You are here:

Writing Books/My first novel as a young author


Hello, my name is Mackenzie Hash, I think that you might be able to help me out.  You see, I am a young writer, (16 in February) A few days ago I had a dream that could truly and honestly be a very good mystery/suspense novel.  I already began writing it and so far I have already completed a preface and the first chapter.  I intend to write around half or a full chapter every night.  In the day I'm a full time student and at night I become a novelist.  I ask you to please not look down on me because of my age, because personally, I go by a philosophy that anybody can write, it doesn't matter how old they are, if the material they write, is worth reading and published well, then they deserve the right to be called a novelist or an author.  At the moment I am having some of the teachers at my high school take a look at my first chapter, and edit it for me, so I can examine my faults, and hopefully if the same faults are reiterated, then I won't make the same mistakes, and that it could deepen writing for me, as I strive to become more successful.  At the moment, you could say I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place, because I'm working as a student, I intend to get a part time job soon, and I'm working really hard to give all of my writing traits toward this book.  If you desire, I can send you a copy of my preface, and you could comment it for me, (likes/dislikes/changes etc.) I appreciate all of the support I have been receiving from my family and friends, but I need to know if my material is worth reading, and could be famous, if not famous then at least read by people.  If I continue to stay at the pace that I am working at I believe that I could finish this book in 2 or 3 months, at the most.  But don't get me wrong, I am not just throwing words onto a piece of paper, I'm actually trying to find perfect sentences to correspond to my writing technique.  I take writing very seriously, even if I am only a teenager, and I intend to get it published as soon as I can.  Hopefully I don't sound like a brat to you, I assure you, that's just the way my writing appears.  But besides that, I truly need a person that can help me answer some questions I have and that would give me an honest opinion on my book, and if it's worth finishing, because frankly, I believe that it is, but I need readers opinions before I can make this decision certain.  And I believe that you could be the person to help me, if you are willing too, that is. I do have a lot of questions, but could you please answer them to the best of your ability? I'm asking this of you because I need to determine if you are the person that could help a young writer like myself, or one that like the many others will turn their back on me for being "too young" or "lacking years of experience" Please be the person that will help me.

(at the moment, my novel remains title-less)


My story line consists of a girl of 17 years old that cleans households as a part time job.  While doing this job the girl (Elizabeth) meets an anomalous couple, Jeremy and Lucy Vanmore.  Lucy instructs Elizabeth to clean every room but one, that room she is forbidden to go into.  One day while she is cleaning, The wind blows the door open and paperwork, files, and pictures, land in the hallway. Elizabeth does not go into the room, but she cleans up the hallway, while glancing at the pictures, she notices that they hold gruesome visages of men and woman's torture, then untimely death, and then where there bodies are placed.  They had all been missing persons and all were still unlocated.  Of course as a 17 year old girl, this probably stuck her without a doubt, for her 15 year old sister had gone missing, and she just happened to be in these pictures.  Before reporting to the police, The Vanmore's come home and realize what she had seen.  Elizabeth escapes but everyone it seems, are all linked together with these deaths, and every household, every family she meets, had known from the start where these missing people had been and where they were now.  Trapped, Elizabeth is forced into a "prison" where every person that has found out the truth are forced to remain, their freedom taken from them.  When asked the households, Elizabeth had cleaned for denied her presence, and denied her existence.  For months, she is trapped in this house, until one day, she miraculously escapes...or does she?...

That is the overview of my story I know it's not incredible, but I'm proud of it.  but I want to know what you think of it and I want to know if you could answer some questions I have about publishing and publishers

Is my book idea sellable?

How much money can I expect to make compared to the time I must put into a book?

How much writing experience do I need to publish a book?

How do I support myself while I'm writing?

Is it harder for first-time authors?

Is it harder for young authors?

How do I find a publisher?

What goes into a book proposal?

How do I promote my book?

I recently read that if I am accepted by a publisher, than I will receive a "day job" where I will have very little energy outside of writing.  Does this mean that writing will need to be my absolute main focus or something else?

Thank you so much!


Hi, Mackenzie!

Wow! Lots and lots of questions. LOL! But it's good that you're thinking hard about the process and wanting to do it right the first time. So let's go through one at a time, shall we?

First, 16 isn't "young" as far as publishing. There are plenty of young writers out there who are published every day. The BOOK is the thing, not your age, so don't feel the need to apologize or explain your age as some sort of liability. It's not. I know of one writer on a writing forum I frequent who's 14 and just got a major agent for her fantasy novel, and another paranormal author sold her first book at twelve, so there's always hope! The only thing your age will mean is that you'll have to have a parent or legal guardian sign contracts for you until you're 18 (or 21, depending on where you live.)

Now, on to the book. The story you're telling has some promise, but whether it's publishable will depend on a number of things:

1.  Is the heroine "likeable?" Well, she's certainly sympathetic, since her sister was killed and the killer was never caught. So that will interest readers.

2. Is the heroine "intelligent" and able to solve a crime? I worry a little about this one from what you've posted. She's 17, after all. She probably drives and possibly has her own car if she cleans houses (unless her parents drive her around.) *Why* can't she escape? Is she bound and gagged? Chained? For months? Why didn't they just kill her when they found her? It seems a logic gap on the part of the criminals---since they obviously have no qualms about killing. In a mystery, "logic gaps" are your enemy. They're easy to shore up with an explanation, but they have to be answered with intelligence or the average reader will throw the book against the wall. Also, if the book takes months, it's going to either be a LONG read, or you'll be skipping over chunks of her existence. The further away from the minute-by-minute life of the heroine, the quicker you'll lose your audience. While I know it's easier to make the tension strong by increasing the length of time, it's a writing crutch that's actually going to hurt you in the long run. The best mysteries and suspense novels last about five to seven days of "real time" for the hero or heroine. Then you can detail things and make it STICK in the reader's mind---whether she's left without food and water and keeps getting weaker, or whether they're torturing her for fun.

3. Have you engaged all the readers senses "in the crisis?" Remember, every moment you skip over is a moment the reader is blinded to her pain, her fear, her smarts. Always keep your timeline in the back of your head. Click off the hours in your mind . . . has she eaten? Has she slept? What about using the bathroom or slimy teeth and bad breath? A word or two is enough, whether taking a moment to rub the bottom of her blouse across her teeth after waking from a fitful catnap, or feeling her stomach cramp from lack of food, or wondering whether she can bring herself to eventually drink from the toilet if she gets thirsty enough. A person can go without food for weeks, but will only last about seven days without water.

Plus, if she's locked in, how's she SOLVING the deaths? You've given us the identities of the killers right away, so what's left to solve? If it's just a matter of escape, that might lose some readers who aren't left wondering about anything other than about her health. You might consider adding a "twist" she didn't expect (maybe the couple holding her aren't really the killers) that forces her to re-examine what she thought she knew---about 2/3 of the way through. THEN she has something to solve.

Okay, on to the rest of the questions:

Is my book idea sellable?

Possibly. It's a decent plot, but again---it's all in the telling of it. If you write well, then sure.

How much money can I expect to make compared to the time I must put into a book?

It's a BAD idea to think in terms of money to time when you're writing. Books don't make as much as you'd think. The average advance for a paperback mystery is $5,000-10,000. This is normally split into two or three pieces over the course of a YEAR, and it will be 2-3 more years before you see any more. It's not really until your 5th or 6th book that you start to see any level of income that will pay the bills on a regular basis. But that doesn't mean it's not possible. It's just not *likely*.

How much writing experience do I need to publish a book?

As much as it takes to tell a good story! You need a good, solid background in grammar, composition, spelling, and punctuation---but it seems you have a pretty good grasp from your questions. Then it's just the matter of learning characterization, pacing, and flow. If you already have a grasp of that, then that's about all the training you'll need.

How do I support myself while I'm writing?

Well, you're in school right now, so I don't see that as a problem since I presume you live with your parents. Once you're living on your own, you'll be wanting a job. Publishing checks are infrequent enough that you might as well accept now that they're not going to pay the power bill on the first of every month. But they MIGHT make a down payment on a new car, or pay tuition for college every so often.

Is it harder for first-time authors?

Harder in what way? It's hard for EVERY author to sell a book. Publishers are picky creatures, but they're easy to please with a really good book. Doesn't much matter if you're new or a 20-year veteran. The book's the thing. It's just that veterans have figured out what the publisher wants, so it's quicker. But not easier.

Is it harder for young authors?

No more so than any other age. If you can tell a good story, you can. If you can't, age won't fix it. ;)

How do I find a publisher?

Ah, here's the real question! First you have to finish the book. Then you have to POLISH the book. There's no second chances with a publisher or agent, so if you send them something that's not your best work, they're crossed off the list with a rejection---even if they MIGHT have accepted a later, better version. Take your time. While I know it's hard to think of, publishing is a SLOOOOOW process. Acceptance to shelf is 18-24 months. Don't give the book any less than that level of commitment BEFORE acceptance. When you're done, put it in a drawer and forget about it for 2-5 months. When you take it out, you're going to find sentences you want to reword, plus weird things you didn't realize you did (like a bedroom carpet that's blue in chapter 1 and polka dotted in chapter 6.) We all do it. Once you're done editing, put it in the drawer again and write something else. By about the third time, you'll be pretty happy with it.

Then you'll want to find an agent to find a good publisher. When you're finished, and are happy with the final book, there are some places to check out:

AgentQuery not only lists a bunch of good agents, but has an AWESOME page on how to write a query letter. Yes, all of us have to write query letters, and synopses of the plot, and we all hate it. It's a skill to be learned and don't skimp on the time you take to learn it. The query letter is all that stands between you and someone actually agreeing to read the book. Write a bad query, and nobody will ever take the time to look at the chapters. Again, patience is your friend.

The other sites are ones to start to educate you on who to AVOID. There are plenty of agents and publishers out there who want nothing more than to have you empty your purse in their direction. If you learn who they are, you can stay clear of getting scammed.

What goes into a book proposal?

Query. Proposals are for non-fiction---like self-help books and such. See above.

How do I promote my book?

If you get a good publisher, you DON'T. The publisher promotes your book. You only have to promote your book if you self-publish and I'd suggest you not do that until there's no other choice. It's a hard life, and takes time away from writing the NEXT book, because you're constantly promoting. That's no life for a writer.

I recently read that if I am accepted by a publisher, than I will receive a "day job" where I will have very little energy outside of writing.  Does this mean that writing will need to be my absolute main focus or something else?

Hmm... don't know where you read that. Publishers don't offer "jobs" to writers. They offer contracts. When and how you write the next book is entirely up to you. Many writers I know have day jobs and write at nights and on the weekends. Very few do it full-time. I'm one of the full-timers, but only because my husband works to pay the bills. Without that, I'd be back in the office.

Again, don't worry about the money aspect. Worry about the BOOK. Tell a good story, and someone will buy it. :)

Hope that helps, and feel free to ask any other questions you might have. Good luck!


Writing Books

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Cathy Clamp


I'm happy to answer questions about any aspect of writing novels, from the beginning kernel of an idea through completion. I can help with writing a query letter and synopsis to an agent or editor. I can explain publishing terminology and acronyms. I can also assist with questions about verifying the credentials of agents/publishers and how to proceed once you've been accepted for publication. I can teach the rules of formatting a manuscript, creating viable plots, characterization and flow in the following genres: romance, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, suspense, horror, women's fiction, mainstream and mystery.


I'm a USA Today bestselling author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance for Tor/Forge Books. Along with a co-author, I've published fifteen novels (combination of mass market and trade softcover) since 2003, and have contracts for four more books through 2011.

Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Western Outdoor Writers, Horror Writers of America.

Tor/Forge Books, Western Reflections Publishing, BenBella Books, Running Press, Wild Child Publishing. Many others.

My educational background is limited to real life experience of publishing novels commercially for the past five years.

Awards and Honors
USA Today bestseller, Waldenbooks Mass Market Paperback Top 20 bestseller, Nielsen BookScan Top 20 bestseller, RT BOOKreviews Career Achievement Award winner, 2009, Book Buyers Best Award for Paranormal, Romantic Times Best Werewolf Novel, Write Touch Readers Award, EVVY Best Historical Chronicle Award, The Lories Best Paranormal. Many others.

©2016 All rights reserved.