Emily Andrews. Overwhelming Books. Grade 12, Age 17. 2011 Silver Medal, Photography Portfolio.

Linda Asked:

You wrote and published your first book when you were a teen. Would you say it was easier in that time vs today for teen writers/everyone to sell, or is the (book) recession only a figment of our creative imaginations?

Ned Answered:

My mother used to tell me, “Every business is a hard business.” If you meet a writer, the writer will often say, “Writing is really hard. It’s impossible to make a living. Books are dead.”

But if you meet a model, the model will often say, “Modeling is really hard. You really have to hustle. And once you turn twenty, you’re done!”

It doesn’t do you any good to listen to these lines of argument. Of course writing is hard. It’s supposed to be. It’s a job.

Now, there are scary statistics. In 2002, the National Endowment for the Arts reported that less than half of Americans read literature, and that fed a whole decade of doomsday prophecies. But since then, e-books have taken off; in 2011, 35 titles had sales of more than 200,000. As Publishers Weekly reports, “America is reading, but all signs point to rocketing e-book sales and continued dwindling of print.”

So I don’t think it’s any easier or harder to get published as a teenager now than in 1996, when I did it. The rules are different, of course – I started in an alternative newspaper, and these days I would start with a self-published e-book — but it’s not like people were tripping over themselves to publish young writers in the 90s.

It’s important if you are considering a career in the arts to believe, in some fundamental core of your being, that talent will out. That is, if you’re good, you will succeed. If you are friends with anyone who says otherwise, who says “It’s all about who you know” or “Books are dead,” stop being friends with those people.

Good luck!


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Have questions about writing or the business of publishing? Ask a real writer! Ned Vizzini is the award-winning author of It’s Kind of a Funny Story (also a major motion picture), Be More Chill, Teen Angst? Naaah…, and The Other Normals. In television, he has written for MTV and ABC. His essays and criticism have appeared in the New York Times, the Daily Beast, and Salon. He is the co-author, with Chris Columbus, of the forthcoming fantasy-adventure series House of Secrets (April 2013). His work has been translated into eight languages. E-mail your questions to askned@artandwriting.org.

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