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Wednesday, October 01, 2014

 

Author Salon Creates a Unique Novel Program

by Alexerhead (www.flickr.com)
Many writers, seeking some education and help in the novel writing process, struggle with which program to register for--MFA? Writing Retreats? Online classes? We have an amazing opportunity for you today as Michael Neff, founder of the Author Salon Novel Writing Program, gives us an inside look at what makes their program unique and successful. If you are looking for a career in writing and want to write novels that make it on bookshelves, then this program could just be perfect for you! Read on to find out what happens, the faculty, and how to sign up if you are interested. 

WOW: How did the Author Salon Novel Writing Program get started?

Michael: I was having lunch with a couple of editors from Random and St. Martins in New York during the Algonkian pitch conference event a few years ago, and we were talking about online writing courses and programs of one kind or another. We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of several before bemoaning the fact that no comprehensive, realistically tough program for novel writing yet existed that put it all together. That's when I decided to partner with several editors and agents to create just such a program, and at a cost that made it reasonable. I was already involved as a part-time admin and contributing editor at Author Salon (http://authorsalon.com), so it all meshed. Course, I didn’t realize at the time just how much work would ultimately go into it. You know, you conceive something, get a head of steam, then you're sighing with exhaustion as the reality sinks in many months later. It became an enormous task to brainstorm and develop the methods, syllabus, work modules, and all the assignments and articles, but we got it done. The emphasis was always on being comprehensive and pragmatic.

WOW: All that hard work created a special and unique program! So, what makes it different from other online novel writing programs?

Michael: It differs from other online fiction or novel writing programs in several ways, depending on the type of program you compare it to. First, we differ in two distinct ways from the approach used by top online college programs--the $7000.00+ Stanford program being a good example. They use the MFA workshop approach of peer review in nearly every module of their program. We do not use it at all. We believe, in general, that obtaining critical advice on premise, plot, and narrative development from amateur writers can be just as counter-productive as productive, not to mention confusing. If you wish to build a house, will you seek advice on installing your plumbing and electric wiring from those who have never done it?

Which brings me around to the second major difference between Author Salon and a program like Stanford: all guidance and critique in our program comes exclusively from a professional who is not only an author and editor, but also a literary agent, or someone who has been in the business of working with major publishing houses for many years. The online college programs use college-based authors or writers as instructors, perhaps even published grad students, or less often, an author who dwells outside the MFA world.

These types of people can be good instructors, but they cannot possibly provide the commercial edge an aspiring author needs to compete effectively. For example, let’s say you start your novel in a car. Okay, fine. The academic will most likely help you rewrite the scene, and perhaps even do a darn good job of it, whereas we at Author Salon will tell you to delete the scene at all costs because thousands of writers start their novels with the cliché of characters touring around in cars while delivering exposition. The academic won’t know that because she or he has never been an agent or editor in the publishing business. That's just one small thing, and amusing, but it demonstrates a huge difference in editorial approach.

Also, the instructors in the college programs, far more often than not, have little or no experience with genre and yet the programs accept genre writers because the programs earn more revenue that way. But will writers benefit productively from a literary academic giving them editorial advice and direction if they are writing a mystery cozy or a science fiction novel?

As for the non-college programs, like Gotham Workshops for example, we also differ from them in two major ways. Naturally I am biased and what I state here requires fact checking, but I believe our  program syllabus (http://novelwriting.authorsalon.com/syllabus.htm ) as well as the works studied or referenced (http://novelwriting.authorsalon.com/works.htm) in the course of the program, demonstrate that we bring a comprehensive and pragmatic rigor to the art of fiction and the act of novel writing not equaled elsewhere. You would have to take an array of courses from more than one place to come close to what we are providing.

Additionally, our program is not a linear progression from one course week to the next. You write or rewrite your novel a step at a time, but often by looping through the program modules rather than walking a straight line. Lessons learned in Module 4 might well cause you to return to Module 1 or 2 and edit your premise or plot, thus initiating necessary rewrites. Progression through the Author Salon program will depend on each writer’s skill set and the stage of the manuscript. As a bonus, this approach allows the writer to move forward at his/her own pace.

Finally, the way we differ from all other programs or sets of courses, college-based or otherwise, lies in the fact that upon completion of the Author Salon program we work directly with our writers to help them become published. We act as agent and editorial consultants, as well as assist in the editing of query letters.

WOW: That sounds amazing and makes perfect sense! What is the goal of the program? When students "graduate" they will. . .

Michael: The goal of the program is to enable the writer to effectively write or rewrite their novel well enough to become published by an established commercial house or press. But realistically, we know that commercial publication or an agent contract will not be realized for every student. It’s just not possible. No one can assure publication or an agent contract any more than an MFA program like Bennington or Iowa can assure that every poetry student who graduates will have a collection of their work published by a major academic press. All kinds of things can happen to trip up the process. I’ve seen a potential contract go south simply because the author, against my strong advice, changed the title of the work to something cliché and inappropriate. But her writer group in Small Town USA thought it sounded good. Alas, I was outvoted, and she went on to self-publish as a result. Her writer group told her that was just as good anyway. I just gritted my teeth. Suffice to say, we do everything in our power on this end to assist the writer to obtain that brass ring.

WOW: I think one lesson we all learn in this business is there are no guarantees, but it sounds like you do everything you can to get as close to a guarantee as possible. So, how is it set up? What do writers "do" during a typical week?

Michael: There is no typical week in the Author Salon program, since it varies for every writer. However, I would say that the average writer in the program, once immersed in the very first module regarding plot and premise, discovers herself or himself quickly surprised and working to conceive the right elements that have been missing from the novel since first undertaking the incredible task. Once the realizations set in, the novel improves and evolves. In our first module they address such issues as breakout title, hook line, conflict line, pitch/synopsis, comparables, and more. By the time they reach the middle or end of Part I of the program, the writer backtracks to this first module and edits it top to bottom because knowledge of market and craft has markedly improved.

Michael Neff
WOW: That sounds so familiar to anyone who has ever written a novel--how many times do we go back to the beginning and revise, revise, revise? (smiles) Who are the faculty?

Michael: Me, Michael Neff, for one, Paula Munier, Betsy Maury, agents and best seller Barbara Kyle. The Author Salon writing program faculty page can be found here. We’re proud of it.

WOW: Do you help students find representation when they are finished with the program?

Michael: If humanly possible, yes. We would like to rep the novels ourselves, but if that isn’t possible for one reason or another, we assist the writer with preparing their query letter and finding the agent suitable for them. We have their back during this tedious process and consult with the writer as needed, as well as lend moral support. We are writers, too, and we understand.

WOW: Anything else? How do writers sign up?

Michael: They can stop by the Author Salon website  and see how it works. The application and registration page can be found quite readily. All are welcome. Thank you.

WOW: Thank you, Michael. You have given us great insight into this program! 

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