Thursday, January 27, 2011

Are you on course?

Over the past few years I’ve encountered a number of so-called pros who offer writing advice or writers’ courses—for a fee (and a very steep one at that). While I’m certain many of these courses have much to offer aspiring writers, I can’t help but cringe when I hear some of the costs for a two-day workshop when compared to an accredited course offered by an established tertiary institution.

I chatted with a literary agent about this recently, sharing some of my misgivings, and she asked me one pertinent question: “Is the person offering the course qualified or backed up with enough industry experience to justify charging those prices?”

Because, let’s face it, there’s a lot of allure attached to attending a dedicated writers’ workshop, where those who’re industry professionals share their knowledge and offer you the keys to unlocking the future of your own publishing success.

Some writers’ workshops are worth their weight in gold, but I start getting twitchy when I see people parted from their hard-earned cash for information that is already freely available online.

I’ll be honest. I’ve never had the cash to fork out between $300 to $600 for a two-day workshop. I began my writing career by joining an online critique group and eventually started a dedicated writers’ group in my home town. I’m lucky because I’ve received in-house training at the newspaper publisher where I work as a sub-editor, and can back my knowledge up with a decade’s actual publishing experience, ranging from magazines, to print production, newspapers and electronic fiction publishing.

But, here’s the rub: the most invaluable assistance I’ve received so far has been from listening to what other authors, editors, publishers and literary agents have to say about the industry; that, but also keeping my dedicated writers’ groups on the go where authors grow together.

Most importantly, I’ve not taken critique personally, and when I do identify a problem area in my writing, I make damn sure to internalise the lesson I’ve learnt and not to repeat mistakes. It’s all about progressing. I’ve pulled myself up by my literary bootstraps. Some of the stellar authors in my stable have done the same, and their new manuscripts go from strength to strength after we’ve worked together on a debut title. Yes, you can become a successful author without shelling out thousands of clams for a writers’ course.

This blog post is not about knocking writers’ courses. There are some fantastic courses and workshops out there. However, do yourself a huge favour and conduct a thorough background check on the person or organisation in question. Is this an industry professional with a proven publishing track record, or is this someone who’s just offering writers’ courses and whom you wouldn’t have heard about otherwise? Compare the prices of these courses with those of established workshops. And, remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


Sonya Clark said...

I figure by the time I can afford the hefty price tag for a workshop I won't need it. "Freely available online" is *awesome*.

Nerine Dorman said...

I've reached the point where I've joined a closed writers' group where most are already published. And I'm learning from people who're further along than I am. Peer review is still the best, IMO.