But in today's Kindle/e-book/self-publishing environment, with New York publishing sliding into cultural irrelevance, I find questions about working with agents and editors increasingly old-fashioned.
Anyone who claims to have useful information about the publishing industry is lying to you, because nobody knows what the hell is happening.
One student, having finished his assigned books early, asked me to assign him three big novels for the period between semesters.
He read all three and submitted an extra-credit essay, too. Conversely, I've had students ask if I could assign shorter books, or—without a trace of embarrassment—say they weren't into "the classics" as if "the classics" was some single, aesthetically consistent genre.
They want someone to feel sorry for them, and they believe that the supposed candor of their reflective essay excuses its technical faults.
Just because you were abused as a child does not make your inability to stick with the same verb tense for more than two sentences any more bearable.If you aren't a serious reader, don't expect anyone to read what you write.Without exception, my best students were the ones who read the hardest books I could assign and asked for more.In fact, having to slog through 500 pages of your error-riddled student memoir makes me wish you had suffered more. When I was working on my MFA between 19, I understood that if I wanted any of the work I was doing to ever be published, I'd better listen to my faculty advisers.MFA programs of that era were useful from a professional development standpoint—I still think about a lecture the poet Jason Shinder gave at Bennington College that was full of tremendously helpful career advice I use to this day.And then there were students whose work was so awful that it literally put me to sleep.Here are some things I learned from these experiences. Either you have a propensity for creative expression or you don't. That's not to say that someone with minimal talent can't work her ass off and maximize it and write something great, or that a writer born with great talent can't squander it. The MFA student who is the Real Deal is exceedingly rare, and nothing excites a faculty adviser more than discovering one.My advice is for writers to reject the old models and take over the production of their own and each other's work as much as possible. After eight years of teaching at the graduate level, I grew increasingly intolerant of writing designed to make the writer look smart, clever, or edgy.I know this work when I see it; I've written a fair amount of it myself.I worked with a number of students writing memoirs.One of my Real Deal students wrote a memoir that actually made me cry. For the most part, MFA students who choose to write memoirs are narcissists using the genre as therapy.