Los Angeles Times

By Susan Carpenter

"Teen Authors’ Novel Approach"

Amelia Atwater-Rhodes’ life hasn’t changed much in the two years she’s been a published author. Her mother still makes her do the dishes. He teachers don’t cut her any slack on homework.

"I’m 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 Tarbox’s 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 who’s 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, you’re 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 didn’t 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. Liebowitz’s manuscript, which he wrote in three months last summer between semesters at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, "didn’t need much work at all."

"The thing I love about it is it’s written [in] a teenager’s voice," Gale said, "and he’s very adamant that there’s only one way to do anything. That’s the way teenagers think. I just think kids are gonna relate to it because the voice is so true."

Liebowitz’s youth will be one of the book’s selling points when it is released in September, Gale said.

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

"If the book doesn’t deliver, nobody cares how old [the author] is. You don’t read a book and say, ‘Oh well. She’s only 14. I’ll 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, you’re 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 children’s literature with Publisher’s Weekly. She stopped short of calling it a trend because "it wasn’t all of the sudden that teenagers in the 1990’s thought they would write," she said. "Literary teenagers have always been writing."

It’s 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 they’d 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.

"There’s nothing necessarily wrong with a having a child’s 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. It’s not teaching people to make a qualitative difference between something that’s good for your age and what’s really good."

That sentiment isn’t lost on many of the young writers who’ve 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 York’s Hunter College in the falls, 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."