On “Putting Yourself Out There”

Illustration by Briana.
Illustration by Briana.

Making art, photos, writing, or any other kind of creative work comes with the choice to share that work—or not. Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to send the results into the world, so the distinction between public and private creation has become even starker. To publish your output online the internet is to implicitly ask your friends, peers, and/or more distant audiences for commentary on your passions. It’s not silly or self-centered to showcase what you create to a broader audience than just yourself: A world in which artists or writers shared nothing for fear of seeming vain would be a brutally boring world to live in.

External validation and appreciation doesn’t have to be the “goal” of art. You can make art for yourself and yourself only, you can make it for your friends, or you can eschew “approval” from anyone. It’s easy to forget this when there are so many avenues like Tumblr and Twitter for getting yourself “OUT THERE,” as my teachers and editors and friends say. The idea seems to be that that what you’ve created should lead to some financial or professional payoff, or at least praise. I see an anxiety in every single creative person I know that not enough eyes are glued to what they’re doing. When more and more people are putting their photography, music, and writing out into the world, it can seem harder and harder to make yourself stand out. The internet has sped up the timetable for “normal success,” e.g., fame, notoriety, making real money off of your art: Any initial lack of interaction (whether that comes in the form of comments, purchases, reblogs, or job offers) with your work can be a gateway to feeling like you must be bad at what you love. Nobody else seems to care about your output, so you must suck, right?

You might think, Well, if my work was REALLY GOOD, people would love it and buy it and shower it with awards. And that’s a valid thought, but the most popular things are not automatically the “best” things. The important thing is you have to define your own sense of “best.” When I’m writing, I think about who I want to really like something I’m writing. I’d rather have three of my favorite people love an essay than a thousand strangers. I’d rather take my time working on something I really like and care about that has no place on the internet than publishing a half-baked essay about something I don’t really care about just to scramble for some likes.

Your work’s validity is predicated on far more than Facebook likes, stats, and even being published or paid for what you do. You have to build a model of success for yourself that exists outside of that. If it seems like nobody’s reading you, publishing you, or buying your work, it doesn’t mean that should spell the end for your creative output. You’re not toast because nobody’s commenting on your blog. So nobody bought your zine, but you made it with all your friends, and that feels great. You wrote a poem, submit it to a journal, and it doesn’t get accepted, but you love the poem so much that it still is just as important without being published. You spend months or years working on a story, and even though you don’t have anything to show anyone that you think is ready, you enjoy the process throughout, and you find the pleasure of writing it—of taking your time—is its own reward. Art is a means, not an end, and no matter how excruciating it can feel in the process of it the actual act of doing it, the actual work part is just has important as the end result.

When I was 15, I wanted a space to express all these thoughts I had about clothes, art, and records, so I turned to blogging. My blog was totally irreverent and featured pictures of my shoes and .mp3s of songs I was into. Once, I wrote a blog post entirely dedicated to watermelon-carving art! I wrote it for three years, and I never gained that many followers outside of a small crew of people who cared what I had to say. But getting on each day and writing about things I was passionate about, even if it was for the tiniest audience of people—and myself—felt necessary and fun. I felt like I was making something really cool, like maybe I was getting better at writing just by doing it every day. I cared about it so much that I began wanting people to read it and acknowledge the work I was doing, and to maybe meet people who were into the same stuff I was into.

Even if nobody was actually reading it, if I pretended people did, I would take it more seriously. I used the blog in part to try to figure out what I even liked writing about to begin with, like art, which I had never studied in high school, but found I enjoyed so much that I majored in art history in college. What started off as a tiny hobby became an exploration into something I maybe wanted to do for the rest of my life: write! Having this little project to dedicate myself to made me feel really good. Shaking off the imagined pressures of some future readership (like possibility of someone making fun of my writing, or that the indie music I was posting wasn’t new at the time, but was new to 15-year-old me, or that I was first and foremost a fangirl and not really an art critic) helped me get more comfortable with expressing myself.

Sometimes immediate validation of your work can be a bad thing. If you make work for so long in private and then share it with your friends or the grand old world they might not understand it or react to it the way you want them to. It might be super special to you in private but totally boring in a commercial setting. I’ve had ideas for essays I could have written for public consumption, but they were so deeply personal that I worried how people would react to them. I knew I had to get them down somewhere, so I put them in my diary. My words weren’t any less important just because nobody will ever read them.

I have a hard time seeing people I look up to as as beginners, as people who have failed again and again. I find solace in anecdotes about rejection letters, botched pieces, and lost work. Rookie writer Jessica shared at a reading for her book that when she found the zines she wrote at age 15, she found them so grating she could barely read them. It reminds me that “failure,” or not making something immaculate and celebrated from the get-go, isn’t as much actual failure as it is part of making things worth your while, or at least practicing your skills.

You need that weird silent space where you can fuck up and write about things that nobody cares about except you—where can you can figure out what makes you excited or doesn’t at all. Where you can write or make a thing, look back on it in a week, and think, Ew, oh my god, why did I say/draw/do that?” and delete it, and it won’t make you seem like a monster because, *looks around* nobody saw it—it’s OK!

Making good work is a process, and sometimes, an achingly slow one that you don’t feel as it’s happening. You are able to see what you want to do without anyone around to yell “YOU SUCK” or “YOU RULE” at you. I always think about that god damn quote from Ira Glass:

For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not […] If you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.

If you’re your harshest critic, or you’re not entirely sure if what you’re doing is fun or not, making work in private is good it takes your work out of an arena of judgment and comparing yourself to other people. If you can’t impress yourself all by your lonesome, how will you impress anyone else? ♦

Why Can’t I Be You: Kim Hastreiter

Collage by Ruby

Kim Hastreiter is the co-editor-in-chief (with David Hershkovitz) and founder of Paper magazine, an independent publication that has covered the culture of New York City since the mid-1980s. If something cool was happening in the universe during the years of 1984 to now, it’s probably been covered in Paper. It’s the kind of magazine that brings different pieces of the world together in ways you would never predict. Somehow an interview with Courtney Love being in the same issue as a piece on the Kardashians just seems so right, when Kim brings them together.

But Kim is more than a magazine editor—she’s also a curator of all kinds of culture. She seeks out the most interesting fashion, art, and design from the most unexpected places and shines a light on all of it. She doesn’t hoard her discoveries in her ivory tower; she’s about sharing them with the public. She introduces musicians to artists and artists to fashion designers, because all art is equal in her eyes.

We talked to Kim about how she founded Paper; how to make an independent magazine successful; and how art, culture, fashion, and food (yes, food!) are all connected to a larger revolution.

Did you always know you wanted to be a magazine editor?

No! I never wanted to be a magazine editor! I wanted to be an artist. I had no knowledge or anything [about magazines]. I didn’t want to be a journalist. I was in art school at Cal Arts in L.A., where I studied with the artist John Baldessari; he was my mentor. After school I moved to New York to be an artist.

When I arrived in New York City I was trying to get into a studio, but I needed money. So I got a job selling clothes at this store on Madison Avenue that was owned by three women and was kind of fancy but bohemian. One of the women was Betsey Johnson, so it was like this kind of kooky uptown store. I was a salesgirl, basically, but then I started doing windows with artists there, and I met a lot of people and I kind of fell in love with fashion.

I was still trying to be an artist, though. I started going out and became super interested in a scene that I discovered downtown in the 1970s that involved artists who were working together. People who were making music met people who were making films, who met people making clothes. It was kind of a renaissance in downtown New York. Nobody had any money, and everyone was just collaborating. It was a very bohemian scene that I found very exciting. I told all my friends who I went to school with about it, but nobody was very interested in it because they were all very serious about getting into the traditional art world.

Then I met the photographer Bill Cunningham, because I used to take the subway every day to Madison Avenue, and I was dressed crazy [laughs]. I would wear stuff I had gotten from flea markets and mix it with stuff I had gotten from Paris, so [Bill] would always run after me and photograph me. I got to know him, and he had heard of this job at this newspaper that used to exist called the SoHo News. Back then there weren’t a lot of magazines and newspapers. There only used to be the Village Voice, the New York Times, the New York Post, the Daily News, and there was the SoHo News. There were no young, hip culture magazines then. SoHo News was looking for a fashion editor, so Bill was like, “You should have that job.” He called them and got me the job there. I didn’t know anything about journalism, but the job was more style editing.

When I got that job I went back to all the creative people I knew and had met downtown, and started bringing them to the paper—Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Kenny Scharf all either modeled for me or made pieces for me. Then I met Vivienne Westwood, who was collaborating with her then-husband, Malcolm McLaren, and I thought what they were doing was so interesting in the ’70s, with Malcolm discovering bands like the Sex Pistols and Vivienne designing a whole look around the music that Malcolm would produce. The pieces I produced in the style section weren’t normal fashion stories. I fell in love with doing it, because I was doing my art, but in a broader forum. Instead of a gallery, I had pages.

How did you start Paper?

Well, after a few years the SoHo News sort of went out of business, and I didn’t know what to do. I tried to get a job at Condé Nast and I did a piece for Vanity Fair, but I didn’t enjoy working at those big places. They never let you just make your idea; it gets watered down with all the money and all the people. So I just thought, Maybe I should make my own magazine.

Then my good friend David Hershkovits, who also worked at the SoHo News, said that we should make another magazine. David was more like a writer and editor, and I was more like a style person. We just felt that there wasn’t any magazine that had style in it, and that’s what we wanted—to do something that had style and culture and was made by artists. Soho was just starting to become this cool place, and we just felt it was a really hot moment there—Keith Haring was getting big and Madonna, who was just this girl who danced in the clubs, was getting big. Hip-hop was starting in the South Bronx; and everyone was going downtown and uptown. Hip-hop was sort of merging with the punk scene. It was just amazing.

Who wrote for the magazine back then?

If you look at the first issue from 1984, all of our friends wrote stories and they’re all in it. Afrika Bambaataa wrote a DJ column; Futura 2000 wrote a technology column. Ruben and Isabel Toledo were my friends, so I wrote about them.

Paper is like the history of New York, really. We did it in my house for two years. We had no money, ever. We did it because we really didn’t want to get a job. We wanted to make our own job up! And we made a place for all of our friends. We weren’t journalists, so we would much rather teach someone how to write if they were experts on a certain genre of movies that was really underground or interesting. David would teach them how to write rather than get a [journalist] to write about something they really didn’t know about. We hired enthusiastic young people who were insiders, and they would write about what they loved and knew about. It makes for a much better magazine.

Just Wondering

I’m 14, and I met a guy at a party a few weeks ago who’s 17. He seemed really nice and friendly, and now we speak on chat all the time. I’ve also seen him at a few other parties since, and he’ll buy me a drink and we’ll dance and that’s it. Recently our convos have gotten a bit more sexual, and now he’s asking for “photos” and I don’t know what to do! I think I trust him, but I don’t really know…I don’t want to be a prude, and he’s normally quite sweet! I tried talking to my best friends, but it’s not that they judge me, it’s the opposite—they encourage it! I’d like a second opinion. Please help!

OK, here’s the thing. Before I tell you my answer, I have to tell you that none of this is intended to judge you, at all. I think you are being really smart here. But if I hear that a 17-year-old guy is hitting on a 14-year-old girl, a red flag goes up. He’s not necessarily a creep, but he might be. Then, if I hear that this 17-year-old guy is buying the 14-year-old girl drinks…well, then, I KNOW he is creepy. It’s a talent of mine. I have a little internal radar, for Guys I Do Not Trust, At All, and let me tell you, it is beeping like mad on this dude.

Here is the good news: you have this internal radar, too! It is the little voice inside you saying—and I quote!—“I think I trust him, but I don’t really know.” Listen to the “I don’t know” part. That is your instinct talking. And what it is telling you is that this guy is just not acting like a trustworthy person. Instead, he is acting like a creep who might hurt you.

Let’s take the fact that he’s older than you. Now: people date folks who are older or younger than themselves all the time. But at this stage in your life, this counts as a significant age difference—a year from now, he’ll be a legal adult. A year from now, you won’t even have a driver’s license. It can feel cool to hang out with older folks. But being older also gives you more power, and more experience. So, sometimes guys who are older hit on very young girls (that’s you) because they see those girls as powerless, and they think it will be easier to manipulate or harm them.

That’s what this guy’s behavior looks like. He talks to you on chat, and at parties. So: he either isolates you in order to talk, or he talks to you in an environment where there’s alcohol present, and he gives you some of it. To me, this doesn’t read like “fun guy, interested in having a totally respectful friendship which might eventually turn romantic.” To me, it reads like “target acquired.” By getting you alone, he makes you vulnerable, because there’s no one else in the conversation to react to him, or to warn you if his statements seem creepy. And when he gets you drunk, he assumes no one else is paying close attention to what he’s doing—they’re all partying, too—and he’s trying to make sure that YOU don’t recognize that what he’s doing or saying is creepy. That’s what drinking does. It makes you less able to understand the situation. That’s why predators push it on their targets. This guy does not seem like he wants to get to know you. He seems like he wants to get you into a vulnerable position, and like he wants to maintain control in every interaction.

He’s getting sexual with you now, and you’re feeling like “a prude” for being uncomfortable with that. But here’s the thing: You NEVER have to apologize for being uncomfortable with something, sexually. You never have to apologize for feeling uncomfortable with SOMEONE, sexually. Sex is not a favor you owe to the world, or to any specific person. Sex is something you do because you want it. And when you want to have sex, you’ll know. Trust me, the feeling is pretty darn unavoidable. But right now, you don’t seem to have a crush, and you don’t seem excited or turned on. What you seem to be is pressured and uncomfortable and scared. This is a sign that something in this interaction tripped your Creep Radar, and made you feel bad, and crossed your boundaries, and that you need to get out of the situation.

People tell girls not to listen to the Creep Radar. They tell girls it’s cold or rude or mean to do what the Creep Radar says. Because if girls always acted on their internal Creep Radars, they might only have sex or hang out with people they really, genuinely, completely liked or loved. And we couldn’t have that, could we? Sheer anarchy, I tell you!

But the fact is, fear and distrust are two very natural, very useful reactions to have. They exist to warn you of danger, and to make you leave dangerous situations. If some part of you is saying “this isn’t right,” you need to act on that. Act as if it isn’t right. Get away from this guy. If you’re wrong, it’s not the end of the world; you’ll meet plenty of other nice guys or girls in your life who DON’T creep you out, so you’re just clearing the way for them. And not getting to hang out with you won’t kill him, either, so don’t let him guilt you on this. (And, for the love of god, don’t let him convince you to send him sexy pictures of yourself. That is another ultra-creepy move. And you never know where those pictures might end up.)

Don’t let your friends, or the guy, tell you how you ought to be feeling. You KNOW how you feel, ALREADY. And it’s not good. So take some of your power back. And tell the guy that you’re not chatting any more, and that if you see him at a party again…I would take steps not to see him at the parties! Tell your friends he’s creepy, and that they haven’t seen all the creepiness like you have, and their real job is to run him off for you, so you can have fun with them, without danger or creepiness! And: you don’t want another drink, especially not when he’s around. —Sady

What does it really mean to be “boy-crazy”? In the past year, I haven’t gone for more than two days without thinking about a crush (currently two boys at once… not healthy, right?!), and I’m worried about myself. I feel stupid compared with my friends, who never crush this often and always have more interesting things to focus on. One part of my mind just wants to enjoy having these fun crushes, but another part keeps guilt-tripping me for lying awake at night thinking about boys, rather than about the respectable things (homework, Shakespeare, world peace) that used to be a bigger part of my personality. An evil little voice in my head keeps whispering “boy-crazy,” which really disturbs me, because it implies immaturity and unhealthiness. Crushes can be a wonderful and fun part of who I am and how I value certain special people, but right now it’s messing with my self-respect. Where is the balance between the warring sides of my mind?

First of all, the fact that you’re even aware of all this shows that you are, actually, still a smart lady. The bewitchment of hormones and pretty boys has not tainted your budding brain cells! Mazel tov!

Second of all, your friends might crush too, they just might keep it to themselves because they too are a little embarrassed. Or, maybe they will eventually crush more and just haven’t grown into that yet. Whenever I talked about a crush I had last spring to one of my best friends, she rolled her eyes. Then she got her first boyfriend, and when she asked about a month ago if I liked anyone and I said no, she said, “Aw, that’s sad.” People change!

Or, well, maybe your friends just aren’t, and won’t be as boy-crazy as you. That’s OK, too. They probably have their own episodes of mindlessness as well, and if they don’t, I feel bad for them, because it’s great to have non-guilty pleasures that just make you happy for no particular reason. Maybe they secretly really love shitty TV or something. Having something to enjoy that doesn’t require 100% brain power is necessary to those of us who are human beings and not robots. Nobody is obligated to try and think about the cure for cancer all the time. In fact, giving yer brain breaks and daydream time means you can give FULL energy when you do think about more “important” things. You say thinking about boys has kept you up late at night? Well, at the end of a long day, I think it’s totally fine to have dreamy thoughts and just relax! Nothing to feel guilty about.

I would even say that crushing can be healthy. It gives you something to look forward to, maybe a little more motivation to go to school in the morning on the chance that you might see them. The key, I think, is keeping your boy-craziness in check. Like, if I’m crushing on someone, maybe I’m more motivated to get out of bed in the morning because (without sounding too self-help-y) I always feel more confident when I’ve had time to be awake before heading to school, to pick out an outfit I really like, to get my makeup the way I like it, to eat breakfast, etc. But, when it gets to a point where I’m waking up earlier to pick out an outfit my crush would really like, or get my makeup the way they’d like it, I have to remind myself not to get too serious about it.

Do you still feel guilty? Then let’s get to the ROOT of BOY-CRAZY STIGMA, shall we? Why exactly does “boy-crazy” seem to imply, as you put it, immaturity?

I know we are always all “IN OUR SOCIETY…” on Rookie, but it’s because most people are used to taking our cues from society! And so, it’s worth looking at how society/pop culture/etc. talk about boy-craziness.

Boy-craziness is typically associated with teenage girls. Think of Beatles fangirls, of ’90s boy-bands fangirls, of Justin Bieber fangirls. Think of how much of the dismissal of Justin Bieber comes from “most of his fans are teenage girls.” This is supposed to be an insult, because teenage girls are supposed to be stupid. And so, if you’re smart, which you are, it’s likely you’ll feel stupid for being a little CRAZY about BOYS. When, in actuality, those generalizations are just ways to simplify people until they’re easier to understand. Lazy, right? Honestly, I think it’s feminist to be multifaceted in that way, to be both smart and “girly,” to confuse people who would rather simplify you because they’re not used to thinking of girls that way.

On the flipside, society also tells girls to CARE that much about boys. Maybe you’re worried not about being stupid, but that you’re buying into all that. But as long as you’re aware of it, which you are, and as long as it brings more good feelings than stress or insecurity, what’s the harm? You know what you’re doing. You got this.

Also, if it helps you feel less alone or whatever, myself and most of my friends— all smart, funny, interesting people—usually have multiple crushes at any given time. And teenage years are the best time to be boy-crazy, anyway. Way, way better to have a Jordan Catalano-type obsession now than when you’re an adult and the stakes of important things to think about are a little higher. I mean, just watch an episode of My So-Called Life. Angela is smart, but not even she is safe from the annoying fartness of hormones. At the VERY LEAST, having a crush means you can fully identify with and appreciate stuff like My So-Called Life, or “Thirteen” by Big Star. —Tavi

I am currently 14, and most of my friends are obsessed with having boyfriends. I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that I don’t care about boyfriends right now, and it doesn’t bother me. What does bother me is how far my friends are going. They do a lot of sexual things, like oral or along those lines. Most of them would never cross into having sex at 14, but one of them has and didn’t use protection apparently. I’ve told them I am uncomfortable talking about that stuff, because it’s really none of my business, but I still feel so weirdly creeped out by them. I feel bad about that because I think it’s just me being judgmental, but I don’t want to get involved with them because some of them like to drink and smoke pot now. I still like them, but don’t see them as a good fit for me as a friend. Am I just a prude or what?

I went through a similar experience at 14. A lot of my friends seemed to be maturing faster than me, and not always in ways that I liked. I definitely felt judgmental and prudish at times. It’s weird to watch the people you’ve grown up with suddenly become interested in sex and alcohol and all that stuff that you are so not ready for. And it’s not only alienating, it can be scary too, if they’re making what seem to you like bad decisions or if they’re pressuring you to take part in activities you’re not comfortable with.

Sometimes it works out. Even though I was creeped out at first by my friends’ new activities, I eventually warmed to their romantic relationships and their various SOs. We had some frank discussions about sexuality, and those of us who hadn’t started dating got to live vicariously through our more experienced friends.

But sometimes you just have to accept that you’ve grown apart and move on. This can be an incredibly difficult thing to do, but when you have no interests left in common and the only thing holding you together are the memories of your old bond, it might be time to let go. It’ll be weird and awkward and a little sad, but having friends you actually click with is important.

In my situation, I would say that my initial feelings towards my dating friends were a bit judgmental, and I’m glad I was able to accept the changes in my friends’ lives. And I imagine that’s the case for a lot of teenagers, who have to adjust to the loss of their PG-13 friendships as their friends become interested in R-rated hobbies. It’s a part of growing up.

But you said that you don’t see them as good fits for you as friends. I would listen to that feeling. It’s no good sitting at the lunch table every day feeling uncomfortable when you could be laughing along with that fun group that sits behind you. If you really have nothing left in common and all they want to do is drink and talk about sex, it may be time to amicably part ways. Moving on from your friendship doesn’t mean that they’re wrong and you’re right, or that you’re right and they’re wrong. It just means that you’re different people now, and there is nothing wrong with that. —Rachael

How do I get my best friend back? Apparently he is in love with me and stopped talking to me for weeks. I decided to respect this because I don’t like him back and I have a boyfriend, but I really miss him and he just avoids me :(

For the first 17 years of my life, I was a total shut-in recluse and all-around weirdo who was completely clueless about interpersonal relationships, especially when it came to boys. This made for a particularly steep learning curve my freshmen year of college, when the planets in the imaginary solar system that revolves around ME (there’s also one revolving around YOU right now) went apeshit and caused all three of my closest guy friends to develop crushes on me at the same time, even though I—as all life-imitates-art/art-imitates-life plotlines go—was in love with and dating someone else. What followed was a very long and lonesome period when I went from having three best friends to no best friends at all.

So as someone who totally feels your pain and wishes with every fiber of my being that things between you and your best friend could go back to normal, I’m going to tell you something that might seem like total harsh sauce with a side of haterade, and that thing is: you might not be able to get him back…at least not right away, and maybe, even once you do, things won’t be the way they used to be. Put yourself in his shoes: what if you were in love with your best friend, and he didn’t reciprocate the feelings, but he still wanted to hang around you all the time and be close to you and be warm and loving around you and share things with you and have you share things with him and allow yourself to be vulnerable around him—wouldn’t that be so utterly confusing and painful and sad-making? Not to mention, if he’s feeling heartbroken, he might need to talk to someone about it, and he can’t very well come to you to talk about how heartbroken he feels over you, can he? (Well, he can, but that would be unpleasant and depressing for everyone.)

The best thing you can do right now is to tell him that his friendship is incredibly precious to you, that you care for him deeply as a friend, that you’re sad and scared at the prospect of losing him as a best friend, and that you understand if he needs some time and some distance from you, but that you’ll be there for him whenever he’s ready to be close to you again. And maybe you two will never be as close as you once were, and maybe you’ll make new best friends, and maybe some of your new best friends will fall for you, or maybe they won’t, and maybe you’ll continue to experience things that will test the strength and resilience of your friendships in ways that are messy and confusing, and maybe maybe maybe your current best friend will realize that he’s no longer in love with you but he still loves you, and you’ll get him back in your life in a way that is beautiful and exhilarating, and your friendship will be stronger than ever because that’s what happens when friendships are severely tested and survive.

Be patient and fair with him, and with yourself, too. You’re both probably missing each other a lot, and if there was a friendship before there was unrequited love, that friendship will still be there if and when the sting of unrequited love goes away. On the other hand, if your friendship was founded on unrequited love, then that’s not the kind of friendship that is fair to either of you, anyway. —Jenny

I am in college, and I’ve been questioning my sexuality for some time now. I have no experience with nor desire for random hookups. Can I figure out my sexuality without experience? Or would you say I just need to wait for that experience to understand myself and my own desires?

You need experience to get to know yourself and your desires, and you won’t be able to understand fully what you want from your sexuality if you don’t experiment! But by experience I don’t necessarily mean physical hookups—I mean just crushing on people and exploring your own body. That is experience, too. At the same time, you don’t need proof to know what it is you want sexually. You don’t need to go and make out with random people, because that won’t necessarily mean anything, anyway—they’re just warm bodies. If you feel something for someone and that feels mushy and adorable and terrifying at the same time, you probably like them, and that is “proof” enough, if you want to take it that way. Like, you don’t need to treat your sexuality as this Indiana Jones adventure, but you do need to, like…feel stuff for people. And if those feelings feel right and good—then roll with them. They are all the proof you need. —Arabelle

What should I do if my boyfriend’s dad hits him?

This is a tough one. I’m sorry you, and your boyfriend, are dealing with it. Right now, you probably can’t fix the situation all on your own. And I’m sorry about that, too. But you can be there for your boyfriend. Let him know—if you haven’t already—that it isn’t normal, or OK, or “no big deal,” for his parents to be hitting him. Let him know that you care about him, and that you know he doesn’t deserve this. That seems small, but it’s really important: sometimes, when people grow up in families that are violent, they either think the abuse is normal, or they think they somehow deserve it. So knowing your boyfriend’s worth, and knowing that he doesn’t deserve to be hurt, and telling him that, can help him to escape those traps early on. The fact that you’re willing to do this now can help him for the rest of his life.

Then, let him know that he has options. I always say this, because the fact is, I’m not a qualified abuse counselor and don’t feel worthy to give advice as if I am one, but: there are hotlines he can call, to discuss the situation and how he wants to resolve it. This can be scary, because if the violence is extreme, he might have to leave that house. But right now, he’s already being hit, and when you’re being hit, you have to look at any options which might result in not getting hit anymore. Seriously. If one of your options is “move to Alaska,” and the other one is “get punched in the face,” you need to seriously consider moving to Alaska, because you know what? At least Alaska has the possibility of being better than getting punched in the face.

But, again, I’m not a qualified abuse counselor. So let your boyfriend know that he has options. Here’s a web page with some beginning tips, and a phone number that he can call. Send him this, and then let him know that you’re there for him, through whatever he decides to do next. —Sady

I wrote a YA novel about a sci-fi-obsessed girl trying to figure out how her parents died. I’ve talked to someone at a publishing company, and she said I need to get an agent. The problem is that I live in North Carolina, surrounded by cows—actually the bigger problem is that I’m clueless. How do I come up with an agent out of thin air? Can I do that from a computer in the middle of nowhere? —Maggie

Dear Maggie,

That publisher was right. If you want to be traditionally published (i.e., have your book published and sold in bookstores by one of the major publishing houses like Simon & Schuster or HarperCollins), rather than, say, self-publishing an e-book, you definitely need an agent. They have the connections to submit your book to publishers and the skills to negotiate contracts and mediate any problems that may arise. But fear not! You can find an agent from anywhere in the world. I’ve written a couple of YA novels that were published; and I live in the suburbs of Chicago while my agent lives in New York. We chat on the phone and via email, which is exactly how you and your future agent can communicate once you use the internet to find him or her.

The internet is one of the best things to happen to writers (though it definitely can be one of the worst distractions for writers, too). Getting information on agents has never been easier. There are several websites that I recommend for writers on the agent hunt. Many agents have their profile listed on Publisher’s Marketplace, and you can look through those profiles for free. For $25 a month, you’ll get full access to the site, which is handy, because a lot of agents report a lot of their sales to PM. It can get pretty expensive, but you can just subscribe for one month to do your research when you are ready to start looking for agents. You’ll want to search the database for books that sound similar to yours, and see what agent made the deal. Then you can look at their profile on PM and Google them to find out more information. A lot of agents have blogs and/or are on Twitter, so you can get a sense of their interests and personality.

If you don’t want to spend the 25 bucks, you can simply look in the acknowledgments of books that you love that are somewhat similar to yours, because authors usually thank their agents. Also, Agentquery.com is a great, free database that you can search by category to look up folks who represent young-adult fiction. It also gives you information on how to write a query letter, which is what you’ll use to hook an agent.

Every agent has different guidelines, which you will need to read closely, but generally speaking, you will start by sending a one-page letter about the premise of your book. This is something to work hard on. Search the internet for good examples (former agent Nathan Bransford did a blog series on these). Sometimes agents ask you to send the first chapter or three with your query. Other times they decide from reading your query alone if they want to see part or all of your manuscript.

There are online communities like the Verla Kay blue boards, which is specifically for children’s and YA writers, where you can get more information on query letters, as well as feedback on your query letter before you start sending it out to agents. You will also want to check there and at Absolute Write to make sure that the agents you are querying have a good reputation. There’s a saying that goes “a bad agent is worse than no agent at all,” and it is totally true. Plus, unfortunately, there are some scam artists out there. No agent should be charging you “reading fees” to submit to them, for example, and you don’t pay an agent up front. An agent will take a commission on your book when it is sold (10% to 20% is standard depending on whether you are dealing with domestic or foreign rights). Agentquery.com has some good information here on how to make sure you are querying a legitimate agent, and they screen all the agents listed on their site, which is why I recommend them.

Last but not least, I highly recommend that you join Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, or SCBWI. They have great resources for agent and publisher searches as well as online and local chapters through which you can meet other writers, and they have awesome annual conferences where you can meet writers, agents, and editors. It’s $75 a year to be a member and the conferences can be expensive, but it is well worth it if you are serious about a career in writing.

Happy agent hunting and best of luck! —Stephanie

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