Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Why Your Publishing Degree Isn’t a Golden Ticket to Success in the Industry

Okay. I know some of you read that title and immediately in your head went, duh. But I feel like there are actually some misunderstandings about this and you know what? That worries me.

School. Ah, school. To our parents and a large part of society it’s highly important we attend this educational systematic hierarchy so that we can parade around a degree or two in our home and land that dream job. Some people want to seek a degree because school does make them happy and they actually need it for that dream job. I’m not talking about those people.

The people I’m talking about are those who believe that by gaining a BA in Creative Writing, Publishing, MFA, etc. will bring them success. If you believe this, then I’m sorry for what you’re about to read next. Because having that degree isn’t a guarantee that you’ll land an agent/editor + publishing deal.

Your degree isn’t a golden ticket to success in the publishing factory. Just because you know X, Y, and Z and studied under A, B, and C really isn’t going to mean anything to an agent or editor. They aren’t going to ask to see your BA/MFA/etc. before offering you a contract.

But you know what is? Your writing.

Your writing is the #1 thing that will prove yourself to these industry-folk. The second thing may be how catchy and original your plot is, but the big thing is your writing.

And yes, school does help with that in some cases. Will it help you improve your craft? Sure. Will you get one-on-one time with professors to discuss where you’re going wrong? Possibly. Will you meet and work with critique partners? Most likely. Will you watch your work get evaluated and build tougher skin? I would say this is highly possible.


There are some things you should ask yourself if you’re in a program. Are you happy? Truly happy? Do you feel overwhelmed with the amount of work and constantly think to yourself, I’d rather be working on my own stuff? Or do you feel like this is taking away from the things in your life that makes you happy—family, friends, special events? Because if so, I would really reevaluate my decisions.

I say this because I know how it is. I had the chance to gain my masters for free and once my mom found out she insisted I go for it. It was a business program. I knew this was a rare opportunity, and I didn’t want to disappoint her. But was I happy? Hell. No.

I was so overwhelmed with the course load work. I hated that I was crunching numbers or evaluating hypothetical situations when I could have put that time and energy into writing. I cried a lot out of frustration. A lot. I told my boyfriend more than once I was going to quit. He knew how miserable I was and was like, I just want you to be happy. Do what you need to do.

And no, I didn’t quit. Maybe that makes me a hypocrite, but I wish I did. Sometimes it’s okay to be a quitter if it’s going to make you happier in the long run.

I was talking to a few different friends of mine within, oh, maybe the last 5 months. Three of them were debating whether or not to go back to school. This is always what I ask: is getting this degree going to make you happier in the future? And if the answer is yes, I’ll totally support you. But if you’re someone who wants to study overseas just to be somewhere else with a purpose, I’ll say something like, well why don’t you spend that money on a work visa instead of wasting it on an education you don’t want if you want to be somewhere else so badly?

And I get it. I get that degrees mean a lot in our society. But in the long run you have to go with what’s going to make you happy.

There are successful people out there who’ve never gone to college and landed a book deal. Authors who don’t have fancy MFAs have received a deal from one of the Big Six (or Big Five? Idk anymore). There are successful authors who haven’t even graduated high school! Or college! People who have had ZERO connections going into this industry have made it.

So am I saying quit your program? No. Am I saying don’t even consider school? No. I’m not telling you to do anything. I’m only telling you that 1) having a degree won’t guarantee you that publishing deal and 2) to take a step back when it comes to how school is affecting your happiness.
And on that note I ask you this: have you seen the Jenna Marbles video about what to do with your degree? Oh my god. Just. Watch and relate. (Because I mean really wtf are we supposed to do with these things?)

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