Getting a head start: Young fiction writer tries to stick out in competitive business

(SUBMITTED PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

When A.L. Collins checked the list of authors attending a Kensington book festival in April, he made a quick realization.

Collins, a Manchester-based fiction writer, would be the youngest scribe there. He's getting used to that.

Collins, 19, is the author of three fiction novels. When he attends book signings, he's typically surrounded by writers who are decades older.

"Not only was I the only one my age, I was one of the only guys and one of the only fiction writers," said Collins, referring to the Kensington Day of the Book Festival in April.

His three novels were all self-published. He said he's trying to build enough of a fan base to make his writing a profitable business, cramming the creative process in between shifts at part-time jobs.

After graduating from North Carroll High School, Collins' mother encouraged him to take a break before heading to college. His grades slipped late in high school, and she felt it would be good for him to figure out what he wanted to do, Collins said.

So he worked at the Wendy's in Hampstead. And he started writing, considerably more than he ever dreamed. His character development and writing style caught the attention of Jim Huntington, his restaurant manager. Huntington was so impressed that he helped him through the publishing process.

"He's got 21 books planned out," Huntington said. "He's got folders of characters and plots. It's amazing someone has that much material at his age."

"Bastion: Prequel to War" was released in November. The fantasy sword and shield adventure was followed up by "Scarlett's," a young adult romance novel.

"Twined," a venture into the paranormal genre, was released April 4. He plans to have 5-6 books written by the end of the year, an endeavor assisted by his ability to type 150 words per minute.

He lists Stephanie Meyer, the author of the vampire romance series "Twilight," as an influence. She signed a six-figure book deal when she was just 29 years old.

For now, Collins is attempting to build a fan audience himself. He's helped by his youthful exuberance. One Gettysburg book store owner was more than willing to host him for a book signing and advertise it at the front of a business.

His eager, easygoing, outgoing nature makes him inherently likable, Huntington said, and that has helped him gain readers. His books are available in paperback and e-book format, and he's quickly discovering that self-marketing is a time-consuming and important part of the job.

Like so many others his age, Collins is still in a self-discovery process. He talks about wanting to make his writing a full-time career, but he is also keenly aware of how difficult and competitive his industry is.

So he just keeps writing, whenever he gets the chance, in the quest to make his characters compelling and bring in more fans for his works.

"I really want to share my stories," Collins said. "I want to be able to make this into a business."

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