15 Fascinating Facts About S.E. Hinton’s ‘The Outsiders’

The book was published when author Susie Hinton was just a teenager—and her first royalty check amounted to only $12.
S.E. Hinton’s ‘The Outsiders.’
S.E. Hinton’s ‘The Outsiders.’ / Penguin Random House (cover), Justin Dodd/Mental Floss (background)

The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton’s 1967 coming-of-age novel, is a staple for young readers. Even if you’ve already delved into Ponyboy’s tumultuous adolescence, you can probably still learn something about the young adult classic.

1. S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders while she was still in high school

Susan Eloise Hinton was only 15 when she began writing the novel and was just 18 when it was first published. Hinton felt compelled to write after she became frustrated with the lack of relatable pop culture being produced for teenagers at the time. “I’d wanted to read books that showed teenagers outside the life of ‘Mary Jane went to the prom,’” Hinton explained a 1981 interview with Seventeen. “When I couldn't find any, I decided to write one myself. I created a world with no adult authority figures, where kids lived by their own rules.”

2. Rival gangs at Hinton’s own high school inspired the Socs and the Greasers.

The tense divide between the upper class Socs (pronounced “soashes,” as in social) and the lower class “Greasers” at Hinton’s high school was so bitter that the gangs had to enter through separate doors. Although Hinton was neither a greaser nor a Soc, the book is written from the point of view of the greaser Ponyboy in an effort to humanize the gang. Hinton also refrains from vilifying the Socs, a choice that reflected her belief that things are “rough all over.”

3. It took Hinton a year and a half to write The Outsiders.

S.E. Hinton
S.E. Hinton Celebrates 50th Anniversary Of ‘The Outsiders.’ / Slaven Vlasic/GettyImages

“During that time, I did four complete drafts,” the author said. “The first draft was forty pages; then I just kept rewriting and adding details.” She got a D in her creative writing class that year because she was focused on the novel.

4. Hinton didn’t plan to publish the novel.

Hinton originally wrote The Outsiders primarily for herself, but the mother of one of her friends read a draft and thought that the book deserved a wider audience. The friend’s mother contacted an agent in New York, and soon Viking Press signed Hinton for a $1000 advance.

5. Hinton and Ponyboy have a lot in common.

“Ponyboy Curtis is probably the closest I’ve ever come to putting myself in a book, even down to the physical description,” Hinton once said. “He had my ideas; he had my personality. And he and I both liked sunsets. My mother would yell, ‘Why are you taking so long to get the garbage can back in the house?’ It would be because I was standing outside watching the sun.” Different Sunsets was the original title of The Outsiders, “but I had a wonderful editor, Velma Varner, who thought that title would be too ‘soft’ for the story. I agreed. The Outsiders encompasses so many different levels. I’m glad I changed it.”

6. Hinton used her initials to avoid unfair gender bias.

Viking suggested that Hinton use her initials instead of her full name due to concerns that readers and reviewers alike would automatically dismiss a book about teenage boys written by a teenage girl. The strategy worked, and as Hinton explained on her website, “I found I liked the privacy of having a ‘public’ name and a private one, so it has worked out fine.”

7. There was a reason Hinton wrote for boys.

What drove Hinton to write from a male point of view in the first place? As she explained on her website, the initial choice reflected her own sensibility, but it was also strategic. “I started using male characters just because it was easiest. [I] was a tomboy, most of my close friends were boys, and I figured nobody would believe a girl would know anything about my subject matter. I have kept on using male characters because (1) boys have fewer books written for them, (2) girls will read boys’ books, boys usually won't read girls’, and (3) it is still the easiest for me.”

8. Hinton’s first royalty check was for just $12.

S.E. Hinton Celebrates 50th Anniversary Of "The Outsiders"
Fiftieth anniversary edition of ‘The Outsiders.’ / Slaven Vlasic/GettyImages

Although The Outsiders would eventually become a huge success, it didn’t fly out of the gate—in fact, Hinton’s first royalty check totaled just $12 (around $31 today). “Even in those days, $12 didn’t get you more than three tanks of gas,” she recalled. The book nearly went out of print before teachers and librarians recognized how much it resonated with young readers. To date, the book has sold more than 15 million copies and been translated into more then 30 languages.

9. The Outsiders helped change the way schools taught literature.

The emergence of an authentic, relatable novel helped teachers reach students who had grown bored with the use of traditional textbooks in English classes. “I remember going to American Library Association conferences and they were clamoring for something different. We realized there was a real market for books such as The Outsiders,” Hinton’s longtime friend Ron Beuhl told USA Today in 2007.

10. Following up such a hit was hard.

The success of The Outsiders put a lot of pressure on Hinton, and the stress initially inhibited her progress on a follow-up book. To combat this writer’s block, her then-boyfriend (and eventual husband) suggested that Hinton write just two pages a day. If she could show him that, he would take her out on a date that evening. It must have worked, because her next novel, That Was Then, This is Now, was released in 1971.

11. Hinton’s fans convinced Francis Ford Coppola to film the novel.

Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 big screen adaptation of The Outsiders helped spark the “Brat Pack” genre of the 1980s and jumpstarted the careers of “up-and-comers” like C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, and Diane Lane. But without Hinton’s passionate fans, the director might not have found the project at all. Coppola started considering filming The Outsiders after California high school students sent him a petition nominating him as the perfect director to adapt their favorite novel.

A meeting with Hinton sealed the deal for Coppola. '“When I met Susie it was confirmed to me that she was not just a young people’s novelist, but a real American novelist,” the director said in a 1983 interview.

12. Hinton makes a cameo in the film.

Although Hinton didn’t write the screenplay, she remained closely involved in the production by serving as a location scout and even making a small cameo as a nurse. Coppola was so taken with Hinton’s charming storytelling that during filming of The Outsiders he and Hinton collaborated on an adapted screenplay for one of her other books, Rumble Fish. In the aforementioned 1983 interview, Coppola praised the author’s involvement: “Susie was a permanent member of the company. My experience with her made me realize that the notion of having a writer on the set makes a lot of sense.'”

13. It was one of the most frequently challenged books of the 20th century.

Controversial at the time of its publication for its frank portrayal of gang violence, delinquency, underage drinking and smoking, and strong language, the book continues to be challenged. It was ranked no. 38 on the American Library Association’s “Top 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of the ’90s,” and has even been banned in some schools. Thankfully, the book also has become a part of many schools’ curricula, ensuring that students will be staying gold with Ponyboy for years to come.

14. Hinton explained on Twitter why Johnny and Dally had to die.

The novel’s climax centers on the tragic deaths of Johnny and Dally, two sympathetic Greasers caught up in the gang drama. When asked by a fan on Twitter why they had to die, Hinton showed no mercy: “Because I am a stone cold bitch,” she responded.

15. Hinton is tired of talking about The Outsiders.

As she told Smithsonian.com in 2023, “I am very tired of talking about [it]. I don’t give speeches about it anymore. The thought of getting into it one more time is almost paralyzing. You’re lucky. This may be the last interview on The Outsiders I’ll ever give. … Oh god, for once, I’d like to discuss Rumble Fish.”

A version of this story was published in 2018; it has been updated for 2024.