You may have heard of Christopher Paolini, who started his bestselling fantasy series, Inheritance, when he was 15. But when we went looking for the youngest authors ever, we found some astonishing younger examples. We’ve restricted this list to traditionally published novels for simplicity, and while it’s near-impossible not to miss someone, we think the authors we did find are pretty amazing.
10. Flavia Bujor
Flavia Bujor wrote her first book when she was 12 and published it with HarperCollins when she was 14. The Prophecy of the Stones is about three teenage girls who come together to fulfill an ancient prophecy, while in a parallel world another girl lies dying in a hospital. The success or failure of the their mission will determine the fate of their world and the sick girl’s life.
Bujor was born in Romania but lives in France, where the book has sold 20,000 copies. It’s been translated in 23 languages and was released in the United States in 2004 to quite negative reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal. She plans to write different kinds of books in the future and doesn’t want to be seen as a one-trick pony, saying to The Enquirer “I really don’t want people to think … I will always write this kind of book. It was just a beginning.”
9. Nancy Yi Fan
Nancy Yi Fan is a Chinese-American author born in Beijing in 1993. She moved to Syracuse, New York, when she was seven years old, started writing her first novel, Swordbird, when she was eleven, and completed it a year later. She boldly emailed it directly to the CEO of HarperCollins, who published it in 2007. It was a New York Times bestseller, and HarperCollins also published Sword Quest in 2008 and Sword Mountain in 2012.
Oprah named Fan one of the world’s smartest kids and, in an interesting turn of events, Fan’s hero Jackie Chan also praised the book. Critics, however, have mentioned that the plot, which features a variety of good and evil magical sword-fighting birds, is extremely similar to Redwall and that the book suffers from a lack of originality.
8. Jake Marcionette
Jake Marcionette wrote Just Jake, a loosely autobiographical novel about moving to a new school and “how kids can do big things,” in the summer of 2012 at the age of 12. After finishing, he allegedly searched the internet for tips on getting published and got an agent two days later. His novel reached the New York Times bestseller list, hitting seventh in children’s middle grade books. It was also featured in Publishers Weekly. Just Jake has been praised for its authentic kid’s voice, which is no surprise.
Jake is very confident in his abilities, saying, “I think I’m a good writer and I knew I had a message to tell people.” He says he always knew that his book would be a bestseller, and he wasn’t shy about cold-calling literary agents until he got one. His mother always made him and his sister each complete a book every summer, and he says he took this one more seriously than the others. He plans to continue the series for as long as possible.
7. Alexander Pope
Alexander Pope is the oldest author on this list — when he wrote his first poem, “Ode to Solitude,” at the age of 12 it was the year 1700. He suffered from ill health following a childhood illness and had a curved spine, asthma and headaches. He also had a disjointed education due to his illness and tough laws against Catholics. According to his sister, all he did was write and read.
His first major work, Pastorals, was published in 1709, which brought him instant fame at age 21. This was followed by An Essay on Criticism in May 1711, which was also highly successful. His most well known poem is The Rape of the Lock, a satirical look at a high society quarrels.
Pope gained great financial success from his works, was lauded as the greatest English poet of the eighteenth century, and is the third most frequently quoted author in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations behind Shakespeare and Tennyson. He died in 1744.
6. Jyoti and Suresh Guptara
The Guptara twins finished the first draft of their 700-page epic fantasy, Conspiracy of Calaspia, when they were just eleven. Set on the fictional titular planet, hero Byrn Bellyset joins a motley band of brave individuals to fight an enemy who defies logic. It is the first book in the Insanity series — they had to rewrite it ten times before it was finally accepted for publication when they were seventeen. It hit number two on the fiction bestseller list in India and secured foreign publishing deals — the rights to the novel’s Italian version were sold for €60,000, while the German rights sold for a six-figure advance.
The twins speak fluent English and German, and learned to read and write at age three. When Jyoti turned 18 in 2007, he was the youngest full-time novelist in the world. He also published an article in The Wall Street Journal when he was 15, the youngest person to do so.
5. Mattie Stepanek
Mattie Stepanek was born with a rare form of muscular dystrophy, had to lug around an oxygen tank and was wheelchair-bound up to his death at the age of 14. That didn’t stop him from being the best-selling author of five books of poetry, a peace advocate and the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s National Goodwill Ambassador from 2002 to 2004. He started writing poetry when he was three years old to cope with the death of his brother (his mother has an adult-onset form of muscular dystrophy and his three older siblings died of it in early childhood, in the worst family tradition ever).
A book of his poetry was published by a Virginia press in 2001 and he was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, People Magazine and Larry King Live. Four more books of poems that he hoped would inspire people followed. He died in June 2004, having achieved all three of his wishes — publishing a book, meeting Oprah, and talking about peace with Jimmy Carter.
4. Alec Greven
The third grader’s love tips include being friendly, neat and cheerful. He was inspired to write the book after seeing mistakes boys in school made when trying to get girls, although he says he’s a bit too young to be dating. Fox News did a report on the book, as did The Washington Post. Alec has also written How to Talk to Moms, How to Talk to Dads and How to Talk to Santa, all of which are published by HarperCollins. He made the New York Times bestseller list for a book he said took a week to write.
3. Daisy Ashford
Daisy Ashford is famous for writing The Young Visiters. While she wrote the book in 1890 at the age of nine, the book wasn’t published until 1919. In an interesting stylistic choice, she preserved her childlike spelling and punctuation, as evidenced by the error in the title.
However, that wasn’t her earliest published story. When she was four, she dictated a story called “The Life of Father McSwiney” to her father, which was published in 1983. Other stories and plays included “A Woman’s Crime” and “The Hangman’s Daughter.”
Known as a child prodigy, Ashford didn’t write in her teens or later life. She may have been ashamed of her writing, as she reportedly began an autobiography but destroyed it. But ‘The Young Visiters’ was an immediate success when published, and several of her other stories were published in 1920. She said she felt very removed from her younger self that wrote the book, and was surprised by its fame. “I can never feel all the nice things that have been said about The Young Visiters, are really due to me at all, but to a Daisy Ashford of so long ago that she seems almost another person.”
2. Christopher Beale
At the age of six, Christopher Beale wrote a story in his bedroom after lunch every day. While this in itself isn’t usual, Beale’s grew to 1,500 words and five chapters. Called This and Last Season’s Excursions, it was published in London in November 2006. The story is about his favorite stuffed animals. A puppy and a kitten feature as they rescue owls, fight lions and search for a moving city.
He beat the Guinness World Record for youngest male author by 42 days, having completed the novel when he was six years and 118 days old. The previous record-holder was a Brazilian boy who wrote a book called Dragon Island. While Beale hasn’t had much commercial success, the impressive record stands.
1. Dorothy Straight
Dorothy Straight is on record as being the youngest published author ever. At the age of four, when many children can’t read let alone write, she wrote a story for her grandmother. Her parents took a shine to it and sent it to Pantheon Books, who published it in 1964 when Straight was 6. Called How the World Began, she apparently wrote and illustrated the story in one evening when her mother insisted she answer the question “How did the world begin?”
Some of her ideas are attributed to a play put on in her preschool and it’s clear that her parents had a big influence, but it’s still impressive that four year old Dorothy was able to write a complete story that’s still known today. It even has a short review from the prestigious Kirkus.