How Valuable is a Degree in Creative Writing?
Literary Agents Respond
by Cortney Winn
Cortney Winn holds a Q&A with agents from Fuse Literary. Fuse is a full-service literary agency based in the Silicon Valley, with offices in San Francisco, San Diego, New York, Dallas, and Vancouver. Learn more about them at www.fuseliterary.com
Have you ever heard the expression, “The more you think you know, the dumber you are?” That was me at the start of my writing career many years ago. Naively, I thought all I had to do to land an agent was write a manuscript. Boy was I wrong!
Luckily, after I hashed out said manuscript, I tumbled into a good writers group and learned many, many truths about traditional publishing. Becoming a writer takes an immense dedication to learning the craft. After discovering all the things I didn’t know, I found myself contemplating a degree in writing. After all, how better to learn than to go to school, right?
It turns out I was wrong in this belief too! There are countless ways to hone your writing craft, and pursuing a writing degree might be right for you. But a degree may not carry you as far as you might think. In this interview with the agents at Fuse Literary, I dive into questions regarding writing-related degrees and author careers.
As an agent, do you actively look for writers with a writing-related degree such as an MFA in creative writing or English major?
Fuse Literary: I do not look at MFAs as a benefit to most writers. It is a good underpinning for someone who wants a career in writing, but most MFAs do not teach about the business of publishing, concentrating solely on the craft of writing, and most of that craft is taught for writers of literature, not genre novels. —Laurie McLean, Fuse Literary
If you were trying to decide between two skilled writers, would a writing degree give one writer an advantage over the other?
Absolutely not. It is all about the quality of the writing and an author’s storytelling skills when it comes to genre fiction, which is what I represent as as agent. —Laurie McLean, Fuse Literary.
Do you more often sign authors with a degree in writing, or authors who are self-taught and immersive in the writing community?
Statistically, I’ve signed more authors without writing degrees. Some have degrees in English, but I don’t believe any of my clients have creative writing degrees. My personal opinion is that if the book appeals to me and I believe it has a place in the market, the writer’s educational background is a secondary consideration at best. —Carlisle Webber, Fuse Literary
When should a writer seek out a degree in writing?
There is no one point in a writing career that is best for everyone. It’s an individual decision. Most writers who major in English literature or creative writing in college, move on to get their MFA as their next goal. But you don’t have to. Some writers hit a wall mid-career or need help or inspiration moving on to the next level in their writing later in life. An MFA might reconnect them with their passion for writing as well as give them tools of the craft for their writing. —Laurie McLean, Fuse Literary
Should writers aspiring to be traditionally published seek creative writing degrees?
It depends. If you want to write literary novels or highbrow nonfiction, you would be well-served by getting an MFA. If you’re writing thrillers or horror or romance or graphic novels, having a solid grasp of writing basics (grammar, spelling, pacing, character development, plot, setting/exposition, etc.) and great storytelling skills will serve you just fine. —Laurie McLean, Fuse Literary.
Can a self-taught writer be as successful in a writing career as an author with a degree in creative writing?
Of course they can! —Laurie McLean, Fuse Literary
What advice would you give authors in order to stand out in the "about me" section of a query?
If you have subject matter expertise (for example, you’re a doctor who’s written a medical thriller or a middle school teacher who has written a middle grade novel), let us know. We love to see writers who can bring their real-life experiences to readers. —Carlisle Webber, Fuse Literary
Veronica Park, Ernie Chiara and Laurie McLean all answered that an MFA degree is not an advantage for anyone querying them and that most of their clients do not have MFA degrees. Most are self-taught and/or have taken educational sessions at writers conferences and workshops.