Teaching Writers

This month I’m teaching a continuing education class for writers who want their work published. I say teach, but I’m really more of a guide. I see my job as two-fold: one part is to warn these writers of the ways they can be taken by unscrupulous agents and publishers; the other is to make these writers aware of the realities of publishing, that as wonderful as the success stories might be, only a few of the millions of books published ever achieve that success.

Of course, it’s like the lottery: we never know who that winner might be, but if you don’t buy a ticket—don’t write and submit—you’ll never win.

I also try to show these writers what they need to do to present their work in the best way possible to agents, editors and/or to the general public (if they choose to self-publish).

In class I encourage the sharing of experiences and resources. I also encourage them to join professional organizations such as RWA, MWA, Sisters in Crime, SCBWI, and so on. And to attend writing conferences and seminars.

The one thing I stress is persistence, that even books that have gone on to be classics have had rejections, and once you feel you’ve written the best article, short story, or book you possibly could write, you simply have to keep sending it out until you find that wise person who agrees with you.

I’ve taught classes similar to this one since 1990, and what amazes me the most are the changes that have occurred in those 22 years. Back in 1990 only two people in the class had computers, we had hundreds of independent book stores and distributors, only a few publishing houses were part of a conglomerate, e-books were a thing of the future, and self-publishing was looked down upon. Amazon? Yeah, I think there was a company in the state of Washington called Amazon that was selling books.

Now the Authors’ Guild is accepting self-published authors (if they earn 5k in 18 months) and so are most writers organizations (again with stipulations regarding sales). E-books are outselling hardcover and paperback books, and not only have hundreds of independent bookstores disappeared, but also most of the big box stores. Almost all of the big New York publishing companies are now owned by a handful of conglomerates (most being non-American firms), and smaller publishers have sprung up all across the country. PR, once handled by the publisher, is now primarily in the hands of the writer who must have a social-networking presence.

As for Amazon…? Well, we know what’s happened there.

So why teach the class? For one thing it forces me to keep up with the changes in the industry, but more than that, simply sharing ideas and information with other writers is always stimulating.

I love it!

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9 Responses to Teaching Writers

  1. And I’m sure your students love it, too! Thank goodness for mentors like you to guide and encourage would-be writers so they can become published writers.

  2. Vicki Batman says:

    The changes you have seen. I’m sure you are a good guide/mentor.

    • Maris says:

      I hope I’m a good guide. As rapidly as things are changing, sometimes I have no idea where I’m headed, much less guiding others.

  3. Diane Burton says:

    I can thoroughly recommend your class, Maris, since I took one from you back in the 90s. As a newbie writer, I learned so much. I’m sure your new students will learn just as much if not more. All the best.

  4. Maybe I don’t know what happened at Amazon. Could you expound? Is that even a word?

    • Maris says:

      Rohn, I’m going to assume you’re kidding about Amazon. Amazon has become the bane of publishers and booksellers. It is now the elephant in the room. It no longer simply sells books. It sells just about everything, and has become a publisher as well as a bookseller. Ask your local bookstore owner what he/she thinks about Amazon.

  5. Things sure have changed, haven’t they? I remember the first writing class I took, I was still working on a typewriter (and it wasn’t even electronic!!). I typed a lot of stories on that old Smith-Corona. I’m sure your students are enjoying the class, because the one thing that hasn’t changed is the advice and encouragement we all need when first starting out. And thanks for the recap of the Writers’ Police Academy. That was so interesting.