21 and Under: The Wonder Kids of Literature

You know that moment when you realize that the author of your favorite book was just a baby when they published it? Me too. And by baby, I mean below the legal U.S. drinking age. Professional sports teams are dotted with 18-year-old athletic prodigies and the music industry is seeing more and more teenagers being offered million dollar record deals. We don’t always think of the publishing industry in the same way, but more and more teenage writers are seeing their work published before becoming legal adults.

Christopher Paolini

Image courtesy of

What were you doing age at 15? If you were Christopher Paolini, you were self-publishing Eragon, the first book in what would become the Inheritance Cycle. Paolini never expected to sell as many books as he did but by age 18, he had already published two bestselling fantasy novels and by age 21, it was three. In addition to writing, Paolini illustrated the cover of the first Eragon edition and drew the maps inside it.

S.E. Hinton

Image courtesy of

Another teenage writer who met with unexpected success was S.E. Hinton. Hinton was a senior in high school when she completed her debut novel The OutsidersAn emotional tale of teenage violence, it was inspired by two gangs that Hinton encountered at her Tulsa, Oklahoma high school. Highly praised by critics, it led to Hinton being hailed as the voice of her generation. She likely would have published the novel at an even younger age had it not been for her excessive writer’s block.

Veronica Roth

Image courtesy of

Paolini isn’t the only writer on this list to publish a fantasy novel which would become the start of a bestselling series. Veronica Roth completed almost all of her debut novel Divergent before age 21. As an undergraduate student at Northwestern University, she somehow found the time to balance her academics and social life with writing what would become a bestselling YA novel. She was 22 when the book was published has since completed the trilogy, as well as several other publications.

Image courtesy of

It’s hard enough to imagine writing a bestselling book in high school, but just imagine doing it at an ever younger age. Gordon Korman submitted the first manuscript of his children’s novel This Can’t Be Happening at McDonald Hall when he was 12 years old. By the time Korman graduated high school, he had five published books to his name. Today, that list has grown by 70 and now includes a television series. It’s worth mentioning that the book he wrote at age 12 was the start of a series which was optioned for television but never produced.


Bret Easton Ellis

Image courtesy of

Brett Easton Ellis completed his debut novel Less Than Zero, while still an undergraduate student at Bennington College. The controversy surrounding this book, due to the drug culture it discussed, was such that it was dropped by one publishing giant only to be picked up by another.  It proved an excellent selling tool, though. The free publicity the book received, as a result, caused its sales to skyrocket. 

Featured image courtesy of