In a Barnes & Noble cafe, Evelyn Burdette gently rests her hands on her polka-dot laptop case and says, "This is my best friend in the entire world."
It could also be her big break as a writer.
The 19-year-old author from Kansas City, Kan., is making a splash on Inkpop, a new website for young-adult literature that's a shortcut on the traditional route to publishing for writers like her.
Burdette tried that traditional route last year, self-publishing fantasy novels about half-vampire, half-witch twins. But when that didn't get her far (the books sell on Amazon for about $13), she jumped on the Inkpop bandwagon.
Inkpop allows young writers to share their work with a larger community. The site's users can upload any kind of writing, from short poems to long novels, while other users can read and offer suggestions for improvement.
Burdette has already put excerpts from three new books on Inkpop. The first two were popular with Inkpop readers. Her third, which she uploaded in July, is climbing in the site's rankings. And that's a good thing, because Inkpop's owner, HarperCollins, keeps an eye out for potentially publishable titles.
More and more, traditional publishers are turning to the Web for feedback and even complete manuscripts from young writers.
Simon & Schuster, for example, has a website called Pulse It, on which teens can sign up to read and review young adult books before they are released.
On Wattpad, an independent site, authors can exchange their writing online and compete in contests sponsored by publishers and literary agents. And Medallion Press, a small publisher in Illinois, accepts only online submissions and recently announced a new "young adults writing for young adults" series.
Emily Steele, Medallion's editorial director, said talented young authors might not know how to navigate the publishing world, but they're right at home on the Web.
Typically, authors need a literary agent before publishers will look at their work. Finding an agent can be complicated and expensive. But Medallion's young-adult writing series and sites such as Inkpop offer a simple and free way to get your name out.
Like Medallion, HarperCollins editors at Inkpop read projects submitted by teens. Inkpop also uses a sort of crowd-sourcing, similar to Pulse It, to determine the most popular writing among teens, and it includes a way for authors to give one another feedback.
Inkpop's design is focused on social networking, a sort of Facebook for authors. The pages have bright colors and movement; users create profiles and amass friends. The home page contains a constant stream of updates to forums and stories, reading suggestions and the top five most popular projects for the month.
And, in the same way that you can "like" a friend's picture from last night's party on Facebook, Inkpop users can "pick" their favorite works. On Inkpop, the more "picks" an author receives. The five authors with the most picks each month get to send their manuscripts to a HarperCollins editor for review.
The publisher has already seen two of Burdette's novels. She topped the February and Maypicks lists with "Revealing Colors" and "Lost Spirits." Her emotional novels explore themes such as romance, death and abusive family members through the lens of the paranormal.
Burdette recently received a critique from HarperCollins for "Lost Spirits." The editor gave Burdette suggestions for her plot and characters. This type of review is the same kind professional authors receive when they submit a manuscript, said Sandee Roston, executive director of publicity at HarperCollins.
Although Burdette does not know whether HarperCollins will take "Lost Spirits" any further in the publishing process, just having a professional editor read her book is a rare opportunity. Now she has her foot in the door and a better idea of what publishers want for the future.
Until then, Burdette has the support of the Inkpop community to add to her résumé.