One word. Literati.
If you have never heard of it, the literati is basically the tight-knit, seemingly impenetrable group of writers, agents and editors that make up the publishing entry. And although there are more independent publishers and small presses who rise above the literati by publishing new writers, it isn’t always easy. Some are under the impression that by getting their MFA they will have a better chance of publication or working in the publishing industry and that the experience of being in a program will bolster their literary connections. There is also the assumption that those connections will actually be useful. Let me be the first to tell you that that is no always true.
University was fun because of all the programs I was able to attend, all the writers and agents and editors I met and because I was able to read and learn in new ways. As nice of an experience as it was, and with everyone I met there, I believed that after graduation, I would be able to easily find a job working for a publisher. I wasn’t thinking of the Big Five, but somewhere. Anywhere. When that didn’t happen, I was crushed. On paper, I felt as though I was the perfect candidate for an entry-level position, three degrees, two years of editorial experience, passionate about the written word, one publication (albeit small) under my belt. But nope. And all of the amazing connections I built weren’t helping either.
I don’t want you to assume that I am not grateful for the connections I made in the industry but they were not useful in this instance. Firstly, many of the people I met were often too busy to try and assist me and after a while, emails went unanswered. Secondly, I had to make sure that my relationships were strong before asking them for assistance or guidance. And lastly, although I may have received invaluable guidance and assistance as to how I should move forward, it didn’t help in the application process.
My degree did not instantly push me up the literary ladder, in fact, I probably could have spent more time focusing on my own writing and gotten farther without spending tens of thousands of dollars. But, I would not exchange the experience for anything else because I enjoyed it so much. In fact, it was the first time where I was truly thrilled to attend each class, to go to programming and readings and panels. My degree bolstered my own writing as well as my understanding of various genres but it did not mean that I would receive a job, much to my dismay. It wasn’t like I was a law student, where I had an offer before graduation, I was at a loss. And after graduating, I still had no prospects. I had used my network and came up short.
This is not meant to scare anyone hoping to make their way into the industry, but it is meant to caution you. Never assume that your degree will open gateways, that must come by your own strength. Never assume that the connections you have will be able to do the leg work for you, they cannot. But they can offer wisdom and new paradigms that can aid you as you search for publication or a position. So, be mindful and decide whether or not you truly wish for the experience of higher education or if you are merely using it to build connections. If it is the latter, there are many other ways to do that.