Let's talk about motivated teenagers.
When I was in high school, I thought I was a motivated teen.
I was president of the National Honor Society, vice president of the drama club, captain of the academic team, secretary of Youth in Government, and had a GPA higher than 4.0.
Apparently, being motivated = being a total dork.
Sometimes, when I look back at all those hours wasted goofing off, napping, doing nothing, I think, "You know, I could have gotten a head start on this whole novel-writing thing and been awesome and successful by now!" Then I remember the crap my 19-year-old self wrote and I want to smack myself upside the head with a blunt instrument, because no one, not even my blog readers, should be subjected to that (unless it's for entertainment, and snarky comments are included.)
I think it's better that I waited until I was an (im)mature adult before I started taking my writing seriously. Fortunately for the universe, book publishing, and current teenagers, not all teenagers suck as bad as I did. In fact, some of them are actually talented.
Last week, I read The DUFF by Kody Keplinger. The book has a frank discussion of sex, one that I think teens will relate really well to and appreciate (and will probably make adults across the country call for the book to be thrown out of homes and libraries alike). And the voice is dead-on and honest. I think this is one thing that teen authors have that adults authors don't. When I attended SCBWI-LA, many of the workshop sessions suggested interviewing teenagers to get a good hold on voice or emotions. Teen authors can totally bypass that step because, well, they are teens. They have that voice and emotion, and their friends talk to them constantly about their own feelings (or don't, and hey, that's a relevant character trait, too.) They don't have to visit high school because they're in high school. In fact, many of the authors below admit that events in their high schools inspired the works that eventually got them published.
Here are some examples of some of those talented writers who just happened to have been in high school when they published their first books:
The aforementioned Kody Keplinger, who wrote The DUFF when she was a senior in high school.
Steph Bowe, who landed super agent Ginger Clark at the age of 15.
Though he's older than me, Christopher Paolini penned the first book in the Inheritance Cycle - Eragon - when he was just 15. (I will note that he might be a bad example, because the book was first published by his parent's company. However, when Carl Hiaasen's stepson found the book and loved it, Hiaasen brought the book to Knopf and Eragon saw its second print run before Paolini's 19th birthday. So, still a success story, just not by the traditional formula.)
Hannah Moskowitz, who has a fantastic blog and published Break when she was 18 or so. What's more, she's got three more books coming out: Invincible Summer (April 2011), The Animals Were Gone (Spring 2012), and the MG Zombie Tag (Fall 2011).
And I have to include S.E. Hinton. Even though she's not a teen anymore, her classic The Outsiders is taught in schools, and well-known by even people who don't read a lot. And she was 17 when she started writing it.
OK, but here's the thing - even though these writers are younger in age (except for Hinton, obvs), I don't think any of them are short on talent. I'm sure some of them don't appreciate having their age pointed out at every turn (in fact, I know one in particular is looking forward to leaving her teens behind so she can just be an author-author instead of a teen-author), but I don't think the fact that these individuals were published when they were teen-aged means that they wouldn't have been published had they been middle-aged. Many of them probably didn't even mention their age in their query letters, which was probably smart - let the writing speak for itself.
I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for these young go-getters. Justine Larbelastier posited that anything younger than 30 was still very young to be a published author. So I guess I still have four years and four months to prove that I'm not a total slacker.
As for authors who are teen-aged? Well, I guess they're just getting a head start.