Meet Three Amazing Teenage Self-Publishers (Video)

by | Jun 29, 2011

How old do you have to be to become a self-publisher? I never thought of that question before a couple of weeks ago, when I attended a special event at my son’s high school: Senior Projects Night.

At the school, seniors spend most of the year involved in a project of their own choosing, which they study in depth. At the end of the year they present their results, and Senior Project Night brings them all together to display and explain what they’ve been up to.

What do today’s high school seniors want to study? I’ve seen projects that involved conservation, clothing design, music, and just about every other topic of interest to teens.

One fellow this year decided to build a guitar out of sheet metal, which was pretty impressive, although he couldn’t play it in the end. Last year 2 pals collaborated on a project to build a bicycle from bamboo. That one was pretty cool.

There were comic books from artists, movies shot in art studios, and one student gave a classical piano performance with an original piece of music.

Blurb It

What surprised me in some of the displays was that as part of their project, a number of students included publishing a book. Yeah, it’s that easy that even high school kids can do it.

Even projects that had nothing to do with writing or books had a book as a “deliverable,” a way to bring together the work done during the year.

Every one of these books (with one exception—we’ll get to that in a minute) was produced at, the photo book printer. Books from Blurb had achieved such a generic status among the students, they just referred to the books as “blurbs.”

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising. Students today are pretty familiar with publishing tools they’ve used since middle school. They turn out Powerpoint presentations, layout reports in Word, and learn about fonts and graphics in the process.

I was fascinated by these books and how they came to be, how the technological revolution keeps filtering down through our culture in interesting ways.

I shot brief videos of three of these students, each talking about the book they created. Because this event took place in a large space packed with people, the sound on these videos is less than optimal, but I think the energy and enthusiasm of the young self-publishers comes through loud and clear. If you don’t see the videos at first, please refresh or reload the page.

Cookbook—Hayley Smith

Hayley interviewed chefs around the San Francisco Bay Area and even worked in the kitchen of Oliveto Restaurant in Oakland. She wrote, designed and produced the cookbook that resulted, using for both hardcovers and paperbacks.

Photography—Kento Mizuno

Kento Mizuno is a very talented teenage photographer. He is the winner of the North American Nature Photography Association’s 2010 High School Scholarship and numerous other awards. He traveled to Japan to renew his relationship with his grandfather, taking many remarkable black and white photos while there.

Kento turned them into a beautiful book combining text and the photos and produced it at Blurb. Interestingly, he chose uncoated paper instead of the usual gloss stock, resulting in an aesthetically pleasing and texturally interesting book. Take a look at his photography website.

Book Love—Emma Williams-Baron

Emma Williams-Baron is a book lover. She decided to create a book from her own short stories, and she even produced the book herself, with an unusual metallic cover. Emma does some great teaching in this video about books and at the end I solve the mystery of how she came by some of her knowledge of books and exactly why her typography is so elegant.

Hayley, Kento and Emma have graduated and moved on to college, but I’m still impressed with the way they carried off their book productions. These are strictly private books, and completely successful at meeting the aims of the publishers.

It’s democratic publishing, a fairly simple mode of expression if you don’t bother with all the stuff you need to do to sell through retailers. Simple enough for high school students. I love that.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Fulton Smith

    Thanks Joel:
    It was a pleasure to see all three pieces. It was remarkable to see how poised all were. Of course, I am especially proud of my daughter, and your video made it even better. Thanks, and best of luck and success to Max. Hard to believe how far we have all come since that orientation lunch we shared the first week at Bay. We wish you great successes, too.

    Fulton Smith
    Meckler, Bulger, Tilson, Marick & Pearson

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thank you, Fulton, it was a pleasure to meet Hayley and I was quite impressed with all these teenage publishers. Good luck to her in college and thanks so much for stopping by.

  2. Steve Walsh

    It’s refreshing and reassuring to see these kids doing this. Thank you for showing it and keep up the good work

    Steve Walsh
    CEO Pyjama Press Ltd

  3. Rahma Krambo

    What great kids! And what a fantastic senior project. Their books are beautifully designed too. Not just POD books like I was expecting, but beautiful works of art.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Rahma, I’m sorry I couldn’t show more of these books in the video. Kinda makes you feel good, doesn’t it? And these three are 18 years old, by the way.

      • Rahma Krambo

        It’s great that you profiled the beautiful work these kids are doing. I think the media gives lop-sided attention to dysfunctional teens, but these short clips show young adults who look like they have a bright future.

        I’m thinking to link to this post in my blog on Friday. I know you’re busy, but if you get a moment, please stop by my Mystic Coffee blog where my focus is on kidlit.

        Thanks for all your book designing help! Love your blog.

  4. Michael N. Marcus

    Thanks, Joel, for sharing this with us.

    The quality of these books, and the pride of their publishers, are very impressive. It’s sad to consider how many potentially great publishing artists (and other kinds of artists) are in schools that don’t stimulate them, or are in families that can’t afford Blurb.

    It’s also sad that so many “adult” books are not nearly as good as the kids’ books. Adult self-publishers often lack the obsession with quality and the love of subject that the kids have.

    There is no excuse for an ugly book.

    Michael N. Marcus (reviews)
    — Create Better Books, with the Silver Sands Publishing Series:
    — “Stories I’d Tell My Children (but maybe not until they’re adults),”

    • Joel Friedlander

      Amen to that. As I’ve often said, it doesn’t cost any more to publish a good-looking book than it does to publish one that’s embarrassingly bad, so why do it? Only because people don’t know any better. Left to themselves, I was impressed with how good these books looked.


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