This topic came to me while reviewing Lit Reactor, and it demanded to be written. I’ve been climbing this mountain for going on two years now, and I’m nowhere near the top (is anyone ever?), but neither am I standing at the bottom, so I have opinions. I feel that I should clarify, that although thinking about Lit Reactor inspired this post, this is not an indictment on Lit Reactor. They seem to be a genuine and helpful business.
The question is this: As a burgeoning, aspiring, learning, growing, insert-adjective-here writer, when is it time to spend money on your hobby – on your dreams?
As a writer, you are always a potential mark. Somebody is more than willing to feed your ego or prey on your naiveté to take your money and give you little in return. Fortunately, there are resources out there like Writer Beware which help raise the alarm about egregious offenders.
I am not against making a buck so long as the service is worth something. Lit Reactor, MasterClass, Jane Friedman, Kindlepreneuer… all of these may be worth the price of admission. I can’t say for certain, I’ve only taken real advantage of one of them beyond the paywall. For each honest actor, however, there are three or four services out there not designed to help, support, train or promote… they’re engineered to entice more subscribers. I have not given in to any of these temptations, but I know I am not above them, or inherently smarter than that. I am just cautious and cheap. In my position, those traits help.
Sites like Lit Reactor and Jane Friedman offer individual online classes on various topics priced between $50-$300. If you’re like me, you really can’t do that with any regularity. We have bills to pay. By comparison, Masterclass costs $180/year (about what you’re paying for Netflix right now) and hosts dozens of classes on writing by heavy-hitters like James Patterson, Margaret Atwood, and Neil Gaiman. I’m currently enjoying the heck out of that, and the price is much more reasonable. I’ll let you know what I think of it in detail towards the end of the year.
What about skipping all the online do-it-yourself-ism and enrolling in an MFA in Creative Writing? If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right, isn’t it? I’ll let those who have gone through it speak to their experience, but it sounds like the mileage varies heavily, and, as we know, college education here in the good ‘ole USA ain’t cheap. At all.
On the other hand, sometimes you get what you pay for. I’m not going to link to it because the debate looks toxic, but depending on who you ask, moderately famous online (free) writing community Absolute Write is either fantastically supportive or a cesspool of cyber-bullying. If you avoid that drama and decide to find or form your own writing group for convening in actual meatspace (You know, in person, without screens? It’s been a long pandemic), conventional wisdom says to keep your expectations realistic and beware pitfalls of such groups. In short, depending on your group dynamics, it will likely provide more support than concrete advice.
It will always be true that the only person who is most invested in your writing career and craftsmanship is you, the writer. No beta reader, writing group friend, editor, or forum poster will ever care as much as you do, nor can they. The final impetus, the drive, and all the important decisions should come down to you.
So, how do you decide when and where it is appropriate to invest financially in your writing? That is a deeply personal decision, but I do have some thoughts on the subject:
- Be cautious. Be skeptical.
- If something gives you a bad feeling, walk away. Better safe than sorry.
- Early on, squeeze every last drop from what you can study independently. There is a wealth of information about how to write well online – an oversaturated, overwhelming mountain of it, actually. Click the “HYHA” tag on this post to visit just a few. Just like you shouldn’t interview an expert for research without learning the basics first, in my opinion you should drag your writing as far as you can before you engage professionals.
- Money flows to the author – avoid reading fees and vanity publishing like the plague.
- Invest financially in your writing only when you are both…
- …confident you can go no further on your own, and
- …when you find help you and others trust.
Have you found the obvious question, yet? What am I selling you? Well… me. And the idea of reading. I want people to read my blog. I want them to read books, love them, and compel their friends and family to read as well. One day, lord willing, I might have something to offer those people. People like yourself.
If you have thoughts about how to separate the wheat from the chaff in the landscape of literary advice, let us know in the comments.
As always, happy reading, and happy writing.
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