The writing course racket

One of the banes of subscribing to newsletters for writers and a range of publishers is the constant pitching of courses for writers. Apart from a deep suspicion as to their value (I’ll come back to that later), I am flabbergasted by the cost. Yes, there are a few shining lights of moderation in this space but most are asking fees in the hundreds of dollars (including MasterClass where you can ‘learn’ from already rich writers). When it comes to formal tertiary institution programs (e.g. Master of Fine Arts), the sky’s the limit.

To save your metaphorical breath, I already understand the following things:

  • There is no such thing as a free lunch and genuine knowledge imparted by experienced published writers who take their students seriously will always be valuable.
  • A tiny minority of people make a living as a writer and these gigs help some of them pay the rent.
  • All writers want an audience and whatever helps them to achieve that is potential grist to the mill.
  • It is essential to decide in advance what you want to get from a particular course in order to be able to assess fairly whether you got what you paid for.

My main concerns are these:

  1. The vast majority of writers cannot afford to access these courses. (A few angels provide free entry to a small number but they are rare.)
  2. For those who do invest their meagre funds, there is no way of researching the value provided by the course or the course provider i.e. there is no Trip Advisor for your writing journey.
  3. I can find no directory of successful writers listing the courses they found helpful with their writing or their efforts to get published.

Take it as read that my response to paid feedback is similar i.e. who can afford it and does it provide specific suggestions/ edits for the writer to consider and/or implement.

I have written to a number of publishers and to my own State’s Writers Centre to suggest they implement some or all of the following low cost or no cost strategies to help address these issues. They include:

a) Providing randomly allocated free or low cost entry to all courses and feedback programs

b) Establishing a feedback portal for writers to share their experiences with paid courses and paid feedback and to rate them on value for money.

Tellingly, not one of them has ever given me the courtesy of a reply.

OK, load up your bouquets and brickbats and let me and my mighty army of followers have your thoughts.

9 thoughts on “The writing course racket

  1. This is an interesting topic, thanks for shining some light on it! I am a life long writer, but it’s not my career. I have never paid for any writing courses, except for those I took as in college. I’ve looked into some of these courses, but I have also been able to find the information I’m looking for in Facebook groups, Critique Circle, and YouTube, which are all free. So I haven’t had a real need to sign up for an actual online course.

    You make some very good points though. The public would certainly value their being a “Trip Advisor” style of rating system. The only problem with that is I don’t know if these online “companies” stay in business very long. It seems like they come and go quite a bit, so it might be hard to rate them when many will be gone in a year or so.

    I haven’t looked, but I wonder if there is any discussion on Reddit regarding the different online courses? I do think it’s worth reaching out to the company you’re interested in and ask them for a sliding scale, or if they offer discounted pricing on any of their classes. Honestly, unless the course was offering some sort of specialized training, like how to write a cookbook, for example, I don’t know how much value there is for writers to sign up. Obviously, it depends on your current skill set and what you as an individual want to improve on.

    When in doubt I return to Stephen King’s book On Writing, for inspo. Good luck and keep us posted!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks, Jenna, for your detailed an helpful response.
      I’m afraid my experience of Critique Circle, Scribophile and other similar sites is that the feedback, with rare exceptions, was narrow, pedantic and parochial. (Besides, woe betide you if you point that out on their forums.)
      Yes, it’s true that some sites fade quickly as their operators learn that it’s a lot of hard work for little reward but I still think there’s a place for somewhere you can rate them. Duosoma makes a valiant effort, as does Chill Subs but more needs to be done, especially in regard to transparency as to where the funds go and the qualifications of the editors making judgements on other writers’ work.
      A search of Reddit didn’t turn up much that was useful’ I have often asked for discounts, free entries etc from publishers and have had a couple of positive responses but the usual reply is ‘we’re trying to make a living here’.
      Your point about good books on writing is well made (and I have Stephen King’s book) but I think nothing works better than good constructive feedback from someone who has read your work, knows a lot about writing and doesn’t pull any punches.


  2. I have also been surprised at the high cost of many of the writing courses that have been pitched. I am part of a writers workshop given free through the emeritus program of a local college. It is made up of a group of terrific writers who generously give feed back to each other’s submissions. I haven’t yet felt the need to spend a ton of money for questionably useful results.

    Liked by 1 person

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