Almost three years ago, I put up this post in response to a general sentiment in the air in the publishing industry, one which views young writers to be a) incompetent due to their age, and b) arriving in publishing in droves despite the minuscule numbers of Gen Z who are actually here in comparison to the industry at large. The post mostly debunks the more ridiculous claims (“young people have an easier time signing with agents!” “young people don’t know how to fail!”) and then walks through the real problems I’ve seen pop up for someone entering the publishing industry young. Though it’s old now, I still think there’s a lot of valuable and relevant stuff in there.
But in those two years, I’ve seen a lot more of the industry than 2019 Chloe who hadn’t debuted yet, and I felt a certain calling to come back to this topic and elaborate further. No—I lied, I didn’t feel a calling, I saw more discourse on tweeter dot com and rolled my eyes so hard it burst through my skull and splattered brain guts on the wall. It’s tiring dealing with the persistent sentiment some people have that younger people will inherently produce crap, so I’ll let the 2019 post defend most of that part. Today is for the Youth, for the young writers who need to hear that you’re not imagining things and a lot is being twisted strangely.
Look, I don’t think that suddenly young people are popping up in unprecedented numbers and we’re in a sea change. It’s that we live in the age of social media where everyone looks at what facets of themselves make them the most interesting, and more often than not, if you’re young then that is interesting, because the majority of the industry is not. Yes, I need to give the same disclaimer as my post from 2019 that publishing—and society at large—has ageism problems. Older writers can get ignored. Older writers can get overlooked. This is true, and there can be nuance in that it exists alongside the fact that young writers are still allowed to be proud that they have started working toward a goal of publishing a book at an age where not many others are doing the same. Some of your favorite authors who are YA Household Names started at ~a young age~ before carrying very successful careers today. It’s just that today we have TikTok, and it feels like we’re everywhere, but we just have nifty social media thumbs.
I debuted in 2020 being marketed as trad pub’s first Gen Z YA fantasy author. It got attention based on intrigue, which is exactly the purpose of a branding angle. If your first thought was to pause, then good, my publicists did an excellent job—it doesn’t mean I was brought into the publishing space because I was 21. And yet, that’s exactly what so many people took it as. Complaints, from other writers, grumbling that it must be soooooo easy to be young these days because that’s all publishing wants to see. Never mind that I could actually count on one hand the number of other Gen Z authors lined up to debut as I was leading up to release. That was really what got me the most: we were the minority. We were a scattered few. We were in school juggling assignments at the same time, most of us also belonging to marginalized communities, working hard to pursue something we really wanted to achieve, and with each book deal announcement bringing in a debut 20 year old, let’s start the grumbling immediately about how publishing wants young people and young people don’t even need to write good books. When we can easily compile a list of which people are being referring to re: everyone under 25 is in such a rush, the grumbling is hardly punching up on the systematic preference for intrigue and excitement. All you’re doing is discouraging young people from their passions when the grown adults should really know better. I see over and over again this insistence that younger writers are producing eh works because they should have waited, but hello are we pretending that older writers don’t also produce eh works? Don’t look me in the face and tell me every 40 year old is writing heaven’s work on earth. Anyone can produce mediocre crap. Anyone can produce a masterpiece. It takes experience, not age. You’re allowed to urge people to work on their craft and tell them to be patient without painting the brush over all young people. You’re allowed to acknowledge that people often feel rushed to get something out as soon as possible. Someone who starts at 18 trying to get published by 20 will probably have the same craft problems as someone who starts at 38 trying to get published by 40. Why make it a uniquely young people problem?
I truly don’t mind the baby jokes when the age matter comes up. I think it’s hilarious at festivals when someone asks if I’m even allowed to drink. The ones bringing it up in good faith know who they are. I make them myself. Here’s my opening slide to all my school presentations:
The thing is, I don’t think this sort of age grumbling will ever stop no matter how many of these posts I write. Because it’s not actually about the statistics. It’s not actually about looking out for the youths. From what I’ve observed through my frontal lobes that aren’t yet developed (haha, see, joke) it’s a gut-reaction, a very human protective mechanism. If this person is finishing a book at 20, what the hell was I doing? Shit, that feels bad. Oh, that feels weird. No—there must be something wrong here. I wish I could spell out in the sky over and over again that everyone needs to keep their eyes on their own page. That people take different paths, and someone could feel ready to publish at 20 whereas other people will only feel ready at 40. I wish I could scream into a megaphone that someone getting published at 20 does not discredit your achievements at all, that people have different priorities and privileges in their life, and maybe this young writer has worked on their craft for ten years now and actually yeah, that kinda does make sense why they’re here. But again—the younger writers are the minority in this industry, and I don’t have faith that this will become popular sentiment when it’s so easy to do a fast kick and beat someone down to make yourself better. All I can do is speak to the young writers who feel hurt when they see this: it’s not you. It’s not your problem when people frantically search for reasons why you shouldn’t be here, pursuing publishing. They do it because they want to know why they weren’t. And the thing is, it’s okay they weren’t. It really, really is okay, because that 35 year old being mean on the internet might write a masterpiece seven years later and it’ll hit the New York Times bestseller’s list, and they’ll be exactly where they need to be because they needed that time to write the book exactly how it turned out. It won’t change the fact that, seven years before it happens, it feels really bad to see someone else achieving their dreams so early on. Ignore them. They’ll get their time in the spotlight. You enjoy your time.
But where is my time?
Since debuting, I’ve also realized there is a huge part to a post like this that I wouldn’t have thought to include in 2019. A lot has happened since then. These Violent Delights and Our Violent Ends have performed beyond my wildest dreams. Every day I wake up to write my silly little books and I get overwhelmed thinking about how much I love doing this full-time, and that I’m so happy I got to do it my way on my exact path. And then, some days, I wonder if I’m contributing to a problem.
In Nothing New, Taylor Swift wrote: “I know someday I’m gonna meet her/ It’s a fever dream/ The kind of radiance you only have at seventeen/ She’ll know the way and then she’ll say she got the map from me/ I’ll say I’m happy for her then I’ll cry myself to sleep.”
Maybe she was talking about the fear of being replaced, I don’t know. But when I heard this song for the first time, I was thinking about publishing, and I was thinking about the vast responsibility of being branded as a successful Gen Z author—how I simultaneously exist as a source of inspiration for young writers who have never been told before that their dreams are valid, but at the same time, also as a source of pressure drawing young writers to mimic my path to possible detriment if they’re not ready or if it doesn’t work for them. It’s especially worrying if they’re not ready because this is an industry that sucks on so many aspects: authors aren’t valued, authors are treated like creativity machines pumping out books on schedule, authors are underpaid. These hold true even while I ultimately believe getting your story out there via the giant corporation is worth it. They can both exist at once. The whiplash is intense if you’re not expecting these things and then encounter it. (Though I’ll also argue this isn’t a young people problem and saying we’re less equipped to handle these harsh realities is a bit of a “aw, look at the little child” thing. A lot of older writers will get this whiplash as well. In my experience the thing that young authors need to brace for most is the people in this industry who shoot down young people like it’s a hobby.)
I am so, so ecstatic that I get to provide a road map into the industry. I don’t take for granted a single teen reader who tells me that they want to pursue their writing because of me, that they never thought they could have done it before but then they saw me do it and believed it was possible. Aspirations begin at visibility, and I will fight my hardest to tell every young writer that they have the ability to develop their craft well, that writing is about experience not age, that if it is what they really want then they absolutely can get published too and don’t have to wait for some arbitrary age because someone told them that it was necessary.
At the same time, because I suppose everything in this world comes double-sided, I get used as a sledgehammer. I am pointed to as an unrealistic expectation. My name is dragged into people’s hot debates to set an example for how some people just win the lottery and then I get nasty little DMs of people being mad. Yes, it’s true—publishing is about luck and it feels like a lottery sometimes. I am in full agreement. Traditional publishing depends on what the market looks like that year, and which agents were open to reading queries, and which editors were at which imprint, and what else had been acquired that season, and so on and so forth. I don’t often talk about these Transparent Publishing Things anymore because when you get above a certain follower count it’s tiring to put proper talk on the internet because someone is going to be bored enough to come attacking you for it, but sometimes that gets taken as me having the easiest path in the world so I have nothing to talk about. Since I’m writing a post here, I suppose I can say it: you can’t control the luck but you can control the work. I controlled my intensive research when querying to make sure I only contacted agents who were interested and a good fit; I controlled my two years spent ripping my debut apart from the ground up after I wrote it and putting it together again. Then depending on how luck fell, I made sure I could move. If you’re a young writer reading this, I need to emphasize that there is no such thing as one path through publishing, because we can all work our hardest but luck won’t move in the same way for everyone. I’m so honored to give you the road map; you’ll need to adjust it based on the unique obstacles you encounter, the ones that developed after I finished the course. Time might speed up because of the market you find. Time might slow down because the whole world fell into a pandemic. Maybe, for some, it’s valid too to just wait at the first section for a little longer. I know I stepped onto the map and started running in sophomore year of college; that doesn’t mean it’s the timing you need to take to eventually make it out of the woods and publish that book, reach that reader, tell your stories. If you’re holding the map, and the intention to pursue your love for writing, then I’m already so glad. But now I write this post for anyone who wants to step on the exact foot placements I did—you are your own person writing your own powerful stories. You know your own path best, and I’m excited to clap for you when you take it.
My point, typing all of this when I actually have three novels to be writing right now, is that being a Youth in Publishing always seems to be a hot and spicy topic in the industry, but I watch so much of the matter get skewed toward facts that aren’t true or I watch the matter bypass discussions that I actually feel are important. I’m keenly aware these days that most of my readership are my readers—you, the teen browsing this. I want you to feel like you have a place here, and that’s who I’m speaking for. Because this is social media I’m very aware someone is about to read up to here and send this in their group chat with what does this child know she’s a #1 New York Times bestseller and hasn’t suffered a day in her life, okay go on I can’t stop you, if you don’t want to take any of these points that’s not my business! I am only speaking to what I know, alongside the privilege I acknowledge I’ve encountered.
TL;DR: There really aren’t that many young people writing books. Flip through the members of every debut class each year, and most people are writing later in life. There is so much time. So much time. But if you are young and you are ready to pursue this path, then I wholeheartedly support you and cheer you on. Only please don’t look at one path to draw up how it should be done as a young author breaking into publishing. There’s space for us all to do our thing, and you’re going to do it.
Okay if you’ve reached the end of this blog post please preorder my books so I can justify writing these long blog posts instead of turning in my manuscripts ❤ Then please support the babies like Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, Christina Li, Tashie Bhuiyan, Zoe Hana Mikuta, Racquel Marie, Miranda Sun, Ananya Devarajan to name a few because how else are we ever going to become functioning career adults in this economy.