Dialogues: MFA (Author)

Are you going to do an MFA?

Nah, they don’t teach the right stuff.

What? Like how to write? You get to spend two years perfecting your craft, what could be better than that?

Like how to be an author. Writing is easy, all you need is desire, time and something to write with, being an author though…Lovecraftian nightmare.

What’s the difference?

Authors are published and paid, writers tend to the obscure and unpaid.

So nothing to do with relative artistic merit, then?

Nothing at all. There are plenty of good writers and scads of awful authors. It’s the world we live in.

So an MFA should be about turning writers into authors? Not perfecting their writing?

Well, you could spend an hour or so in the afternoon worrying about good writing, I guess. But yeah, if a university wants you to pay through the nose for an MFA then it has to help you get paid.

So what should they teach?

You mean if I was running an MFA with the goal of producing authors not writers?


Every day you’d have to write a new query pitch. We’d take great books, genre books, bestsellers, trash and treasure, and we’d write elevator pitches, pitch letters, and synopsis. Pitch The Hobbit, pitch To the Lighthouse, pitch Jurassic Park, pitch Harry Potter, pitch Mansfield Park, pitch the bible, pitch your grocery list, pitch your favourite TV show, pitch your aunty, pitch what you had for lunch. After two years you’d be able to write a pitch for anything. We’d do field trips to literary festivals and sci fi conventions to practise our elevator pitches, we’d literally pitch random strangers in elevators. We’d pitch on social media, we’d terrorise twitter and inundate instagram. We’d be 100% 24/7 pitch monsters.

Sounds awful.

Yeah, it's sales and it is awful. Reduce Nostromo to a hook and 200 words? Disgusting, shameful really. But making money always involves some sort of pain and degradation. And that’s why most writers will stay writers forever. They’d rather be obscure than go into sales.

Anything else?

Oh sure, there's way more to being an author than just being able to convince an agent or publisher to take you on. Let's see, oh right, I'd teach them how to spot the signs that your publisher or agent is about to go broke and abscond with all your money. Every author has got one of those stories. Then there's how to work with unreasonable editors and book designers, marketing flacks, and journalists. You can avoid some of that misery by going independent – the main difference there is having to pitch the audience direct. So social media marketing, working conferences, mailing lists, oh there's tons of stuff you have to be good at if you want to go independent.

Dear god.

Blogging, tweeting, instagramming, even (hold your nose) facebooking, and being able to instantly jump on whatever new platform might come along. Pressing the flesh, hand selling, kissing babies, being nice to complete jerk offs because you need a review, hell, it's like being a politician.

Hell is right. I think I'll stick to writing.

Many do.

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