MFA: Art or Business?

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MFA programs are art programs. They exist to help students learn to create the strongest stories and the most beautiful writing they possibly can. But do they also have a responsibility to teach students about the business end of the literary industry so that one day, after all the money we’ve spent on grad school, we can fulfill our dreams of publishing success?

This was a conversation I had the other night when I met with an agent that was introduced to me through Columbia’s Storyweek. He told me it was always a surprise to him that MFA programs do so little to help their students learn about the business end of the writing enterprise. In my experience, while I can certainly say I know more about it now than I did when I first started grad school, most of the practical information I’ve gathered about agents, publishing, querying—the marketing process of a manuscript—is picked up informally from conversations with professors and guest speakers. So I’m curious about how many programs offer students a formal schooling in how to market and sell their completed manuscripts?

Should it be part of these programs’ responsibility, or should the focus of an MFA be an exclusively artistic one? Is it up to the writer herself to make contacts and seek opportunity and educate herself about the nuts and bolts of the publishing industry? I’m curious to hear your thoughts and experiences with this question!

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