"What is a hickey?" "How old do I have to be to buy condoms?" These questions, and 98 others, were asked by real teenagers and answered by Elisabeth Henderson and Nancy Armstrong, M.D., in 100 Questions You'd Never Ask Your Parents: Straight Answers to Teens' Questions About Sex, Sexuality, and Health, a trade paperback due from Roaring Brook Press August 27. The mother-daughter collaborators originally self-published the book in 2007, and subsequently lined up an agent and sold the guide to Roaring Brook publisher Simon Boughton.

The book grew out of Henderson’s experience teaching tweens and teens for more than a decade in both public and private schools. Among other responsibilities, the Richmond, Va., resident taught family life education, and became aware of the limitations of that curriculum. “The information we were allowed to discuss was often incomplete and didn’t address real questions kids had,” she explained. “Year after year, kids would approach me and say, ‘Can we talk to you after school?’ and would come up with important and meaningful questions. I realized that I wanted to write a book that would provide teens with straightforward, accurate answers to their questions and empower them with the knowledge they need to make informed and educated decisions.”

For help writing 100 Questions, Henderson turned to her mother, Nancy Armstrong, who has been a practicing ob/gyn for 35 years. “She has delivered more than 15,000 babies and has lots of experience talking with kids,” Henderson said. “She realized how important it was to get this information out to kids.”

To compile the questions, Henderson says she “pulled from my memory bank from my teaching days, which included some especially poignant moments with students.” She also drew on conversations she had with her own sister, now 22, who is 20 years her junior. “My sister and her crowd of friends were very helpful providing questions,” she said. “I also polled groups of kids for the book, and then cherry-picked the questions to pull together the very best from our talks.”

From Self-Pub to Publishing Deal

Henderson and Armstrong opted to self-publish 100 Questions through CreateSpace, and word of the book spread quickly after they sent flyers to the annual conference of Baltimore-based nonprofit Healthy Teen Network. “The book was beautifully received by various pregnancy prevention groups, in particular some state-funded programs in New York,” said Henderson. “In a single month at the end of 2011, we were contacted by Universal Studios to ask if they could use the book in a movie, we were contacted by a foreign publisher about buying foreign rights, and the book brought in $40,000 in sales. It was exciting and a bit miraculous, but I knew it was beginning to get bigger than we could handle, and that we could use some help.”

After researching literary agents online, Henderson “cold called” and left messages for three agents. “I kind of felt like I was calling Brad Pitt to say I have an idea for a movie and I want you to star in it!” she said. “I asked them to call back if they were interested in hearing more about the book, and all three called back within two days.”

Henderson and Armstrong signed on with one of the agents, Leigh Feldman at Writers House, and Feldman mentioned the project to Boughton at a cocktail party hosted by her agency. “I told her that I’d be very interested in seeing the book, and I was impressed with it,” the publisher said. “I didn’t feel there was anything quite like it on the market for teens. The material is very straightforward, concise, and frank, and written in a Q&A format that makes the information very accessible.”

Roaring Brook has a 50,000-copy first printing on order for 100 Questions, and will support the book with a marketing campaign that features online promotion and outreach to the school and library market and to consumer media, including parenting and teen publications. Boughton expects that 100 Questions will do well in both the trade and educational markets, noting, “It is a book that belongs on teen bookshelves, where they can find it themselves, but it will also be useful to health educators as well as guidance counselors.”

Henderson, who called working with Feldman and Boughton “a fantastic experience,” is pleased that 100 Questions will soon be available to a wider audience. “We’re thankful and excited that the book is going to reach more kids than it has already,” she said. “I honestly don’t care if we make one extra penny on the book, I just want to reach as many kids as possible. From the very start of this project, it’s been all about the kids.”

100 Questions You’d Never Ask Your Parents: Straight Answers to Teens’ Questions About Sex, Sexuality, and Health by Elisabeth Henderson and Nancy Armstrong, M.D. Roaring Brook, $17.99 Aug. ISBN 978-1-59643-875-0; paper $12.99 ISBN 978-1-59643-875-0