AshEdit—News About Books & Writers

July 28, 2015

LES EDGERTON Tells it Like He’s Lived It — MFA Part 4

Filed under: Uncategorized — ashedit @ 8:59 am

Les crop

Finding Your Voice


All I can speak for is myself. I’m sure that many found their MFA experience educational. Alas, it wasn’t so for me. I learned a couple of things, but neither were about the craft of writing.

First, I learned like in most things in this country, the average person doesn’t trust their own acumen. It’s why Michael Jordan gets paid bazillions of dollars to endorse breakfast cereals and shoes and other bullshit products. It’s not that businessmen are in love with him and just want to shower him with big bucks; it’s that hard-nosed businessmen know that the average American doesn’t have a clue what’s good and what’s not and when a public or famous person tells them something is good, then they buy it. Same thing happens with bestsellers in books. Bestseller lists are the biggest lie out there. They have little to do with sales. It’s a marketing tool, pure and simple.

Publishers are like any other businessmen and women. Exactly like the folks who own shoe companies and cereal companies. They know the average person doesn’t have a clue what’s good and what’s not, unless it’s so clearly obvious that even the densest person can tell.

I learned this the best way—the hard way. Years ago, I had a novel my agent, Jimmy Vines, put into auction. Very exciting stuff. It went back and forth until the bidders dropped out and there were two left—St. Martin’s and Random House. SM offered a $50,000 advance and RH, $45,000. Jimmy left it to me which to go with and I made the biggest mistake of my life and went with RH. Ruined me financially and is still affecting me adversely today. But, that’s another story.

The editor at RH who took it was Scott Moyers. Mine was the first book he signed for them, having just come over from Villard Press to become a Les 1senior editor at RH. Shortly after, I signed with them, then-prez Ann Godoff of RH told my agent, Jimmy, that she’d read my book, loved it, and that when it came out, not only would it be on the NY Times bestseller list, it’d be #1. They could guarantee that, she said, because that list isn’t determined by sales. It’s determined by copies published. And, since it was going to come out simultaneously from Ballantine Press 50,000 copies in paperback), and from Random House (5,000 copies in hardcover), she knew it would leap to the top of the list. When Jimmy told me that and then told me how the list actually worked, it was an eye-opener.

Over the years since then, I’ve had skeptics question that, so I tell them to watch the list until they’re familiar with the names on it and then the minute a new title appears, to call their bookstore to see if it’s in stock. Almost always, it isn’t. Usually, the bookseller will tell them that they’ll have it in 4-6 weeks. That’s because it not only isn’t in print yet; it hasn’t even been printed. Much less shipped and placed on the shelves. Or had any copies sold… (That’s changed a bit now with the “pre-sold” copy opportunity Amazon and others offer.)

Les 2The list is very simply, a marketing tool. There are bazillions of people in this country who don’t know what good literature is. A great many of them depend on these bestseller lists to let ‘em know. What happens is if a book has enough copies printed, it makes the list, and then people see the list… and buy a copy. Life imitates art. Marketing 101.

I used to have a mother-in-law (since deceased) who was probably at best, semiliterate. (It wasn’t Jane, to put that at rest! Jane was an extremely intelligent reader.). To “impress” people that she was quite the intellectual or whatever, about once a month, she’d glance at the bestseller list and then run out and buy a copy of something on it and plunk it down prominently on her coffee table. To “prove” that she was well-read… What she didn’t realize was that if she was buying bestsellers, it most likely proved the opposite… I might add that she rarely ever actually read the book… But she’s only one of a large crowd of people who get their reading material from those lists.

This long story is used only to point out the one main thing I got from my MFA degree. Many editors are like many readers out there in the Great Flyover. Don’t have much more of a clue what’s good and what isn’t. So, if a writer or his/her agent sends ‘em a query and mentions that the writer has an MFA, they open their eyes wider, will actually read the mss, and will often take a book that wouldn’t have been considered at all without that MFA thingy… If you think publishers and editors and those folks are all geniuses, you may have just landed on this planet…

So, an MFA degree gets you read by editors. Is that worth the thousands of dollars and investment in time to obtain one? That has to be your decision.

The other benefit for me was that I got a new and different reading list. Discovered some writers I wasn’t aware of. I think I would have eventually discovered them, but the MFA program sped that up a bit. Not sure if that was worth the thousands of dollars in loans I took out and just paid off this past spring. And, most of those new writers I wouldn’t read today.

Mostly, I was reading all this stuff about upper-middle class angst. Really jazzy stuff, like how some guy was sorrowing because all he had out of life was his Chrysler agency and ten million bucks and was searching his soul and was in this big blue funk because he hadn’t gone off with Easy Sally that time at the senior prom way back in H.S. Every book I picked up at that period seemed to have a similar theme. I just couldn’t identify. Hell, I never was able to afford a used Chrysler, let alone an entire agency, and I had run off with Easy Sally–yeah, I was that guy, the one in the leather jacket and the slicked-back hair–really! I had hair, back then–and believe me there isn’t a lot of angst to be used for material in the writing trade when you’re sitting in the trailer and Easy Sally is looking like Even Easier Sally and you don’t know where your next PBR is coming from and the TV is flashing those little tornado warnings across the bottom of the screen and you’re trying to quiet the little rascal on your knee that has your last name but the propane delivery man’s hook nose. I just knew somewhere deep inside my bones I couldn’t fake writing a whole, entire book out of what it meant to be the Executive Vice President in Charge of Sales for Southeastern Florida for the Tidy Bowl Corp and sorrowing over the lost babe of his childhood or the sad fact that he’d chucked it all and gone off to paint Tahitian sunsets. Or that his wife had. Crap like that. On the other hand, my own reading list contained names like Charles Bukowski. His stories weren’t about middle-aged English professors who were all in a fret because their wives no longer get excited sitting around listening to them conjugate French verbs and deducing that their lives, the meaningful portions of them, anyway, were over. Some of these guys, it seemed, took 400 pages to figure out why the major babe in their life was leaving. They were bored, Jack.

That was the kind of thing my MFA reading list provided and the kind of thing my personal list gave me.

Elaine Ash and Les edgerton at Bouchercon 2014

Elaine Ash and Les Edgerton at Bouchercon 2014

That lack of faith in one’s acumen is what allows MFA programs to multiply like wharf rats. A host of writers don’t have much faith in their own ability to write and they think that if only they could get those three letters behind their name, not only would they learn neat-o tricks to writing, the powers-that-be would take their efforts seriously.

Well, part of that is untrue. There are no writing “secrets” out there. There truly aren’t. All the secrets are right in front of you. Whenever you read a work of quality and something affects you emotionally, study how the author did it and put it in your tool kit. Part of that is true. There are increasing numbers of editors who don’t have that much talent themselves and many have bought into that lie that MFA grads are better writers than those without those letters behind their names.

Things have changed significantly. A few years ago there were very few MFA programs out there. The school I attended was one of the very best. Vermont College. Every year for many years, they rank in the top five in the list Poets&Writer’s Magazine puts out. Usually as #1. Today, programs are all over the map. They’re the new cash cow schools have found to pump dollars into their coffers. Quite a few are laughable. They’re at schools that aren’t much more than community colleges. More than one of these are nothing but a joke.

I had the choice of attending Vermont or the University of Iowa’s program. I made a lifelong enemy of my mentor, Elaine Hemley, by turning down her recommendation for me to Iowa to attend Vermont. Two reasons. One, I discovered that Iowa was known for operating on a kind of “star” system. If you were their fair-haired, blue-eyed boy, you got all kinds of attention. If you weren’t that guy, in the terms of my Brooklyn friends, fuggedaboutit. They strove to put out an identifiable writer—the “Iowa writer.” Vermont, on the other hand, had the reputation of working to make you a better writer, but not a “Vermont writer.” They wanted you to remain you, but just better. The other reason was Iowa is a full-residency program and VC is a low-residency program. Being married with a family and not having a daddy to send me to school, VC made a lot more sense.

Elaine, this forum is too short for me to say everything I want to about MFA programs. In short, I think they’re kind of fools’ gold for most writers. I think a lot of the folks who go to them think they learned a lot… but I’m not so sure that they have. The one thing a lot of them did emerge with is some confidence in their ability. Not sure if it’s based on anything real, but who knows? The only way I know to learn how to write well is to read a lot and to write a lot. Someone did a study years ago, where they tabulated all professional writers as to their education. They defined “professional” by the only proper way to do so—by writers who made their living from writing. They found that about half had a college education. But, about half had only a high school or even less education. The conclusion was that college had very little correlation to a writer’s success. What was constant with all the writers surveyed was that just about every one was an avid reader from a very early age and remained so throughout their lives. And that’s how I think you learn to write. And, it doesn’t cost any more than a free library card…

Today, there are MFA programs at directional schools, at cow schools, at glorified community colleges. They employ a lot of faculty whose claim to fame is some obscure book that sold fifty copies. The truth is, there aren’t enough quality teachers for all these programs. When there were only a handful of programs, there were some pretty good writers manning them. Today, it’s as if the American and National Baseball Leagues suddenly expanded to fifty teams in each league. That means there are a lot of minor-leaguers playing. It’s the same in a lot of MFA programs…

Blue skies,





  1. This is so Les than I laughed my can off. I’ve know this gifted writer for a long time, learned from his savvy ways and hard knocks experience. I’m proud to call him friend. During a panel presentation over a decade ago, I said the same thing about the bogus bestseller lists. Angry writers and readers said some very nasty things. Les and an editor on the panel backed me up. You shoulda heard the silence. It’s important to learn about the market as well as our craft. Publishing is a business, not a charity. (My sister also got screwed by RH, after 20 years of writing for them.) Keep on tellin’ it like it is Blue Skies Guy.

    Comment by mlrover — July 28, 2015 @ 3:25 pm

  2. Hey, thanks! I appreciate the support. I’ve just heard from a couple of people who are in MFA programs right now who told me they feel the exact same as I do, but can’t say anything or it would come back on them. Sounds about right to me. I already know about freedom of speech and thought in American academia… lots of Kook-Ade being consumed…

    As far as the bestseller lists, I wasn’t including the Amazon ones. You know, the ones that list the sub-sub-sub-sub category…

    Comment by Les Edgerton — July 28, 2015 @ 3:35 pm

  3. Hi ML! Here at AshEdit we are Equal Opportunity Annoyers (joke). But seriously, both sides of any issue will get aired on this blog and there are strong arguments for MFA, against MFA, for the MA and against the MA. My aim is to lay the information out for all to see and let individuals decide for themselves. Thanks for commenting! –Elaine

    Comment by ashedit — July 28, 2015 @ 3:36 pm

  4. BTW, “Kook-Ade” wasn’t misspelled…

    Comment by Les Edgerton — July 28, 2015 @ 3:38 pm

  5. Many great writers of the past acquired their writing chops as journalists. MFA programs have expanded as the journalism profession contracts. Cause and effect, correlation, or coincidence?

    Comment by Albert Tucher — July 29, 2015 @ 5:34 am

  6. Good point, Albert. –Elaine

    Comment by ashedit — July 29, 2015 @ 5:48 am

  7. Wow, very educational.

    Comment by charlesgramlich — July 29, 2015 @ 6:48 am

  8. Glad you think so, Charles. I’m trying to put up all sides of the equation with this series. –Elaine

    Comment by ashedit — July 29, 2015 @ 6:57 am

  9. Interesting and valid point, Charles. I think that might be part (a small one) of the reason they’re popping up all over the place, but I think the main reason is that they represent a relatively small investment by schools and are basically a cash cow. Especially for low-res programs. They usually run on campuses that aren’t being used at the time of the residency for starters. They can attract full-time professors at other schools for a much smaller fee–when I was at VC, an advisor told me she was paid $25K… while she made over $100K at her “home” university. That’s pretty good pay for four weeks on site and then working part-time via the mail and Intergnat the rest of the time. The better programs charge a fairly hefty fee to the students. It’s almost like found money for a lot of schools. Add to the mix that there’s a salivating group of ready customers who buy into the propaganda that it’s going to guarantee them a “literary” career… As to the decline of journalism, primarily print newspapers, I think it has less to do with the emergence of the Intergnat than the sea change in emphasis for reporters in journalism schools. Up until the late sixties, early seventies, the emphasis was on unbiased reportage. Then, “advocacy journalism” took over and the public began to learn that the media had a bias and was using it not to report news but to advance an agenda. The Intergnat had a role, but if that was all of the story, they might still be in a strong position. They have the same access to the ‘Gnat as anyone else, but when it’s all about opinion reporting and little to do with simply presenting the facts and not inserting one’s political agenday into the mix, they’re simply the same as the other talking heads out there. Another subject, entirely… Journalism schools also suffer in other ways. Many are still teaching that archaic inverse-pyramid method of article writing, which doesn’t create readers. James Stewart of the Wall St. Journal wrote a very intelligent book about why the Wall St. Journal had achieved the highest “read-through” rate of any major publication and was considered to have the highest quality rating–it was simply because their reporters wrote articles as a cohesive story–one you had to read all the way through to understand the story. His brilliant book, “Follow the Story” shows clearly why most newspapers have fallen by the wayside. When you couple that with the obvious “advocacy journalism” practiced by previously-respected newspapers such as the NY Times, it’s fairly clear why they aren’t read any more and why they’re on the real estate market…

    Comment by Les Edgerton — July 29, 2015 @ 7:26 am

  10. Wow, that is an eye-opener. I’ll never look at “Best-Seller” the same way again. As far as MFA programs, if you can’t get a loan, there’s a barrier-to-entry there. I have to wonder, with tuitions always going up, what future crops of MFA writers are going to be. Will there be street? Gut?

    Comment by liamsweeny — July 29, 2015 @ 7:46 am

  11. Liam, a lot of the current crop of students also get these degrees so they can teach. That was one good thing about VC–if you said on your application you wanted to teach, you wouldn’t get in. They wanted only “performers”, i.e., people who simply wanted to write. They had the same attitude as Indiana University did toward music majors when I went there. While they would admit students to the major who wanted to be teachers, they were always and openly treated as second-class citizens. They wanted performers. I respect that. The students who wanted to teach were basically treated as the red-headed stepchild and they knew it. Vermont College held that attitude, except they wouldn’t even admit those who said they wanted to teach. I have a feeling that’s changed now, but I don’t know. They also wouldn’t take a genre writer on. One of the women in my class had enrolled under her own name and once in the program revealed she was a best-selling romance writer under a pseudonym. It created a huge scandal. The school tried everything they could to get her to quit but she went on. Basically, became a pariah among faculty… They wanted writers only… specifically, literary writers.

    I used to recommend people to their program, but don’t any longer. For one thing, they’ve expanded greatly (became a true cash cow) and let in a lot of students they wouldn’t previously, and no longer have the quality they used to. It’s still one of the best literary programs in the country, but not quite like it used to be. Nowadays, if I run into someone who thinks they want an MFA, I recommend Seton Hill. It’s openly about genre writers–not aware of any others who do that, but there may be. I don’t think even they are going to teach people to become writers other than at a basic level and for those who didn’t have much of a “level” to begin with, but they’re honest about what they’re trying to do and in many respects, very successful.

    Comment by Les Edgerton — July 29, 2015 @ 8:05 am

  12. Journalism is dead. Propaganda is all that’s left.

    Comment by jackgetze — July 29, 2015 @ 8:41 am

  13. And, Jack knows! He was an editor for the Los Angeles Times. Before they became shills for bad politicians.

    Comment by Les Edgerton — July 29, 2015 @ 8:47 am

  14. Hey Les, I loved it. I’d lick this if I could!

    Comment by thehobbler — July 29, 2015 @ 9:36 am

  15. Okay, let’s have some good news for the young people. There have never been more choices for writers. I have this little thing called THE SQUARE for my iPhone which means I can take credit cards from writing clients either in person or over the phone instantly–no sign-up, no banking red tape. The internet has opened up the whole world as a market for my writing and more. Don’t get caught up in negativity for too long. It’s still a great big, huge money-making world out there!–Elaine

    Comment by ashedit — July 29, 2015 @ 9:43 am

  16. Thanks for your post,Les, and thanks to Elaine for the series. Very enlightening.

    Comment by Oscar Case — July 29, 2015 @ 1:20 pm

  17. You’re welcome, Oscar. The conversation has gone just great. –Elaine

    Comment by ashedit — July 30, 2015 @ 6:56 am

  18. I think this could all be expanded to include any MFA, anywhere, ever, in any subject. I wish I’d met Les BEFORE going. On the other hand, my grad school is how we got in touch, so meeting him has been totally worth all the B.S. I had to go through to get the degree. (Mine is in music, though. That’s my background.) I think one reason we’re seeing explosion of these programs is because, as a country, we’ve put so much stock in education as the way out of poverty. Education IS the way out, but it doesn’t have to be someone bestowing a degree on you (wish I’d thoughta that). You can make your own education. And you don’t need anyone’s permission to do it.

    Comment by Stacy — July 30, 2015 @ 7:57 am

  19. Stacy, you’re a wise person! Proud to be your friend.

    Comment by Les Edgerton — July 30, 2015 @ 8:19 am

  20. Excellent as usual. I’m left wondering, Les, why the $45,000 advance with Random House ruined you financially. Did you go out and buy a $60,000 car?

    Comment by Ben — July 31, 2015 @ 6:18 am

  21. Hi Ben, that’s a really good question. I can’t speak for Les, but an advance is just that–an advance. If the book doesn’t “earn out,” the author is on the hook for that money and has to pay it back. In some cases there can be “fees” attached to that money. I think you’ve just raised another great topic for a blog post! –Elaine

    Comment by Elaine Ash — July 31, 2015 @ 6:29 am

  22. Wasn’t going to tell that story here, Ben, but since you asked… First, I didn’t get $45,000. As I’m sure you know, you don’t receive the entire amount of the advance–you get it in parts. My contract with them called for $12.5 upon signing, another chunk after a final draft, and the rest upon release of the book. I got the first #12.5 and that was it. The situation was that even though I’d sold a few books before this, I never gave into the temptation to quit my job and write full-time. Well, a perfect storm of events happened this time. My wife and I had built a very successful hairstyling business with our salon, Bold Strokes Styling. At this exact time, our lease was up and to stay in business we’d have to sign another 5-year lease. Random House was telling me they wanted at least two more books after this one, so it looked as if it was time to go full-time. If I’d signed the lease, it’d be another five years minimum before I could write full-time. So, because Ann Godoff had told Jimmy it was going to come out as #1 on the Times bestseller list, it looked like the perfect time. Now, the thing about a service business like hairstyling is that once you cease business, all your clients scatter. It’s nearly impossible to get them back once they’ve gone elsewhere. So, I closed the salon and began rewriting according to Scott Moyers’ notes. A couple of weeks after I signed with RH, they were sold to Bertelsmann. And, almost immediately began jettisoning book contracts, mine among them. Moyers emailed me to tell me he was sorry and that he’d make sure they didn’t ask for their $12.5 back (which, they eventually did), but the thing was, I was cut adrift, without a contract–certainly no #1 bestseller–and without a livelihood as we’d let the salon go. We began our financial struggle then and have never recovered. There’s a lot more that happened as a result of all that, but won’t go into it here. Shortly after that, Jimmy was drummed out of the SAR for shenanigans and I lost the #1 agent in the world. Among his other clients were folks like Joe Lansdale, Bill Fitzhugh, Don Winslow, me, Vince Zandri and a bunch of others. We were the new wave. Most of the other writers landed new and good agents and went on, but I didn’t have a clue who was a good agent and who wasn’t. Went with a series of nice folks after that, but none who had any real chops in the publishing world. Kept ending up with people who tried hard but just didn’t have the chops a Jimmy Vines did. Time went on… and on and on and… My wife and I kept scrambling, but it’s just not possible to make the kind of money you do when you own a successful salon and by this time I was older and didn’t have the energy to do all that’s required to build a new business. To make a long story somewhat shorter, that event sunk our ship and we’ve never been able to recover. We came close to doing so several times–came close with near-movie deals with HBO and with Hallmark Films and with Hal Lieberman’s new production company, but just kept missing. And so… here we are…

    The thing is, Charlie Spicer of St. Martin’s was the one who offered me $50,000 and told Jimmy that they wanted at least two more novels from me and that they were going to release the novel as it was with scarcely any editing… I would have been on my way but for my stupidity in going with RH. After all this, Jimmy told me that Mr. Spicer had told him that if “Edgerton has another novel that RH doesn’t want, we want it.” Well, after RH shitcanned my contract, I asked Jimmy if Mr. Spicer would take it now and he said that, no, since it had been “out there” that another publisher wouldn’t take it. That didn’t make sense to me as no one had seen it except for a few editors, but Jimmy insisted that was the way it was. I suspect there’s a lot more he wasn’t telling me. Also, he professed indignation at the way RH had treated me and said he’d never do business with them again, which should have been a tipoff he wasn’t being truthful with me, as looking back he’s saying he’s going to quit doing business with the biggest publisher in the world because of what they’d done to some little unknown in the Great Flyover? Okay… I guess I was truly a turnipseed, because I bought his bullshit. A few years later, I was in Indy for Bouchercon and heard Charlie Spicer was there and passed the word to a mutual friend that I’d like to meet him and he spent the rest of the convention ducking me. I couldn’t understand that, unless Jimmy had told him some kind of lie. I spoke to an old, respected agent about all this and he told me that it was entirely possible Jimmy had fabricated some bullshit about me–can’t figure out what that might be–and Charlie had entirely the wrong idea about why I wanted to meet him. I just wanted to thank him for the offer and get to meet him. Who knows what Jimmy told him? There was some other bullshit Jimmy had done and I called him on it and found out it was b.s. and I unloaded on him in a letter where I compared him to Elvis Presley… not in a good way. Both are from Mississippi and basically what I said was that if you take a hillbilly and give him a lot of money, what you have now is a rich hillbilly. I eventually apologized but am pretty sure I made a lifelong enemy and that may be why he was out there telling stories that weren’t true. Oh, well…

    Lots more about this deal, Ben, but I assure you this event caused a huge financial problem for me and my family that we’ve never been able to recover from and are still feeling the effects of. I could tell you a whole bunch about the “honor of publishers.” Why I’m not in awe of many of ’em… You know–you can give a hillbilly a million dollars but at the end of the day what you’ve got is a… rich hillbilly… I just never learn, do I? I’m flunking life here… 🙂

    Comment by Les Edgerton — July 31, 2015 @ 6:57 am

  23. Just saw Elaine’s reply after I posted the long one about RH. First, all the books I sold for an advance have earned out. For example, my two books with Writer’s Digest for which I received an advance of $10,000 for earned out within weeks of release. The thing was, Scott Moyers, the senior editor who signed the book for Random House, emailed me to tell me how sorry he was about the whole deal and said that he’d make sure I’d never have to repay the $12.500 I did get. Well, a few years later, RH started sending me “bills” for it. The first couple of times I sent them the message that Moyers had promised me I wouldn’t have to repay it. All would be quiet for a couple of years and then another bill would arrive. Finally, I told them again what Moyers had said and said they’d never get a dime from me and maybe they should just sue my ass and I’d get to tell what happened in court. Haven’t heard from them since. An old-time agent who knows my story, told me that Random House always had this myth that they’d never cancelled a contract and he said they’d cancelled a lot of them, but always got around it with one story or another. He said they were notorious for this but he couldn’t go public with what he knew as he did a lot of business with them and didn’t want to bite the hand… There’s an awful lot of hypocrisy in the publishing business, believe me.

    For instance, there are at least two guys who are big names in the crime fiction biz who won’t sign the best books that come across their desks. These are both guys who are lauded constantly and put up as real champions of good writing. Horseshit. They’ve both been told by their bosses that if they sign a book that doesn’t net at least (in one case) $50,000 and (in the other case) at least $30,000, they’d be fired. Not lose the corner office, not get their expense account lowered, but fired. Not “gross” but “net.” The poor little writer out there who believes that crap that if it’s good it’ll find a good home, is really not in touch with reality. These two editors are doing what a lot of editors today are doing–mostly trying to poach brand names from each other… It’s all about the bottom line and playing it safe and not much about literary worth at all. It’s why guys like Eric Campbell and Jon Bassoff and Brian Lindemuth and Al Guthrie and a couple others are my heroes. They just look at the work. Rare and almost nonexistent with the Big Five these days. No more Maxwell Perkins lurking out there that I know of…

    Comment by Les Edgerton — July 31, 2015 @ 7:10 am

  24. I hope to God I never sound this bitter!

    Comment by Harrison — July 31, 2015 @ 12:30 pm

  25. Me, too, Harrison. Although I don’t think I’m bitter, considering the experiences I’ve had. Just truthful and not ready to join hands and sing Kum-bay-ya… Actually, I guess I am bitter. Maybe if more people were bitter, things would change? Just sayin’…

    Comment by Les Edgerton — July 31, 2015 @ 12:51 pm

  26. Thanks for sharing that story about the advance, Les, and sorry to hear about how it brought about a mess. I am, however, happy to hear about your Writer’s Digest books earning out, seeing as how I’m in that same boat. The more I hear your stories, the more I wonder where you hide the bodies.

    Comment by Ben — July 31, 2015 @ 1:00 pm

  27. Thanks, Ben. I’m not the only one who’s been screwed by publishers. You should talk to one of my advisers at Vermont College–Bret Lott, who lost his NY publisher because his regular editor went on vacation and her replacement went down to bookkeeping and found out his numbers were down… so cancelled his contract for the book they’d just signed. He wrote a moving piece for Poets&Writers about it and how he reexamined his life for the reasons why he’d begun writing in the first place–for the love of it and not money–and literally, the week after his article appeared, Oprah picked his book Jewell for her show and all of a sudden he was golden again. Most of us can’t depend on Oprah, however… Bret got lucky… Except then, he fell into the clutches of Hollyweird where they were going to make his movie based on the book… and it fell apart two-three times on the first day of principle photography when the first the director and then the female lead got better offers and left the project. Sometimes, it just never ends… 🙂

    Comment by Les Edgerton — July 31, 2015 @ 1:12 pm

  28. Forgot to answer your question about the bodies, Ben. Just want to remind you as a guy who knows guns and knives better than most–there’s a thing out there called the statute of limitations that’s a bit of a deterrent for free speech… just sayin’…

    Comment by Les Edgerton — July 31, 2015 @ 1:16 pm

  29. Well if this little discourse doesn’t completely scare off an unpublished nobody like me, I don’t know what will. Thanks for the list of heroes, Les – happy to say I know one of the names on it. Now I know three more. – Andrew

    Comment by Andrew Jetarski — July 31, 2015 @ 2:42 pm

  30. Andrew, these opinions and experiences are just mine. Others have a different experience and a different opinion. Look at all sides before deciding… just walk in with your eyes open and don’t drink a lot of Kook-Aid… I did love my time there while I was there–just like a big happy club where we all shared the same, intense interest. But, just because I had fun doesn’t always justify the expectations that perhaps aren’t met, nor the time and expense. If you’ve got plenty of bucks, lots of time, and want to hang out with people who also love writing, it might not be a bad thing. But, I do think there are a lot better ways to actually learn to write better–for example, by reading a lot and studying what you read and by writing a lot. When you do that you don’t get to drink and toke and laugh as much but you just might come away with more. Maybe. Maybe not…

    Comment by Les Edgerton — July 31, 2015 @ 2:56 pm

  31. Hi Andrew, Harrison and welcome back Ben. It’s 4:10pm here in California and I’m thinkin’ it’s the cocktail hour! I know it’s usually 5pm, but what a day it’s been. –Elaine

    Comment by ashedit — July 31, 2015 @ 3:11 pm

  32. I appreciate what you said here, Les. Les is my writing mentor and friend. I was ready to go to Vermont, but I was laid off and poverty is a full-time job. I’ve come to realize that all I have to do is write and write and … you get it. Everything turns into multiples these days – movies, shows, books and MFA degrees. I’m over it. I’ll just write and forget the rest. Rock on, Les Edgerton.

    Comment by Sarah Faurote — July 31, 2015 @ 4:51 pm

  33. Good God, reading these stories makes me happy I ghost write for my bread. The pay may not be the greatest, but at least I don’t have to deal with these nightmares.

    Comment by timothymayer — July 31, 2015 @ 7:30 pm

  34. Hi Sarah, it all starts with a great story, doesn’t it. Without that, ya got nuthin’ as they say. Tim, ghost on! Nice to have you drop by.–Elaine

    Comment by ashedit — July 31, 2015 @ 7:33 pm

  35. Great stuff, Les. Kicking against the prigs, as always.

    Comment by PaulDBrazill — August 1, 2015 @ 2:45 am

  36. Wow! Paul D. Brazill gave me props! Doesn’t get any better than that. Although, Tony Black shared this on his page, and he’s a god among his fellow writers just as Paul is. As did Neil Smith, Liam Sweeny and some other heavyweights I’m neglecting to mention and should. These are the folks I admire and respect. They’ve been through the same wars and battles and are just brilliant, underpublished folks who need to be read by a ton of people. Count Elaine in that bunch. Sarah, thanks so much for your comment–I’m extremely proud to work with you.

    Comment by Les Edgerton — August 1, 2015 @ 2:56 am

  37. Excellent post, and I think this applies to much of college, not just MFAs. I only did two years of college before getting married. My husband and I are two of the top-producing salespeople in the nation’s 7th largest city. Nope, I don’t have a business degree. I just treat my clients well, and spent $1000 on a month’s worth of real estate licensing classes. I’m about to publish my first novel with a publisher that I’m really happy with, and who has delivered on every promise they’ve made. No, I don’t have an MFA. I just read a lot. A LOT. That’s my education. As two of my four children are now in high school, this is a conversation that comes up frequently. Unless what they want to do truly requires higher education, we want them to explore avenues that will give them life experience, have the hearts of entrepreneurs, and consider alternatives to getting in to crazy amounts of debt.

    Comment by camilledimaio — August 1, 2015 @ 4:02 am

  38. Totally agree, Camille! Your comment on college in general is spot on. How refreshing that you’re teaching your children to think for themselves and not to fall into lockstep. They’re very lucky to have two parents who are self-made and didn’t depend on others to create their future but got out and worked hard. You’ve applied the same mindset to your novel and are getting the same result. Maybe there’s something to this… And, what’s so refreshing is that even though you’re now highly successful, you fully give of your time and energy to others. I know from personal experience with you in Texas! Thanks for everything you did for me!

    Comment by Les Edgerton — August 1, 2015 @ 4:15 am

  39. Paul Brazill in the house! Now there’s a guy with a PhD in social media. He should sit down and write a book. Camille, I love your comment about “the hearts of entrepreneurs. I feel that’s what’s missing from our schools and universities–the attitude and love for entrepreneurship. Writers are ENTREPRENEURS, but today most don’t know it. From the small grades kids are taught how to be good employees, not great entrepreneurs. If you ask me, this is where America has gone wrong. Entrepreneurs create their own jobs. They don’t look at others, they especially don’t look at the government, to do it for them. That wisdom got lost between the greatest generation and the boomers. We’ve got to get it back. –Elaine

    Comment by ashedit — August 1, 2015 @ 7:08 am

  40. Hey all,
    It’s a rollin’ snow cone, comin’ straight at ya!!!
    Roll, baby, roll!

    Comment by Lisa Ciarfella — August 1, 2015 @ 10:59 am

  41. Thanks, Lisa–I could use a snow cone right now–it’s in the nineties… 🙂

    Comment by Les Edgerton — August 1, 2015 @ 11:03 am

  42. My last thought–Whether you get an MFA or major in writing or whatever, you’ve got to find your own way to learn after you go to school if you want to really become a writer. Just what I think…

    Comment by Les Edgerton — August 5, 2015 @ 9:13 am

  43. […] recently sparked a debate with your blog post questioning the value of MFA degrees. Has your opinion on the subject changed? What is the benefit of this kind of public […]

    Pingback by Interrogation—Les Edgerton | S.W. Lauden — August 24, 2015 @ 6:27 am

  44. Hey, Steve–Nope, my own opinion hasn’t changed in the least. It’s not that I’m close-minded, although the danger of being too open-minded is that all your brains may fall out… but that I haven’t seen any arguments that seem to offer evidence contrary to my own experience. As to the benefit of this kind of discussion, it’s considerable. People get to see the various sides of a subject and then use them to help form their own opinions. It’s kind of like newspapers used to be–they’d give the facts and then readers would make up their own minds. You know, the “good old days” when people were assumed to be intelligent… 🙂

    Comment by Les Edgerton — August 25, 2015 @ 5:38 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: