[hear the deal from the esteemed John Strausbaugh]



Los Angeles Times

By Susan Carpenter

"Teen Authors Novel Approach"

Amelia Atwater-Rhodes life hasnt changed much in the two years shes been a published author. Her mother still makes her do the dishes. He teachers dont cut her any slack on homework.

"Im still a high school teen," sighed the young fiction writer, who has two published vampire novels to her credit.

The Concord, Mass., 16-year-old has been writing full-length works of juvenile fiction since she was 12. Nearly two dozen remain in three-ring binders on her bedroom shelves. But in 1998, she got her lucky break.

Working with an English teacher who was also a literary agent, she won a contract with Delacorte Press in New York for "In the Forests of the Night" (1999) and "Demon in my View" (2000). Another pair are due next year.

Atwater-Rhodes is part of a growing group of teens writing novels, confessionals and nonfiction for major publishing houses competing in a booming juvenile book market.

Published teen-written books are nothing new, but editors at several publishing houses agree the number is up this year. In June, leading publishers released "Pure" (Grove Atlantic, $13), an angst-ridden confessional by 19-year-old Rebecca Ray, who dropped out of high school at age 16, "Katie.com" (Dutton, $20), 17-year-old Katherine Tarboxs personal account of online sexual victimization; and Atwater-Rhodes "Demon in my View."

More books are due out in the fall from adolescent unknowns, including "Teen Angst? Naaah" (Free Spirit Publishing, $13), a collection of essays by Ned Vizzini, a 19-year-old New Yorker whos being marketed as a youthful David Sedaris, and "Wall Street Wizard" (Simon & Schuster, $16), by 18-year-old Jay Liebowitz of Moorpark.

"There is a much larger market for teen books right now, so in a larger market, youre pulling from more sources," said David Gale, editorial director of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. "Teenage writing is one of those sources."

Gale approached Liebowitz about writing a book after reading a 1998 New York Times profile about the 17-year-old whiz kid and his investment Web site, http://www.StreetWhiz.com. Liebowitz had no prior writing credits, but that didnt concern Gale. (The Web site still exists but has been transformed into an electronic e-mail business news service and ad for his coming book.)

"I could see the scope of his knowledge about investing and the clarity of his writing from [his Web site]," Gale said. Liebowitzs manuscript, which he wrote in three months last summer between semesters at the University of Pennsylvanias Wharton School of Business, "didnt need much work at all."

"The thing I love about it is its written [in] a teenagers voice," Gale said, "and hes very adamant that theres only one way to do anything. Thats the way teenagers think. I just think kids are gonna relate to it because the voice is so true."

Liebowitzs youth will be one of the books selling points when it is released in September, Gale said.

That was already the case with Atwater-Rhodes two books, but ultimately its the quality of the writing that sells.

"If the book doesnt deliver, nobody cares how old [the author] is. You dont read a book and say, Oh well. Shes only 14. Ill give her the benefit of the doubt," said Beverly Horowitz, publisher of trade books for young readers with Doubleday/Dell/Knopf/Crown.

"As an editor in the position of evaluating manuscripts, youre always looking for talent," said Horowitz, who signed Atwater-Rhodes to Delacorte. "The age is second."

The increase in published teen writers is "an unusual cluster," said Elizabeth Devereaux, a contributing editor for childrens literature with Publishers Weekly. She stopped short of calling it a trend because "it wasnt all of the sudden that teenagers in the 1990s thought they would write," she said. "Literary teenagers have always been writing."

Its just that few of them have been published until now. Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott and Edith Wharton long ago wrote novels as teenagers, but those works were published long after theyd established their names.

Anne Frank, who began writing her diary at 13 while in hiding from the Nazis during World War II, and S.E. Hinton, who wrote "The Outsiders" at age 16 and had it published one year later, are anomalies.

Young people who can produce something enduring at a young age are "the rare exception," Devereaux said.

"Theres nothing necessarily wrong with a having a childs endeavor in book form," she said. "The risk in pushing works by teenagers into publication is the message it sends that things ought to be published. Its not teaching people to make a qualitative difference between something thats good for your age and whats really good."

That sentiment isnt lost on many of the young writers whove been lucky enough to win publishing deals recently. Essayist Vizzini estimates his writing is "20% to 30% more alluring" because of his age.

"I have no illusions about that," said the 19-year-old whose first published pieces appeared in the weekly New York Press when he was a freshman in high school.

Vizzini will attend New Yorks Hunter College in the fall, where he plans to study English. He hopes to work as a journalist and eventually published another book. But first, he said, "I have to get a lot better."