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Bartholomew
01-10-2011, 04:21 PM
My creative writing courses, and the English classes around them puffing out my degree, have been forcing some odd ideas onto me about writing, and how it works on the publishing end. The department at my university is extremely prejudiced against some types of fiction—they divide everything up into “Genre” and “Literary,” but they can’t adequately define either term for me. Or if they can, they’ve so far refused. I picked up on this odd prejudice almost immediately, but I don’t mind. Different perspectives make the world go round, and nothing they say will ever convince me that fantasy and horror are not worth writing.
But some of the other ideas in the classes are new, outlandish, or—to my knowledge—wrong. I’d like to bounce some of these off of the AW community.

1) An MFA in creative writing will make my query letters more attractive.

This one is probably true, but I kind of get the feeling that it’s just as often not true.

2) Literary agents scout MFA programs for new clients.

I had never heard this before. If it is true, it makes an MFA program very attractive.

3) Literary agents represent short stories.

This is about where I started cocking my eyebrows up and going, “Huh?” Do literary agents keep contact lists of editors at magazines?
How could this possibly be profitable? For me OR the agent?

4) In my query letters, it’s a good idea to include with my credentials that I’ve taken the class with my specific teacher, and to mention the title of his / her book. Essentially, name-dropping.

This one seemed a bit outlandish to me. “I have studied creative writing with Joe Smith, author of ‘Space Cakes,’” just looks like it would waste space on the paper. I didn’t argue with this specific piece of advice, because the teacher in question (who hasn’t been named. If Space Cakes by Joe Smith exists, it’s an odd coincidence) was suggesting that we name drop her in our query letters, and I had a feeling that suggesting it was a bad idea might have been a bad idea, since creative writing grades are somewhat subjective. But would this really make a story more attractive? Why?

5) It’s better to establish a reputation as a short-story writer before attempting novels.

This seems odd. Are the markets closely related? I mean, a reputation as a good writer couldn’t hurt in any case, but why start with short stories and then move into longer ones?

6) “Sell” your short stories to non-paying markets first to establish credentials, and then work your way up to paying markets.

Another strange piece of advice, one I argued against. Wouldn’t it be smarter to work your way down the pay scale with queries? Give Playboy first shot at everything, just in case?

This advice came attached with encouragement to submit our work to the university’s student-run (sort of…) literary journal. I refuse to give my work away, frankly, mostly because I’m too used to getting paid for it by now. This attitude is seen as pompous, for some reason, so I keep it to myself.

7) If you place a story in a non-paying market, it’s OK to try to sell it to a different, paying market, without informing the editors of either journal.

I freaked out when this was mentioned (by the teacher!) especially as she seemed to be encouraging folks to do it. Dishonesty bugs me, especially dishonesty that flies in the face of (to my knowledge) an industry standard. Is it really OK to publish a story with a student-run journal with circulation all over the city, and then act as if it’s never been published? Sounds doubtful to me. Apparently, people have gotten away with this before, and more power to them, I suppose, but it still seems like shoddy advice.

8) A positive web presence makes editors more likely to accept your work.

This makes sense to me, on one level, but on another, it really doesn’t. While I can see how an editor would prefer an author with an active twitter page, since those might be readers she normally couldn’t reach, I somehow doubt that an editor has a whole lot of time to go wading through the internet looking up every name in the pile of not-bad submissions for the day.

9) Furthermore, if you do not have a web presence, it is very difficult to sell your writing.

This one scares me. Why does an editor care if I’m not popular on facebook yet? If I write and sell a few good stories, my web presence will grow. Should I really be focusing on building the web presence first? New content for blogs isn’t easy, and doing it for free in hopes of becoming famous enough to maybe sell a short story one day seems absurd. Please, someone, tell me this is wrong.

10) You have to learn how to write literary fiction before you can write genre fiction.

Another piece of confusing advice. I think this one is the department prejudice showing through, but maybe there’s something to it. I can’t see it, though. The more I study good fiction, the more I realize that what makes it tick isn’t quantifiable, so suggesting that I have to learn how to write the things Toni Morrison writes before I can tell stories about volcanic squids seems a bit outré.

11) It's ok to simultaniously submit stories, even if the editors specifically say otherwise. They'll never know, anyway.

One of my instructors said this. It troubles me. I imagine that this is a good way to end up on a bad list.
Some of these are obviously rubbish, and I’m just ranting, but others are genuinely confusing me, or else I hadn’t heard of them until this set of courses. I am extremely interested in how the community perceives these.

Thanks!

tjwriter
01-10-2011, 04:31 PM
I'm no expert Bart, but quite a bit of that flies in the face what experts in the industry are saying on AW right now.

Cyia
01-10-2011, 05:15 PM
Your Prof's an idiot. Ask for a refund.

cbenoi1
01-10-2011, 05:22 PM
> 2) Literary agents scout MFA programs for new clients.

Gosh. It sounds exactly like the pitch MBA schools did ten years ago. Did they promise you would get a six-figure salary too?

-cb

whimsical rabbit
01-10-2011, 06:11 PM
You know Bart, there was a somewhat similar thread like this a couple of months ago, in which I ended up posting like a madwoman, to the point that I wasn't sure what I said and why I was saying it.

I'm doing a PhD in CW, but in the UK. Now, the creative writing discipline is still considered 'exotic' by some circles here, 'an imported product from the US' (Michelene Wandor's The author is not dead, merely somewhere else: creative writing reconceived (http://www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/explore/publications/newsletters/newsissue15/miller.htm) gives a good insight of the situation for anyone interested). As a result, people are trying to focus and expand on pedagogical methods, teaching materials, didactic approaches and so on. Conferences and workshops on teaching creative writing are constantly organised, calls for papers circulate the departments, and students are actively encouraged to participate. At least this is my experience from my University. I'm now entering my second year.

Now, people in my department seem to be liberated from the genre vs literary prejudice, and make a distinction between good books vs bad books instead, genre not being a criterion for it. I have come across academic snobbery in other institutions though, and this has been crucial to my choice of University, even though you can consider me in the literary/mainstream field.

As my thesis is primary of pedagogical rather than creative content, I'm one of those daydreamers who believe that creative writing is an exciting subject, and that those authors who are truly passionate about it should do their very best so that their discipline is liberated from all prejudices, encompasses all genres, and finally treats students not as fragile artistic souls that write for therapeutic purposes, but rather as future professionals that want to get published.

Hopefully, as younger academics replace the tradition and status quo-obsessed ones, as egos shrink and the love for writing takes their place, then creative writing programs will become suitable, exciting and well-respected, both by other academics, and by the commercial, successful professionals.

At the moment, I'm very puzzled as to why people want to make the simplest of things so difficult.

RichardLeon
01-10-2011, 06:17 PM
How many books have your teachers published?

How well did they sell?

jaksen
01-10-2011, 06:25 PM
@ Bart (May I call you Bart?)

At least you were intelligent enough to see through most of this BS.

Hats off to you. :D

KathleenD
01-10-2011, 06:31 PM
How many books have your teachers published?

How well did they sell?

Oh, yes. Color me fascinated by the answer to that very question.

But I'll bet you this delicious cream donut that you're going to get back some twaddle about how what you sell is more important than how many you sell.

By the way, I was once told by a professor (at a conference I attended at UNC-Asheville, in 1999) that the literary journal thing is true... if you're planning to use your degree to teach, as opposed to publish. Hiring institutions seem to be more impressed by the journals/highbrow credits.

I mention the provenance of my information only so you can decide how big a grain of salt you want to take with the data ;)

Cyia
01-10-2011, 06:42 PM
Usually, with professor penned books, the answers to these are simple:


How many books have your teachers published?

However many they thought required for the curriculum.

How well did they sell?
How many students are in the course.




Professors like to make their books required reading for their courses, and they also seem to prefer their books to be at least twice as expensive as the standard texts.

Phaeal
01-10-2011, 06:45 PM
There's so much bull in that list that if you can't sell any stories, you could go ahead and open a steak house. One of those Texas-size ones that feature 60 oz. prime ribs.

If you want to write genre fiction, a program with an active prejudice against it can prove toxic. The last thing developing writers need is to have their confidence undermined. As for the focus on short stories, that's not going to teach you how to write novels. Short and novels are related but significantly different fictive languages, like Spanish and Portuguese. Some people choose to be bilingual, and being bilingual does expand one's markets, but it's not mandatory.

"Joe Smith" might want to glance through some agent websites to see how many are looking to rep short stories or even short story collections by anyone who doesn't have a ready-made audience for them.

Dropping the instructor's name in queries? Unless the instructor's well-known, I doubt that would have much effect.

Gotta write literary fic before you can write genre? That there is a 200 oz. T-bone. It's exactly as correct to say that you have to write genre fiction before you can write literary, or that you have to own a cat before you can own a dog or eat an orange before you can try an apple.

shadowwalker
01-10-2011, 07:15 PM
After reading this, I'm very glad I decided, after much thought and worry, that going back to college to learn about writing would be just so much wasted time and money.

ChaosTitan
01-10-2011, 08:16 PM
Oh my. Oh Bart, you're a brave man.

I'm going to take a stab at these little gems.

1) An MFA in creative writing will make my query letters more attractive.

I think this depends. MFA's are useful if you're writing literary fiction, but few MFA's focus on popular/mainstream fiction, so they aren't as useful if you're writing, say, fantasy or westerns.

2) Literary agents scout MFA programs for new clients.

I suppose this could be true. Anyone have any cited examples of this happening?

3) Literary agents represent short stories.

Lit agents will sometimes represent collections of short stories. If you already have an agent, they may try to sell your short to anthologies for you. But few short story markets pay enough to make it worth an agent's time to rep them.

4) In my query letters, it’s a good idea to include with my credentials that I’ve taken the class with my specific teacher, and to mention the title of his / her book. Essentially, name-dropping.

Unless your professor is award-winning, or otherwise known well in the publishing industry, name-dropping won't do you any good. The benefit of SF/F writers attending workshops like Clarion is that they're taught by well-known, well-respected industry professionals. A large number of profs within the MFA programs don't have the necessary publishing credentials to make name-dropping useful.


5) It’s better to establish a reputation as a short-story writer before attempting novels.

Better for who? Not everyone can write short stories--I'm proof of that. I struggle hard with shorts, but novels are not a problem. In certain genres, having shorts published can be helpful, but it isn't a make it/break it thing. A lot of folks publish novels without ever writing or selling a short story. Likewise, a lot of folks successfully publish shorts without ever mastering novels.

6) “Sell” your short stories to non-paying markets first to establish credentials, and then work your way up to paying markets.

Start from the top and work your way down. Always.

7) If you place a story in a non-paying market, it’s OK to try to sell it to a different, paying market, without informing the editors of either journal.

Wow. No. Not okay, and this professor is an idiot. Paying or not, once that first market publishes your story, you've used up first rights. You can't, in good faith, resell those rights to another market. It's dishonest. And it's quite easy for those markets to discover the deceit. Good way to make a bad name for yourself.

8) A positive web presence makes editors more likely to accept your work.

A well-written, compelling manuscript makes editors more likely to accept your work.

9) Furthermore, if you do not have a web presence, it is very difficult to sell your writing.

See my answer to #8. A web presence can be useful. For example, if you're a well-known blogger with a following, you have a built-in audience for your work. But I can't think of a single scenario in which having this presence actually affected an editor's decision. Web presence is helpful, but not a deal-breaker.

10) You have to learn how to write literary fiction before you can write genre fiction.

:roll:

I'm glad no one told me this before I sold six genre novels. I'd still be struggling to string words together.

So yeah, from me and a lot of other genre writers who have had similar experiences, I call bullshit.

11) It's ok to simultaniously submit stories, even if the editors specifically say otherwise. They'll never know, anyway.

Unfortunately, this is a gray area that has even been debated in threads at AW. In most cases, you have to go with your conscience. I'd never do it; other people might.

veinglory
01-10-2011, 08:24 PM
Professors like to make their books required reading for their courses, and they also seem to prefer their books to be at least twice as expensive as the standard texts.

If your professor is an expert in a subject, is teaching a course on that subject, and has written a book on that subject--why would they not use it as a text?

But that is generally the case in content areas, not creative writing.

Fokker Aeroplanbau
01-10-2011, 08:42 PM
I think I'm going to be a MFA Prof, it sounds like a fantastic scam and I've always had an ability in con'ing.

gothicangel
01-10-2011, 08:48 PM
My creative writing courses, and the English classes around them puffing out my degree, have been forcing some odd ideas onto me about writing, and how it works on the publishing end. The department at my university is extremely prejudiced against some types of fiction—they divide everything up into “Genre” and “Literary,” but they can’t adequately define either term for me. Or if they can, they’ve so far refused. I picked up on this odd prejudice almost immediately, but I don’t mind. Different perspectives make the world go round, and nothing they say will ever convince me that fantasy and horror are not worth writing.


:e2fight:

*Sigh*

I'm only going to explain this one more time [yeah, right.]

University departments are not prejudice against genre fiction. Genre fiction is extremely problematic because it has to appeal to an international audience.

Do some research and you'll find Universities that teach horror and sci-fi/fantasy right up to PhD level. My own university [The University of Stirling] teaches Gothic Literature [Stephen King, Anne Rice] and Newcastle University teaches Children's Literature [JK Rowling, Philip Pullman.]

latourdumoine
01-10-2011, 09:06 PM
Okay, I did an MA in Creative Writing in the UK, so here are my thoughts and comments based on that.





1) An MFA in creative writing will make my query letters more attractive.

Well, it shows that you are able to see something through, most likely you're also able to deal with criticism, work to deadlines and have learned to listen when someone, considered an expert i.e. your writing tutor, tells you something. I'd say it gives the agents more of an idea as to your personality than your writing. Some programs however do carry a lot of clout with them, so if you're on one of those, seeing as how they only take a select few, I'd say it would be a bonus.

2) Literary agents scout MFA programs for new clients.

Half and half. The program I was on didn't have any agents coming in. I think there might have been a promise made to that extent but nothing came of it. The reason I chose it though was because I'd already done Creative Writing (in combination with another major) at the same school, and I really wanted to work some more with one of the tutors as I felt that I could still learn a lot from him, which turned out to be true. We had about four different tutors on that course and for me personally, it looked like this: two I could work with outstandingly. One was in my field i.e. novels, the other was in an entirely different field altogether. That worked. With the other two it was the same set-up, one in my field, the other doing something else. I couldn't work with those two because I didn't respect their advice as I found that they let their own emotions and prejudices stand in the way. I asked one of them once if that was true as the prejudice concerned something I was connected to, and that pretty much killed any and all input from the tutor's side, though I was told that it wasn't the case.

I have to say though that some friends of mine did an MA in Creative Writing at another university and they met with agents towards the end of the degree. But theirs was an extremely well established course, one that had a national reputation (from what I gathered) with many prize-winning authors graduating from there.


4) In my query letters, it’s a good idea to include with my credentials that I’ve taken the class with my specific teacher, and to mention the title of his / her book. Essentially, name-dropping.

Mentioning that you took a class with a published author is not something I would see as name dropping. Especially if that author is established and has been running the course for a while. Look at it this way, the course has been around for several years. People on the course want to publish. So they ask the author for advice. The author will then direct them to the appropriate agent (if he or she sees fit). If the author is good, her or she has sent some real gems the agent's way, so when the agent reads that your tutor was Joe Smith, and they trust his judgment, they're more likely to perk up.

Mentioning the title of his or her book however is name-dropping and can really hurt your chances. Back when I was only taking Creative Writing as part of a course, I was in that situation in a way. My tutor found out I was doing a certain project, told me it was impossible to see it through and I'd never achieve it. Then, when he found out that I was seeing it through and was making great headway, he latched on to it, muscling his way in, ultimately costing me a potential contract. On second thought I probably wasn't the right person for the project to begin with and karma got him back but it was an interesting and important lesson to learn.

5) It’s better to establish a reputation as a short-story writer before attempting novels.

The only way this would make sense to me is if you get as much writing practice as possible and to have as many completed works as possible, again, so you can feel the satisfaction that comes with it and build your credentials. Short stories are also easier to critique in class for some as they can see how the writer treats the entire development from beginning to end. But on the whole, I really call BS on this one. Like someone else pointed out, some people write short stories, others novels. The key is to find what works for you and listen to your gut feeling. And if you don't attempt novels, how are you going to learn? Writing especially is pretty much learning by doing. Sounds like tutor either has a very sweet deal with some magazines or else doesn't want competition in the novel field.

6) “Sell” your short stories to non-paying markets first to establish credentials, and then work your way up to paying markets.

Work your way down. It's up to the individual whether they're okay with working for free, and the student magazine would obviously showcase the tutor's course some more (hence the encouragement. This tutor really sounds off to me on so many levels).

7) If you place a story in a non-paying market, it’s OK to try to sell it to a different, paying market, without informing the editors of either journal.

It's okay to try and sell it to a paying market but let the editors know by all means. With something where you end up in the public eye and the sources are so easily checked, play it straight.

8) A positive web presence makes editors more likely to accept your work.

A positive web presence makes it easier for your tutor to sell their work. Think of it this way, you will feel so grateful for all the advice they've given you, how could you not mention them on Twitter. Also, in some cultures you simply can't deny your tutor a request because it's an issue of respect, they will always be above you, no matter what happens, in your mind, in theirs. I'm not criticizing it as I've been around both attitudes, where the tutor is a friend and the tutor is a figure to be respected, and I can see the benefits in both. But some people abuse it, whether they're the authority figure that is meant to guide you or the friend.

9) Furthermore, if you do not have a web presence, it is very difficult to sell your writing.

If your work is good and they want you to have a web presence, the agents or editors or whoever can set one up. And they have experts. Otherwise they can suggest you have one and then give you pointers on what to focus on.

10) You have to learn how to write literary fiction before you can write genre fiction.

Outdated as that sounds, I can see some sort of logic behind it. You know how in art they will tell you, you have to learn how to paint the way the masters did, learn how to paint the body parts, then do your own thing? Well, I can see that operating here. But I was always under the impression that you graduate up to literary fiction, the way you wouldn't attempt a PhD before your Masters degree. I am not putting genre fiction down. I just know that I'd been writing for about 10+ years before I even thought of trying to attempt something even remotely close to what Toni Morrison does (lover her work btw). YMMV of course.

Chris P
01-10-2011, 09:37 PM
The only thing that made much sense to me (and I'm still a fledgling) was the part about an MFA making me more attractive: I looked into one agent who only represented writers with an MFA. All of the others I've investigated didn't specify any degrees.

I might have believed some the others to some degree if I hadn't been to AW. Makes we wonder who your prof has been talking to.

Terie
01-10-2011, 09:40 PM
University departments are not prejudice against genre fiction. Genre fiction is extremely problematic because it has to appeal to an international audience.

Do some research and you'll find Universities that teach horror and sci-fi/fantasy right up to PhD level. My own university [The University of Stirling] teaches Gothic Literature [Stephen King, Anne Rice] and Newcastle University teaches Children's Literature [JK Rowling, Philip Pullman.]

You left the word 'some' out of that first sentence quote above. In the US, there is considerable prejudice within the academic creative writing community against genre fiction. It's just true, whether you like it or not.

It's also true that there are exceptions.

My (US) alma mater has an outstanding, internationally acclaimed children's lit program. Some of the professors in it have published commercially, including in genre fiction. Some of them teach at the post-grad level in both children's lit and genre lit. At the same time, the head of the MFA program won't accept work that isn't literary. That's extremes on both ends at the same university.

So...please don't say that literary snobbism simply doesn't exist. It's not universal, but it IS dominant at many or even most US universities.

Momento Mori
01-10-2011, 09:45 PM
I did my MA in Creative Writing in the UK, so with that in mind ...


1) An MFA in creative writing will make my query letters more attractive.

This one is probably true, but I kind of get the feeling that it’s just as often not true.

Depends on where you're doing your MA and what its reputation is and whether that reputation is good in the genre you're writing in. In general, I think that it's worth mentioning an MA if you have one and mentioning an MA from the University of East Anglia will always help if you write literary fiction in the UK.


2) Literary agents scout MFA programs for new clients.

I had never heard this before. If it is true, it makes an MFA program very attractive.


Depends on where you do your MA/MFA and what its links are with agents and publishers. I did my MA at City University and the course put together an anthology of the students' work to go to agents and publishers and held a showcase where we all read more from our work and got to schmooze.

Almost all of us were contacted by agents who'd seen our work in the anthology and about half were further collared by agents at the Showcase. Certainly it enabled me to get my agent, who signed me on the basis of my anthology contribution and the first 3 chapters.

1 year on from when I graduated and about a third of the class have representation. 4 have been at the stage where they had completed manuscripts shopped to publishers (as a result of which 1 has secured a US publishing deal with a big publisher and looks like going to auction in the UK, 2 failed to get deals and are working on their next books with their agents and 1 is still on submission and getting close with no luck so far). I'm still in the process of rewrites prior to submission (which is a consequence of getting signed on a partial) but have a list of 11 publishers waiting to get it when it's ready and who are getting frequent updates from my agent.


3) Literary agents represent short stories.

This is about where I started cocking my eyebrows up and going, “Huh?” Do literary agents keep contact lists of editors at magazines?
How could this possibly be profitable? For me OR the agent?

It depends. Some agents might get approached by a commercial publisher looking to put an anthology together who'll ask if their client is interested, in which case if there's an advance element then they might do the work for a cut. Some agents may also be interested in representing clients who have short story collections to sell as well (in which case they take a cut of the advance for the collection). Most of the time though agents don't actively look for short stories to rep because the numbers don't make sense.

My agent and I had that conversation prior to signature and she said it's not worth her while to do that unless I particularly want her to.


4) In my query letters, it’s a good idea to include with my credentials that I’ve taken the class with my specific teacher, and to mention the title of his / her book. Essentially, name-dropping.

This one seemed a bit outlandish to me. “I have studied creative writing with Joe Smith, author of ‘Space Cakes,’” just looks like it would waste space on the paper. I didn’t argue with this specific piece of advice, because the teacher in question (who hasn’t been named. If Space Cakes by Joe Smith exists, it’s an odd coincidence) was suggesting that we name drop her in our query letters, and I had a feeling that suggesting it was a bad idea might have been a bad idea, since creative writing grades are somewhat subjective. But would this really make a story more attractive? Why?

There's little point in name dropping unless you're querying Joe Smith's agent and he's given you permission to mention his name.

I took classes and workshops with Monica Ali, John O'Farrell, Moshin Hamed and a host of others but there's little point mentioning that unless they sponsor you.


5) It’s better to establish a reputation as a short-story writer before attempting novels.

This seems odd. Are the markets closely related? I mean, a reputation as a good writer couldn’t hurt in any case, but why start with short stories and then move into longer ones?

No. If you've got a history of publishing short stories then those credentials will help your query letter but if you really want to write a novel then write the novel.


6) “Sell” your short stories to non-paying markets first to establish credentials, and then work your way up to paying markets.

Another strange piece of advice, one I argued against. Wouldn’t it be smarter to work your way down the pay scale with queries? Give Playboy first shot at everything, just in case?

This advice came attached with encouragement to submit our work to the university’s student-run (sort of…) literary journal. I refuse to give my work away, frankly, mostly because I’m too used to getting paid for it by now. This attitude is seen as pompous, for some reason, so I keep it to myself.

No. Start at the top professional paying markets and work your way down. If you've got a good story then why would you give it to Epublisher Daily instead of The New Yorker? If nothing else, it gets you used to rejection.


7) If you place a story in a non-paying market, it’s OK to try to sell it to a different, paying market, without informing the editors of either journal.

I freaked out when this was mentioned (by the teacher!) especially as she seemed to be encouraging folks to do it. Dishonesty bugs me, especially dishonesty that flies in the face of (to my knowledge) an industry standard. Is it really OK to publish a story with a student-run journal with circulation all over the city, and then act as if it’s never been published? Sounds doubtful to me. Apparently, people have gotten away with this before, and more power to them, I suppose, but it still seems like shoddy advice.

Definitely not and your tutor is an unethical idiot for suggesting it.


8) A positive web presence makes editors more likely to accept your work.

This makes sense to me, on one level, but on another, it really doesn’t. While I can see how an editor would prefer an author with an active twitter page, since those might be readers she normally couldn’t reach, I somehow doubt that an editor has a whole lot of time to go wading through the internet looking up every name in the pile of not-bad submissions for the day.

A web presence can be useful for your agent in pitching your work because it gives you a marketing platform that you can build from but it's not a necessity. A good book will sell regardless of whether you blog or twitter or whatever. A bad book will not necessarily sell even if you've got twelfthy million followers on Facebook.



9) Furthermore, if you do not have a web presence, it is very difficult to sell your writing.

This one scares me. Why does an editor care if I’m not popular on facebook yet? If I write and sell a few good stories, my web presence will grow. Should I really be focusing on building the web presence first? New content for blogs isn’t easy, and doing it for free in hopes of becoming famous enough to maybe sell a short story one day seems absurd. Please, someone, tell me this is wrong.

No. Utter bullshit. Your tutor is an idiot for suggesting it.


10) You have to learn how to write literary fiction before you can write genre fiction.

Another piece of confusing advice. I think this one is the department prejudice showing through, but maybe there’s something to it. I can’t see it, though. The more I study good fiction, the more I realize that what makes it tick isn’t quantifiable, so suggesting that I have to learn how to write the things Toni Morrison writes before I can tell stories about volcanic squids seems a bit outré.

No. If you want to write literary fiction, then yeah a course geared towards that will help. However it's not a prerequisite for writing genre.


11) It's ok to simultaniously submit stories, even if the editors specifically say otherwise. They'll never know, anyway.

One of my instructors said this. It troubles me. I imagine that this is a good way to end up on a bad list.
Some of these are obviously rubbish, and I’m just ranting, but others are genuinely confusing me, or else I hadn’t heard of them until this set of courses. I am extremely interested in how the community perceives these.

For short stories, you should ideally follow the guidelines and if they say don't do a sim sub then don't do it. However, I do know people who break this rule and it didn't hurt them.

All in all, your tutor is a ninny. Take what they say with a pinch of salt.

MM

kullervo
01-10-2011, 09:55 PM
I have a BA in art with a concentration in oil painting and an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA. The BA has given me a pleasant hobby and saved me hundreds of dollars when I used a self-portrait as my author photo. The MFA was a giant, flaming waste of time. It's not the degree, it's not the program, it's not the school—*it's the work and the writer that count.

L

gothicangel
01-10-2011, 09:56 PM
You left the word 'some' out of that first sentence quote above. In the US, there is considerable prejudice within the academic creative writing community against genre fiction. It's just true, whether you like it or not.

It's also true that there are exceptions.

My (US) alma mater has an outstanding, internationally acclaimed children's lit program. Some of the professors in it have published commercially, including in genre fiction. Some of them teach at the post-grad level in both children's lit and genre lit. At the same time, the head of the MFA program won't accept work that isn't literary. That's extremes on both ends at the same university.

So...please don't say that literary snobbism simply doesn't exist. It's not universal, but it IS dominant at many or even most US universities.

This is not my experience, maybe I've just been lucky enough to have only met the enlightened academics.

It may exist, but it is dying out.

Darkwing
01-10-2011, 10:06 PM
1) An MFA in creative writing will make my query letters more attractive.

I don't see how this is true. I think agents are far more interested in the quality of the plot and writing. The only thing that having an MFA might tell them is that you are possibly more aware of your language than some other writers, and you know how to self-edit. But of course every good agent knows that you don't have to have an MFA to have those skills, and not every MFA has them.

2) Literary agents scout MFA programs for new clients.

I've never heard of this. Do they have time?

3) Literary agents represent short stories.

Everything I've heard says this is waaaay not true. Not individual shorts, at any rate.

4) In my query letters, it’s a good idea to include with my credentials that I’ve taken the class with my specific teacher, and to mention the title of his / her book. Essentially, name-dropping.

I've heard this is bunk. Unless your teacher was some really big name, I don't think the agent cares, and I think it even looks bad for you. Even if your teacher was a big name, I've heard agents still don't care so much.

5) It’s better to establish a reputation as a short-story writer before attempting novels.

I don't know if it's better. I think writing short stories first allows you to hone your craft in a small setting, helps you learn how to finish things, etc. Publication certainly isn't essential, though. And I don't think agents generally care if you've been writing short stories unless maybe you've been published in a big magazine more than once?

6) “Sell” your short stories to non-paying markets first to establish credentials, and then work your way up to paying markets.

I always send to the best markets first. If my story was somehow good enough and it got picked up by a lower-paying market, I'd never forgive myself for not having it rejected by the best first. Consequently, none of my stories have yet made their way down the totem pole to a non-paying market. One got stopped and accepted on its journey, and I've now been paid for it.

7) If you place a story in a non-paying market, it’s OK to try to sell it to a different, paying market, without informing the editors of either journal.

NO NO NO NO. If you're found out, that's major bad reputation. By all means, offer reprint rights to another magazine. But always say it was published somewhere else first.

8) A positive web presence makes editors more likely to accept your work.

Eh....I think it's more that if you're being a brat on the internet it might make an editor less likely to accept your work. If you're snarking about the industry, etc, you're just not going to be a nice person to work with. I think as long as you remain professional regarding the industry it's fine.

9) Furthermore, if you do not have a web presence, it is very difficult to sell your writing.

I hate this. It may be true, it may not be. But I hate it. I don't have time to write a blog. I think building a website at this stage of my career would be pretentious. I think the time for that is after the work has been sold. And yes, having a ready-made audience is nice, but I have better things to do. Like survive grad school and actually finish my writing.

10) You have to learn how to write literary fiction before you can write genre fiction.

As a fantasy writer, I think this is junk. I think you need to read lots of types of fiction. I think contact with literary writers makes my prose nicer. But I've never written literary fiction, and I never intend to. It would turn out horribly because I really have no passion for it.

11) It's ok to simultaneously submit stories, even if the editors specifically say otherwise. They'll never know, anyway.

I've heard this. I don't do it. Most of the markets I submit to take about 20-50 days, and I think I can wait that long. Once a story is out, I think I should leave it. Sure, it might take a long time to sell that way, but what do I care as long as I'm writing new stuff?


Oh, and as for the prejudice against genre in universities . . . sorry, but I see evidence of it a lot. I even get the sense that my own university tolerates my genre fixation because I'm a good student, my writing is good quality and improving, and they like me as a person. And I'm younger than the average grad student. Maybe it's something that's more apparent in America? I mean, I'm sure there are genre-friendly programs out there, but for the most part it seems universities think themselves too good for what they see as lower-quality work. This is one reason why I'm seriously considering not going on to a Ph.D. program after my master's (which is actually in Lit, since my university doesn't offer an MFA).

Toothpaste
01-10-2011, 11:05 PM
This is not my experience, maybe I've just been lucky enough to have only met the enlightened academics.

It may exist, but it is dying out.

How can you say it "may" exist, when Bart just explained that in his program it does exist? Further you just were given yet another example of personal experience of it existing. It isn't a question of "may". It DOES exist. Now, it MAY be dying out (I'd like to see proof of that), but there is still a heck of a lot of snobbery towards genre writing in general, let alone in academic institutions.

Terie
01-10-2011, 11:17 PM
This is not my experience, maybe I've just been lucky enough to have only met the enlightened academics.

It may exist, but it is dying out.

You are making sweeping generalisations based on an extremely limited data set. Your experience of a number of UK universities doesn't necessarily apply to all UK universities and certainly doesn't apply to all US universities.

To wit: Ten years ago next weekend, I was kicked out of a UK MA in Creative Writing course because I write children's lit and fantasy. In fairness, the head of that programme is gone and the new leadership does accept and even encourage both children's and genre lit. But that person who booted me now heads the MA programme at another UK university.

Tifferbugz
01-10-2011, 11:30 PM
This is not my experience, maybe I've just been lucky enough to have only met the enlightened academics.

It may exist, but it is dying out.

Many MFA programs (in the US) do not allow genre fiction for applicant's writing samples when applying, that makes a pretty strong statement.

scarletpeaches
01-10-2011, 11:39 PM
Maybe if I'd gone to university I'd be more articulate. As it was, I decided to waste my time writing genre fiction.

tjwriter
01-10-2011, 11:46 PM
Maybe if I'd gone to university I'd be more articulate. As it was, I decided to waste my time writing genre fiction.
Some of us like slumming in the gutters. :D At least I find the response quite appropriate.

****

Can you imagine if you were to do the name drop in your query, except the agent you are querying thinks teacher you are name droppin' is a pompous ass? What an impression to make...

COchick
01-11-2011, 12:07 AM
2) Literary agents scout MFA programs for new clients.

I suppose this could be true. Anyone have any cited examples of this happening?




I do have a friend that is currently in a MFA program, which says they will bring in agents and editors at some point, like a "pitch-your-work" kind of thing. But...I don't think it has been done yet. So I...don't know.

Some of the other things on that list made me laugh. I am by no means an expert, but I do have an agent, and when I sent out my query letter, my writing background was nil. I had fulls out with several different agents, and none them ever asked me if I had an advanced degree, or if I had a website. They were interested in the story I'd written, and I would think a good story would trump a degree or who you took a class with any day.

IMHO.

Thump
01-11-2011, 12:21 AM
An MFA can be very good for your writing career, however, I think the programme at your college is either a scam or very badly set up with professor who are have very little experience and then only of a very small area of publishing.

Just because you've had a book published doesn't mean you can teach creative writing. I would say to change to another college or switch to another programme. Your professors sound like they don't know what they are talking about.

I have an MA in publishing and work in the industry and have never heard anyone say any of these things.

KathleenD
01-11-2011, 12:23 AM
I think I'm going to be a MFA Prof, it sounds like a fantastic scam and I've always had an ability in con'ing.

But first you have to survive an MFA program without laughing.

Bartholomew
01-11-2011, 12:36 AM
Usually, with professor penned books, the answers to these are simple:

Professors like to make their books required reading for their courses, and they also seem to prefer their books to be at least twice as expensive as the standard texts.

None of my professors here have done this. While a lot of the information I've gotten the past few semesters is dubious, to say the least, the required reading has all been from other authors. This is admirable, in my eyes.

That said, they're all published, if not prolific. The creative writing teacher I had this semester has a book of short stories out, and has an agent trying to place another book of hers.

Fokker Aeroplanbau
01-11-2011, 12:38 AM
But first you have to survive an MFA program without laughing.

Hmm, I didn't think about that.

*rubs chin thoughtfully*

I have to rethink my plans.

Thump
01-11-2011, 12:51 AM
Now, now, a good MFA in creative writing can do a lot for you. It's all a question of being in the right one. The most important thing is to check who the professors are and what the university's attitude to your genre is.

It seems the OP's is strongly biased towards literary fiction to the point where they are aiming at highly specialised publishing tactics. The advice they are giving might benefit a literary writer but nit one who in genre or mainstream commercial fiction. The uni I did my MA in publishing has an MFA in creative writing and one of the professors is Philip Pullman, this tells you that the programme is much more comprehensive and well rounded. There's a mix of authors that sell and authors that get awards and some that do both ;)

Ihave friend who did that programme and her writing improved dramatically from what it was at the start of the year and she has a good idea of what it takes to be published.

shaldna
01-11-2011, 02:45 AM
I've found that it doesn't pay to worry too much about what your professors or classmates think about your work or the industry in general. The issue that I have found with many lecturers is that they aren't writers, they are teachers, and they usually don't understand the industry properly.

In short, while they can help you learn to write, they can't usually help you sell it.

jaksen
01-11-2011, 02:52 AM
The 'snobbery' some of you have mentioned can exist as far as the American public school system. I encountered disdain and ridicule from several (note: not all) of the high school English teachers in my district because I wrote 'for a magazine.'

The consenus among these teachers was that I shouldn't call myself a real writer and that what I did (and do) isn't all that significant. A teacher in their own department, who wrote for a local newspaper, was often hailed as an 'excellent writer' and held up as an example to the students.

I went to the Edgars and won the Fish award (I don't usually toot my own horn) and I was criticized for taking off two days from work (I got permission to do so) to attend the ceremony in NYC.

A pox on literary snobs. A pox I say!

Okay, I'm over it.

Momento Mori
01-11-2011, 02:53 AM
Thump:
The most important thing is to check who the professors are and what the university's attitude to your genre is.

I agree with this.

You have to do your research because while there are a number who are really only looking to produce literary fiction writers e.g. in the UK the University of East Anglia and Birkbeck College (with the admissions tutor wearing an expression that suggested I'd just done a poo in front of them when I said I wanted to write fantasy for teens), there are others that are a bit more genre friendly. In the UK in particular it's easy to get in touch with admissions tutors to see what their attitude is and whether they're open to it.

In terms of improving as a writer, I think that I did as a result of my course and I still meet up regularly with my classmates and they all say they got a lot out of it technically. Now, that might also have happened if they joined a weekly writers group, then again it might not. What I do know is that having professional writers there to support you on a critical basis and give you an 'in' with agents etc was invaluable to me and I actually liked coming out of my course with an MA at the end of it as it felt like I had an actual qualification.

As an aside, if you're interested in teaching or studying further for a Phd then almost every course in the UK that I've checked out requires an MA in English or Creative Writing first so if you're looking at writing academia, then it is more of a necessity.

MM

Jamesaritchie
01-11-2011, 02:54 AM
1) An MFA in creative writing will make my query letters more attractive.

True, but this does not mean, in any way, that you can't sell without an MFA.

2) Literary agents scout MFA programs for new clients.

Some agents do, some do not. Many of the top writers do have an MFA, so it would be silly not to keep an eye on the better MFA programs, if you represent the kind of fiction such writers produce.

3) Literary agents represent short stories.

True, but usually only for published novelists they already represent. There are exceptions. primarily for literary short story writers, and then only if the writer intends to write novels. Agents also handle short story collections.

4) In my query letters, it’s a good idea to include with my credentials that I’ve taken the class with my specific teacher, and to mention the title of his / her book. Essentially, name-dropping.

Yes, if the class and the teacher are famous enough to matter. Otherwise, no.

5) It’s better to establish a reputation as a short-story writer before attempting novels.


This used to be true for genre writers. It no longer is. It can still be true for literary writers.

6) “Sell” your short stories to non-paying markets first to establish credentials, and then work your way up to paying markets.

It often works out this way in practice, but you should always submit to the big markets first, and work your way down the list. If you start at the top and work your way down, the best magazine that wants your story will get it. If you start at the bottom and work your way up, the worst magazine that wants your story will get it.

7) If you place a story in a non-paying market, it’s OK to try to sell it to a different, paying market, without informing the editors of either journal.

Whoever told you this is a complete fool.

8) A positive web presence makes editors more likely to accept your work.

It doesn't hurt, but editors accept work because it's good enough. What you don't want is a highly negative web presence where you call editors and publishers idiots, or worse.

9) Furthermore, if you do not have a web presence, it is very difficult to sell your writing.

Bullshit.

10) You have to learn how to write literary fiction before you can write genre fiction.

More bullshit.

11) It's ok to simultaneously submit stories, even if the editors specifically say otherwise. They'll never know, anyway.

Your instructor is a complete fool, AND full of bullshit.

shaldna
01-11-2011, 03:13 AM
Your instructor is a complete fool, AND full of bullshit.



I don't often agree with James, but this time I do.

rainsmom
01-11-2011, 03:46 AM
Re: Web presence...

At a conference I attended last summer, agent Andrea Hurst said that the industry had gotten so competitive, that she was now wanting new *fiction* clients to have an established platform. Yes, fiction. For example, if someone wrote a mystery about a knitter, she would be more likely to take that person on if they had a popular blog about knitting or were otherwise established as an expert on the subject.

She said that she was finding that it made a difference when she approached the publishers, because she could point to the platform as guaranteed sales and the author's blog (etc.) as already existing vehicles for promotion.

That's just one agent, and obviously many, many others do not require any sort of Web presence on the front end. But I thought it was an interesting perspective.

Medievalist
01-11-2011, 05:19 AM
Just some translation notes: I notice a fair amount of people in this thread are writing from a UK angle regarding UK Universities.

US Dissertation (Ph.D final requirement) = U.K Thesis
U.S. Course = U.K module
U.S. Major /degree field = U.K. Course
U.S. Class = a single session on a single day, with an instructor. In the U.K. class often means your fellow students admitted as a group at a single time as in U.S. Class of 20012

Stlight
01-11-2011, 06:12 AM
Re: Web presence...

At a conference I attended last summer, agent Andrea Hurst said that the industry had gotten so competitive, that she was now wanting new *fiction* clients to have an established platform. Yes, fiction. For example, if someone wrote a mystery about a knitter, she would be more likely to take that person on if they had a popular blog about knitting or were otherwise established as an expert on the subject.

She said that she was finding that it made a difference when she approached the publishers, because she could point to the platform as guaranteed sales and the author's blog (etc.) as already existing vehicles for promotion.



I suppose that would work if you managed to get a lot of hits. If not, and I had a website for building dollhouses for a couple of years with the spiders going and the getting listed on this that and the other search field. I got 500 hits over the entire time I had the website. I'm thinking that wouldn't be helping.

Stlight
01-11-2011, 06:14 AM
Bart, since she's into the name sharing thing, maybe she'll let you know who some of her now published students are. If nothing else it will let you know where her teaching strengths are lit, sf, whatever.

Jamesaritchie
01-11-2011, 06:18 AM
Re: Web presence...

At a conference I attended last summer, agent Andrea Hurst said that the industry had gotten so competitive, that she was now wanting new *fiction* clients to have an established platform. Yes, fiction. For example, if someone wrote a mystery about a knitter, she would be more likely to take that person on if they had a popular blog about knitting or were otherwise established as an expert on the subject.

She said that she was finding that it made a difference when she approached the publishers, because she could point to the platform as guaranteed sales and the author's blog (etc.) as already existing vehicles for promotion.

That's just one agent, and obviously many, many others do not require any sort of Web presence on the front end. But I thought it was an interesting perspective.


I wouldn't call that a platform, in the nonfiction sense. It's always been the case that demostrative expertise in the area the novel covers can prompt a publisher to say yes when the book is a close call. It's really no different than a police officer writing a police procedural, or a leading quantum physicist writing an SF novel.

For that matter, it isn't much different than having short stories published in very high circulation magazines, which can convince a publisher you will bring along some sort of fan base.

djf881
01-11-2011, 01:32 PM
1) An MFA in creative writing will make my query letters more attractive.

This one is probably true, but I kind of get the feeling that it’s just as often not true.


Some MFA programs are difficult to get into, and others are not. To the extent your program is prestigious, it might help you. To the extent it isn't, it probably doesn't hurt you. If you're querying without a reference or an introduction, you are in roughly the same position as everyone else in the slushpile.




2) Literary agents scout MFA programs for new clients.

I had never heard this before. If it is true, it makes an MFA program very attractive.


This is true to some extent, and the extent to which this is true depends on how prestigious your program is.

If a well-connected professor becomes a passionate advocate for your work, your manuscript may end up in the hands of a lot of agents. And if that manuscript comes with rave reviews from someone they respect, they'll put it on top of the to-read pile.




3) Literary agents represent short stories.

This is about where I started cocking my eyebrows up and going, “Huh?” Do literary agents keep contact lists of editors at magazines?
How could this possibly be profitable? For me OR the agent?


If you query agents for a short-story collection as an unpublished writer, you will not get very far, and agents do not represent short stories to literary journals, which take unsolicited submissions and don't pay much.

However, agents do subscribe to the journals and agents have been known to contact people directly after reading short stories to find out if those writers are working on novels.

If you've got some dynamite short stories, and an agent is excited about you and can get editors excited about you, editors will acquire short story collections from unpublished authors to lock down an option on an in-progress novel.




4) In my query letters, it’s a good idea to include with my credentials that I’ve taken the class with my specific teacher, and to mention the title of his / her book. Essentially, name-dropping.

This one seemed a bit outlandish to me. “I have studied creative writing with Joe Smith, author of ‘Space Cakes,’” just looks like it would waste space on the paper. I didn’t argue with this specific piece of advice, because the teacher in question (who hasn’t been named. If Space Cakes by Joe Smith exists, it’s an odd coincidence) was suggesting that we name drop her in our query letters, and I had a feeling that suggesting it was a bad idea might have been a bad idea, since creative writing grades are somewhat subjective. But would this really make a story more attractive? Why?


This is bad advice. If the teacher won't refer your work to agents he knows, then name-dropping him won't help. And a query should be very short; name-dropping is a waste of space, unless the dropped-names are gushing praise for your work.




5) It’s better to establish a reputation as a short-story writer before attempting novels.

This seems odd. Are the markets closely related? I mean, a reputation as a good writer couldn’t hurt in any case, but why start with short stories and then move into longer ones?

6) “Sell” your short stories to non-paying markets first to establish credentials, and then work your way up to paying markets.


This depends on your career objectives. A lot of MFA students aim to become MFA instructors, and getting noticed for short stories is a valid way to pursue that career path.

If you build a lot of MFA-world connections and you win academic fellowships and short-story awards and get short-stories published in prestigious journals, when you go out on submission with a novel, there might be a perception that you are a hot property.

happywritermom
01-11-2011, 06:37 PM
I started off taking graduate courses in creative writing at a very highly regarded private school. I was a full-time journalist in that same city and my professors knew it. It was a nightmare. My creative writing professor was fantastic and is now the creative writing director at a the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa. The literature and theory professors were the problem.

In their opinions, I had two things working against me: journalism and creative writing. I was guilty of destroying the English language and, therefore, civilized socity as a whole, by writing at a lower level with less specific language. In doing so, I brought society down with my words. I didn't realize at the time that the Socialist Collective was huge on that campus and that these profs were part of it. Though I still got As, (one A-), it took every ounce of energy I had. All of my papers had to be better than As. I had to leave them no room to nail me. I was on the defensive 100 percent of the time.

So I switched to Binghamton Univeristy, part of the NY state sysytem, for a master's in creative writing (not an MFA). I had to drive two hours each way twice a week for classes, but what a huge difference.

My professors were down-to-earth. Some of my classes focused on teaching college English. Most of my fellow students were paying their own way and/or working full- or part-time jobs. They were down-to-earth, too. The critiques were honest, not snobbish. My professors were widely published, but they were people who didn't have the time or the patience for the publishing pressures at private universities. They taught because they wanted to teach.

As a journalist, I really needed those classes to help me find my voice in fiction. I had spent the past 11 years learning to write objectively. That's a hard habit to break. The education courses also helped me get work teaching as an adjunct after my kids were born. I greatly enjoyed that and would still like to do it again sometime. Maybe after all my kids are in school sometime.

So please don't bash higher education degrees in creative writing simply because of a bad experience with one. Yes, there are some terrible programs out there. Yes, many, many writers have succeeded with out higher degrees. (A romance/erotica writer who shares my name --Lori Foster --got a six-figure deal one of her series two years ago. She has only a high school degree.) But there are those of us who benefit from those programs. There are also some people who would prefer learning through an MFA program to learning by writing 7 unpublished novels before getting one published. We all learn differently.

Some of what that professor said was correct, but most of it was hogwash. It sounds like he is out of touch with the publishing world and is simply repeating what he was told by some other professor who would like to believe that the Ivory Tower remains intact. Just be smarter than that. Learn from him what you can and throw away the rest.

Anne Lyle
01-11-2011, 07:02 PM
I do have a friend that is currently in a MFA program, which says they will bring in agents and editors at some point, like a "pitch-your-work" kind of thing. But...I don't think it has been done yet. So I...don't know.

Thing is, you can get this kind of access to editors and agents by attending any good writers' conference or convention. A big literary conference here in the UK (e.g. Winchester) costs maybe three hundred pounds or so (about $500) for an entire weekend of talks and workshops (including accommodation), with up to three one-to-one meetings with agents and editors; an SF&F convention is usually even cheaper, though you have to do your own networking :)

I don't really have any more to add to the original points, they've been covered in exhaustive detail.

Bartholomew
01-11-2011, 09:38 PM
I really do want an MFA in creative writing; I'm just not sure where I'm going to try to get it.

happywritermom
01-11-2011, 11:30 PM
I really do want an MFA in creative writing; I'm just not sure where I'm going to try to get it.

Warren Wilson has a wonderful low-residency program. Great for people who have jobs. That's the one I would have liked to do, but I didn't have enough vacation time.

Jamesaritchie
01-11-2011, 11:48 PM
I do have a friend that is currently in a MFA program, which says they will bring in agents and editors at some point, like a "pitch-your-work" kind of thing. But...I don't think it has been done yet. So I...don't know.

Some of the other things on that list made me laugh. I am by no means an expert, but I do have an agent, and when I sent out my query letter, my writing background was nil. I had fulls out with several different agents, and none them ever asked me if I had an advanced degree, or if I had a website. They were interested in the story I'd written, and I would think a good story would trump a degree or who you took a class with any day.

IMHO.


A good story does trump everything. But you didn't expect to be asked about your writing background, did you? It doesn't work this way. Any agent or editor assumes that if you have a background worth mentioning, then you would have mentioned it.

A good story does trump everything, but you aren't the only writer with a good story, and when an editor has one slot and two good novels to fill it, he's going to go with the writer most likely to have a fan base or a background.

And all of this is really speaking to literary writing, more than genre. But in any type of writing, background and pre-existing fan base can make a difference. You don't have to have either, but this does not mean having them isn't a big advantage. It is.

Jamesaritchie
01-11-2011, 11:51 PM
As a journalist, I really needed those classes to help me find my voice in fiction. I had spent the past 11 years learning to write objectively. That's a hard habit to break..


Many of our best novelists were journalists. I had a dual major, English Lit and Journalism. I learned more about how to write good fiction in Journalism than in all the English Lit classes combined.

happywritermom
01-12-2011, 12:31 AM
Many of our best novelists were journalists. I had a dual major, English Lit and Journalism. I learned more about how to write good fiction in Journalism than in all the English Lit classes combined.

Eleven years of journalism definitely gave me great fodder for fiction and improved insight into human nature. There is nothing like that freedom to step into someone's life for a while; observe and ask tons of personal questions; and then step out. Though some of the crime/accident stuff, I would have been happy to miss out on.

IceCreamEmpress
01-12-2011, 01:13 AM
2) Literary agents scout MFA programs for new clients.

I had never heard this before. If it is true, it makes an MFA program very attractive.

I know of exactly two examples of this, both star students at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, both people from ethnic and cultural backgrounds generally under-represented in US publishing.

I know several other star students from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, including some from ethnic and cultural backgrounds generally under-represented in US publishing, who were not scouted.



3) Literary agents represent short stories.

This is about where I started cocking my eyebrows up and going, “Huh?” Do literary agents keep contact lists of editors at magazines?
How could this possibly be profitable? For me OR the agent?Agents sell client stories to giant mass-market magazines like The New Yorker, Esquire, Playboy, Harper's, The Atlantic, and similar. These magazines pay $2,000 and up per story, sometimes as much as $10,000 for a story by a very well-known writer. Thus, it is worth their time.

Other than that, no.



Everything else your professors have said is mistaken.

KTC
01-12-2011, 01:37 AM
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Mr. Anonymous
01-12-2011, 01:49 AM
1) An MFA in creative writing will make my query letters more attractive.

Depends on where, but if it's a prestigious school, yeah it will (which amounts to little if your ms isn't there, but it still gives people an advantage.)

2) Literary agents scout MFA programs for new clients.

This is also true, but again, only for top programs and only the top writers in these programs end up getting represented and published (by no means all.)

3) Literary agents represent short stories.

There are agents who do, especially literary fiction to super high end markets like The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, etc.
4) In my query letters, it’s a good idea to include with my credentials that I’ve taken the class with my specific teacher, and to mention the title of his / her book. Essentially, name-dropping.

Depends who your teacher is. If you went to Princeton and studied with Joyce Carol Oates and she had nice things to say about your writing, then yeah, why not?

5) It’s better to establish a reputation as a short-story writer before attempting novels.

Not in most cases, but in some, it works this way. IE, publish in the new yorker and publishers/agents will be knocking on your door for a novel.


6) “Sell” your short stories to non-paying markets first to establish credentials, and then work your way up to paying markets.

This, admittedly, is odd.

7) If you place a story in a non-paying market, it’s OK to try to sell it to a different, paying market, without informing the editors of either journal.

well, it's true a previously pubbed piece can be sold as a reprint, but the editors publishing it as a reprint should know it's a reprint. The other journal, as far as I know, doesn't need to be notified, unless you have a really out-of-the-ordinary contract.

8) A positive web presence makes editors more likely to accept your work.

web presence -> established audience -> sales. more so for non fic but it still applies to an extent to fic.

9) Furthermore, if you do not have a web presence, it is very difficult to sell your writing.

it is difficult anyway, but especially difficult when you're an unknown.

10) You have to learn how to write literary fiction before you can write genre fiction.

not really but imo the very best (in terms of depth) genre fiction tends to also be literary (ie, Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451) just as the most popular literary fic tends to cross into genre (ie, strong plot, larger than life characters, escapist).

Ken
01-12-2011, 02:22 AM
... in any event, it's still cool that you're getting a degree. Toss away the bad advice, and retain the good. In the long run I'm sure you'll benefit. G'luck.

thothguard51
01-12-2011, 02:23 AM
I was thinking of taking a Creative Writing class at my local community college this spring. Mostly for the grins and giggles, but perhaps getting introduced to new ideas from fellow students.

Its a non credited course, and the teacher is referenced as a published author of Paranormal and Horror. I searched her book on Amazon...Self published.

I don't think I will be taking this course and I am a little concerned about those who will be. Will this teacher/author push students to go the self publishing route as she has done. (The sales number on her book is not encouraging, and it would not even let me read an excerpt to see what her writing is like.)

Terie
01-12-2011, 02:46 AM
I was thinking of taking a Creative Writing class at my local community college this spring. Mostly for the grins and giggles, but perhaps getting introduced to new ideas from fellow students.

Its a non credited course, and the teacher is referenced as a published author of Paranormal and Horror. I searched her book on Amazon...Self published.

I don't think I will be taking this course and I am a little concerned about those who will be. Will this teacher/author push students to go the self publishing route as she has done. (The sales number on her book is not encouraging, and it would not even let me read an excerpt to see what her writing is like.)

Actually, that's not a reason not to take the class. Most creative writing classes are run as workshops, with the vast majority of the classtime being spent on critiquing fellow students' work. (That's my experience, anyway, and a query to the teacher ought to clarify whether she's teaching it that way.) As always, I learned way more about writing from critiquing others' work than from anything else in the classes I took.

Also? One story I wrote for a college creative writing class was published a year or so later by a glossy mag. The teacher HATED my work, but there you go. She was fair and didn't grade my work poorly just because she didn't like my style; she was very good about maintaining objectivity. Not all teachers who hate a student's style are fair. Still. If you're not worried about maintaining a GPA for, say, scholarship or transfer reasons, I'd say go for it. You can get a heck of a lot out of a CW class regardless of the teacher.

Jamesaritchie
01-12-2011, 05:01 AM
Agents sell client stories to giant mass-market magazines like The New Yorker, Esquire, Playboy, Harper's, The Atlantic, and similar. These magazines pay $2,000 and up per story, sometimes as much as $10,000 for a story by a very well-known writer. Thus, it is worth their time.

.

Agents submit stories from published novelist to whatever market is appropriate, regardless of payment. It's a courtesy, and many a short story comes to magazines as small as Asimov's or Ploughshares from agents. When a writer is making you good money, such courtesy matters.

I've always preferred handling my own short stories, but I know writers who allow the agent to submit everything they write, and to whatever market is appropriate.

IceCreamEmpress
01-12-2011, 11:30 PM
Agents submit stories from published novelist to whatever market is appropriate, regardless of payment. It's a courtesy, and many a short story comes to magazines as small as Asimov's or Ploughshares from agents.

I've worked at Ploughshares, and never once saw a submission from an agent; many agented writers sent stories directly to the journal. I can imagine that some agents might occasionally do it as a courtesy, but it is not the norm there.

On the other hand, yeah, it is customary for agented writers to have their agents send stories to Asimov's (and Ellery Queen's and Alfred Hitchcock's) even though the pay is $400-$800, so you have a point. Still, the bulk of the accepted submissions at all of those magazines are not from agents, whereas the bulk of the accepted submissions at The New Yorker and Esquire and The Atlantic and so on are.

Cybernaught
01-13-2011, 12:31 AM
Hm, I graduated from a creative writing program but didn't get this kind of misinformation. But we mostly focused on workshops, the publishing end of writing was only covered if we outright asked questions.

I would ignore any misinformation about publishing and just get the most out of writing while you're there.

benbradley
01-13-2011, 01:03 AM
Oh my. Oh Bart, you're a brave man.

I'm going to take a stab at these little gems.

...

2) Literary agents scout MFA programs for new clients.

I suppose this could be true. Anyone have any cited examples of this happening?
Maybe. It depends: Would you call James Frey a literary agent?


g,d+r

Bartholomew
01-13-2011, 02:05 AM
Maybe. It depends: Would you call James Frey a literary agent?


g,d+r


The guy who got in trouble for billing fiction as non-fiction?

Jamesaritchie
01-13-2011, 02:17 AM
I've worked at Ploughshares, and never once saw a submission from an agent; many agented writers sent stories directly to the journal. I can imagine that some agents might occasionally do it as a courtesy, but it is not the norm there.

On the other hand, yeah, it is customary for agented writers to have their agents send stories to Asimov's (and Ellery Queen's and Alfred Hitchcock's) even though the pay is $400-$800, so you have a point. Still, the bulk of the accepted submissions at all of those magazines are not from agents, whereas the bulk of the accepted submissions at The New Yorker and Esquire and The Atlantic and so on are.

True. I'm not at all sure about Ploughshares, and was simply going on what a couple of writers have told me. I do know agents who handle literary fiction pay a heck of a lot more attention to the small markets than do genre agents. Publication in even a tiny literary magazine can lead to Pushcart, best of collections, etc., and can impress editors at Esquire and The New Yorker.

I also know some writers are simply too busy to handle tehir own submissions anyway, and short story submisions can eat a lot of time, if you're a prolific writer.

I do think the electronic submission process is rapidly making this a thing of the past. Right now, I can't think of an agent who handles electronic submissions outside of The New Yorker, and a couple of other very high paying magazines.

benbradley
01-13-2011, 02:54 AM
The guy who got in trouble for billing fiction as non-fiction?
Yes, and that's not all. (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=196712)

slips Bart something to lower his blood pressure

timewaster
01-14-2011, 11:08 PM
[QUOTE=cbenoi1;5693976]> 2) Literary agents scout MFA programs for new clients.

Gosh. It sounds exactly like the pitch MBA schools did ten years ago. Did they promise you would get a six-figure salary too?


Twenty years ago it was true - of UK MBAs anyway.

telford
01-17-2011, 08:07 AM
It would appear that I am the lone rookie in this discussion, so please excuse my clumsy cliche.

"Those who can, write. Those you can't, teach."

Medievalist
01-17-2011, 08:12 AM
It would appear that I am the lone rookie in this discussion, so please excuse my clumsy cliche.

"Those who can, write. Those you can't, teach."

You know what?

I'm tired of this bull shit cliche being smugly trotted out.

I make my living from writing, dude, and I have fifteen years experience teaching people to write, read, and think critically.

Lisa L. Spangenberg, Ph.D.

Anne Lyle
01-17-2011, 11:01 AM
I think the only grain of truth in that cliché is that the better teachers tend to be those for whom the subject in question does not come too easily, because they have had to study hard themselves and therefore empathise with their students' struggles. The truly gifted don't often make great teachers because they do what they do as naturally as breathing.

latourdumoine
01-17-2011, 12:07 PM
I think the only grain of truth in that cliché is that the better teachers tend to be those for whom the subject in question does not come too easily, because they have had to study hard themselves and therefore empathise with their students' struggles. The truly gifted don't often make great teachers because they do what they do as naturally as breathing.

Or those who are able to transfer their own struggles in another field to what they are teaching. Case in point, someone to whom languages came easily, who has a natural knack for them and speaks about 20 of them. But struggled real hard with the Sciences. We had a college professor like that when we were studying Hungarian, one of the tougher languages. That guy was one of the best teachers ever. And I could go on. Empathy, like you said, is the key.

Also, coming from several teachers (including myself), just because you're a teacher (or doctor or plumber or whatever really) doesn't automatically make you good. And with degrees especially, stop pushing your own agenda. (Yeah, like those professors are hanging out here to read this).

The best teachers in Creative Writing I had were those who didn't push their own products (and believe me, we had those who really practically threw their work at us). The one I will remember most is someone who published in an entirely different field, something that had nothing to do with my writing. But had the best critiques and guidance to offer. The ones pushing their own products always come across as bullies.

One interesting thing I remembered when I did my Creative Writing MA in the UK was that for the first assignment, we all barely passed. The tutors really ripped our work apart, more than any critic probably ever would. But it was good practice, and they didn't want us slacking off by giving us good grades just to encourage us. The cruel-to-be-kind approach in a way. The message was clear, you're here to write and improve. And yes, my writing did improve. Immensely.

gothicangel
01-17-2011, 01:37 PM
It would appear that I am the lone rookie in this discussion, so please excuse my clumsy cliche.

"Those who can, write. Those you can't, teach."

Really? So Kathleen Jamie [acclaimed poet/ Stirling University] can't?; James Kelman [Booker nominated novelist/ Glasgow University]; James Robertson [Booker nominated novelist/ Edinburgh Napier]; Robert Crawford and Don Paterson [Scottish Poets/ St Andrew's University]; Jackie Kay [poet and novelist/ Newcastle University . . .

Terie
01-17-2011, 01:52 PM
I had a Basic Composition professor (and a damn fine one at that) who quit teaching because he was in too much demand as a Hollywood screenwriter. He'd always really wanted to be a teacher and the screenwriting was just a side interest he did for fun. But in the end, with a young family, he decided that, for awhile at least, the money he could earn in Hollywood was more important to his family, and he didn't have time for both.

I just love it when real life turns cliches upside down!

whimsical rabbit
01-17-2011, 03:46 PM
I think the only grain of truth in that cliché is that the better teachers tend to be those for whom the subject in question does not come too easily, because they have had to study hard themselves and therefore empathise with their students' struggles. The truly gifted don't often make great teachers because they do what they do as naturally as breathing.

Actually I don't think there's any grain of truth in that cliche, and I also profoundly disagree with your statement here. Being on my third degree, and as the daughter of an academic, I've met many a wonderful talented teachers out there (as I have many useless ones) who simply chose to teach because they wanted to share their passion and 'natural' talent with those that wanted to learn.

Just because someone chooses teaching as a day job doesn't mean that he/she is any less of a writer than someone who works in a bank, a shop, a law-firm or a medical lab. Stating otherwise is a sweeping generalisation, and quite unfair for some of the members here.* The good teacher never assumes absolute knowledge and keeps learning along his/her students (as opposed to the bad teacher who considers himself a 'natural' and never questions himself or his work). Even more so in writing, which is a journey of constant learning and discovery.

There are good accountants and bad accountants. There are good make-up artists, and bad make-up artists. There are good mathematicians and bad mathematicians.

Respectively, there are good teachers and bad teachers. I don't know why it has to be more complicated than that, and I don't know why we need to result to ad hominem arguments all the time when this issue comes up.


*I'm not referring to you personally Anne, or anybody in particular. It's just that this topic keeps coming up, and people keep forgetting that some of the members here teach for a living, or wish to go to teaching for that matter. Saying that teachers are bad or less talented writers is equally absurd to saying that people need a writing degree to write. It all depends on you. You, and your hard work, and your love for your job and your writing.

Medievalist
01-17-2011, 10:31 PM
Really? So Kathleen Jamie [acclaimed poet/ Stirling University] can't?; James Kelman [Booker nominated novelist/ Glasgow University]; James Robertson [Booker nominated novelist/ Edinburgh Napier]; Robert Crawford and Don Paterson [Scottish Poets/ St Andrew's University]; Jackie Kay [poet and novelist/ Newcastle University . . .

Robert B. Parker Ph.D. in English; dissertation on The Violent Hero, Wilderness Heritage and Urban Reality
Debra Doyle Ph.D. in English; brilliant dissertation on Old English syntax.
C. J. Cherryh M.A. in Classics
Al Hutter Ph.D. Expert on Dickens and Shakespeare; multiple mysteries

shaldna
01-18-2011, 03:27 PM
While there are undoubtably some writers who are teachers who cannot teach very well, there are equally others who can.

To say that someone who teaches can't write, and therefore implying that they are some sort of failure or neverran is insulting to teachers and writers alike.

KerylRaist
01-24-2011, 06:47 AM
The thing about a web presence is useful. Look, it won't save a bad story. But right now everyone is writing, and agents and publishers want people who have already proven they can attract readers. If you've got a blog with a good following or a massive horde of twitterpated fans out there you're that much more attractive as a writer. (Pretty much everything else on that list sounded like total bull.)

And, if you really want to find something to nibble on, head over to Kindleboards.com and see the indie writers who published on their own, built a web presence, sold a mess of books, and are now being hunted by publishers and agents. I'd be very surprised if that doesn't become the preferred recruiting tool of the future, where instead of writers hunting for agents, the agents will see how well we can sell on our own and hunt for us.

Cranky
01-24-2011, 07:22 AM
Robert B. Parker Ph.D. in English; dissertation on The Violent Hero, Wilderness Heritage and Urban Reality
Debra Doyle Ph.D. in English; brilliant dissertation on Old English syntax.
C. J. Cherryh M.A. in Classics
Al Hutter Ph.D. Expert on Dickens and Shakespeare; multiple mysteries

And I do believe Joyce Carol Oates teaches creative writing at Princeton.

She ain't exactly a slouch in the "doing" part, either (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joyce_Carol_Oates#Bibliography).

Bartholomew
01-24-2011, 01:11 PM
I'd be very surprised if that doesn't become the preferred recruiting tool of the future, where instead of writers hunting for agents, the agents will see how well we can sell on our own and hunt for us.

Lord, I hope not. I'm not sure I could bear the cliche of waiting to be discovered. :)

timewaster
01-24-2011, 02:12 PM
You know what?

I'm tired of this bull shit cliche being smugly trotted out.

I make my living from writing, dude, and I have fifteen years experience teaching people to write, read, and think critically.

Lisa L. Spangenberg, Ph.D.

Yep me too. It is the laziest of cliches.

Tsiamon
01-25-2011, 06:33 PM
Put another mark on the "There is prejudice against genre fiction" side of the debate. My alma mater was way, way too good for genre fiction in its writing programs. Trust me.

Greg Wilson
01-30-2011, 11:10 PM
So please don't bash higher education degrees in creative writing simply because of a bad experience with one. Yes, there are some terrible programs out there. Yes, many, many writers have succeeded with out higher degrees. (A romance/erotica writer who shares my name --Lori Foster --got a six-figure deal one of her series two years ago. She has only a high school degree.) But there are those of us who benefit from those programs. There are also some people who would prefer learning through an MFA program to learning by writing 7 unpublished novels before getting one published. We all learn differently.

Some of what that professor said was correct, but most of it was hogwash. It sounds like he is out of touch with the publishing world and is simply repeating what he was told by some other professor who would like to believe that the Ivory Tower remains intact. Just be smarter than that. Learn from him what you can and throw away the rest.

Amen, times fifty.

Greg

Greg Wilson
01-30-2011, 11:15 PM
You know what?

I'm tired of this bull shit cliche being smugly trotted out.

I make my living from writing, dude, and I have fifteen years experience teaching people to write, read, and think critically.

Lisa L. Spangenberg, Ph.D.

And amen to this, too. Those who can, write. Those who can, teach. And sometimes those who can, do both. This ridiculous idea that writing and teaching are either/or propositions has to go.

Greg, also Ph.D., published genre fiction author, and professor who teaches and actively encourages genre fiction within his classes--with the full support of his university on all aforementioned fronts. :)