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By teens for anyone.

In late July I read an article in the Guardian online titled., "Teen Writer Anna Caltabiano: How I Self-Published My First Book." In the piece., Caltabiano states, "I knew nothing about the publishing process, so I began to read everything from Publishing for Dummies to online author forums.

I learned how to draft a query letter, and sent it to a list of carefully compiled literary agents. I started to get excited when I began to receive responses, but this excitement quickly dissipated as I read through rejection after rejection. I lost count after 280." Did all of those negative responses stop her? No. Since she couldn't get a publisher for her book, she went the self-publishing route and now anyone can download her first novel, All That Is Red, from Amazon.

Caltabiano isn't the first teen to self-publish via e-book publishing technologies. There are a host of stories about teens who go that route--either because they couldn't find a publisher for their work, or because they want to keep control over the publishing process, some of the same reasons as adults who use digital self-publishing options for their work. It's likely that there are teens in your community who are thinking about, or working through, the self-publishing process at this very moment. It's likely that at least some of them could use the library's help in going through that process.


Editing experts: One of the things that I often hear about self-published titles is that they aren't as well-edited as titles that go through the traditional editing process. For many of the titles that are self-published, that is definitely true, but it doesn't have to be. Libraries can help teens in this area by connecting them to those who have writing expertise. This could be a teacher at a local school or college, or it might be someone who is a writer him- or herself. Just like you and your colleagues might find other types of experts to connect with teens--coding experts or fashion experts for example--why not also work to connect them to those who have experience in this part of the publishing business? Perhaps you have regular out-of-school meetings at the library where teens can work one-on-one with volunteer editors. Or, maybe you have a database of editing experts that teens can search and then contact someone who has the interests and expertise for which the teen is looking.

Financial experts: When a teen publishes his or her own book using a digital platform, the question of pricing is going to come up. What a great chance to connect teens to financial literacy experts who can talk with them about what to think about when pricing a book, and about how to be responsible with the dollars and cents the work they publish brings. As with editing experts, you might connect teens to others in the community who can give one-on-one support in this area, or you might offer one or more workshops on financial literacy in the digital self-publishing world.

Library collections: Does your library e-book vendor provide opportunities to add self-published materials? They might. If they do, why not give teens the chance to have their own work in your collection? Maybe you sponsor a contest in which teens who are self-published submit their work and a group of judges selects those that are going to be added to the library e-book catalog. For at least some teens in your community, having their work available in a search of the library's catalog will be empowering and inspiring.

Teacher support: Do teachers in your community know about the options teens have for self-publishing their work? It's possible, and maybe likely, that they don't. If teachers aren't aware, then on your next visit to a teacher meeting at the local school, ask the teachers in attendance if they think they have teens who are writers and who would be interested in publishing a book digitally. Ask them if they have assignments or projects for their students that involve producing stories or articles or poems. It's likely that the answer to at least one of those questions is going to be "Yes." That answer gives you an opportunity to talk about the ways they might support teen interest in self-publishing and/or suggest that the teachers use a self-publishing platform in order to publish work students produce in class. You can even inspire the teachers to go the digital self-publishing route for student work by showing them the poetry anthology of high school students in Los Gatos, California, who published their work using the Smashwords self-publishing platform.

Not just novels: A lot of the press about teens using digital tools to self-publish focuses on those teens who are writing fiction. Keep in mind that there are teens who have a story, or two, in them that might fall into the nonfiction, poetry, or graphic novel categories, and they can investigate and use digital self-publishing platforms as well. If you learn that teens have an interest in writing in genres other than fiction, or if you hear teens talking about the research they are doing on a favorite topic, talk with them about the idea of self-publishing and give them a chance to consider how they might move their interests into a more public arena.

Not only teens: Perhaps adults in the community are also interested in having their own work published digitally. The services that you provide for teens in this area would appeal to many adults as well. This could be a great chance to provide some opportunities for teens and adults to work together. Teens and adults who work together with experts or who evaluate digital self-publishing platforms can learn from each other and this could be a good way for teens to show adults that adolescents play an important role in the community and have value for the community.

Publishing platforms: There are quite a few self-publishing options for teens to consider when embarking on the digital self-publishing journey. The library can be a resource for teens to help them figure out which option best suits their needs. Library staff can help by providing resources that explain the similarities and differences between publishing platforms and even work with teens to give them opportunities to try out and discuss the different options available.


Popular self-publishing platforms for digital content include Kindle Direct Publishing and Smashwords. Before deciding what platform to use for their work, teens will want to answer several questions. For example:

Ease of use: How easy is it to add content to the site? Is there a lot of work that has to go into getting a book ready for the platform? If it does take a lot of preparation, is that preparation worthwhile in terms of getting a high-quality item out to market?

Formats: In what formats is it possible to publish the book? Does the platform only make publishing in its own proprietary format possible or are multiple formats available? Will the formats available be accessible to the audience for whom the book is being published?

Cover image: What are the requirements for a cover image? Can teens use their own art for the cover?

Illustrations: Is it possible to publish graphic novels or other forms of illustrative content, or does the platform only support text publishing?

Pricing: How does book pricing work? Is it possible to make the title available for free? Can the teen publishing the book set his or her own pricing?

Cost of Service: Does the digital self-publishing platform require a fee for using their service? If so, does that fee have a value in terms of extra services and support? For example, does the fee correlate to expanded marketing options?

Marketing: Does the service provide marketing support that will help a teen get the word out about the digital book published?

Royalties: Is there a royalty structure and if so, does it meet the needs of the teen author?

Terms of Service: What does the agreement between the teen and the publishing platform require? Does the teen author feel comfortable with what he or she has to agree with in order to self-publish the work?

Library Integration: Is it possible to make the digital self-published title available in the library e-catalog? If so, how easy is it to make the connection between the catalog and the self-published work?

As you work with teens who are embarking on the digital self-publishing journey, ask them to help come up with criteria for selecting the best platform to use. Don't forget, once a teen has gone through the digital self-publishing process, he or she will probably have insights that you can use as you work with other teens in this area. Remember, too, the teens that have self-published can act as experts for teens that are just starting out in this venture.

The world of digital self-publishing gives you a new venue for working with creative teens. Learn about it, so that you can support teen interests and give young adults in your community a chance to demonstrate how skilled and creative they are.


Ebook Publishing in the Classroom--Los Gatos High School Freshmen

Publish Amazing Poetry Anthology, Kindle Direct Publishing, Smashwords.

Teen Writer Anna Caltabiano: How I Self-Published My First Book, site/2014/jul/30/teen-author-annacaltabiano-how-i-self-published-my-first-book

Linda W. Braun is a past president of YALSA and the youth services manager for Seattle Public Library. She is also a professor of practice for Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Braun's latest book is Being A Teen Services Library Advocate (YALSA/Neal-Schuman, 2012). Contact her at or on Twitter @lbraun2000.
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Title Annotation:the unbound word; digital self publishing
Author:Braun, Linda W.
Publication:Voice of Youth Advocates
Date:Dec 1, 2014
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