Thursday, November 02, 2006

Transfering; MFA=Editing Job?

Hello Tom!

First I would like to thank you for you help during my
application process. I am now in an MFA program.

However this fall has been a bit of a disappointment.
I just can't help but feel as if the professors I have
had so far are all very smart and cool, but there is
not a lot of one-on-one attention and I feel a bit
overlooked. I spoke to a few other first years and
they feel the same. I made the carnal error of asking
about the publishing process, how one goes about
getting their name and work out there, and was
bombarded with blank stares and almost accusatory
questions like "you did come her to work on your
craft, didn't you?"

I was in art school for undergrad and it is important
to focus on craft, but it is also important to know
how to go about getting work.

I feel like a fly on a windshield, I want to be
involved but I am scared of being too aggressive and
getting mushed.

I'm fearing that I've chosen the right town, but the
wrong program.

All this crap and two questions:

1-Do people transfer from one MFA to another, does
that happen?

2-If one is interested in editing professionally, is
an MFA Program a proper fit? (I'm asking this because
I have become so fond of reading and working on the
writing of others in my program, I thought that
perhaps this may be something to consider.)

Well, thanks again Tom.
I hope you do another reading in SF soon, I was out of
town during the last one and was bummed I missed it!

harper tom collins straight up


Lots of issue here. First up: Asking about publishing. You're not the first to get the ol' "You're here to learn about craft, not about getting published in the New Yorker." That's a lame response though. I can see why a teacher would not want to bring in the publishing aspect into a workshop. But either the program or the teacher should set aside some time to talk about this issue. It's not like you're asking, "Tell me how to get a book deal." You're asking, "Can you share with us what you know, or at least what your experience is."

Teachers in a program should be willing to do that. There's a difference between over-emphasizing publication and just simply acknowledging and explaining it. What you should do: Get some other students together, then ask the department head if you can have some small funds to put together a panel about this issue. Either a panel of current professors, or writers and/or editors and agents in the community. If it's student initiatiated, it's more likely to happen. Every program should have a panel at least once a year on this issue.

In the meantime, do consider seeking out a second or third year student. Buy them a cup of coffee or a beer. Ask if you can pick their brain a little. My UMass sessions like this were extremely helpful.

Transfer question --> Yes, people transfer. We've had this question a lot actually. I don't know the statistics, or how programs ssee this issue. But if you're truly unhappy, it's worth your while to apply to two to four programs where you think you'll be much happier. Hopefully too, you'll have a stronger writing sample this time.

MFA as training ground for Editors --> In a way, most MFA programs are set up to actually facilitate editing careers better than writing careers. Think about how many letters you write over the course of four workshops. And there are always the internships at magazines and presses. Again, I don't know the statistics, but I'd bet a quick search for editors bios will find a number of MFA graduates.

If anyone has insight into Transfers, Editing as MFA graduates, or the whole "asking about publishing" issue, please feel free to add a comment below. Thanks.


Sara said...

I'm amazed to see that the faculty of an MFA program wouldn't want to talk about publishing. In my program, it's talked about in nearly every workshop and definitely every casual conversation I have with professors. As a matter of fact, in my very first workshop, we were given a packet of sample cover letters, sample rejection letters, and guidelines for submissions. In another, the prof gave each of us copies of journals that he thought our work would fit well with. They don't push it down our throats--there are students more concerned with teaching, or more concerned with craft and want a complete manuscript before they worry about publishing--but for those of us trying to get our work out there, there's plenty of help. It seems counter-productive to tell students not to worry about it.

spamela77 said...

I work as a book editor in NYC and I have my MFA in fiction.

I started my (low-res) MFA and a job at Penguin at the same time, about five years ago. It was tough, but I'm really glad I worked in publishing throughout my grad program. I'm actually about to leave my full-time job in the publishing/editing world to write full-time, but I've made so many connections working in publishing that I'll be able to freelance to support myself, and contact several agents I know when my first book is finished.

For me, working in publishing has helped me make contacts and get to a place, professionally, where I could stop working an office job.

It's a great job when you're an MFA student or a young writer, but editing books (especially as you rise through the ranks) will only get in the way of your writing, eventually. Most editors do not do their editing at the office. When my manuscript reading began to eclipse my writing time, and I knew it would only get worse, I decided to quit.

A few very talented editors are able to write and edit full-time (Jill Bialosky being one of the best), but I think they are the exceptions rather than the rule.

Keep in mind I'm talking about the NYC editing/publishing scene, which tends to be very hectic for editors, who are severely underpaid and must often work another job to make ends meet when they are assistants and junior editors. They are often, these days, asked to buy more books than they can ever possibly edit themselves.

To me it feels like you really have to love editing--and it has to be your first love--to make it in NYC editing.

Also know this: even if you have your master's degree, in publishing, you must always start at the bottom. This means becoming an editorial assistant. Becoming an editorial assistant is no easy task. If you want to become an editorial assistant at a literary imprint, it's really difficult. Your MFA might help you a little, there, but a BA from an Ivy League or Seven Sisters school will help more.

Basically, yes an MFA has helped my editing, but (at least in NYC)editing eventually demanded too much of my (writing) time to stick with it.

(sorry so long!)

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