Feb. 28, 2014 at 3:06 PM ET
Jake Marcionette knew he had a bestseller on his hands, but he didn’t know how to get the book he'd written onto store shelves. So the 13-year-old turned to the Internet for ideas.
“I typed into Google, ‘How to get a book published,’” the Florida teen, who was 12 at the time, told TODAY.com. “I kept on reading that I have to have a literary agent. So I got a list of them and I started calling them up.”
Two days later, Jake landed an agent.
And just a year after that, his humorous semi-autobiographical take about tween life, “Just Jake,” landed on the New York Times bestseller list — coming in at No. 7 in the rankings of children's middle grade books.
“First off, it’s a funny book,” Jake said, explaining his success. “Second, it conveys messages about fitting in and just being yourself — and anti-bullying, of course. It’s about how kids can do big things.”
The book centers on the adventures of a 12-year-old sixth grader as he and his family move from Florida to Maryland, just like Jake did in real life. His family recently moved back to Ponte Vedra, Fla., where Jake attends eighth grade among his old friends, enjoying school, basketball and lacrosse — when he's not at home working on the "Just Jake" sequel.
Jake, the youngest writer Penguin Group has ever published, is a "real dynamo," said his editor, Karl Jones. The young author brings an authenticity to his writing that adults who write from memory can’t always capture.
“Jake was 12 when he wrote this book, so to me he’s more like a kid author than he is a teen author,” Jones said. “One of the things that struck me was just how raw the energy was. The energy and the way he wrote dialogue and the types of observations he was making just felt very real and of the moment.”
Jake wrote the book in the summer of 2012, as part of a daily writing agenda set by his mother, who required him and his sister to each finish writing one book by the end of summer break every year. But this book was different, Jake recalled.
“I definitely put more energy, more time into ‘Just Jake.’ This was the one I took real seriously,” he said. “I think I’m a pretty good writer and I knew I had a message to tell people."
His parents published the book in electronic form and posted it on an educational website run by Jake’s mother, where it received great feedback. But that wasn’t enough for the youngster.
“My mom was happy with it as an e-book, but I wanted to see it as a physical book, where kids could get it in bookstores,” he said. “To her defense, she was working on her business and doing other important things, but I just wanted her to focus on my book.”
So Jake made a tough call.
“I had to fire my mom,” he said. “Yeah, I fired her because I wanted to get the book published.”
And that’s when he turned to Google and started making cold calls to dozens of literary agents before finding the one who helped him land his contract with Penguin Young Readers Group.
"Just Jake" was published Feb. 4 with 50,000 copies in its first run. While neither Jake, his mother, nor Penguin would disclose contract figures, the publisher said its contract with Jake was for both his first book and a sequel, which is now being edited. The second book is set for release in February 2015.
Jake said he always knew his book would end up on the Times bestseller list.
“That was something I’ve strived for ever since I was really little. I remember going to the Internet or the paper and just looking at the list and admiring the names and the books,” he said. “Once I saw my book on there and my name, I was just ecstatic. And then I started crying. It was something I’ve been working for.
“It was kind of like time just stood still for one moment, and you don’t really get that a lot in life, so when it does happen, you have to really appreciate it and take advantage of the opportunity and that’s what I’m trying to do."
Debra Marcionette, Jake's mom, said she continues to be surprised by her son's ambition. She's also tried to temper his extraordinarily high expectations so he won't be disappointed if he fails to meet them.
"I’m so proud of him and he's accomplished so much, but he just keeps on thinking bigger and bigger,” she said. "He's young, and a little boy in my mind, and I’m always trying to be protective, but he’s fighting me all the time that he can do more. So far he’s been right."
As for what comes next after achieving the type of success most adults can only dream about, Jake said he plans to keep writing as long as he can. And while he might one day like to be a politician or go into the news industry, he hopes to write as many "Just Jake" sequels as possible.
“I want it to never stop," he said. "I want it to be an ongoing series. I only want it to stop when I die.”