PDA

View Full Version : What Matters Most: Pure Merit or Qualifications/Experience?



A Named Pen
08-31-2010, 03:48 AM
When agents open query letters, I'm assuming they start reading from the top and not the bottom (where personal experience/degrees/awards are listed) right? So if the novel you are pitching looks interesting, would an agent still be inclined to reject the request, solely because the writer doesn't have a MFA or has never been published?

All I have is a BA in Pol Sci and History from UofT, and am 26 years closer to death. I have never even entered a writing competition, let alone attempted to get published before. So is there a specific way to play the "about yourself" section of the query for virgin writers? Or should we just be direct and honest about our lack of experience, while focusing on the rest?

thothguard51
08-31-2010, 04:02 AM
I think 99.9% of published writers don't have an MFA, nor is one needed.

Always be honest about your qualifications and if you feel your education is not sufficient, then don't mention it. Let the story speak for itself...

waylander
08-31-2010, 04:15 AM
I have an agent and I don't have an MFA
Just write a compelling story and an equally compelling query and they will come.
An MFA doesn't mean jack in the real world

Agent Nathan Bransford on publishing credits http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2008/03/how-and-whether-to-list-your-publishing.html

Paul
08-31-2010, 04:21 AM
When agents open query letters, I'm assuming they start reading from the top and not the bottom (where personal experience/degrees/awards are listed) right? So if the novel you are pitching looks interesting, would an agent still be inclined to reject the request, solely because the writer doesn't have a MFA or has never been published?

All I have is a BA in Pol Sci and History from UofT, and am 26 years closer to death. I have never even entered a writing competition, let alone attempted to get published before. So is there a specific way to play the "about yourself" section of the query for virgin writers? Or should we just be direct and honest about our lack of experience, while focusing on the rest?

Yup, you're a writer all right...

A Named Pen
08-31-2010, 04:52 AM
.
phew...

who says rainy days are a bad omen?

This one started out pretty well, I think.

(... then again, I aint gettin' married.)


Thanks guys.

.

Ryan_Sullivan
08-31-2010, 06:31 AM
Credits really don't matter at all. They can just speed things up a bit. Actually, though, that BA in poli sci can count as experience if it pertains to your novel--but so can many other things. It all depends on the project and the credits.

A Named Pen
08-31-2010, 06:42 AM
More good news, since it does does pertain to my novel significantly.

I guess my next stop is Queryville then.

suki
08-31-2010, 07:15 AM
Yes, qualifications can help, but they are far from necessary - and some agents actually find MFAs to be a turn off.

Just pitch the story well - if it's good enough, having no "qualifications" will not matter.

~suki

blacbird
08-31-2010, 07:58 AM
Neither. The single thing that matters, up front, and trumps everything else, is:

Does the agent think he/she can sell the work to a publisher?

That's as complicated as it gets.

A Named Pen
09-01-2010, 02:32 AM
Thanks guys.

I hope there's still a niche for serious fiction. But sometimes, I wonder how successful even the greatest of oldschool writers like Tolstoi, Dostoevsky, Kafka would be in today's "market."

scarletpeaches
09-01-2010, 02:39 AM
I left school at sixteen, don't have a degree, don't even know what an MFA is and I have three publishing contracts.

As for Tolstoy et all, I wouldn't fancy their chances much because they wrote then and this is now. If you want to use other writers as a measuring stick for 'serious fiction', try some that haven't been dead for decades.

I wouldn't want to write like them even if I could.

IceCreamEmpress
09-01-2010, 10:49 PM
sometimes, I wonder how successful even the greatest of oldschool writers like Tolstoi, Dostoevsky, Kafka would be in today's "market."

They probably wouldn't do well. But nor would the bestselling popular authors of those eras, because language and the concept of story structures have changed over the last century.

You have to write your book for 2010, not for 1890. Your book may be a classic that is read 100 years from now, or a bestseller that is forgotten 10 years after its publication, or anywhere in between.

Obviously, since people are still reading Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Kafka, there is a market for them--a much larger market, in Dostoevsky's and Kafka's case, than there was during their lifetimes.

Every writer is writing for readers of the present and future, not for writers of the past. At least until we invent time machines, in which case I'm going to kick ass with sales of The Scarlet Pimpernel II.

BenPanced
09-02-2010, 12:45 AM
They probably wouldn't do well. But nor would the bestselling popular authors of those eras, because language and the concept of story structures have changed over the last century.

You have to write your book for 2010, not for 1890. Your book may be a classic that is read 100 years from now, or a bestseller that is forgotten 10 years after its publication, or anywhere in between.

Obviously, since people are still reading Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Kafka, there is a market for them--a much larger market, in Dostoevsky's and Kafka's case, than there was during their lifetimes.

Every writer is writing for readers of the present and future, not for writers of the past. At least until we invent time machines, in which case I'm going to kick ass with sales of The Scarlet Pimpernel II.
Should be interesting because I just got a contract for The Scarlet Pimpernel IV: More Scarlet, More Pimpin'.

A Named Pen
09-02-2010, 02:16 AM
I think my comments on classical fiction have been misunderstood. To begin with, I was not referring to writing style. Obviously, that has changed and evolved. But what has not evolved are the themes. Humanity is still steeped in war, in struggles of ideologies, and we all still have to face the "end/beginning". This is what these writers specialized in.

So why then has the market changed? Because back in those days, the literacy levels of society were low. The ones doing most of the book buying were the intelligentsia, who could read and had the time to do it, and the money to buy books. Obviously, they were also more psychologically mature (they were older, and more educated.) Therefore, there was very little market value for novels that would pass for "best sellers" today, like Twilight. Which are geared towards a market, that was almost non-existent at the time.

The people who would read Dostoevsky, are still there. The style of writing has obviously changed. But the insight into life, and the examination of the deeper questions, those quests remain the same. Most fiction today might not be interested in them. But I'm not an expert of today's market. That's the agent's job. As a writer, my concern is to write what I want to write. Not what I think will sell.

IceCreamEmpress
09-02-2010, 02:51 AM
So why then has the market changed? Because back in those days, the literacy levels of society were low. The ones doing most of the book buying were the intelligentsia

You could not possibly be more mistaken about late 19th-century Europe, or about the publishing industries of that era. Tons of cheap "potboiler" fiction was written and printed and sold in those days.

Granted, Russia had lower literacy among the artisan and peasant classes as compared to Europe, but Tolstoy was incredibly popular in translation.

The books that are today's classics were almost never (except for Dickens) yesterday's best-sellers. Judging the overall publishing output of the past by the books that have survived the test of time to be considered classics in the present doesn't make sense.

And Kafka doesn't make sense as part of your trio, even apart from chronology--he was spectacularly unsuccessful during his lifetime, and only acclaimed as an author decades after his death. Meanwhile, the best-selling German-language novelists of that era (Margarete Böhme and Karl May, for instance) are as forgotten as the best-selling English-language novelists of that era (Harold Bell Wright and Edgar Wallace, for instance).

I mean, seriously, saying that there was no market in the late 19th century for books like Twilight is absurd. I could give you 10 novels from any year after 1850 that sold more than 100,000 copies that would make Twilight look like Shakespeare.

The best-selling novel of the 19th century, worldwide, was Uncle Tom's Cabin. Which, although it is certainly written from an admirable standpoint of a middle-class white US abolitionist wanting to convey that slavery is A Bad Thing, is an abjectly crap novel.

As for England, look at lists like this one. (http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/dickens/pva/pva120.html) Yes, there are some fine books there, but there's also a lot of dreck (I defy anyone to read any book by Harrison Ainsworth to the end without groaning aloud in pain).

The French bestseller lists of the later 19th century included Balzac and Zola and Stendhal, but also lots of garbage about naughty nuns and evil Jesuits.

Jamesaritchie
09-02-2010, 03:04 AM
Thanks guys.

I hope there's still a niche for serious fiction. But sometimes, I wonder how successful even the greatest of oldschool writers like Tolstoi, Dostoevsky, Kafka would be in today's "market."


Just as well, and probably much, much better, than they did way back then.

Jamesaritchie
09-02-2010, 03:07 AM
When agents open query letters, I'm assuming they start reading from the top and not the bottom (where personal experience/degrees/awards are listed) right??

Put poor or so-so credits or credentials near the end of a query letter, but if you have really good credits or credentials, put them at the start of the query letter. The last thing you want to happen is having an agent or editor stop reading before she gets to the part about great credits/credentials.

IceCreamEmpress
09-02-2010, 03:11 AM
James, you make a good point--if Dostoevsky or Tolstoy were alive today, they would be people of today writing books of today, not books of the 19th century, and presumably their gifts for characterization and social commentary would serve them well in the marketplace.

Kafka, on the other hand, would probably make an equal hash of a literary career today, because he was deeply troubled and ambivalent about success (or even about anyone reading his stuff).

A Named Pen
09-02-2010, 04:17 AM
@ Icecreamprincess

Thank you for enlightening me. Like I said, I am no expert on the publishing industry, or its history. The only fiction I know from that age is in the league I mentioned, so I assumed the rest. As for Kafka, he published little, but I assumed that was well received.


@ James

I hope so.

cspradbery
09-02-2010, 11:54 AM
Post by the mighty Nathan Bransford on his "Ten Point System" for query letters. Very interesting...

http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2008/06/query-points-system-and-rulebreaking.html

(Just saw his picture while looking for this link and was shocked - did anyone else imagine him as a balding fifty something??)

A Named Pen
09-02-2010, 04:41 PM
Thanks cspradbery, but I can't read any of the agent blogs because blog servers are blocked by The Great Firewall of China, and behind it I will be for another few months.

Jamesaritchie
09-02-2010, 11:17 PM
And most people have no idea hwo small the publishing industry was in the nineteenth century, or how incredibly hard it was to break into. There's the notion that it was large and easy. It wasn't. There were far, far fewer publishers, an immensely smaller reading market, and you had to be good to sell anything, anywhere.

DeleyanLee
09-02-2010, 11:24 PM
Should be interesting because I just got a contract for The Scarlet Pimpernel IV: More Scarlet, More Pimpin'.

I wanna read that! :D

quicklime
09-02-2010, 11:38 PM
When agents open query letters, I'm assuming they start reading from the top and not the bottom (where personal experience/degrees/awards are listed) right? So if the novel you are pitching looks interesting, would an agent still be inclined to reject the request, solely because the writer doesn't have a MFA or has never been published?

All I have is a BA in Pol Sci and History from UofT, and am 26 years closer to death. I have never even entered a writing competition, let alone attempted to get published before. So is there a specific way to play the "about yourself" section of the query for virgin writers? Or should we just be direct and honest about our lack of experience, while focusing on the rest?


I know a good many people who have english degrees and write extremely well.

I also know a good many who are ginormous douches and can only write smug, self-aware crap.

In order to be a writer, you need to be a writer, not an English Major. The two would seem to go together, but it's like asking if being fair or kind are required qualifications to be a cop. Those should be qualities that go with being a cop, but they certainly do not have to.

A Named Pen
09-03-2010, 02:49 AM
but it's like asking if being fair or kind are required qualifications to be a cop...

wait, they're not ?!!

blacbird
09-03-2010, 03:27 AM
Credits really don't matter at all. They can just speed things up a bit.

Aside from this bordering on being a non-sequitur, it's not at all hard to think that credits can make or break a query. They likely won't make a difference in whether or not a manuscript gets published, but you really don't think they can matter in terms of whether or not a query results in a read request or a form-rejection? If that be true, what's the point of an agent even asking for credits?

quicklime
09-03-2010, 07:44 PM
Aside from this bordering on being a non-sequitur, it's not at all hard to think that credits can make or break a query. They likely won't make a difference in whether or not a manuscript gets published, but you really don't think they can matter in terms of whether or not a query results in a read request or a form-rejection? If that be true, what's the point of an agent even asking for credits?


blac, define credits.

IIRC, OP was referring to having a degree in English (double-checked, he actually asked about both.)

I doubt a degree matters at all. Other qualifications, well, I've seen a number of posts suggesting if you have a sale or three, unless they went stratospheric, you still have to query your new 'scripts. So I wouldn't say publications hurt, but I also wouldn't tell a newbie they need them.

an agent probably has a number of reasons for wanting to know if you have credits, including knowing which houses may have seen your work, which editors, etc. and taking some comfort in seeing you have a "track record". But I doubt it will pull oyu out of slush, or that lacking it will make you more likely to be rejected; that burden is by far on the story itself.

IceCreamEmpress
09-03-2010, 10:29 PM
Aside from this bordering on being a non-sequitur, it's not at all hard to think that credits can make or break a query. They likely won't make a difference in whether or not a manuscript gets published, but you really don't think they can matter in terms of whether or not a query results in a read request or a form-rejection? If that be true, what's the point of an agent even asking for credits?

Publication credits can be helpful.

Having an MFA or a Ph.D. in English is not a publication credit.

Julie Worth
09-03-2010, 10:51 PM
Publication credits can be helpful.

Having an MFA or a Ph.D. in English is not a publication credit.

Exactly. The value of the bio is in how it relates to the project you're pitching. If it's non-fiction, then relevant degrees and a platform are important. For fiction, it's prior publications and writing awards. And if you have an award for a short story that you turned into the book, then that would be outstanding.

blacbird
09-04-2010, 01:20 AM
blac, define credits.

IIRC, OP was referring to having a degree in English (double-checked, he actually asked about both.)

Correct, hence my minor confusion. Usually the former is referred to as a "credential", not a "credit". I took "credit" to mean prior publication credit.



an agent probably has a number of reasons for wanting to know if you have credits, including knowing which houses may have seen your work, which editors, etc. and taking some comfort in seeing you have a "track record". But I doubt it will pull oyu out of slush, or that lacking it will make you more likely to be rejected; that burden is by far on the story itself.


Acceptance/rejection obviously will (or at least should) be based on the story itself. Getting the thing read, i.e., "pulled out of the slush", is where I suspect the issue of prior credits carries weight. If it don't get read, it don't gots no chance of acceptance.

Fuchsia Groan
09-04-2010, 08:10 PM
I have read repeatedly that certain literary magazines do not look at any story whose writer does not have an MFA or prior credits. The editors of those journals (which are usually academic and seldom pay) see publication as a career step for people who get MFAs so they can teach writing. They have no interest in helping out writers who aren't in the "system," regardless of their quality, unless those writers happen to be already famous.

I wish I knew which journals those are, but of course it remains all hearsay based on anonymous blog comments. Anyhow, agents are a whole different kettle of fish. I have some pub credits that are unrelated to the type of fiction I'm querying with, and they haven't helped so far. The only agents that have responded positively to my query clearly did so because they liked the pages.

Every time I hear about the Twilight books, I think: "So that's what Jane Austen was mocking in Northanger Abbey!" They are the closest modern equivalent of the trashy gothics that were hugely popular in the early 1800s.

But if anyone wants to know just how easy it wasn't to be a "literary" author in the 19th century, read Gissing's New Grub Street, an unjustly forgotten (but still in print) novel about a desperate novelist. Balzac's Lost Illusions is also good.