What if you don't know any publisher or editor or agent? Help there? Would it be smart to go to college because of these circumstances? I understand that you don't need a college degree to become a successful author but I'm just wondering about what should you do if you make that decision of not going to college but have no connections?
Why should it be either/or?
College (actually a College Diploma) is often thought of as a pass-key to something else. However, it is generally only a pass-key to entry-level jobs.
However, that does not mean skip college.
College Diploma Will Not Mean You Get Published
Let's say you go all the way and get your MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) in Literature then you write your cover letter.
Dear Jane Q. Publisher,
I've just obtained my MFA in Literature. Please read the enclosed manuscript, publish it as a book and send me a check for at least $50,000.
Obviously, it doesn't happen that way anyways.
Obtain Every Tool Possible
College can be a tool. A tool for learning. It can also be a waste of time and money.
Write The Best Book Possible
Consider the following scenario. You sit down and write the best novel possible. You convince 10 people to actually read it and actually provide feedback.
The challenge here is:
- You have to write the novel
- You have to convince people to read the book. (Finding 10 people to do so is going to be much more difficult than you think.)
- You have to obtain strong feedback. Make sure those people will really be honest with you. They will be afraid to be honest.
- If they are honest you are probably going to find that your first novel attempt is not great and maybe even total crap. You must deal with that and change.
Most likely it will mean throwing away your first novel and maybe the first few novels you write.
You Must Write To Get Better
You cannot get better only by reading books about writing and thinking about writing a novel. You must write the novels and (probably) throw them away.
While You're Reading This
Think about what you were thinking about while you read that part. Were you thinking, "This SE poster is an idiot. It can't be like that."
That is a protection mechanism so you can continue to fool yourself into believing that it doesn't take that much hard work. We all see the finished products of novels by great writers, however we rarely see their lives before getting published and their lives as they sit alone and write for long periods of time.
Maybe College Fills the Time
Maybe college fills the time while you write those novels. It doesn't have to though. You could start today and write your novel in two weeks if you had a mind to do it.
To get published you are going to have to write. The faster you write your novels the faster you are going to get feedback and learn and change.
College is probably never going to give you much feedback on your novel writing anyways. But that does not mean that taking writing and classes in literature have no value.
Why not just do it all? Start writing your novel today and sign up for college and just keep writing as you take classes and put everything you know into your writing and put all of the skills you obtain while writing back into your college classes.
It's possible and may provide the best way forward.
A Final Point On Getting A Book Published
Now imagine you've written three books and your third novel gets really good feedback from your focus group. You do another edit and this novel actually shines. People begin to ask you if they can read it because your focus group has told them about it.
Now, you send out the manuscript and over time and it catches an acquisitions editor's eye. She reads more than the first paragraph and begins to like the writing and story and she contacts you.
That is a far more likely story.
NO, do not go to college for that.
I spent twelve years in college, I have five college degrees and the last is a PhD, I was a professor (and I am currently a research scientist at a university).
I did that because I loved school and college, and I've never encountered a course in any topic I found difficult.
That said, this is NOT the place, IMO, to find commercial contacts like agents and publishers. Professors that cultivate such contacts share them sparingly, so as not to be ignored by these contacts. Some professors will be professional and successful authors, but they are rare: If a writer made millions from a book or series, they would likely not be teaching full time at a university; for two reasons: PhDs in universities make a comfortable living but not a lavish one. Second, teaching full time and the other duties of professorship are more than a full time job. Prepping for class and questions, coming up with slides and examples and tests, grading and counseling and staff meetings and departmental service requirements eat time like crazy.
For new untenured professors that tend to teach freshman and sophomore students the joke is the job is a half time position: the other twelve hours in a day are yours to do with as you please. (More senior professors tend to take the higher level courses, when the dropout rate has leveled off, to look for graduate students they can recruit into Master's or PhD programs.)
For the professors likely to be your teachers and mentors, all that time is time they could spend writing, if writing was paying the bills.
Go to college to learn something they explicitly teach.
To me this is not the place to make contacts outside the academic world. Here is where you can learn tips and tricks for creative writing by taking some courses in that.
Of course if you are a self-starter, you can learn this from books, and free online blogs and videos: Search "Brandon Sanderson" on YouTube, a well published fantasy and scifi author, he teaches a course at Brigham Young University (Mormons). It is the same course every year, but slightly modified by his experience teaching it, so I'd grab the latest year he has up.
The same is true if you don't have tens of thousands of dollars to spend on college tuition. I can only speak for the three colleges I have been in extensively, but You do not have to be a student to walk into the bookstore and buy a textbook. Those can be expensive, I've paid $110 for one, but most professors teach from the textbook (and not even all of it).
There are various series of teaching books that are also useful; I liked "The Elements of Fiction Writing", books from "The Writer's Digest", and other specialty books, aimed at comedy, sex scenes, conveying emotions, etc.
Visit Agent Query or google for other literary agent services. There is online help for writing a good query, as well.
You can teach yourself, to write, to query, and to get a real literary agent (not a fake one; anyone can claim to be an agent and there is no license or test to do that, and no real agent will charge you for their services: They are paid by commission when you sell. Watch Brandon Sanderson's 1 hour course, he usually combines the lecture on Dialogue and the lecture on Agents into a single hour).
If you do go to a college, make sure it is one with a great writing program. There's nothing worse than being shackled to debt with a piece of paper that says, "sorry for your trouble, but I'm not worth a damn." Which is not to say that you should not go to college. It's just that there are good and bad professors out there. Some schools focus on technical writing, and others focus a specific genre. The one I went to had a middling poetry program and focused mostly on the literary short story, snubbing genre fiction entirely.
I think the biggest thing you get out of the right program is exposure to people who love to write. This will help form your opinion of how to write as well as give you your first writing network. If you go to the right school, this could be an asset.
All of that said, I really don't think I would have succeeded if I had started with writing. It's not an answer, but there were executive functioning skills I needed to learn in my "real job" before I had the discipline and chops for taking up writing with the intention of eventually becoming a professional. The number of people I know who got writing degrees and are writing novels for a living is 0. But I didn't go to the school for it either. If you're going to college, I advise having a back up plan; but a few people have done it without one. They also went to schools with great writing programs.
As far as resources for a person not going to school, there are a ton; but the quality varies, and you need a good source of input for personal improvements: Someone who knows what they are talking about and isn't biased in a way that will hurt your growth. And then you just need to write, read and submit as often as possible. But there's no path there. You could try podcasts and master classes; but, none of those have ever approached the quality of a good discussion I participated in.
Although there are a lot of good reasons to go to college, getting published is not one of them, there's not that much direct connection between the two. (Unless --as happened to me --you have a former classmate who just happens to be interning at a publisher you approach.)
If you want to get published, credentials are not necessary. Buy an up-to-date copy of Writer's Market, they usually have good advice for new writers. You'll also want to read up on writing query letters and proposals. Once you have a completed manuscript, you'll be able to start approaching agents or publishers with your queries. You'll want to make sure your grammar, spelling and formatting are perfect.
With all that said, a good MFA program can both help you become a better writer, and get into a network of well-connected writers and aspiring writers. But that is an advanced degree, so that would be a long term plan, not an immediate one. And plenty of people are published without any degree at all.
I've got more experience with colleges than I like to think about, both student/teaching.
The reason education is so important, and valuable, is because it trains us to think critically. The brain is a muscle, and if we don't exercise it it will not be as 'strong' as it might be otherwise. Higher education is a good way to train young people to use their brain.
The difference between how a freshman student thinks, and how a graduating senior thinks (compartmentalizes, organizes, synthesizes, manages ideas, thoughts, time) is the difference between night and day.
If you have the means to go to college, do so. It's good for you.
If you have the means to take up and keep up with a program of other kinds of exercise, physical exercise, do that too. It's good for you.
They're analogous. Do a thing because of what the thing is geared to provide. In the case of education - this is knowledge and the ability to acquire and synthesize new knowledge. Again, your brain is a muscle. (Not actually a muscle. A metaphorical muscle.)
- If you have the self discipline to learn through other means (self taught, self study), then do this.
BUT! As others have said, don't go to college to make connections in publishing. I've spent almost my whole life associated with higher ed and have no connections through that.
Tools to connect to agents and publishers exist simply, online, - see other answers.
Think about it from the publishers point of view. They simply want a book that sells. The industry is set up to find that book. They aren't looking in colleges (students are busy with classes), they are looking through agents, whose job it is to find the stories.
Try twitter; try the hashtag #MSWL - this will pull up agents who say what it is they want. Don't tweet at them. Do - find their query requirements and tailor your query to their wishlist.