09/25/2013 02:37 pm ET Updated Nov 25, 2013

What Leaders Can Learn From This Surprising Source

Even after a crushing number of rejections, Anna Caltabiano persevered. She didn't accept no for an answer and, at the age of 14, became a published author when Legend Press printed her debut young adult novel, All That Is Red. Now 16, Anna says eschewing conventional limits made all the difference.

Anna, writing a book, let alone getting it published, is no small feat for most. Yet you did this at age 14. Can you share a bit about that?

Anna: I think the biggest thing here is I did not think that writing a book was not normal for a teenager. I think there are stigmas that people have about who can do what based on norms. But those can be very limiting and can close many open doors to opportunity. When people say you can do X and not Y, that may or may not be true.

So, how did it happen?
Anna: I love writing and was writing a short story, and it kept getting longer until I realized I was writing a novel.

What's the book about?

Anna: It's called All That Is Red and is a story about a teenager who was torn between two worlds.

The concept came from understanding that all teenagers feel horrible at some point and when you feel horrible, it's natural to want to make it go away, even if it means going numb. So with that, I started thinking, what if we lived in a world that represents both human emotion and the complete absence of all feeling? Which world would you live in? The main character has to decide which world she wants to live in.

What was the greatest challenge you encountered when writing the book?

Anna: Publishing was the harder part. I stopped counting after 280 rejections. I learned not to take no as an answer. Instead, no became a direction. No says don't go this way, go another way.

Where did you learn this type of perseverance and self-support?

Anna: I saw it in my parents, my teachers and my friends. If you find something that will help at least one person, then why not do it? The only thing that matters is for one person to say yes and believe in what you're doing as much as you do.

What if you don't have one person?

Anna: You have to keep looking for that one person, even when it feels like there is not that one person, and if you strongly believe in what you are doing, then you actually become that one person. And that's all you need.

What advice do you have about how to keep going in challenging times or when obstacles show up?

Anna: We all go through times when we'd rather be doing something else or we have to do something we don't want to do, like homework. What I suggest is: Look into the things you don't want to do, and find the part of it that you do like to do -- and keep looking until you find it.

Do you have anything else you'd like to share?

Anna: This is especially for teenagers, but it applies to everyone: It's OK to feel bad sometimes. It's something that we all forget. We feel we have to be cheerful. It's normal to feel horrible sometimes. In our society, and especially as a teenager, you feel isolated when you feel bad, and sometimes, all you need is someone to talk to you, to let you know they are listening -- someone who says, 'I am not going to pass judgment on what you say or do. I'm here for you.'

To teenagers and anyone who feels isolated, it's important to talk. But if you don't have someone to talk with or are not ready to talk, then reading can help... [In books,] you can read about characters and the mistakes and choices they've made. Or we can read about how they overcame obstacles that look like ours, and then there's hope and you feel you can get through things.

Everyone feels isolated sometimes. I haven't been an adult yet, but as a teenager, it is most isolating when you can't control things but you want to. You're not a child, but you can't make adult choices, and you are caught between two worlds. Often, you feel you are the only one who is feeling that way. So, the best remedy for us is to have open discussions about how we feel.

Thank you, Anna.

These are my takeaways from my talk with Anna:

  1. What's the benefit to considering as normal something I am currently limiting myself with?
  2. Whatever I was starting may be something entirely different than I thought I was starting.
  3. No means keep looking -- just look elsewhere.
  4. Doing something for one person is enough. Having one person believe in you (and what you're doing) is enough. That one person may be you.
  5. If you don't want to do something, you may not know it well enough. Keep looking until you find something you like in everything.