Thursday, 17 June 2010

Paying for it

I am knee deep in researching literary agents/important real-life work stuff (depending on who is reading), and keep coming across courses about publication. There are day-long courses about the publication process, evening courses about query letters – courses for everything as long as you look hard enough. I like the look of them, but worry about the cost!

At the moment they seem to vary from £60 - £150. I know that isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things (and gawd knows I have spent a priceless amount of time, energy, printing ink, paper, and a lot more besides on this novel idea) but I am rather skint. So what I am wondering is whether I take a chance on myself and my own skills and resources re query letter / synopsis, or whether I take a punt and book myself on a course?

I have never attended such a course / workshop before (not since University, I guess) and am rather shy of these things – but the more you go, the better you get, perhaps. Besides – good practice, right? After all, when the merry day happens, there might be courses and talks and whatnot (lots of whatnot) in the future. If it gets to that point then I may go on another course - self-assertiveness!

So what do you think? Should I put my money where my mouth is (or rather, my fingers) and go for it? After all, if I am serious about this novel why not give it all the help in the world?

Have you ever been on a writing course / conference / seminar? Has it helped you?


Stina Lindenblatt said...

I've been to several conferences for children's writers. Yes, they've helped me, but not my writing so much. They've helped me in other ways.

I recently finished two online workshops through Writer's Digest. I have mixed feelings on those. Yes, they did help big time in some matters. My novel has improved because of them. But I submitted the first 9 pages for one assignment and got glowing feedback. Thinking the pages were ready, I mailed them for my upcoming conference critique. A few beta readers offered to read them after that and gave me much more insights than the instructor. My pages have gone through major rewrites--too late for my professional critique. :(

Aubrie said...

I've never done a writing course or seminar. I've gotten all of my information from the internet and from books on writing. But look at me, I don't have an agent yet. So I'm probably not the best one to give advice.

My writing improved by leaps from having critique buddies. I'll beta read your project and/or query if you want.

aubriedionne at yahoo dot com

Jayne said...

Thanks for sharing that, Stina. I wonder if they help more in 'feeling' like an author - I think that can be so powerful in itself. Sorry to hear that about your first nine pages. I do know that sinking feeling when something has been sent off and too late you spot something amiss. I am hoping you will still get good insight anyway so it will still be of great benefit.

Jayne said...

Oh Aubrie, that is so (times a billion!) nice of you. A second pair of eyes (or even a third, or a fourth!) is worth more than gold dust at this stage. Thank you - I'll be in touch. :)

Tania Kindersley said...

Dear Jayne,

Just came across your blog via Rose Beyond the Thames. So glad I did.

Don't waste your money on how to get published courses. I think writing workshops in general may be useful, but are absolutely not necessary, especially if you are feeling skint. There are many brilliant and helpful books available. I like Dorothea Brande and William Zinsser and Anne Lamott best myself.

For the mechanics of publication: first, get your agent. Writers' and Artists' Yearbook is your friend here. The usual thing is a synopsis and the first three chapters and a very polite letter, all double-spaced. Send and send and send. Someone will say yes.

If you go to my blog at and click on writing course in the index you will find some more advice, at shocking length, I'm afraid, but it might be of use to you.

Hope I do not sound didactic, but could not bear the thought of you handing over your hard-earned cash for advice that should take five minutes.

Really good luck,


KarenG said...

A writing course is only as good as the teacher. Some creative writing teachers can hurt rather than help. So much is available for free on the internet and a good critique partner can help a LOT. The best way to learn writing imho is to read read read BOOKS! Oh, yes, and to write.

Tuppence said...

Hi Jayne

The only course I would recommend without hesitation would be one of the Arvon Foundation residential courses. They're really good value for money, the tuition is superb and they are just a great experience.

I went on one at Lumb Bank (Ted Hughes' house near Hebden Bridge) last year and it was completely brilliant, loads of fun was had, lots of work was done and I was inspired to start working towards doing an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester.

My friend Emma works for Arvon and has been lucky enough to go on several of their courses and she has found them to be better than the MA she's doing.

Anyway, check out the website and see what you think


Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

I have never been to a writers course in my life, unless you count my college courses in fiction. And with the tuition at that University it should count ;)
I don't know that there is a trick or one learned thing that will land an agent. It's seems to be send, send, send. Good luck my dear.

Laura Marcella said...

I have not had writing courses since college, but I did like them a lot and I felt like my writing improved through each semester's classes. I think taking courses, a workshop, or conference is a terrific idea. It's all a matter of budgeting and deciding how much certain ones are worth it to you then deciding from there. Definitely go for it!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Never paid for a course, although I did a lot of research before I set out to find a publisher.
There's several online writer conferences that are free. That's always an option, too.

Talli Roland said...

I know; they are so expensive!

I've been to a few free agent seminars and they have been helpful. I'm not sure I would have gone if they had been too expensive.

I'm off to my first conference in a month or so and I'll let you know then!

arlee bird said...

Please read this message from Arlee Bird:

There is a blogger out there who needs your support more than most others do. He is an inmate in a prison who is attempting to have a voice. He has been writing for several years and would like someone to read what he has to say. He does not have internet access and his submissions must be posted by his sister, who in turn sends him comments for him to respond to. I hope you will at least take a look at his blog and then if you moved to do so, leave a comment for him and follow his blog and tell others about it.

The Saga of the Concrete Jungle


arlee bird said...

Please read this message from Arlee Bird:

There is a blogger out there who needs your support more than most others do. He is an inmate in a prison who is attempting to have a voice. He has been writing for several years and would like someone to read what he has to say. He does not have internet access and his submissions must be posted by his sister, who in turn sends him comments for him to respond to. I hope you will at least take a look at his blog and then if you moved to do so, leave a comment for him and follow his blog and tell others about it.

The Saga of the Concrete Jungle


Amy said...

I am an advocate of writing courses to develop your writing, learn about writing craft and get peer and tutor support. However, I don't think you need a course. I think you might be stalling a little bit. I'm only guessing because that's what I would be doing in your situation. You are so almost there that maybe you are nervous and assume that there is something you don't know. I think you should just start sending your work out.

There is so much practical info available online to help you with writing queries.

I am happy to read your synopsis/ query letter if you like. Email them to

Old Kitty said...

Well done you for doing all the serious research for your novel!

As for writing courses - I don't know about day courses specific to the publication process - but I'm just finishing my writing course from the Open Uni and I've had such a ball with this. If anything it really got me to focus and be very disciplined with my writing.

But I think you are now beyond all that - so maybe these day courses are worth a try? Would you be able to get one on one feedback and help from those in the industry?

I know the cost was such an issue for me. I don't regret doing my writing course but I really had to dig very very very deeply into my financial resources.

I guess you have to weigh all your options and perhaps look for feedback from those who attended the course you are after? The OU one had tons of feedback I read before I decided.

anyway GOOD LUCK with whatever you decide!! All the best for your novel!

Take care

Alexandra Crocodile said...

I've never taken any courses, but one of the classes in my creative writing MA next year is a non-creative module about publishing. They get publishers and agents to hold lecturs about how everything works, so it should be very useful! I'd do the course if I were you!

Rose said...

I can't really advise about courses but it's so exciting you are this stage! and isn't Tania Kindersley lovely!

Linda said...

Hi Jayne

I've been on some excellent writing courses but courses alone won't get you published. One of the most enjoyable things about the courses I've been on is meeting other writers and getting feeback, but I don't think you need to pay to get that. Are there any writer's groups in your area? Have you thought about joining one on line (I've thought about that but haven't quite got round to it yet.) There's so much info on the net re submitting - Sarah Duncan's Blog has lots of advice about letters to agents.

If you're skint why not get all the free info you can, pick out a couple of agents and just go for it?

If they come bouncing back to you then maybe that's the time to consider spending some money - but who knows? You may not need to.

If I were you I'd put the fear of sending your baby out into the wide world to one side and set it free.

Hope this helps.


Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

Just wanted to let you know I have an award for you on my blog, and I hope you came to a good conclusion on this conference :D Have a great weekend!

Janet O'Kane said...

I went on a 'how to get published'day at a well-known London publisher earlier this year. I think it cost about £200 and I can't say it was worth it. The organiser had failed to tell many of us to bring along the opening pages of our WIP, so the entire afternoon, although it was useful to hear others' work critiqued, excluded having the benefit of this ourselves. And to make matters worse, those of us who'd been ill-informed were invited to submit our first pages by email, which I did. I never got as much as an acknowledgement.
I've subsequently found lots more useful info about approaching agents, writing a synopsis, etc on the internet. Nicola Morgan's is particularly helpful.
Lots of luck in your endeavour!

Ann Best said...

I've been through it all in my life: conferences, workshops, MFA in creative writing. You do learn about writing. Sometimes the feedback is useful. But now you can learn so much through the Internet, as someone mentioned. It's a goldmine of resources. You just have to discern what's good and what isn't. You just need someone reputable and with an objective eye to read and critique your writing. If you have the money to "pay for it," well, that's a decision you have to make. The courses might be useful; they might not. I'm leery about them. Read a lot. Write a lot. On the Internet or in the library you can learn about the publication process, about query letters, etc etc.

Jayne said...

Hi Tania. Thank you so much – I really do appreciate your comment. In the end I did decide to go on the course as it was actually organised through the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and they had a very good line-up of speakers. I am very glad I did do it as although some of the information wasn’t new to me, I very much needed that feeling of being part of the industry. Writing is a weird thing – isolating but liberating – and especially being so new, no matter how long I have been writing / redrafting this idea, I mostly still feel my efforts are almost an amateur endeavour, if that makes sense. So this whoosh of feeling like I belong (or rather will belong one day!) is fantastic, and I am riding this wave as far as it goes!

However your blog is wonderful and I am about to make myself a nice cup of tea and settle down to reading your advice on writing. And thank you for worrying about my hard-earned cash! Who needs a new rain-coat anyway?! *eyes weather worriedly through window*

Jayne said...

Hi Karen – So true. Thank you!


Hi Tuppence. Thank you for recommending them – just been checking out their website. The Lumb Bank place looks fantastic! But I think that sort of thing would be well out of my comfort zone - I like the idea of it a lot, but would I do it? Not sure.
Thank you for taking the time to tell me about them though – and lots of good luck and good wishes to you with your MA course.


Hi Erica. I think count those college courses with pride! Yes, sometimes I feel I am hunting around for the secret, when I know at heart it is good writing of a good idea – and of course, send, send, revise and send again! Thank you. :)

Jayne said...

Hi Laura. I did decide to go for it in the end as I decided it was definitely worth it for me. So glad I did!


Hi Alex. Thank you for letting me know about the online writer conferences – always good to know what options there are out there!


Hi Talli. I think if you hit upon a conference that is totally right for you then it is a good thing to hang the expense and go for it! So I did. And am very pleased as it was fab!


Hi Lee. Thanks for letting me know – twice!

Jayne said...

Hi Amy. Your comment did make me smile – how well you know me already! Yes, there may be an element of stall about these proceedings, but I do feel I am on the right path, in an odd sort of way. There are still tweaks and bits left to sort, and I have taken a few positive steps today to get everything sorted and have given myself a deadline of last week in July. And thank you so much for your lovely kind offer! I will be in touch. :)

Jayne said...

Hi Old Kitty. Heehee – it is ‘serious’ research, isn’t it? It’s coz I am a serious person. :)

That is so great your Open Uni course has worked for you like that – having a ball with writing sounds great to me, and exactly the reason we should all be in this game. I did go on the day course and it was fantastic, and have also signed for one with personal feedback/help from those in the know, so I am now very excited indeed!


Hi Alex. You are completely right, and I did do the course. I think you will have a total blast with your MA, it sounds like a fantastic course covering all the right bases.


Hi Rose. Hee! And yes, Tania is absolutely lovely – such a fab detailed comment. I so appreciate it when people take time like that.

Jayne said...

Hi Linda. Yes, that definitely helps! I did decide to go on the day course I has in mind in the end as it was organised by the people behind the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook and it had a fantastic line-up of speakers. I am very glad I did it, and yes – meeting other creative folk was a complete plus. I haven’t looked to see if there are any writer’s groups in my area – wonder where they hide?! Good idea. And oh yes, I still have the fear! Working on getting over that – the plan is by the end of July this baby will be out finding its feet!


Hi Erica – wow, thanks! Will pop by. :)


Hi Janet. Oh dear, that sounds awful! I would have been very sad (not to mention cross) if a failure on the part of the organiser meant I missed out on such vital and helpful information. And to not even acknowledge it? That is shockingly poor behaviour. I'm cross on your behalf!

Thanks for the good luck wishes!


Hi Ann. The internet is a goldmine I admit – and I agree, you have to pick the sites you feel are the best and most reputable rather than going mad to click all. Thank you so much for the advice!

MissKris said...

I'm thinking of taking a Rosetta Stone course to learn Spanish. For some reason that's been niggling at the back of my mind. Once I'm done doing the day care for the grandboys in the next few years, I think it'd be very handy to have that ability when I do some serious job hunting.

Tess said...

Jayne: I have just the thing for you! There is a fabulous and amazing online FREE writers conference coming up at the end of July (I think that's when it is...). A few bloggers have banded together to organize it and the 'staff' will include editors and agents. Lots of them (though you are right that getting an agent seldom comes from a conf.).

go to Elana is one of the organizers. Click on "WriteOnCon" at the top of her blog for details on how to sign up.

Hurry, because there is probably a cut off date and I'd hate for you to miss this great opportunity.

This is their first time doing it, so it might not run perfectly but, hey, it's FREE and the staff includes some of the best out there.

Hope this helps!

luminous muse said...

While conferences, etc. may be helpful, I have another suggestion: try to get a short piece published, anywhere, even if what you've set out to do is get your novel published. Anything that's published will start to get you noticed in the business.
I got there through Open Salon. I posted a few things there, nothing...a few more and got an Editor's Pick, finally Big Salon picked up one. I've gotten huge feedback from it, and it's gotten my book closer to publication than 6 years of agents.