good writer is finding out what’s out there. I’d recommend subscribing to a newsletter of your favorite author. Also, subscribing to an ebook deal newsletter can make you aware of good cheap ebooks out there. (Look for bookgorilla, bargainbooksy, bookbub).
Another good step is regularly listening to podcasts by authors or about a book genre. There are tons of good ones.