Monday, August 16, 2010

If You Think You Don't Need That M.F.A.

Every now and then, you'll see a blog post from a literary agent that goes on and on about how you don't need a Master of Fine Arts degree to get published, it's all about the writing, a good query, an encounter at a conference......

What's the hot debut novel this year? Kathryn Stockett's The Help has been heavily promoted. So what of the author?

Ms. Stockett isn't some clerk at the local convenience store who pens novels in her spare time. She holds a degree in Creative Writing. She was trained to write. She studied the formulae.

After the diploma was placed into her waiting hand, she went off to New York City and worked in magazine publishing, where she made the sort of connections you need in publishing that people outside of the field never make.

Next year, you can look for Carter Sickels' debut novel about small town West Virginia life. He's not a former coal miner by any means. No, he's got himself an M.F.A. from Penn State. And then there's the fellowships to all the posh writer colony places that set the hearts of industry insiders to flutter.

Blame the bean counters who run the publishing houses. They've promoted the university-trained writer at the expense of those with creativity, imagination, talent and a non-English degree. By picking up an author who's learned how to do it according to the rules, there's less editing and that saves money and publishing is a business.

No, you don't need a string of degrees and publishing industry experience to get published, as long as you've set your sights no higher than a paperback romance from Harlequin.

The literary agents like to think that an author doesn't have to have an M.F.A., but it's a case of wishful thinking. The art part of the publishing equation is long gone. There's not enough profit in developing talent and this isn't the 1920's.

So who might be the next Jane Austen or Theodore Dreiser or Ernest Hemingway? Can such creativity be taught through the right lesson plan or homework assignment? Or are we losing out on quality manuscripts in the sole interest of the bottom line?


Aeneas said...

Oh... so a Master in Civil Engineering won't do? DArn... I knew I wasted all those years with a slide rule in my pocket.

Now I know why most of the 'new' novels, debut or not, bore me. They do sound the same.

The attack of the MFA creatures. Ruuuuuuuuuun!

Aeneas said...

On second thought--NO! I don't need that MFA! I'm no longer looking for those literary schmuck agents. What a relief.

Okay. This is my last comment. I think you've had enough of me. :)

O hAnnrachainn said...

I'd think an engineer, with that love of precision, would be perfect for an MFA. It's all about following formulae and placing plot devices with the same care you'd place a truss so the bridge doesn't collapse.

The way some novels read, you'd think there was some kind of literary slide rule being used to construct the manuscript.

Anonymous said...

maybe if you spent more time on your writing and less time researching about other people's accomplishments and crying about it on your blog, you would also be published by now. Do you think that every FICTION author needs to have lived the exact experience of which they write? This is why books as published as fiction, not memoir.
Also, if you're that concerned about getting published, why don't you seek out an independent press or start your own independent publishing press?
Basically, there are other things you can do to take control of how your work gets out there in the world. Or you can continue to be a man-baby and cry on here. Your choice.

O hAnnrachainn said...

It's that sense of fatalism that always comes through.

Actually, I've spent no time at all researching accomplishments. But I have spent some time researching what is being published these days, and the bean-counter publishing houses are looking for the formulaic.

Are you upset because you have an MFA and you've lost confidence in your ability to write from the heart rather than from lecture notes?