San Francisco-based Zest Books, which Hallie Warshaw founded in 2006 to publish nonfiction for teens, has added a line of memoirs and first-person accounts called True Stories. The first three titles, which will be released this fall, include Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves, edited by E. Kristin Anderson and Miranda Kenneally (Oct.), which the editors will promote with a four-week national blog tour.
The origins of Dear Teen Me, whose 70 entries are all by middle-grade and YA authors and include letters written by Ellen Hopkins, Tom Angleberger, and Lauren Oliver, lie – rather unexpectedly –in the two editors’ mutual love of late ’90s pop sensation Hanson. They had each seen the group perform when they were teenagers, and after Anderson, who lives in Austin, saw the trio again as an adult, she was inspired to write a letter to her teen self about what the first experience had been like.
“I posted it on my blog,” says Anderson, “because I wanted kids out there to have a place where they could find grown-ups who not only remembered but who were willing to share their experiences” about being teenagers. Washington, D.C.-based Kenneally, also a blogger, met Anderson online after reading her Hanson post. The pair began to discuss the concept for Dear Teen Me, which began as a blog in 2010, and Anderson then met Zest’s Warshaw at the ALA convention in New Orleans the following year. “I asked Hallie if any Zest authors would like to post on the site, and she thought it was a great concept for a book. It all happened really fast from there,” Anderson recalls.
The editors found that most of the contributors to the collection had struggled during their teen years, and in similar ways: “Depression, body issues, bullying... we’ve all felt scared and alone,” Anderson says. She and Kenneally, who have never met in person, will finally get together during the book signings Zest has set up in Texas, New York, and California.
Promotional plans also include an extensive blog tour. When Anderson and Kenneally put out the call for participants, more than 100 bloggers volunteered for the tour, which begins on October 15 and will run daily through November 16. Some bloggers will write about their own teenage experiences; others will review the book, create videos or podcasts, or interview various contributors to the book. The Zest Books blog and the Dear Teen Me site will post information about who is blogging that day, and Zest will share the posts on Facebook and Twitter.
In addition to Dear Teen Me, the True Stories debut titles are Regine’s Book: A Teen Girl’s Last Words (Oct.) by Regine Stokke, a Norwegian teen who chronicled her life with the leukemia that ultimately killed her in 2008; and Zoo Station: A Memoir by Christiane F. (Jan. 2013), first published 30 years ago in Germany and by Bantam in the U.S. The book graphically details Christiane’s life in Berlin as a young heroin addict and prostitute struggling to find herself. Zoo Station turned into a mega-bestseller, was published in 25 languages, and in 1981 became a film that David Bowie wrote the score for. Today the book is required reading in German high schools. So successful did Zoo Story become that its author, who is still in Germany but wishes to remain anonymous, continues to live off its royalties.
Zest Books now has 45 titles in print, all of them nonfiction written for teens. They run the gamut from school life to relationships and dating to bullying; the addition of True Stories, Warshaw says, allows the press to diversify its offerings even further. “Our plan is to have at least one new book in the line per season, and more if we can,” she says. “As we grow our whole list, the True Stories line will also grow. We want compelling, true stories and memoirs about teens, told in a very real way.”