Query 101: How to Land an Agent Begins on February 6th

Writing ToolsI’m very excited to announce that my new online course, Query 101: How to Land an Agent, begins in just a few short weeks. The class is being offered through Antioch University Los Angeles’ innovative online writing school, Inspiration to Publication.

In this two-week course, you will:

  • Craft an unforgettable query letter
  • Receive in-depth feedback on your query
  • Learn how and where to find the right agent for you
  • Review query etiquette and strategy

I personally designed this course with knowledge gained from my six-month internship with Folio Literary Management, a top literary agency in New York City representing bestselling authors like Eowyn Ivey, Garth Stein, Jenny Han, and Misty Copeland. I’ve also worked with dozens of freelance clients on writing and perfecting their query letters. Just a few months back, one of my clients signed with a top tier literary agent after I helped her with her manuscript and query.

The course is only $99, which is a great deal considering that the typical cost for a basic query critique ranges from $65-$90. In addition to receiving query writing guidelines and detailed feedback on your query, you’ll get comprehensive resources on how to find legitimate agents, learn valuable submission techniques and strategies, and avoid common query pitfalls that will land you in the rejection pile.

Click here to reserve your spot now. The class runs from February 6th-20th, and everything is done online at your own pace.

See you in class!

(photo credit: Writing Tools via photopin (license))

How to Get an MFA in Writing

In my last post, I talked about the journey I took to get my MFA in Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. In this follow-up post, I’m going to cover some of the basics for those looking to get their own MFA in Writing.

5821365833_87da1ed90dFirst of all, be prepared for a possibly long and definitely arduous process. MFA programs, especially ones with any kind of funding, are insanely competitive. I read that Iowa Writer’s Workshop is harder to get into than Harvard Medical School, with a 1-2% acceptance rate. The same goes for all of the top, funded programs.

Even programs with less funding and name recognition can be difficult to get into. I have friends who have applied to dozens of schools over several years and still haven’t gotten into the right place for them. However, it’s worth a shot to apply to a school if it looks like it would be a good fit, even if the odds are against you. This is especially true if you have a strong writing background and solid recommendations.

Deciding where to apply can be a feat of its own, especially with application fees ranging from $40-$120. Research is very important. Use sites like The MFA Blog and Poets & Writers’ MFA Database to help you create a list. Poets & Writers used to do an annual ranking, but those turned out to be based more on name recognition than any sort of objective quality assessment, so don’t take them very seriously. There are also some good books with advice and school listings including The Creative Writing MFA Handbook and the Low-Residency MFA Handbook.

Be sure to research individual schools by using their websites, looking them up on forums, and requesting to speak with current students. If location matters to you, keep that in mind as you’ll be living in that area for 2-3 years (unless it’s a low-res program). See who the program’s faculty members are, what their publications are like, and read their books. These are the people you’ll be working with and learning from, so choosing a school with accomplished faculty who write work you admire is a must. Many schools also have open houses and info sessions.

Some schools will require that you take the GRE and submit scores along with your application. In my experience, this was maybe 1 in 5. I ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the time and money to add a few more schools to my list, so I didn’t take the GRE.

Otherwise, you’ll typically submit a personal statement, writing sample, and 2-3 letters of recommendation. Send your best work and have at least two other people read it over, preferably people good with spelling and grammar. If you don’t know anyone like that, pay for a professional editor. Also make sure to customize each personal statement and secure recommendations from mentors, teachers, and/or professors who know you and your writing. Give them plenty of time to complete these recommendations and provide them with the envelopes and postage or online form information they need.

It’s also a good idea to check in on your financial situation and decide how much debt you’re willing to take on. Some schools aren’t very transparent about what kinds of funding options they offer, so you might have to email and ask. The top, competitive programs (typically based at large state universities) often offer TAships, which means teaching 1-3 undergraduate classes each term, usually in composition and sometimes creative writing. This does add to your workload substantially and is one of the reasons I opted for a low-res degree instead. I wanted to be able to focus on my writing.

Low-residency programs are a great option for people with jobs and/or families who can’t relocate (or just don’t want to). Although they typically offer limited funding, you do most of the writing from home, but get to commune with fellow writers, attend workshops and lectures, and work with mentors twice a year for 10-days at a time on the school’s campus. I found this model to be perfect for me even though I’m a younger writer without strong family ties or employment obligations.

Students in these programs range in age from 21-75, with the median probably being 35. I didn’t feel out of place being in my 20s, though. Everyone was very professional and accepting of others. I liked the independence and flexibility this kind of program provided me, and it was conducive to the way I work. Low-res programs still have strong writing communities, and you’d be surprised how much you bond with people you only see a couple times a year.

Those are just some basics to get you started on your MFA research. Feel free to leave specific questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them. Best of luck!


(photo credit: The year is over via photopin (license))

Why I Chose to Get an MFA in Creative Writing

IMG_0734Last week, I was invited to speak about writing and education at the California Writers Club of San Fernando Valley. Preparing for the talk gave me the opportunity to think more about MFA in Writing Programs: namely, if writers should get one, what kind of writers should get one, and how to go about getting one.

My decision to get an MFA in Writing was both natural and spontaneous. I’ve been writing creatively as far back as I can remember, and I’ve wanted to be a writer for about that long as well. But despite my desire to become a published author someday, I didn’t give much thought to graduate school. By the time I reached high school, I knew that I’d be majoring in English but that I’d probably pursue some other career while writing in my free time. I was realistic enough to know that most writers couldn’t support themselves through their work alone. I thought about becoming an editor for a publishing house or maybe a literary agent.

However, after graduating college in 2009, I realized that finding an entry-level job in Los Angeles with my BA in English Lit was going to be a lot harder than I expected. The economy was terrible and the job market was encountering major changes due to the crash and the ever-increasing and unpredictable rise of technology. Because I wasn’t able to find a full-time job, I began to give more thought to an MFA program.

Being in grad school would give me a chance to focus on my writing, complete the memoir I’d been dreaming about writing since the age of 12, and qualify me to teach writing at the college-level. Although teaching hadn’t been high on my list of potential job opportunities, I was lucky enough to land an internship teaching creative writing courses at a retirement community toward the end of my undergraduate studies. That experience showed me how much I enjoyed helping others find and share their stories.

At first, I applied to a few traditional MFA programs around the country just to see what happened. Unfortunately, I wasn’t accepted to any of the three programs I applied to. I know now that three is a very small list and MFA programs are incredibly competitive. Iowa Writer’s Workshop, for example, is harder to get into than Harvard Medical School with a 1-2% acceptance rate. When preparing for my next round of applications, I decided to put more consideration into low-residency MFA programs.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the low-residency format, these MFA programs are more geared toward writers who have families and jobs that would make relocating and studying full-time difficult. Since I was only in my early to mid-20s, I didn’t think that this format applied to me. But I soon realized that a low-residency program would give me a lot more freedom and flexibility than a traditional program. I could stay in Los Angeles and continue looking for work if I wanted to. I wouldn’t have to uproot my life and put everything on hold to get the degree. Low-residency programs are mostly done from home, with two 10-day residencies on the school’s campus each year for two years. At those residencies, you get to meet other students and the mentors you’ll be working with, attend lectures and writing workshops, and go to readings and parties.

The disadvantage of low-residency programs is that most of them don’t offer much, if any, scholarships or funding. Many traditional programs don’t offer this either, though, and the ones that do tend to be Harvard Medical School-level competitive. I spent a lot of time weighing the pros and cons, examining my financial situation and options, trying to decide whether it would ultimately be worth paying out of pocket and through loans for an MFA in Writing degree.

10850318_10152969359721908_5330319045155746042_nIt was a tough choice. But my dream was to become a published author, and I wanted to be qualified to teach writing at a college level so I could pursue teaching as a career path. I also longed to find a tight-knit literary community that I would be part of and would continue to be part of for the rest of my life. The MFA seemed like the best way to accomplish all of my goals.

I ended up at Antioch University Los Angeles’ low-residency MFA program and graduated in December 2014. It was a long journey to get there, but ultimately, I’m so glad that I arrived. I left the program with new friends, a finished manuscript, a tight-knit literary community, and a degree that allows me to teach writing at colleges and universities. I feel prepared to embark upon the next stage of my journey where I look for teaching jobs and submit my manuscript out for publication. I have no regrets.

In my next post, I’ll talk a bit more about MFA programs, the admission process, and provide links and resources that will help you decide if an MFA is right for you.