Charlie Barber. Baggage. Grade 12, Age 17. Gold Medal, 2010.

Kris, a high school senior, asked Ned for advice on starting your career as a writer and getting published.

Kris asked:

I’m a high school senior and an aspiring novelist. I’ve gotten through my first novel (and a second), but I’m unsure where to go from here. I know I want to eventually get them published, but should I wait until I finish high school and/or college to try to pursue my career or maybe look for an agent now? How did you start out?

Ned answered:


I started writing when I was in high school. I wrote short pieces for a newspaper, New York Press, in Manhattan. I usually tell young people that it’s best to start out writing short pieces (because completing an entire book can be quite a challenge!) but if you’ve already finished two, that advice doesn’t apply to you.

You certainly don’t need to finish high school/college to publish a book/find an agent. You do need to narrow your focus. First you have to ask yourself: would I be happy with a large publishing house (HarperCollins, Random House, Hyperion…) or a smaller press? (There are many fine independent publishing houses out there, including Free Spirit Publishing, who put out my first book.) You don’t need an agent to approach a smaller press but you will need an agent to approach a large publishing house.

Once you’ve decided whether you’re going to find an agent or submit to a smaller press directly, you need to know your market. Have you written a young adult book? A horror book? (By the way, for the purposes of this discussion, let’s stay focused on one book — whichever is the best of the two you’ve written. I’m sure you know, in your heart, which is best.) You should approach an agent or publisher who specializes in the kind of book you’ve written.

To find this agent or publisher, pick up a copy of Writer’s Market, a directory resource for writers that is published every year. Writer’s Market lists agents and publishers; inside, you should be able to find a few good candidates for your novel.

Then, submit away! Write respectful query letters that show that you are familiar with the agent or publisher you’re approaching and explain frankly who you are and why you think they will love your book.

I got started by submitting my short pieces to New York Press without knowing anybody who worked there. There’s no reason that you can’t do the same with your novel. The proof is in the pages — if they’re good, someone will take notice. Good luck; the time is now!

* * *

Have questions about writing, or the business of publishing? Ask a real writer! Ned Vizzini Vizzini is the author of three acclaimed young adult books: It’s Kind of a Funny Story (now a major motion picture), Be More Chill, and Teen Angst? Naaah…. Ned has spoken at over 200 schools, universities, and libraries around the world about writing and mental health. E-mail your questions to

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