There are few industries where being 35 years old is considered ‘young’. Perhaps politics is one, or being the Pope. But writing is different. Unless you’re Zadie Smith, Helen Oyeyemi, or Bret Easton Ellis, it’s unlikely you’ve written a novel or short story collection in your early or mid-20s. Most writers take time to develop their ideas, their craft and their voice. Or they’ve given up all hope of a real career by their early 30s and settled for writer’s penury.
Regardless, 35 is considered young and rightly so. Most writers I have worked with have been under 35 years old and writing their first book. Writing a book is an incredibly tough mental task and helping to shape that book and publish it is a real pleasure. Young writers need support, they need guidance and limits for their writing. A debut book at any age is a daunting process, but for a young writer the temptation to fill that book with everything they’ve learned up to this point is fierce. Working through edits with the writer and discussing where things should be cut or reworked is a rewarding process, and a valuable one for the writer in question. Learning how to be edited is difficult, taking feedback on the chin, being humble enough to accept changes you agree with but your ego may be bruised by is not easy.
The enthusiasm and unbridled energy young writers have is infectious. No jaded feelings about their fourth novel (which followed the two damp sellers that followed the ‘electric debut’) for the young writer, oh no. The young writer is eager to write, to get their ideas out there in the public. This is what publishers and editors live for. However, this is also why the young writer must be protected. Publishing young writers carries great responsibility. The ‘next big thing’ is generally what the media is looking for (unless it’s the ‘come back’ of course). This means the young writer, if their book is successful, could be celebrated wildly. It’s possible they may never be celebrated this much ever again. It’s not something the writer can really prepare for, but as a publisher you can try to make sure they aren’t exploited and over exposed.
For a few years the writer has been creating their book on their own, from their own head to paper, without sharing much of it with anyone. Suddenly it’s out there for all to read, that transition is a tricky one to navigate. It’s a nerve wracking time for the young writer, seeing their work out there in the public, being reviewed, criticized, interviewed and discussed. It’s important for the publisher or publicist to talk through this process with their writers. If the publisher looks after the young writer at the beginning of their career, then hopefully that writer will go on to write more books, even better books, sometimes even more successful books.
We must celebrate our young writers, but we must also care for them. They are the future of our literary heritage, and with each new cohort comes new ideas, new characters and new stories. Look after them and we can enjoy their talents for many years to come.
Kit Caless is a writer and broadcaster. He is a regular contributor to Vice magazine and to publications as varied as Architectural Digest, The Quietus and Ambit.
He is co-founder and editor at Influx Press, a small independent pubisher of fiction and creative non-fiction. He lives in Hackney which is home to several excellent Wetherspoons.