Young Writers and Self-Publishing: Positive or Harmful?


It’s no secret that the publishing industry has changed a lot over the past five years. Advances in technology have made the publishing process easier than ever before — and taken a lot of the power away from large traditional publishing houses that effectively controlled what material reached the reading public. All that is now changing, and kids (and their parents) are taking advantage of their growing options.

Self-publishing has grown into a huge industry that makes it easy for anyone to get his or her manuscript professionally edited, marketed and printed into a book. While industry professionals still look down on self-publishing and most self-published work rarely gains a large following, for kids and teenagers aspiring to be writers, it provides a much-wanted service: instant publication. What could be wrong with that?

The New York Times ran an article about kids and self-publishing recently and raised some valid questions about the value of self-published work and whether parents provide the funds for this service (which can range into thousands of dollars per book) more to make their kids feel good about themselves rather than as a reward for a truly monumental effort. The Times says:

The mothers and fathers who foot the bill say they are simply trying to encourage their children, in the same way that other parents buy gear for a promising lacrosse player or ship a Broadway aspirant off to theater camp.

But others see the blurring of the line between publishing and self-publishing as a lost opportunity to teach children about adversity and experience.

But is self-publishing really the same as providing sports equipment? Kids who play sports don’t get to join the NBA or play in Wimbledon right away. It takes years and years of dedicated practice before they have any hope at competing at such a high level — and even so, few of them succeed in that goal. In many ways, writing is the same. It takes a long time to become confident in your skills. What motivation does a 12-year-old who has already published a book have to improve her writing? She has already achieved the highest pinnacle.

While having a printed book made from a child’s manuscript may be initially rewarding, I wonder whether that feeling of accomplishment will fade over time. If the aspiring writer continues to follow his or her passion and develops stronger writing skills, the earlier published works may become something to be ashamed of — an embarrassing childhood relic.

Apart from the questionable wisdom of paying to self-publish your child’s work from an emotional standpoint, such endeavors may actually endanger the child’s future chances of actually publishing with an established company. Like I said before, self-publishing is not regarded favorably in the industry, because most self-published authors are ones who tried and failed to get published through the traditional path. Having 5 titles that sold 15 copies each on Amazon does not help you when you are trying to find an agent or land a book contract.

What do you think? Is self-publishing just a way for parents to show support for their aspiring children? Or does it encourage self-importance and instant gratification? Share your thoughts in the comments.


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Photo credit: ralphunden


Sarah M.
Sarah M5 years ago

I think it's a good thing, particularly for young adults rather than children. Have you seen some of the crap that does get published professionally simply because of popularity and influence? Self-publishing can give brilliant young writers a bit of an upper hand in such a competitive field. There was a day not to long ago when women met with great difficulty trying to publish their own work, which proved impossible without the assistance of a man.

Joleene N.
Joleene N.5 years ago

But when that 12 year old's manuscript gets negative reviews or doesn't sell then IF that 12 year old is SERIOUS about writing she/he will work to improve. If they don't, then they weren't serious anyway, and chances are no one will ever see the book in the first place. That's the beauty of the self publishing movement - readers get to decide what they like and what they want to read, versus following the trends that the publishers tell people they want to read. If anything, I'd be more concerned about children publishing and getting negative reviews that DISCOURAGE them rather than being too encouraged to grow. But then I've also taken the time to actually READ the comments on many self published books on Amazon. Few are complimentary, especially for poorly written material.

If parents are paying thousands of dollars for self publishing, then obviously they haven't taken five minutes to use google. Self publishing can, and should, cost next to nothing. But, send this article to Christopher Paolini - whose parents published his first book themselves. 25 million copies later, I think he'd disagree.

Bonnie m.
Bonnie mutchler5 years ago

Self publishing may be looked at badly by the publishing industry mostly because they haven't got their greedy fingers into it, but more and more "named" authors are getting into it. My daughter has an book cover business and she has made covers for several very prominent writers getting into e-books and self publishing. Even Rowling is getting into it, so the author's disparaging remarks about self published works being somehow inferior is wrong and insulting to many very good writers.

Donna F.
Donna F5 years ago

Writing is good for kids. Publishing what they write may not always be good for them, but the parents that pay for self-publishing are the ones that would have photocopied their child's work and distributed it at work or church for all to see and admire their progeny before there was such a thing as self-publishing and the internet. Still, writing is good for kids.

Joan E.
Joan E5 years ago

I have mixed feelings about this. As a child, it made me proud and confident whenever something I wrote made it into the school paper or an anthology of poems by kids. It never crossed my mind to have my work self-published or to do that for my own daughter. On the one hand, I think it would be a wonderful gift of love if your parent cares about you and what you've been writing enough to have it bound into a book. But on the other hand, it seems excessive to spend thousands of dollars on something like that. Maybe the best compromise is a parent-child project where you make the child's work into a book that you both value, without spending all the money on vanity publishing.

Ronald N.
Ronald Nichols5 years ago

I think it's wonderful if they are able to publish young, it gets them established as writers to expand their careers at they get older.

C.M Padget
Carolyn Padget5 years ago

"What motivation does a 12-year-old who has already published a book have to improve her writing?"

They would still be motivated to improve their writing to either have a best seller, or to get on with a major publisher. If they truly have the potential to be a great writer, a publishing house wil pick them up regardless. Self-publishing/print-on-demand certainly did not hurt Christopher Paolini.

Midge C.
Midge C5 years ago

some parents may have the child work after school to pay for things , just like getting a car. i wouldn't rush to judge why this is or is not good. i think it is mostly positive to encourage young people to write and read and express ideas as well as use they're imaginations.

s. ryan
p. q5 years ago

i dunno, but, it just kinda sounds like something a really annoying parent would do. the kind that is super-competitive but is possibly self-conscious of this fact, and so goes out of his/her way to pretend to be humble w/r/t his/her kid. and really annoying adults tend to raise really annoying children... which is sad and unfortunate.. i guess. but i dunno.

Patrick Dieter
Patrick Dieter5 years ago

So, your suggestion is that the transformation of ideas into a physical artifact is the pinnacle of accomplishment? Spoken like a true blogger. Self-important, smug and narcissistic. NO! Your statement might have had some validity in the case of a child who self who had self-published and had a million-seller novel. History is rife with cases of lives damaged from fame achieved too early and too easily. We love to create our little princes and princesses and then revile and execute them. Michael Jackson is a great example of that.

You need to have a look in the mirror here, Ms. Klenke. Writing something and having it published ain't "all that." Your perspective is grossly skewed, and I fear that some poor kid will be cheated out of the opportunity to express a God-given gift, just because some well-meaning parent reads this screed and doesn't see past the self-referential layer.