Over the weekend I spoke to sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students at Rolesville Middle School in Rolesville, North Carolina. The school holds an annual Young Writers Conference, allowing students a chance to meet with local writers, explore their craft, learn about different genres, and more. A local young adult author, editor of a paper, poet Bart Barker, and myself were a few among the speakers selected for the day-long event.
The conference organizer had contacted me over the summer and invited me to speak. She was open to topics and I suggested a session on “Get Published Now.” I still have my journals and stories from middle school and I know the level of my writing then would have been on par with some professional adult writers, and there might be some present-day students who have the same skills and could get their work recognized at an earlier age. Plus, many adult writers just starting out struggle with not having contest credits, bylines, or publication credits in journals.
I covered book publishing and journalism, since both involve a query-publish process. If students start during middle and high school, they can help increase exposure for their writing as they enter “the real world.”
I caught the tail-end of one of the sessions before my first one started and the speaker showed students how to make their writing more active. The speaker used the example of describing a happy dog. Some students said, “The dog is wagging its tail.” She suggested improving the sentence to, “The dog wags its tail.” These are the same discussions adults have during critique groups! Writers struggle with this at any age, myself included.
If you have young writers in your life, here are three items that I covered during my sessions – plus the students’ reactions to learning about writing possibilities:
- Submit. Magazine and newspaper editors generally don’t ask for your birth date when you pitch an article. If you have clear concise error-free writing and a unique idea for a publication–go ahead and submit your pitch. I told the students how I got my first piece published in a newspaper when I was 17–with no edit requests from the editor and no one ever asked my age. On the book discussion, 100% of the students did not know how a book is traditionally published. (One student thought you submit your work to an editor and then the editor gets it published, so he was close!) I didn’t know how a book got published until my mid-twenties! It made me happy to take the mystery out of the process for pre-teens and teens and help them understand modern traditional and self-publishing options. They will be light years ahead of where I was!
- Don’t rush. This is true for writers of any age. Most students were interested in self-publishing and I shared how important it is not to rush through a book just to get it in print. The cover design needs to be professional, and easily viewed at small sizes since many people buy books from mobile devices. I explained mistakes authors have made by not having their books professionally edited, which can turn a reader off an author for life. Fortunately, one student explained how she values details and quality and didn’t want to publish something today that she could do better tomorrow. Amen!
- Be realistic. When we discussed book pricing (traditional and self-published) a few students immediately wanted to price their books at $100.00. I explained that the most attractive eBook price, according to several studies, is $2.99 – and that some authors have had more success selling the same book for $2.99 than they did for $0.99. This made them very interested in human psychology so hopefully they will study more of that to help them with their future writing projects!
Many thanks to the conference organizers who made this event come together! I love that there is an opportunity for young writers to reinforce their passions and move closer to getting published.
If anyone has an event (in North Carolina or elsewhere) they would like me to speak at, learn more about my speaking topics here. I have several 2016 events I will announce soon, but if you would like to hear about them first–subscribe to my newsletter for writers. The newsletter is sent on the first Friday of each month and I share details with subscribers first.