Age and Publishing
- By: Jessica Faust | Date: Feb 04 2010
Can i realistically expect to write a fantasy novel with a fairly standard Tolkienesque type of plot, as a first book, probably submitting to an agent when i’m around seventeen?
First let me answer the question as you’ve written it, and then let me answer the question I think you meant to ask.
I think it’s absolutely realistic that you could write a Tolkienesque fantasy novel and submit to an agent when you’re around seventeen. However, I don’t think you really meant to ask me what you can realistically do. I think you meant to ask if it’s realistic that you could get an agent.
There are so many variables to this question that I really can’t answer it. First of all, I have no idea how old you are, how long it will take you to write the book, or what you’re expecting. In other words, if you’re twelve now and expect to take five years to write the book, sure, you can submit to agents, but whether or not an agent is going to offer representation depends on how well the book is written, how different and exciting the book is, what the market is like, and whether or not you’re able to connect with an agent who is looking for just that kind of book. If, however, you’re sixteen and a half, I would probably have to tell you that I don’t think it’s realistic that in six months, or even a year, you could finish (assuming you haven’t started) a Tolkienesque book that’s ready to be seen by agents. My guess is that it would probably take you longer to write, revise, edit, and edit more.
I suspect one of your concerns is your age. Frankly, I don’t care. I don’t care if you’re seven, seventeen, or seventy-seven, and I don’t think anyone else should care either. If you’ve written a really great book, all an agent cares about is whether or not it can be sold. Don’t worry about your age. Write the book.
Write the book, and, I would add: aim higher.
If your book has or will have "a fairly standard Tolkienesque kind of plot", you won't stand out from the crowd. There needs to be something that will keep the agent, and later the readers, reading to the end. Maybe there already is. Or maybe your writing is spectacular enough to draw in any reader. But if you're in the stage where you haven't submitted yet, think about this: why should a reader pick up your book as opposed to any other in that genre? What makes your book unique?
This is true regardless of your age.
I started the novel that ended up being my first published novel when I was 19. It was published when I was 21.
But that wasn't my first novel. I wrote five or six terrible novels before that one, starting when I was about 13.
Put your heart into it without worrying about publication (although yes, dream of it) because everything you learn now, on this novel, will carry over into your next novel. And everything you learn in writing the next novel will carry forward into the next after that. Nothing is wasted, even our wrong turns.
Wow! You're good at reading between the lines of this question.
And you did know how to answer it perfectly well throughout by the end 🙂
So thanks. I've always been a bit curious about the age thing.
I wrote my first book when I was eleven years old and if I'd had a better education and supportive parents I could've had it polished by seventeen. Luckily, young people have the Internet now to go seek advice from professionals. If you're a young person with a novel and your school stinks, you can educate yourself now. As a homeschool mom, I can tell you just about any teenager can homeschool themselves with access to the right resources. So, don't give up. Keep reading blogs like this one and author's blogs with great writer's resources. I like Holly Lisle's website resources. Also, check out homeschooling books, THE WELL-TRAINED MIND and THE WELL-EDUCATED MIND. These books have websites too. Do a Google search.
I think it's like movies–agents prefer younger writers cuz they can work them longer and harder. Trouble is, only the young agents are looking for authors and all they want is young writers. I'm not old but I'd think they'd prefer experienced, mature writers. This writer has the rest of their life to worry about getting published. Enjoy your teens and go to the Prom!
I would mention to the original poster to remember this is a business, and even though queries are often through email, professionalism matters. That means capitalizing proper nouns–referring to oneself as "i" smacks of a casualness that has no place in business correspondence. Which, though this is a helpful place for help, includes this blog. I know Jessica didn't mention it, and perhaps I am wrong, but my thought is doing things correctly will never harm you. Doing them otherwise might. Why take the chance? Skip the i-speak, and use proper business language. Which doesn't have to mean stuffy, just correct. That's true whether you are 17 or 117.
Only two things worry me about that query:
2. 'fairly standard … plot'
I think it's a danger sign to even think of terms of having "a fairly standard Tolkienesque kind of plot." Now, you might have categorized it that way for the sake of this blog, but in your mind and heart you have to be really revved by your material and think of it as unique.
As far as being 17, it doesn't matter. You don't need to mention your age in the query.
It is worth reinforcing the fact that your agent and editor will have no way of knowing your age at the query stage, if not longer. My novel has been out for over a year, and I'm sure my editor still doesn't know my exact age. So just write a great book and don't worry about it.
Wish I would have had such defined goals at 17.
All I have to say is, I wish I had started writing earlier.
I'm with D.Antone.
Wish i started writing (seriously) earlier.
Great post, Jessica. 🙂
I believe that there is a large audience for interesting takes on the 'standard Tolkien' plots. People say you need to stand out from the crowd, but what crowd? Where are all the Tolkien knock-offs (at least those that are pretty good)? I've seen McKiernan and Terry Brooks do it, and that's about it. For those who absolutely love this type of fantasy, this is simply not enough. I want more such fantasy, and I think many other people do also.
I know the other side is vociferous in their opposition to this, and I think agents may pay too much attention to them, so I have no idea if you can get an agent with such a book. I just think that such books should be getting published.
I really appreciate this entry bc im the same age with a manuscript (though in a differnt genre) and I've been looking to get it published, except I really don't know where to start
this kinda gave me a good starting point and ill act upon it
I remember reading–on "Guide to Literary Agents,"–that, if you're under 18, the agent will have to go through your parents for some of the legal stuff. So, if your parents are completely unsupportive of your goal of being a writer, you may have to wait until you are at least 18.
Oh, I suddenly feel old…
If you're writing your first novel, I wouldn't worry about it being published – I'd just worry about writing it. When it's done, you can decide if it's worth revising or if you should just put it aside. If the revising goes well, that's the time to think about finding an agent, and while you're doing that, start writing book number two. Good luck!
As a side note, I think it's completely fine for first novels to be completely derivative. No, they probably won't get published, but first novels aren't usually for publishing anyhow – they're for practice.