Thursday, March 15, 2012

To MFA or Not To MFA?

At a writer’s conference I recently attended, an employee in the publishing industry confided in me that agents and publishers rarely sign new authors who don’t have an MFA. I was very much taken aback by such a statement, especially when he added that agents typically don’t take a writer seriously unless they have an MFA. Seriously?

I certainly have nothing against MFA programs, but after finishing my Masters in English along with concentrations in Creative Writing I felt I already had enough literary education. Not to mention, plenty of my favorite authors never had MFAs. I also talked to disillusioned friends coming out of MFA programs where they claimed it started to make every student’s writing sound the same regardless of who wrote a piece of fiction.

Since several of my fellow bloggers are published or will be someday soon, I was curious on your thoughts. Is this guy just spouting tripe or is there some truth to what he claims? What are your thoughts on the necessity of having an MFA and being a working author?


  1. This really bothers me. I graduated from the University of Iowa which has one of the BEST MFA programs in the world and you know what? Most of the professors teaching there said it's a crock of shit. There's no doubt that MFA's help hone your craft, teach you valuable writing tricks but honestly... readers don't give a rat's ass if the author has an MFA. I certainly don't search for books written by authors that have an MFA because most of the time the best writers do not have one. To me, MFA's are useful if you want to teach. But to require an author to have an MFA in order to publish is a ridiculous notion. I prefer getting an MFA in life and experience rather than paying out the ass to sit in a stifling classroom that may or may not pay off in the future. Just my opinion... :)

    1. Hey Mark!
      I met you in the line for the pitch session at the conference to which you are referring. You really nit a nerve with this topic. Even the folks with MFAs don't see the merit. I have never looked at the background of a writer before I chose his or her book. A ripping good story speaks for itself as does a boring but well researched one. Above all else people want to be entertained. The amount of education you've had is irrelevant and possibly counter productive to good story telling. I've spent lots of time in writing classes peeling away pompous rhetoric that wrecks the story. This is just another case of where less is better.Great Blog site. Great topic.

  2. I heard years ago at a conference that editors didn't care that much if writers had degrees, buy maybe that's changed. I know lots of writers getting published and getting agents without an MFA.

  3. I don't know what agents require, but my publisher didn't care about an MFA.

  4. Pure poppycock. How many authors have MFA after their names?

  5. Interesting thoughts, and I hope they are not looking only for authors with thier MFA. As a reader, I could care less what the background of the author is. I just want to read good stories.

  6. A friend and I were talking about this recently, and both agreed that the authors who specialize in or have degrees in other fields are sometimes much more interesting writers. For instance, someone who studied Environmental Science and then writes about a world where the environment has gone to hell might create a very appealing story, because they bring their unique understanding of the subject to the work. Same with someone who studied history or astronomy or whatever. In other words, I don't think a person needs an MFA to be a good writer. :)

    Also, I can name dozens of working writers right now who don't have MFA's or even degrees in creative writing, so I think he's full of shite.

  7. I haven't seen this to be true. The only time I think a degree is beneficial is if the writer specializes in non-fiction in their field. Then they should have a degree (and even then, there are proven cases where writers specialized in a topic and didn't have formal degree of any kind).

  8. That's interesting that guy said that. The last couple conferences I've been to (Oct 2011 and Jan 2012) the agents and publishers didn't seem to care about MFAs and whether or not a writer had one. They talked like it didn't sway them one way or the other and even mentioned against getting a MFA unless you were pursuing literary fiction.

  9. I would echo the commenters who said an MFA isn't necessary. I've come across author bios with mentions of them, of course--but the majority of published writers (and successful ones) don't mention them.

  10. This post has me worried. If agents want writers with an MFA, that will mean many of us will be without agents.
    I personally feel agents should look for a good book, a writer's MFA should not come into question.
    Btw, I have tagged you on my blog.

  11. "Spouting tripe," though there are a few MFA programs that make it easier to get read.

  12. Well, this was making me feel a bit down until I read the previous comments. I feel better now :-)

  13. I can't believe someone said that. When you read the suggestions agents make for writing queries and submitting no where do they say make sure you tell me you've got your MFA. People pursuing literary fiction careers might benefit, but not the majority of fiction writers. The single most important thing a writer can offer is a damn good story.

  14. "It started to make every student’s writing sound the same regardless of who wrote a piece of fiction" -- I've heard the same, and the way I see it, agents/publishers want to sell stories and make money. Write them a good story. I doubt they'll care about much else.

  15. Well, I'm in trouble then ;)

    I think it's one of those things that people say which we shouldn't take too seriously. Good writing speaks for itself.

  16. Considering the fact that I don't have an MFA, I really hope this isn't true. I agree with Lynda. It's one of those things we shouldn't take too seriously.

  17. Jade – Wow, glad I got a reaction and some worthy advice:) Many thanks for your experience:)

    J.A. - ;)

    Alice – No, I think you’re still dead on there, thanks.

    Alex – Rad to know, thank you.

    Richard – Poppycock…luv the word choice!

    Miranda – You make a very good and common sense point. Thanks, I needed a dose of that:)

    L.G. – Shite…luv it;) You raise some excellent points and as always I defer to your wisdom. Thanks!

    Emily – That’s a very good point for non-fiction. I don’t think those same statutes can be applied to fiction.

    Cherie – Sop glad to hear people disagree with this, as I did too.

    Eagle – Yup, it seems a good story is what counts.

    Rachna – Don’t worry, I just wanted to see what others thought and had experienced. Looks like it’s a false alarm.

    Hektor – Spouting tripe indeed:)

    Sarah – Glad you’re not down as I was before I read all these great comments:)

    Tricia – Very, very good point! I think you hit the nail on the head.

    Milo – Yup, I see a similar threat in creative writing classes, not to bash on them as they definitely have their uses. Glad you agree:)

    Lynda – Lol. No worries, I no longer believe you to be in any kind of trouble whatsoever.

    Susan – And I will take her advice as well as yours, thanks!