Why Teen Authors Should Build a Writing Portfolio Before Self-Publishing

Nov 6, 2019

The publishing industry is changing, and that is a beautiful thing. Voices are emerging from cultures that have previously been silenced in print. Stories are no longer squelched by industry constraints. Genre-specific niches have a pedestal and are flourishing. With the emergence of cost-free self-publishing through places like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, more and more writers are choosing to branch out on their own. 

As a reader, I find this exciting.  As a novelist and poet, I find this exciting (mostly).  As a teacher of creative writing, I feel incredibly hesitant, and here’s why.  It is not uncommon for students to enroll in my classes having already self-published a book or two, yet it is evident they do not have the experience necessary to develop their talents, and as a result they’ve likely published something that wasn’t ready for publication (self-publishing also requires several steps that young authors like to skip, but that will not be addressed within this blog).

It is my belief that high school students should move through a publication process (as most authors do) in order to grow and make the most of their ambitions and talents. Such a process includes publishing shorter pieces, entering contests, engaging in conferences and/or writing groups, AND receiving and responding to rejection (yep, that’s important).

Students should look into publishing short fiction, short nonfiction, poetry, and essays in magazines, newspapers, and contests. The New York Times posted an informative article full of opportunities last year. This blog has a nice list of places that accept publications for all ages. And this page gives publication possibilities as well as information on conferences and camps. This page contains a compilation of contests. Possibilities for exposure and experience are endless in this digital and global age.

Reasons to Build a Portfolio Before Self-Publishing:

  1. Input: Through submitting to magazines, newspapers, or contests, students open themselves up to input on their writing, and such input is invaluable in helping writers to grow into their abilities. I am not the writer I was in 9th grade, and I am not the writer I was three years ago. Writers use input to grow. Without it, they do not develop focus and technique. They remain stagnant.
  2. Exposure: This point is two-fold. First, when submitting to magazines and contests, students will be encouraged to read other submissions to make sure they are submitting in the right spots. Sometimes a writer’s work will not fit into the form or vision of a particular magazine or contest, and that’s ok. Students gain exposure to what is currently being published through these experiences, and they begin to fine-tune their own style through reading their contemporaries. Second, if a student is published, they begin to build a portfolio or a resume of experience (perhaps even a fan-base). Both types of exposure are helpful.
  3. Credibility: The publishing industry is cut-throat. It is difficult to succeed in publication if your definition of success is strictly monetary. A writer’s goals must be intrinsically tethered to purpose, impact, and vision. Because self-publishing is widespread and easy to accomplish, self-publishing itself is not necessarily a success, nor is it necessarily credible. Having smaller publications, winning contests, and building exposure all lend credibility to writers and help affirm those intrinsic goals, which, in turn, gives writers a fulfilled, successful feeling.

If you’d like to self-publish, great! Be patient and make sure you’ve done your due diligence. Self-publishing just because you can does not lead to long-term success. Give your talent and your stories the experience and exposure needed for growth.

Jess Woods currently resides in upstate New York with her husband and three children. Though she spent her childhood and adolescence in Georgia, Jess has lived in eight different states and has a fondness for traveling and experiencing different regions, as each one has taught her something about herself and about community. Jess enjoys reading, writing, and all things music (ok, most things music). Teaching is the perfect career for her since she loves being able to experience an appreciation for words and story come alive within other people.