Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Looking Past the Ivy to See the Writers

hmmmm-i-disagrees-with-your-theories.jpg
more cat pictures

What do Diana Peterfreund, Lauren Willig, Julia Quinn, and Eloisa James have in common? They are all Ivy League educated authors. Peterfreund is a graduate of Yale University. Willig, Quinn and James are Harvard educated. They are all, to varying degrees, commercially successful writers.

At the both ends of the reading industry spectrum, from the publishers to the readers, the Ivy League pedigree can matter. It is believed, I am certain, that Ivy Leaguers know how to write it better. Slap Harvard, Yale, Princeton on the biography of the author and the books are instantly viewed to be of a certain quality. I think its like a dog whistle. We readers see that and have a certain instinctual response.

Maybe it’s because for most of us, an Ivy League education was simply not in the cards whether it was because of lack of funds, not high enough test scores, or not being able to write a good enough entrance essay. Because the Ivy League education seems unattainable, the ones who attend and graduate are afforded some instant literary god like status. And that works, initially, but over time, a writer’s success with a reader depends more upon the words on the page and not the letters behind their names, no matter where they come from.

Famously, Eloisa James debuted on the romance market in hardcover with Potent Pleasures, a book replete with historical inaccuracies. The story is set in 1799. Lady Jersey made a cameo appearance even though she was a child in 1799. The guests danced a quadrille two decades before its introduction. The duke’s daughter made her London debut in August when the season ended in June. There is a scene called the Hooker’s Ball in reference to a ball thrown to introduce prostitutes to titled men. Hooker as it relates to prostitutes, however, wasn’t used until the US Civil War. Ms James rewrote some of the passages to Potent Pleasures to eliminate the historical inaccuracies when the work was republished in mass market.

The topic of education and writing arose a couple of months ago upon a blog post by fantasy author Marie Brennan. Ms. Brennan (whose book, Midnight Never Come is released today) wrote “So my studies have taught me nothing at all about writing, but a great deal regarding what to write about.” There was a variety of opinions about what was the best degree to obtain. Yasmine Galenorn said that college is vital:

College is vital, IMO–not just to become a writer, but to expand horizons, to meet new people, to listen and learn new ideas. I think it can open up the world for some–not all–people.

Yet, three commenters spoke up about their lack of education: Jill Myles (Pocket author 2009); Stacia Kane (Juno Books); and Ilona Andrews (Magic Bites, Magic Burns).

I think education can provide you with the skill to get into the granular level of writing and assist one in relating the story, but some people just have a gift. Education isn’t determinative of who will be a good writer. But it can’t necessarily mean that when you extrude the education, it will come out in the a palatable form.

Education can train someone in the paradigm of writing but then again, not all education is equal. Robin and I have alot of discussions about the law paradigm versus the higher education paradigm. My emails are full of bullet points and timelines. (yes, I am possibly the most boring email correspondent). It makes for good explanation of the legal points to clients, but its not very good creative writing. Robin’s training, on the hand, is more suited toward creative writing and creative thinking.

I would argue an astute roadside waitress would be able to tell as good or better of a story than an ivory towered academic. Because that astute roadside waitress could see the visual clues of people’s interaction with each other and if she was gifted, could articulate those things. A very romance famous author, Edna Buchanan, Dorothy Parker all lack the academic credentials that others have but they tell brilliant stories. Lora Leigh, for all her writing faults, connects to some deep core inside a reader. When you can connect to people, you’ve got a gift. Of course, we readers might accuse authors of squandering the gift (*cough* Laurell K Hamilton *cough*) but it’s there nonetheless.

Successful writing requires a gift and it requires grit and maybe part of the grit can be taught in a classroom. As for me, I’m going to try to be more like Warren Buffett and not be swayed by an author’s credentials when choosing a book, but the book itself.

“I don’t care where someone went to school, and that never caused me to hire anyone or buy a business,” says Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, who graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

131 Comments

  1. Shiloh Walker
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 07:03:24

    Oh, very well said.

    One thing I firmly believe is that writing is a gift. You have it or you don’t. You can refine that gift, improve it-but if you don’t have it, nothing you do, no classes you take, no craft books you read, nothing is going to suddenly cause that gift to come to life inside you.

    ReplyReply

  2. Stacia Kane
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 07:09:55

    Yep. I ended up getting my GED in 1994, three years after I left high school (I didn’t graduate; I was half a math credit short.) And if I had to do it all over again?

    My situation was a bit skewed, as after I “graduated” I had no place to live, and was homeless for six months. (I believe this–and life itself–expanded my horizons very well, thank you, with all due respect to Yasmine Galenorn whom I admire greatly.)

    So if I had it to do all over again I would have dropped out of high school at fifteen and taken the GED then, then gone to community college for two years so I had a better shot at supporting myself when my Dad kicked me out of the house.

    Of course it’s difficult to say that for sure; I wouldn’t be the person I am now. I doubt I would have been able to write the book my agent is currently shopping, the one that draws so heavily on my experiences at that time. I doubt I would have been able to write most of my books. I might write something else; different themes might sneak their way in when I’m not paying attention.

    Modesty doesn’t permit me to agree that you either have it or you don’t, that writing is a gift that cannot be picked up but only developed (although I suppose I do, it just feels odd to say it). But I do believe that academic credentials are meaningless, that one can learn just as well on their own, that life is more valuable than college for a writer.

    I wish I’d gone to college so I could have had a roof over my head. I wish I’d gone to college because I enjoy learning. I would have liked it. I would have liked studying the classics with a teacher, discussing them, expanding them in my own mind, just as I would have enjoyed history classes or biology or whatever.

    But I don’t wish I’d gone to college because it would have made me a better writer. I just don’t believe it would have. Whether I’m any good or not isn’t for me to say, really, but I know what I know and I learned what I learned, and I did it by reading on my own. By copying passages from other works into a notebook so I could study how they were built, how the change of one word changed the entire meaning, how to pile words like blocks to obscure a point or strip them away to reveal it. I learned by watching people walk by, hearing their conversations, watching their faces when they thought nobody was looking. By meeting people and talking to them. All of those things made me what I am, for good or bad.

    And I’m proud of it. And of myself. I don’t need a degree for that.

    ReplyReply

  3. Jennifer Estep
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 07:19:51

    Some of the smartest, most interesting people I’ve ever met never graduated high school, let alone college. Why should it matter at all where an author went to school? I buy books because the story interests me. Not because the author was the best student Yale ever had.

    The only instance I can think of where it would is if you were writing about the inner workings of an Ivy League school (like Diana Peterfreund). And even then, it’s not really necessary. Experience is great, but there are tons of ways to do research, not to mention a little thing called imagination.

    I agree with Shiloh. Writing is a gift. You can (and should) work on it, but some people just have it and some don’t. Everybody has their own personal “superpower” if you will, whatever it is.

    I could not draw a decent picture to save my life. Can’t sculpt, can’t paint, can’t design clothes, or do a hundred other artsy things. And sports. Don’t even get me started on how uncoordinated I am.

    But give me a keyboard and a word processor, and I can take you away to another world. Just like Calgon. ;-)

    ReplyReply

  4. Bronwyn Parry
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 07:21:48

    While a college/university education is great, it isn’t the only path to learning. I’ve met quite a number of people over the years who have educated themselves, through reading, listening, discussing, enquiry, and reflecting critically on what they come across, throughout their lives. My grandmother left school in 1912 at the age of 12, yet she had a strong intellect and an enquiring mind. Despite having quite a tough, working class life, she read voraciously, buying most books from second-hand bookstores. She was passionately interested in social conditions, and read Dickens, Marx, and Engels. She was also interested in the relationship between economic and social theories and religion, and so she taught herself to read Latin and Greek, so she could study the Testaments in the earlier versions. My mother still has many of her books, with her pencilled notes. Sadly, grandmother died when I was a baby, so I never really knew her, but I suspect she was more ‘educated’ than some people I know with multiple degrees :-)

    ReplyReply

  5. JulieLeto
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 07:33:41

    For the record, I went to the University of Sun & Fun (USF in my hometown of Tampa, Florida.) I have a degree in Creative Writing, another in Speech Communication and was five classes short of a masters degree in English Education when I got my first job in a classroom and decided that sitting in five more classes with literature grad students who had no plan for their lives except to get doctorate degrees was not for me. I already knew I wanted to be a teacher and a writer, so I started my quest for both. Did my degrees help me publish? I don’t think so. Did my degrees give me a perspective into writing that other authors might not have? Of course. We are who we are as writers because of our life experiences and sometimes, those life experiences include our schooling.

    That said, I do NOT begrudge anyone an Ivy League education and I don’t fool myself that the coursework at Harvard, Yale, etc. was equal to what I took at USF. I have friends who went to Ivy League schools. I know better. Their program, their professors, their entire college experience a whole lot tougher and broader than what I experienced at USF. They did study harder and likely know a lot more than I do on a great many topics.

    Does it make them better writers? Maybe. Maybe not. Depends on the person, of course. I don’t really much care what makes someone a good writer. I just want to enjoy their books!

    Personally, I think Diana Peterfreund is one of the most brilliant women I know. We’ve been friends for years and one of the things that attracted me to her (we met when she was a reporter interviewing me for an article in an alternative newspaper) was her incredible intelligence, irrepressible sense of humor and unique outlook on life. All of those things were nurtured in college, I’m sure, but education is more than four years at one university. However, she never would have been able to write her hugely entertaining Secret Society Girl books with such dead-on precision had she not been at Yale and I’m sure that her classical knowledge will lend heavily to her killer unicorn book, Rampant, which comes out next year.

    But let’s not fool ourselves. Ivy League is the Ivy League for a reason. I don’t pretend that my education was equal to those friends of mine who went to Harvard and Yale. I know better. Does it make them better writers? I don’t think about that. We each have our own perspectives to bring to the table.

    I’m very uncomfortable at the tone of this post, to be honest. Bringing up historical inaccuracies in Eloisa James’s first book as a way to what, cancel out her Ivy League education? To make it appear worthless? I’m pretty sure her degree wasn’t in history, but even if it was, she has no more obligation to be historically accurate than anyone else. But at the same time, she has every reason to be proud of her degree and the university she got it from.

    If this post is meant to make those of us who didn’t go to that kind of institution feel better about having no formal education at all or going to colleges were underwater basket weaving was actually a course selection, the I think it’s a cheap shot. I don’t have any need to put anyone else’s education down in order to feel better about my own. My education is what it is. My books are what they are. How publishers perceive or market them is not my choice.

    Look, when I was first published, the fact that I was an ex-Catholic school teacher was THE MARKETING POINT. It got me interviews and attention where nothing else would. It would only have been better if I’d been an ex-nun. Publishers who tout an author’s education are doing it to sell books, particularly where it is relevant, as in Diana’s case, where her schooling is directly related to the topic of her book.

    I’m really puzzling over the point of this blog.

    ReplyReply

  6. ilona andrews
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 07:40:59

    Yet, three commenters spoke up about their lack of education: Jill Myles (Pocket author 2009); Stacia Kane (Juno Books); and Ilona Andrews (Magic Bites, Magic Burns).

    Wooo! Uneducated authors unite!

    Lol.

    The three of us are uneducated because of chance or necessity, not because of lack of brains.

    I don’t have a shadow of a doubt that Jill could go into any Ivy League School and graduate with fanfare and flying colors. She is terribly smart and is some sort of scary genius when it comes to accounting. She likes to play it down, but a mutual friend once had a tax-related question on her blog and Jill left her a small essay which forever filled me with awe.

    Stacia is very, very perceptive and sharp. She has this very interesting way of punching straight through to people – and characters – motivations that’s almost uncanny. She also has an innate understanding of what it’s like to not have things go your way, which some people don’t.

    I tried college twice and dropped out. The first time my scholarship was cut. I went back a few years later, after having kids, but I needed to help support the family and so I went to work as a legal AA instead. Given an opportunity, I’d love to back to school.

    When I was a kid and questioning the benefit of education, my Dad gave me Jack London’s Sea Wolf in hopes I would understand why I eventually had to go to college. This passage stuck with me through the years:

    “Then you don’t believe in altruism?” I asked.

    He received the word as if it had a familiar ring, though he
    pondered it thoughtfully. “Let me see, it means something about
    cooperation, doesn’t it?”

    “Well, in a way there has come to be a sort of connection,” I
    answered unsurprised by this time at such gaps in his vocabulary,
    which, like his knowledge, was the acquirement of a self-read,
    self-educated man, whom no one had directed in his studies, and who
    had thought much and talked little or not at all.

    And that is, in essence, the failure of self-education. Sure, I have read Locke and Hobbes on my own, but I wouldn’t have picked up Rousseau unless I was forced, simply because I had no idea he existed.

    College teaches you ultimately how to educate yourself. It formalizes the education process, making sure that a student’s education is well rounded, and it also allows one to interact with smart people, all forced to ponder the same topics. It demonstrates a range of opinions and alternative points of view, which is absolutely vital. Actually, even Supreme Court ruled on this point in Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950).

    In 1946, University of Texas School of Law denied entry to Herman Sweatt on the basis of him being black. Texas was forced to admit him but tried to get around it by actually building a separate facility which would only house black students (of which there was only Sweatt at this point.) The case went all the way to Supreme Court, which came down on UTSL like a ton of bricks. The chief argument against Sweatt’s segregation was that for a lawyer to receive a proper education, he must take active part in the debate, which he couldn’t do sitting by himself in some shoddy classroom.

    Does going to an Ivy League school make you a better writer? I have no idea. I never got to set foot in one. :P I’m not sure if writing is a gift either. I think it’s work. Tons and tons of work.

    ReplyReply

  7. Christine Merrill
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 07:43:02

    I’ve got a couple of degrees, from state schools. And while I love my education, and would do it again in a heartbeat, none of it figured into my becoming a writer.

    I think the most valuable training came from being socially awkward, and having a crappy childhood. You need things in your life that will force you to be a daydreamer, and an observer of the world, rather than a full-time participant. If you look around, there are hundreds of stories, all around you, all the time. You shouldn’t have to go to Yale to figure this out.

    I’ll agree that college broadens the mind, But you kind of have to be going in with a narrow mind and limited opportunities, to get the most effect. If you are already open to the world? Then the reverse can turn out to be true, and you leave college thinking there is only one right way to do things. And that right way would be standing by your alma mater, and sending your kids there, and insulating yourself from the plebs.

    Anything that separates you from sympathy with and understanding of other people unlike yourself, is death to writing.

    ReplyReply

  8. Kimber An
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 07:49:45

    That’s funny. I’ve never paid attention to an author’s educational degree, unless it was something really interesting like Susan Grant having graduated the Air Force Academy. I mean, c’mon, that’s cool! But, Ivy league…whatever. I’m much more impressed with what people actually do with their education. I’ve noticed that authors’ education and previous or concurrent employment is as varied as their personalities. And they all use that education and experience in unique ways as authors. In the end, only the story matters to me.

    ReplyReply

  9. Shiloh Walker
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 07:52:26

    Modesty doesn't permit me to agree that you either have it or you don't, that writing is a gift that cannot be picked up but only developed (although I suppose I do, it just feels odd to say it).

    When I say writing is a gift, I’m not really claiming that writers have some sort of special status and I don’t much see it as a modesty thing, if that makes sense.

    I actually get annoyed with people who love to brag on about what a talented writer they are, whether they are talented or not. Because I see writing as a gift that’s given to a person, something they do naturally. Kind of like breathing.

    We can work hard at it, and we should. We can improve, and we should. But that gift, being able to string words together, has to come first. I firmly believe it’s something we’re given. Gifts are meant to be cherished, not bragged and gloated over, IMO, so I don’t think calling writing a gift, in my mind, is an issue of modesty.

    ;) Not exactly related, but kinda sort…in my weird way of thinking. Somehow it came up over the weekend that I don’t always handle it very well when somebody tells me they like my writing. Yeah, I like hearing it, but I also get a little uncomfortable. Reasoning is…. writing to me is like breathing. I’ve always done it.

    And how weird would it be for somebody come up and tell you, OMG…I love how you breathe…

    ReplyReply

  10. JulieLeto
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 07:58:51

    And how weird would it be for somebody come up and tell you, OMG…I love how you breathe…

    Wasn’t there a country song about this? :smile:

    ReplyReply

  11. MaryKate
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 07:59:31

    Well, I’m a reader, certainly not a writer, and I’m college educated (degree in French) and I’m a meeting planner. So, it just goes to show that not everyone’s degree comes in handy. My college degree mostly taught me how to fit three keg parties in to one evening.

    I’m fortunate to be acquainted with several successful authors, and in my experience, when you ask those who are writers when they started writing, the story almost always seems to start with: “I started writing stories in first grade…”

    That’s why, even though I read a ton of romance, I’ll never be a writer. First, I don’t want to be a writer, but also, because I’ve never had stories in me. I have a pretty good imagination, but not one geared towards story telling.

    The degree makes not one whit’s worth of difference to me. I don’t care where an author has or hasn’t gotten a degree from. What I care about is, does the story ring true? Am I moved my the story? Do I like the characters? I don’t give a damn about where the author went to school.

    But hey, like I said, I’m just a reader.

    ReplyReply

  12. Nora Roberts
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 08:12:38

    ~Yasmine Galenorn said that college is vital:

    College is vital, IMO-not just to become a writer, but to expand horizons, to meet new people, to listen and learn new ideas. I think it can open up the world for some-not all-people.~

    Really? Despite Galenorn, I’ve done pretty well with my high school diploma both professionally and personally.

    College is great. Ivy League? Fabulous. But a storyteller is a storyteller, and neither better nor worse, more or less talented because she attended college–or didn’t.

    ‘Vital’ is a poor word choice, imo.

    ReplyReply

  13. Shiloh Walker
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 08:15:30

    Wasn't there a country song about this? :smile:

    Heh. Quite possibly…hmmmmm…

    Julie, I read your post above- your comment-

    I'm really puzzling over the point of this blog.

    Something I got out of the blog wasn’t that it was poking at people, really, but more that a person’s formal education, or lack of, doesn’t define that person as a writer. Now it may well dictate what sort of stuff they write, but even if some of Ivy League writers mentioned didn’t go to college at all, they’d still have the ability to tell a story. And those who didn’t go to college, if they had gone, they’d still be able to tell a story.

    That’s how I’m seeing it.

    I'm not sure if writing is a gift either. I think it's work. Tons and tons of work.

    LOL. Ilona… it’s both.

    ReplyReply

  14. Mireya
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 08:18:31

    Funny, as it pertains to my reading material, I couldn’t care less about credentials. I belong to the school of thought that believes that you are either born an author or you are not. I think that a college education (even if it’s not in writing per se) helps, however, you need to have it in you to begin with.

    P.S. I won a writing contest during my first year in college, with an essay on precisely this subject.

    P.S.S. Oh and yes, I wrote a novel and a bunch of short stories (all romance) when I was a teen, for my younger sister’s reading enjoyment. However, I’ve always shown that I am better at literary analysis than creative writing so I realized early on that I did not have it in me. I may have the ideas but I have no clue as to how to put them together. ;)

    ReplyReply

  15. Jill_Myles
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 08:21:36

    Heh.

    To be honest, I consider the argument of education with writing success to be something like: “Is it easier for a blonde or a brunette to get published?”

    When that first post went up on FFF, I expected to see the response to be half-and-half. Or whatever the standard is for college-educated-vs-non-college-educated in the real world. I was honestly very surprised (and a little embarrassed at my own lack, I’ll admit) when there were so few of us that didn’t have a degree. I don’t like to feel like I’m lacking. :)

    But then I sat down and thought about it, and to me, writing is not a gift. I might have an ear for language, or I might read 150 books a year and that makes it easier for me to understand what goes in a story, but writing is work. Lots and lots and lots of work.

    No one taught grammar to me beyond 7th grade – at least, not that I can recall (though I could be quite wrong). High school English seemed to consist entirely of Wuthering Heights and Shakespeare (both which make me cringe). So when I decided, 6 years after I graduated from high school, that I wanted to write…I didn’t enroll in college. I grabbed a book on grammar. And I wrote. And I wrote more. And I sent it off to people and said “Is this right?” And they slapped me on the hand and said “No! Stupid!”. So I fixed it, and then I wrote some more.

    Maybe if I would have had the existing knowledge it wouldn’t have taken me 2 books to get published, instead of 5 or 7 or whatever. I have no idea. Maybe it would have taken me 12 and I happened to luck out.

    But the education shouldn’t matter. I think half the appeal of writing is that (IMO) anyone can do it. If you work hard enough, if you make an enticing enough story, you could break through and be successful.

    (And Ilona! You’re making me blush! You want to see a scary genius, try asking Ilona about alloys and metals.)

    ReplyReply

  16. katiebabs
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 08:30:26

    I went to a small liberal arts college in Penn and I graduated with a class of under 400 and in my Communication Major with a group of 10 and all females. I was so lucky to be involved in so many things that helped me in so many ways for my future. For some, writing is a skill they are born with while others must work at it. Regardless of where you go to school and if you receive an education, all matters is how you tone your craft.

    ReplyReply

  17. Jane
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 08:31:35

    I'm really puzzling over the point of this blog.

    The point of the blog post is that publishing and the media who promote publishing and readers all are drawn to what I term as pedigreed authors and the literary pedigree of an author does not mean that the contents of the book is quality. James was published in hardcover as a debut. Lauren Willig is advertised as a historical fiction author by the hardcover nature of her books and the covers. Julia Quinn was profiled in Time Magazine. Would these authors have received the same treatment had their educations been at state universities?

    I’m trying to point out that education isn’t what we should use as readers to measure whether the contents of a book is going to be good any more than we should judge a book by its covers. Sure, it’s a marketing thing, but just because it is a marketing thing doesn’t mean that we readers should pay attention to it.

    ReplyReply

  18. Keishon
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 08:33:15

    Yale, Princeton on the biography of the author and the books are instantly viewed to be of a certain quality.

    Excellent post and I agree – education is nice but it doesn’t gift you with the ability to tell a good story. That’s innate and it can’t be taught, to me. You either have it or you don’t and readers can tell the difference. Also, I am the complete opposite when it comes to seeing Harvard and Yale credentials in the biography of the author. Most times, I leave the book on the shelf because while it may read “quality” in my mind, it also screams boring.

    However, there are other notable authors with degrees, not all from Harvard, but they are brilliant storytellers – Diana Gabaldon and Roberta Gellis are two authors who come to mind and my absolute favorite, Catherine Asaro is a Harvard physicist who writes fantasy novels and does a really good job of it, too.

    I don’t think and you didn’t imply this – that every Harvard author has had commercial success but having the credentials on the jacket doesn’t hurt and there is a slight advantage or an assumption that the work will be more, “quality” for lack of a better word. But quality doesn’t always sell. I don’t care how well written the book is – my first question will always be, is it any good?

    Excellent post. I enjoyed reading it.

    ReplyReply

  19. Stephanie
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 08:34:15

    I've got a couple of degrees, from state schools. And while I love my education, and would do it again in a heartbeat, none of it figured into my becoming a writer.

    That, I think, is key. Laurell K. Hamilton is, by education, a biologist. Eloisa James is, by education, a specialist in Renaissance and Jacobean plays. I’m not saying that I don’t think their education has informed them as writers, but I think no more or less than a lot of other life experiences, like having kids (especially in EJ’s case: see Midnight Pleasures) or falling in love.

    Many paths, same goal.

    I will never tell anyone that an Ivy League education wasn’t ‘worth it’ (actually, I will: I know a high school teacher who went to Princeton. Now he’s oodles of dollars in debt and will be living off ramen noodles for the next forty years to pay it off — and he knew he wanted to be a teacher before he went). Generally speaking, though, writers are self-taught to such a large degree (has anyone taken a university class on How to Write a Romance Novel?) that how it affects your writing may be minimal.

    I’m still jealous of those who could afford to go to Harvard or Yale (or even Brown) for undergrad. Although, yada yada, if I hadn’t gone where I did, I wouldn’t have met my fiance, etc.

    ReplyReply

  20. (Jān)
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 08:41:24

    I see this all the time on the fan fiction communities I’m in, where writers are of all ages and from all around the world, and of all levels of experience. A certain facility with words is required, and that requires some level of education. But what makes the story good is whether or not it has a spark that brings it to life, and no amount of education can teach that.

    ReplyReply

  21. Keishon
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 08:46:56

    I'm still jealous of those who could afford to go to Harvard or Yale (or even Brown) for undergrad

    I’m not. I’ve known and have heard of people going to these Ivy League schools only to come out with degrees they can’t do anything with. Law degree, great, chemistry, physics, doctor – excellent. It’ll pay itself off, hopefully, the rest, you can forget it, unless you’re rich and you don’t have to work.

    ReplyReply

  22. Nora Roberts
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 08:50:51

    I think storytelling is a gift, and it takes a lot of work to tell a story articulately and entertainingly on paper.

    I don’t believe you can be taught to write, unless you already have the gift. Then you can be taught, or you can learn, how to refine it, nuture it, expand it.

    And then, you have to be willing and able to bust your ass.

    Like so much in writing, it’s individual. Creative writing classes, for instance, may push open the door for some–and may block it for others.

    I’ve always felt, for me, the best tools in my writer’s toolbox are my no-nonsense education by the nuns (9 years of it) and my fortune in growing up in a family of readers. So, again for me, the tools are discipline, guilt, an innate love of stories, the strong drive to write along with a willingness to sweat it out. And reading, reading, reading.

    Other writers, other tools.

    ReplyReply

  23. Kerry
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 08:52:22

    I come from the East Coast prep school Ivy pipeline to success, so I’m familiar with its biases. And I know that getting into an Ivy is a peculiar numbers game dependent on luck, demographics, family support, and how well you meet a crazy profile and have reached your peak at 18.

    And a lot of great talented people, and me, didn’t go to Harvard and the like. So what?

    It’s an everybody poops situation. “I went to Harvard.” ‘That’s nice. Everybody poops, you know.”

    Personally I find Willig’s novels to be unreadable, so that’s actually a point against Harvard. And what’s Brooke Shields done with her Princeton degree?

    ReplyReply

  24. JulieLeto
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 08:52:26

    I still can’t help but think that there isn’t a little jealousy involved here. Look, if authors get singled out because of their education…or their charity work…or their life as a fighter pilot…or their background teaching in Catholic school and now writing hot books…who cares? It’s no reason to single certain authors out and say, “They’re no better than the rest of us because of their education.” I’m quite certain none of THEM said they were. But their degrees from respected institutions of higher learning isn’t something they should hide, either, just to make everyone else feel better about their own educational journey or lack thereof.

    I think as writers, we should be proud of those who have gone to Harvard, Yale, etc and have chosen to write GENRE fiction. Trust me, I’m sure they catch a lot of grief about that from their similarly matriculated colleagues. I know that as a grad student, I caught all kinds of holy hell for wanting to write, ::gasp:: romance novels! If people were this snobby at USF, I can only imagine how they were at Yale and Harvard!

    I say we should be PROUD of all writers accomplishment–particularly FEMALE writers–and not minimalize each other in any way. We cannot control the perception of the media or the general public–and we shouldn’t begrudge another author some choice publicity.

    ReplyReply

  25. Caroline
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 08:54:49

    I guess I see writing as a skill and storytelling as the talent or gift. People can work on the skill of writing but if they can’t tell a good story… And really, every life experience can broaden and expand your world in some way, some great and some not, but they could all lead to a great book.

    I don’t think an Ivy league degree is an automatic indicator of anything, except perhaps perverence and determination, which are of immense benefit in *publishing* as well as in the work of writing a novel (or rather, writing several novels, because all the authors you named have written not just one successful book, but several). The degree might help in marketing, as Julie Leto said, but the real proof of an author’s talent/skill/success is measured in sales–do people love the books enough to keep buying them? It seems unlikely people are buying, or not buying, any author’s books based on where she went to school.

    ReplyReply

  26. ilona andrews
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 09:02:12

    I think as writers, we should be proud of those who have gone to Harvard, Yale, etc and have chosen to write GENRE fiction. Trust me, I'm sure they catch a lot of grief about that from their similarly matriculated colleagues. I know that as a grad student, I caught all kinds of holy hell for wanting to write, ::gasp:: romance novels! If people were this snobby at USF, I can only imagine how they were at Yale and Harvard!

    Oh boy. Julie, so basically what you are saying is that an Ivy League educated person is vastly superior to someone like me, and I should be be grateful and humbled that they chose to slum with me in the ghetto…

    Heh.

    ReplyReply

  27. Jane
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 09:02:19

    I guess I don’t see your point, Julie. We readers should be proud that Ivy Leaguers have deigned to come and wallow with the masses? Frankly, I don’t think we deserve respect in the romance genre because of where a body of authors went to school. We deserve respect because there are books in the romance genre that are damn good.

    ReplyReply

  28. JulieLeto
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 09:13:45

    No, no. Just as proud as the single mom with the GED that is now writing romance novels. Or the former accountant who writes romance novels during lunch time and has published them to great success. We don’t have to put down one to elevate the other. That’s all I’m saying.

    ReplyReply

  29. JulieLeto
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 09:16:05

    Caroline, you make a good point. Readers don’t usually know and don’t care what an author’s background is–they just want to enjoy the book. Julia Quinn was already a huge success before TIME did the feature on her. I had no idea of her educational background, either, until I read that article and I knew her! Most people don’t shout about their own educational backgrounds, but it does come up in marketing and there’s nothing wrong with it!

    ReplyReply

  30. Christine Merrill
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 09:21:49

    I think the original idea here is about equating marketing with writing ability.

    If you go to an Ivy league school, you can bet that it will show up in the author bio. Because marketing is looking for any hook that will give the book an edge. And ‘Ivy leaguer writes romance!’ is a hook.

    Of course, they probably secretly wish that you were a single mother you wrote the book longhand, in a coffee shop, while on the dole, and rocking a stoller. That’s a better hook. Or maybe if you were a tattooed stripper, like that woman that wrote ‘Juno’.

    Or if you were a single mother in a coffee shop, who was stripping to pay off your school loans after Harvard…

    There is very little question that Harvard is shorthand for ‘well-educated’. But it is only one component of the individual. It doesn’t have to mean anything, as it relates to who wrote what, or how good it is.

    ReplyReply

  31. Keishon
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 09:31:38

    It is a sore spot for me knowing that LKH has the talent to pen better than the drivel she puts out year after year. She would be on a list of authors who waste talent.

    ReplyReply

  32. Angelle
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 09:46:45

    I’ll say this.

    Jill Myles is a very smart woman. She’s smarter than I am, and she got it cheaper than me.

    That’s all I can say. :)

    And in case anyone’s wondering I went to college.

    ReplyReply

  33. Meriam
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 10:18:42

    I’m far more impressed when I hear of a successful writer without a background in higher education then the other way around.

    Speaking as someone who went to the UK equivalent of an Ivy League, I’ve always felt the whole thing to be a bit of a lottery. I was lucky: there were any number of candidates who were as bright (if not brighter, frankly) than me, and who would have done as well (better!) in my chosen degree.

    From what I understand of the American system, it’s even harder to crack, with the astronomical sums of money involved. From this I presume that most Ivy Leaguers are reaping the benefits of a comfortably well-off social/ economic background, or (in rarer instances) they are admirably intelligent – and determined enough to overcome great obstacles. Also, they were lucky.

    However, knowing that a writer has an academic background means I might place greater importance on the quality (competence?) of their writing and research. In that context, what you say about Eloisa James’ first novel is hilarious and just goes to show, doesn’t it?

    (Also, what Julie said.)

    ReplyReply

  34. Stacia Kane
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 10:23:39

    Ilona’s made me blush too, Jill! Especially considering how whip-smart she is. And I agree with Jill, I thought the responses would be more balanced. It felt a little like taking my top off in public, admitting that I never even properly finished high school.

    Personally, I see this post as empowering, not as a put-down. I’ve never felt my lack of formal education, save when I’m in a room with people who think I’m lacking because of it (as in that FFF discussion). So I always appreciate seeing it publicly acknowledged that despite the way “college education” has come to seem like a requirement for life, it isn’t.

    When I say writing is a gift, I'm not really claiming that writers have some sort of special status and I don't much see it as a modesty thing, if that makes sense.

    I actually get annoyed with people who love to brag on about what a talented writer they are, whether they are talented or not. Because I see writing as a gift that's given to a person, something they do naturally. Kind of like breathing.

    I didn’t think you were being egotistical at all, Shiloh, and my comment was a more general one–we were responding at the same time, so I didn’t see yours when I posted mine. I do agree with you; at the most basic level you either are or are not a writer, just as you either are or are not someone who likes the color blue. Perhaps if I had a bigger career I would be more comfortable referring to myself in those terms, lol. Or if I were more secure in general; who knows?

    But I agree 100% about people who run around bragging about their talent. It always signals to me that there is ego where there should be skill.

    ReplyReply

  35. bam
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 10:23:57

    …and sometimes, you can have 2 bachelor’s degrees from a “pretty good” university and a master’s and still end up toiling away at an 11/hour job you hate.

    ’cause they’re not hiring at the literature factory. *sigh*

    ReplyReply

  36. Stacia Kane
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 10:24:59

    Also, I watch Jeopardy and kick ass at it. :-)

    ReplyReply

  37. katiebabs
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 10:27:34

    Erm… I watch Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader and you don’t even want know how I do playing that show!

    ReplyReply

  38. Caroline
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 10:38:56

    Oh boy. Julie, so basically what you are saying is that an Ivy League educated person is vastly superior to someone like me, and I should be be grateful and humbled that they chose to slum with me in the ghetto…

    Heh.

    Oh, hell no. BUT to the outside world (ie, the non-romance-appreciating world), things like this can affect the perception of the genre. “See, Eloisa James, with degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Oxford, writes romance novels! And they are really good book, not trash!” I bet plenty of people went to check out Julia Quinn’s books after the feature in TIME, people who might not have looked twice at a romance before, and I bet plenty of them were very pleasantly surprised. Since even many readers feel the disrespect romance often gets, I have to say that authors who can lend a little glamour to the genre–whether it’s an Ivy degree, or a supercool profession, or a fabulous ‘first sale’ story–should be appreciated for that. Now, if you don’t like their books personally, that’s also fine, no one makes you buy them.

    And fwiw, none of my Harvard classmates look down on my career; a number of them are green with envy, in fact.

    ReplyReply

  39. Jaci Burton
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 10:42:44

    Interesting discussion as always, Jane.

    I don’t recall ever paying any attention to an author’s credentials when picking up a book to read. It’s the story that grabs me, not the author’s bio. That being said, and like Julie said, marketing will often use an angle like Diana’s Ivy League education and the tie-in to her series. That makes her education interesting, not pertinent.

    For me, I wallowed along for years taking courses here and there, building my career and raising my children while juggling college when I could. Eventually I knuckled down and did the two year binge to finish. All in all it took me 20 damn years to get my degree. Has it been useful to my writing career? The degree hasn’t. What was useful was the perserverence during that 20 year journey, that never giving up, that drive to succeed. I used that in my determination to see a book from start to finish, to set goals to publish, because I knew I could. I’d perservered before and I could do it again. It paid off.

    And that was oh so useful, way more so than the sheepskin.

    ReplyReply

  40. JulieLeto
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 10:43:12

    Well, Caroline, we do have THE BEST JOB in the universe! They should be envious!

    ReplyReply

  41. Ann Aguirre
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 10:46:57

    I have a degree from a state university, but I wouldn’t say it helped me with writing in any fashion. Maybe some authors come out of college ready to publish, but I didn’t. Like other folks, I don’t consider the writer’s credentials when I’m reading fiction. I don’t read bios in the back unless I’m super-impressed by the book and am looking for website info so I can send an email.

    ReplyReply

  42. Caroline
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 10:49:36

    Well, Caroline, we do have THE BEST JOB in the universe! They should be envious!

    They are! And I can’t tell you how many of them–smart, successful, ambitious, driven people–have said to me that they would like to write a book someday, but just don’t even know how to get started. So to every romance writer out there, know that many of those Ivy Leaguers envy you, even if they don’t admit it out loud…

    ReplyReply

  43. Julia Quinn
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 11:01:18

    For me, my education provided a wonderful writing foundation–not because it gave me tons of ideas (it didn’t, unless you count meeting my husband on the second day), but rather because you can’t go through four years of Harvard without learning how to write a proper sentence. I may not have written much fiction while I was in college, but I wrote paper after paper, and I had to know my grammar and punctuation. I had to know how to vary sentence structure to make the words flow (especially if I had no idea what I was talking about, which happened more often than I’d like to admit.)

    But do you need an Ivy League education to learn all this? Of course not. You don’t even need a college education. But it helps. Writing takes practice, and I had to practice for four years. I’m not the most disciplined of writers; I don’t think I would have focus to write as much during those years without school or a paycheck to kick me in the butt.

    I think Jane has an entirely different point about the cachet of an Ivy League education, however, and there is a lot of truth in that. For better or worse, it means something when you say, “I went to Harvard.” It doesn’t always mean what you want it to mean, and it doesn’t always mean anything based in reality, but everyone has a preconception the instant they hear where you went to college. I never knew what to say when I would tell someone where I was going to school, and they’d go, “Ooooh. You must be smart.” Finally, I decided just to go with it–”Uh, yeah, I am.” I mean, what do they think I’m supposed to say?

    And yes, the Harvard part of my bio makes me interesting to journalists looking to cover the genre. They find it unexpected. It breaks a stereotype. It makes for an interesting story. Journalists who don’t know anything about the romance genre know about Harvard. It gives them something to start with.

    That said, the TIME Magazine piece, which was truly one of the highlights of my career, had nothing to do with my having gone to Harvard, despite it being a prominent part of the article. TIME was planning to run a themed issue on love and romance, and Andrea Sachs, one of their book reporters, insisted that they do something on romance novels for the book section. She had to argue to get the piece in, and in the end TIME went to RWA and said, “Give us the youngest romance writer you’ve got who has hit the New York Times list.” That turned out to be me. In the end, the love and romance issue was scrapped, but I lucked out and they ran the piece several months later when they had room.

    Best,
    JQ (who got NO special Harvard treatment at the outset, and if you don’t believe me, go check out the original cover of my first book)

    ReplyReply

  44. MoJo
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 11:03:32

    What was useful was the perseverance during that 20 year journey, that never giving up, that drive to succeed.

    Jaci, I so agree with you. What my degree says to me is: You ran the gauntlet. My dad used to tell me this when I had plans of a mahogany-clad corner-office high up in a skyscraper doing finance-type things, and that degree was my ticket to that. He said, “A college degree doesn’t say you’re smart. It says you stuck with it and you did the work and you got through it.”

    But the education shouldn't matter. I think half the appeal of writing is that (IMO) anyone can do it. If you work hard enough…

    IMHO, I don’t believe this. If someone came up to me tomorrow and said, “If you work hard enough, you can be an opera singer.” Mmmm, no, I can’t. I sound like a 12-year-old redneck who ate a dictionary and my singing is worse than that.

    Writing is a talent, just like any other, and people have different ones. Whereas most people go, “No, I couldn’t possibly be an opera singer” and are in touch with their limitations in that area*, there are a whole lot of people who think they can write**. And they can’t.

    *Caveat: The American Idol contestants, I’m told, do not know their limitations.

    **I do not equate being able to write with being able to get published. I’ve read a lot of wonderful stuff lately that won’t ever get published by a traditional publishing house because of subject matter, not because the author can’t write. More than a few times I’ve seen authors say, “Well, if you can’t get published your manuscript is crap,” which confuses the issue to no end.

    ReplyReply

  45. Nora Roberts
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 11:16:14

    ~You don't even need a college education. But it helps.~

    I just disagree. I think it depends, entirely depends. Would college have helped me in this area? I believe, strongly, no. Would it help Other Writer? Very likely yes. Or maybe. Or absolutely. Or no.

    It depends on Other Writer.

    ReplyReply

  46. Corrine
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 11:25:09

    Education is a hot button for me. I was forced into going to college and when it didn't work out (scholarship issues), I had to come home and join the work force. A lot of people – mostly family – didn't understand my decision when I came home not to take classes at the local community college. The two things I always told them was (1) I didn't want to go in the first place because I don't like school and (2) I didn't need a degree to write.

    As for life experience… well, let’s just say there’s something to be said for the experience you gain jumping from temp job to temp job. You meet tons of people, learn about different systems and industries, develop thick skin and mature outlook real fast (as opposed to the college lifestyle, which isn’t prone to engendering maturity) and YOU’RE MAKING MONEY!!! Money with which you’ll have to know how to pay bills, balance, save, invest, and enjoy.

    This year is my five-year anniversary of graduating from high school – and as I see my friends and peers graduating from college, getting entry level jobs that pay less than mine, fighting with student loans, and facing responsibility for the first time, I don’t have one regret.

    ReplyReply

  47. Monica Burns
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 11:33:54

    Interesting and thought-provoking post. I could care less what someone’s educational background is when I buy a book. All I want is a good read. I might find the author’s background interesting to know, but it doesn’t sway me to read or not read a book.

    If you go to an Ivy league school, you can bet that it will show up in the author bio. Because marketing is looking for any hook that will give the book an edge. And ‘Ivy leaguer writes romance!' is a hook.

    I agree with Christine. It’s a marketing hook to exploit and bring attention to the author. But as she also points out, the stripper writing a book could be a good hook too. It depends what the marketing goal is. JK Rowling’s rags to riches story was a fantastic marketing hook. I would have been drooling over that marketing hook!

    I think college can definitely expand horizons, but I don’t think it’s a requirement for or against being a successful writer. Experiences shape writers on a number of levels. Whether knowledge is accumulated in college or on-the-job, a writer is shaped by their overall life experiences. I’ve worked as a nuclear warhead technician, waitress, retail clerk, travel agent, attorney’s administrative assistant, environmentalists, advertising manager, marketing coordinator, public relations, and executive assistant for a top level government official.

    I did all of those jobs except for two before I got my college degree. I learned something new in all of those jobs, just as I did when I attended school. However, I confess that at no time since graduation have I EVER had the need to use my calculus skills. For me, a college degree is simply an extension of the learning and observing I do every day.

    And as for the kegs MaryKate referred too, I partied my way through one occurrence of flunking out. It took a while, but I eventually got my act together and finished. But I have some GREAT stories I can share about my wild child party days. *grin*

    ReplyReply

  48. Claudia
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 11:36:07

    Actually, this post makes me think more about the how an MFA from any institution was like an anti-writing credential for a while.

    ReplyReply

  49. Ann Aguirre
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 11:42:01

    Claudia, speaking strictly for myself, I am incapable of learning how to write from a program. I don’t like being told what to do (or how to do it) at the best of times. And I think I would always wonder: “If this teacher truly knows all the secrets about writing, how come she’s teaching this program instead of writing bestsellers?”

    ReplyReply

  50. Sela Carsen
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 11:42:14

    I will say that my degree (well, the one in Communication — the other one’s fairly useless except as a weird party trick) DID help me become a better writer. But, as Julia Quinn said, largely because everything I did for those years was practice writing. Day in and day out. Classes, internships, part time jobs, everything I did was about writing, whether it was academic writing or journalism. The one thing I *didn’t* do was creative writing.

    Then I did the mom thing for a while and didn’t write at all for about eight years. When I sat down to write again, I really, truly sucked because I was so desperately out of practice. But then all that training started to come back to me. Everything I learned in college about grammar and structure and style, even though it was quite an operation to pull that grammar stick out of my, er, somewhere uncomfortable.

    I will never say that my education hasn’t made a difference to my writing, but I would also never say that college is the only path to good writing.

    ReplyReply

  51. TracyS
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 11:45:10

    I think the same thing regarding Teaching. Just because you know a lot about a subject doesn’t mean you can teach it. Have any of you had those completely brilliant college professors that could NOT teach what they knew?

    I am a teacher. I taught elementary grades before kids. I substitute teach now that both are in school. My hubby has a Bible Degree. He works part time for our church (with the kids~grades 1-6). He is a MUCH BETTER teacher than me,even though I am the “trained” teacher. He has a gift that is just a part of him.

    I think writing is something that is a natural talent that you build upon. Whether through education or other means.

    While I did go to college I did not grow up thinking that was the only way you could educate yourself. My dad is one of the smartest people I know. He dropped out of college when funds ran out. Intending to go back but then he got married, had kids. . .. . .etc. However, he started everyday reading the paper and he can talk about any current event for hours.

    All that to say, I guess an author’s education doesn’t matter to me one way or another. It’s all about the story and does it reach out and grab me.

    ReplyReply

  52. jane
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 12:09:19

    thanks for the correction JQ.

    What I failed to make clearly is that this is a reader issue. Some amount of the reading public deems academic credentials as important or it wouldn’t be used in marketing. Maybe we readers feel better about the genre because we can say these academic elites walk among us. Whatever the reason, my suggestion to readers us that the connection between where someone went to college or how many degrees they have are not directly proportional to the quality of the book.

    ReplyReply

  53. bettie
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 12:11:18

    The only way to be a writer is to read and write what you want to write.

    Though I’m no Ivy League-er, I did a darn lot of writing as an undergrad. But writing about “dominant paradigms of heteronormativity in mainstream advertising,” “Said’s Analysis of the Western Imperialist Narrative Implicit in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park” or endless riffs on “postmodernism” do jack squat for you when it comes to writing fiction.

    No matter how much formal education we have, all writers share a hard-won and not-so-secret knowledge: the only way to be a writer is to write.

    Until you think up a story and get it onto the page, all your training, your education, and your theories about writing are, well, merely academic.

    ReplyReply

  54. HelenKay Dimon
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 12:18:54

    I gave a workshop last year and one of the comments from a woman in the audience went like this: “I want to write but I only went to high school, so I’m not qualified.” I almost wept. The idea that she would limit a dream because someone somewhere gave her the idea that a college education was a requirement made me kind of sick. I went to college. Loved college. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and going to college opened up the world up for me, one where I met my now husband. But I would say college helped me as a writer only to the extent it helped me define who I am as a person. I probably could have gotten that definition somewhere else. I happened to get it in college.

    And isn’t all the education and career talk about authors really related to marketing? People put down romance novels. So, as a way of knocking back some of the it’s-not-worthy crap, the industry pulls out folks with Ivy League educations and impressive careers as a way of saying – right or wrong – hey, we’re smart. So what? It’s marketing. Diana is a great example. Tess Gerritsen is another. Her being a doctor is interesting because she left medicine to write and she wrote HARVEST which used her medical knowledge. The connection is clear. Gerritsen would have be short-sighted not to work that angle. It’s an easy one for the press to pick up on. Does the degree make Gerritsen smarter than the rest of us or a better writer? I have no idea. I think it might make her promotion angle easier. The rest is part of her list of personal achievements – worthy and awesome, but not necessarily related to her writing talent. Maybe yes, maybe no. It’s different for each person. That’s why saying it is some kind of requirement for everyone strikes me as wrong.

    ReplyReply

  55. Janet/Robin
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 12:46:04

    I still can't help but think that there isn't a little jealousy involved here.

    I disagree, Julie. If people were saying that authors who went to Harvard, Yale, etc. were pretentious blow hards, I’d probably agree with you. I still get inordinately frustrated at those comments disparaging female MFA grads and literary fiction generally. But I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. I think what’s being said here (and I can’t account for every comment, only the original post and the general tone of discussion as I am reading it) is a questioning of the way we tend to elevate (IMO artificially) authors who get degrees from certain places. The author, for example, who has an AA from a community college won’t be placing that prominently on her bio, but an author who has a Princeton diploma might, and that characteristic will come to represent her, in part, as an author. And yet, does it make the author *better* as a writer? I think that’s the question that’s being raised here.

    I am a huge advocate of higher education for several reasons. First, I think college/university helps develop certain critical thinking and problem solving skills in a very focused and effective way. Education levels continue to correlate positively to many different things, from patterns of charitable giving to voting participation. And educational achievement is still the number one facilitator of social/economic mobility in the US (and educational achievement is predicted most strongly, btw, by parental educational achievement). To me, public education is still perhaps our most important democratic institution. And in addition to making a career in education, I have four degrees, three of them (all the advanced degrees) from top tier programs/schools. I’m also a product of private education and economic and cultural privilege, so I know a little something about how these factors play into the distribution of educational opportunities, as well as how school rankings don’t always correspond to the quality of education a student receives.

    All that said, I don’t believe that authors are necessarily better or worse writers because they attend a top-ranked college or go on to earn an MFA (and my doctoral institution also graduated the likes of Michael Chabon, Whitney Otto, and Alice Sebold as MFAs). And I don’t think we should be judging them as such based on that. Not that either of those things can’t influence one’s writing craftsmanship. I know I became a better writer in grad school, not only because I had to do A LOT of it, but also because I had to teach it. But some of my professors and peers remained horribly convoluted writers, even though they were working in the Humanities and teaching. I have friends who swear by the writing experience and feedback and instruction they received in their MFA program. Others not so much. And many, many MFAs from my graduate institution continue to toil in relative obscurity, while the number of “stars” remains proportionately small, even though they were graduated from one of the tippy-top ranked writing programs.

    In Romance, three of my favorite authors and IMO superior craftspeople — Judith Ivory, Jo Goodman, and Laura Kinsale — do not, as far as I know, have MFAs (IIRC, Ivory is a mathematician). Jennifer Crusie, who almost completed an English PhD, has made some very disparaging comments about her educational experience (which was, apparently, very different from mine). I’ve never been bowled over by some of the Ivy League-authored books (some I have and some I haven’t), even though I’m sure the authors are very bright and capable.

    IMO, people should be proud of what they have accomplished, whether that be a diploma from Harvard or a GED obtained many years after the high school years have passed. What I don’t think, though, is that we should be measuring the quality or fitness of authors based on these educational markers — that is, these degrees do not make them superior as authors/writers. Now with someone like Peterfreund, as you said, her background was relevant to the subject of her first book. But honestly, I don’t think such a prominent advertisement is warranted or even necessarily wise as a *general* way to promote an author’s talent and/or craftsmanship. And as we continue to rely on it, IMO, backlash will eventually occur, just as it has with the disparaging attitude toward literary fiction you see with some genre readers.

    ReplyReply

  56. Rebecca J
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 12:49:36

    This is an interesting topic. The core of this discussion is revolving around the age-old argument about the value of formal education over informal education. Jane sliced it even finer by introducing the relative value of an Ivy League education over other colleges when it comes to the creation of the most popular fiction in the world – Romance.

    The larger question of your post…

    …I don't think we deserve respect in the romance genre because of where a body of authors went to school. We deserve respect because there are books in the romance genre that are damn good.

    …is establishing respect for the genre, well, that is an entirely different question. As it is, we have the folks over at Teach Me Tonight who explore the various themes, tropes, memes, patterns and archetypes found and established by the genre. Indeed their devotion and belief in the genre as literature* is so strong that they are founding an academic association and peer-reviewed journal to chop away at the bias in academic circles.

    Perhaps we also need to have a greater understanding of the demographics of the readers of romance (a la this wonderful piece of info-pron from “>The Guardian from June 5, 2008.

    Mind you, the categories will be very different, but this kind of graphic is a great way to illustrate the broad range of people who read the genre.

    Another issue is the covers. Though they are getting more sober, there is also an affection for the old clinch covers – and apparently, the clinch and man-titty covers reallt sell well, or they wouldn’t still be used. Or, is that true? I’ve only read a little on this and most of that on Romance blogs.

    Framing the genre. One last thought, George Lakoff, the linguist, (and other linguists) often points out that the reason prevailing attitudes to many aspects of modern civilization are prevalent is because of the way in which they are framed.

    I bring this up because I believe that the way in which literature has been framed is core to the lack of respect the world has for “women’s” fiction in general and the Romance genre in particular. This is a really obvious thing to say, but the pervasiveness of the frame is found everywhere. Breaking or re-imagining the frame and establishing a new way to refer to this fiction will take time and discussion.

    What ideas do readers have for “legitimizing” the genre as literature for the rest of the uninformed and blinker-wearing public? Note: I believe that Romance is legitimate literature. However, we are all aware that others do not believe it is a legitimate literature. NB: The debate on the merits of Romance as Literature is a completely different topic – perhaps to be discussed at another time.

    ***

    As a long-time reader of genre fiction, I don’t really care if a writer has any kind of formal education. What I am first aware of is craft, and within a genre (be it Romance, SciFi, Fantasy, Mystery or any combination of the four), a sense of Art, if you will. The idea that an author can transcend a genre while still holding fast to the following elements that, to me, combines to make a strong book (I wish I could lay down bullet points):

    -A strong core story
    -A strong sense of the world in which the book is set – with a real sense of verisimilitude
    -A sense that they have done their research (I noticed those mistakes in E. James’ first book, but forgave them because her characters were so well drawn and because she wrote well.)
    -Grounded characters
    -Reasonable character behavior
    -Some sense of humor appropriate to the plot and character

    One doesn’t need a degree or an advanced degree to understand how to tell a story.

    That can come from native curiosity, a love of reading, a love of the story, and a fine sense of observation. Jane Austen didn’t have a degree (at that time, as we all know, she wasn’t eligible for one). However, she did have a strong grounding in grammar, was a keen observer, knew her world well and understood the greater world, and was, as we all know, a fine storyteller.

    ***

    I agree with others re marketing:

    As Miss Snark, the literary agent used to say (paraphrasing here), “Tell me where your book will be shelved.” We all know that this is the market at work.

    So, if a publisher is willing to sign an author because the book is written by an Ivy League graduate and said publisher believes the book will sell really well out of the gate. . .There is not much a reader can do about that. That is a marketing judgment made by the publisher. . .Or is there? (Please refer to the above.)

    That’s my two-cents.

    ReplyReply

  57. Rebecca J
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 12:56:38

    Darn, “>The Guardian link didn’t work.

    I’m trying again.

    ReplyReply

  58. Janet/Robin
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 12:57:27

    So, as a way of knocking back some of the it's-not-worthy crap, the industry pulls out folks with Ivy League educations and impressive careers as a way of saying – right or wrong – hey, we're smart.

    Yes, it is about marketing, and as you and others have pointed out, it can be very effective as a way to counter stereotypes about women and genre fiction. Which, again, goes to show the bias of the mainstream and its perceptions both of women and of genre fiction.

    But still I think we need to separate the issue of credibility from capability, and I agree with Jane that there seems to be a bit of a conflation between these two concepts within the genre community.

    ReplyReply

  59. Rebecca J
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 13:00:18

    Second try.

    Perhaps we also need to have a greater understanding of the demographics of the readers of romance (a la this wonderful piece of info-pron from The Guardian. Mind you, the categories will be very different, but this kind of graphic is a great way to illustrate the broad range of people who read the genre.

    ReplyReply

  60. Julia Quinn
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 13:03:23

    Nora wrote:

    ,,~You don't even need a college education. But it helps.~

    I just disagree. I think it depends, entirely depends. Would college have helped me in this area? I believe, strongly, no. Would it help Other Writer? Very likely yes. Or maybe. Or absolutely. Or no.

    It depends on Other Writer.>>

    Sorry, Nora, I didn’t make myself clear. I didn’t mean to generalize for all writers–I’m the first person to say that there is no correct way to write a book. And likewise, there is no correct way to “learn” to be a writer.

    I do think, however, that to be a good writer –in the nuts and bolts sense of the word; storytelling is another matter entirely– you have to practice. You have to get your butt in the chair and do it. For a lot of people, however –and certainly for me– the sticking of the butt requires some motivation. I love to write. I really do. But I don’t know that I would have the discipline to write just for the sheer love of it. When I wrote my first novel, I needed that goal of seeing my book in a bookstore. Today I need deadlines. And when I was in college, I needed structure and requirements. I can say unequivocally that I would not have written twenty pages on the residential architecture of Antonio Gaudi my junior year of college if it had not been a college requirement. (And I LOVE the residential architecture of Gaudi. Enough so it’s one of the only term papers I actually remember something of.)

    It’s kind of like the difference between aerobics and step-aerobics. If you’re lazy, you can go through aerobics without getting much of a workout. But with step-aerobics, even if you just go through the motions, you’re going to huff and puff because of the damn step. College is the step. It makes you write. You don’t need it, but it forces you to build a foundation of writing skills that you can build upon as a novelist. You can get those skills in a variety of other ways–but you have to be more focused. You have to work harder. You have to have more drive.

    JQ, for whom college did not, apparently, teach me how to spell “unequivocally.” (I had to look it up.)

    ReplyReply

  61. Lorelie
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 13:10:48

    I’ve got about three years worth of a history degree. It remains to be seen if that has any bearing on my writing career, but I highly doubt it. For some people, I’m sure college can be great, providing those four years of practice others have mentioned. For other people, I can totally see how it would be a negative, locking them into one style of writing until they loose their own voice for a while.

    No matter how much formal education we have, all writers share a hard-won and not-so-secret knowledge: the only way to be a writer is to write.

    Lunch time today, a coworker in our break area was talking away about the fact that I’m always writing on breaks and how she has a book she’s been working on for four years. “Well get back to it,” I wanted to snip. “And let me get back to mine.” :D

    ReplyReply

  62. Rebecca J
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 13:11:25

    As you all can tell, I am having trouble with my link the The Guardian info-pron. If anyone wants to be sent the image, please e-mail me at rj748 at yahoo dot com.

    ReplyReply

  63. Janet/Robin
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 13:12:08

    I don’t think I know one writer who loves the actual *process* of writing. The words, the effect, what writing is and can be and might represent and accomplish — much love and passion for all that. But the drudge of doing it, the word-by-word work of crafting and refining it? Not so much.

    ReplyReply

  64. MoJo
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 13:15:02

    I don't think I know one writer who loves the actual *process* of writing. The words, the effect, what writing is and can be and might represent and accomplish -’ much love and passion for all that. But the drudge of doing it, the word-by-word work of crafting and refining it? Not so much.

    :( I do.

    ReplyReply

  65. Lorelie
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 13:16:28

    But the drudge of doing it, the word-by-word work of crafting and refining it? Not so much.

    Huh?

    Well count me as the first one you know who loves it, then. When everything’s flowing, you’re suddenly doubling your normal word count, and you know exactly what happens for the next twenty pages? Bliss. Even edits can be fun sometimes, when you fix that one teeny thing that was off and screwing everything up.

    That’s not to say it’s always fabulous, but every now and then. Just enough to keep me going.

    ReplyReply

  66. Rebecca J
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 13:26:47

    Though I am not published, when I am writing other things, even my long entries to post on this blog, even training or technical docs, I enjoy the process.

    There is nothing so satisfying as getting into a groove and following that line of thought until you need to stop – usually because you think of something new or need to clarify what you just wrote.

    I just wish I could type better. :(

    I also enjoy the editing. I have no problem combing through what I have written to check for clarity, syntax, logic, audience appropriateness, etc. It is also good to be challenged and be asked to discuss or defend what you have written – especially the internal logic of a paragraph or sentence. It is important, no matter your kind of writing, to be clear.

    Hence Jane’s love of bullet points! :)

    ReplyReply

  67. Shiloh Walker
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 13:34:42

    I don't think I know one writer who loves the actual *process* of writing. The words, the effect, what writing is and can be and might represent and accomplish -’ much love and passion for all that. But the drudge of doing it, the word-by-word work of crafting and refining it? Not so much.

    Eh, I do. I can see how some people may see it as hard to love, but when I’m lost in a story, sometimes, it’s even better than reading a story. Not that I necessarily think I’m putting out anything good, but losing myself to the story, one that I’m creating? It’s an awesome feeling.

    Now something I don’t love, something I can definitely consider drudgery…edits. I hate edits. Sad sigh. I have some waiting for me, too. They are a necessary evil.

    ReplyReply

  68. Corrine
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 13:37:00

    But the drudge of doing it, the word-by-word work of crafting and refining it? Not so much.

    I’m with you on this one. I love when the ideas are flowing around so fast they make my head spin. I love the creative adrenaline shock when things are flying. But… on those days it’s not (probably about 2/3 of the time) I like to think of it as my own little, self-imposed hell.

    Nothing is so boring or frustrating as sitting at a computer, hands poised and ready for action, and having to scrounge around your vacant head for just the right words.

    ReplyReply

  69. Jill Sorenson
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 13:39:26

    You know, the media loves a good “rags to riches” story just as well. Who doesn’t know that J.K. Rowling was on a single mom on welfare when she wrote the first Harry Potter? Perhaps an author’s personal background and her educational achievements are irrelevant. As readers, should we discount all of these details, or only the ones that (supposedly) suggest elitism?

    I admire Julia Quinn and the other Ivy League authors. Graduating from a prestigious university is a major accomplishment. I’m continually surprised and delighted by the company I keep as a romance writer.

    I’m also impressed by those who’ve struggled to accomplish their goals without a degree. As for me, I went to a continuation high school and a community college. After I transferred to a 4-year university, 100% of my tuition was covered by grants. My education hardly rivals that of a Harvard grad, but it cost almost nothing and I’m damned proud of it.

    ReplyReply

  70. Karen Scott
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 13:39:35

    I'm not. I've known and have heard of people going to these Ivy League schools only to come out with degrees they can't do anything with.

    This happens a lot in England.

    ReplyReply

  71. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 14:20:38

    Claudia, speaking strictly for myself, I am incapable of learning how to write from a program. I don't like being told what to do (or how to do it) at the best of times. And I think I would always wonder: “If this teacher truly knows all the secrets about writing, how come she's teaching this program instead of writing bestsellers?”

    Writing programs don’t teach you “how” to write (at least not in my experience and I went to one of the top two creative writing programs in the country for undergrad and the best one on the West Coast for my MFA). I see this misconception a lot so I couldn't resist debunking it here. Writing programs have you spend a certain amount of time reading, critiquing and studying what the professors consider great writing, and they have you spend a TON of time WRITING and critiquing each other. And it's that last part that is truly educational. No, not the writing, the critiquing. Learning what works for you, why it works, why it doesn't work, and how to fix it was vastly useful to me as a budding writer.

    I recently got talked into attending a day-long workshop with Margie Lawson. It was obvious that this was the first time most of the people in the room had actually thought about the things Margie was talking about. Many of the attendees clearly found the process of studying their own work and of actively thinking about its structure mind blowing. I was dumbfounded that everyone wasn't doing this already. Why? Because that's what you're taught to do in any writing program worth its salt. What Margie teaches all over the country and gets paid good money for is basically a teeny-tiny bit of what you get from a good creative writing program. I hear constant buzz about how wonderful her workshops are, so it seems to me that lots of writers are hungry for this type of instruction.

    Do you need a BA or an MFA to be a great writer. Obviously not (hello Nora!). But I wouldn't give up what I see as the benefits of having earned an MFA for anything (and they're totally internal; I'm well aware that having an MFA won't help you sell genre fiction).

    ReplyReply

  72. Monica Burns
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 14:23:43

    Eh, I do. I can see how some people may see it as hard to love, but when I'm lost in a story, sometimes, it's even better than reading a story.

    Count me in on this one too. There’s something wonderful about struggling and then managing to jump the fence on your way through a story’s development. It can definitely be frustrating at times, but when you land on the other side, it’s damn exhilarating.

    ReplyReply

  73. Nora Roberts
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 14:29:20

    ~I don't think I know one writer who loves the actual *process* of writing. The words, the effect, what writing is and can be and might represent and accomplish -’ much love and passion for all that. But the drudge of doing it, the word-by-word work of crafting and refining it? Not so much.~

    I actually do. I’m in love with the process.

    As with any love, there are certainly times I hate it, or am frustrated with it. But I love the word-by-word work.

    Julia, I certainly agree re the practice. I just believe different people practice differently. I think because I do love the actual process–and I have more than my share, perhaps, of discipline and guilt–I’ve always practiced lots.

    I would not have done so well if I’d been ‘assigned’ the work. It’s outside that love for me, and my process. I did well in school, but I can’t say I thrived. And I hated it, couldn’t wait to be out of it.

    Different methods, different ways of practicing the craft.

    My older son just hated college. My younger bloomed and thrived. The older has used basically nothing he studied in his career. The youngest has a career that reflects his major.

    I absolutely believe a college education can help some writers improve their craft. I so believe it’s not the only way to improve and practice.

    ReplyReply

  74. Jane
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 14:31:03

    Writing programs have you spend a certain amount of time reading, critiquing and studying what the professors consider great writing, and they have you spend a TON of time WRITING and critiquing each other. And it's that last part that is truly educational. No, not the writing, the critiquing. Learning what works for you, why it works, why it doesn't work, and how to fix it was vastly useful to me as a budding writer.

    Kalen – I see what you are talking about as training a person as to the paradigm which I think can be important. It helps you extrude the work and it can help you polish it but from a reader’s standpoint (and I know you don’t say this or assert this but just wanted to make the point) it is important that we don’t rely upon the credentials of the author in judging whether we should buy the book.

    HelenKay – I agree that it is a marketing technique and a good one from a marketing and authorial standpoint. But only because we readers respond to it in a positive way. I.e., we readers elevate authors who have the pedigree. I also think that by using the pedigreed authors as a way to “prove” the quality of the romance genre is a dangerous and fallacious thing simply because I don’t believe that an analysis would prove this to be true. It could actually hurt the romance genre – i.e., see even the pedigreed authors can’t write worth shit (and I am not saying that anyone I named can’t write worth shit, I’m just making a broad generalization here).

    To some extent I see the elevation of the academic credentials similar to AS SHOWN ON TV or the OPRAH WINFREY’S BOOK CLUB endorsement. Let’s say that Oprah finally recommended a romance novel. Would the genre suddenly be respectable because of it? Respectability to should rest upon the quality of the genre and not the biography of those who write it. I think it also comes down to the idea that its all about the book and not about the author.

    ReplyReply

  75. Caroline
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 14:40:36

    I'm not. I've known and have heard of people going to these Ivy League schools only to come out with degrees they can't do anything with.

    This happens a lot in England.

    I don’t mean to hijack this conversation, but who are these people? I don’t know a single unemployed person who went to an Ivy. Lots of people change their careers or move on from their major (cough *me* cough), but they are doing something.

    ReplyReply

  76. Erastes
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 15:01:10

    Hear hear, having worked with lawyers for many years, I’ve learned that higher education – which I have not – does not make for a more intelligent or talented person.

    I’m sure others have said it but you don’t need a degree to be able to write well.

    Someone mentioned that JKR was uneducated and a single mother on benefit but that’s not strictly true, true she was a single mother (and on benefit because that’s how our system works over here) but Rowling graduated in 1987 from the University of Exeter with a degree in French and Classics!!!

    ReplyReply

  77. Karen Templeton
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 15:02:07

    Since I’m supposed to be editing, I haven’t read all the comments (got to 55 or so, I think), but I just wanted to toss in my two cents.

    My degree is in costume design (started out in Drama) from North Carolina School of the Arts. Took lots of literature courses to fulfill my academic requirements, remember precious little from any of them. While I’m sure my experience at NCSA fine-honed my already borderline obsessiveness about seeing a project through, the degree itself had no bearing whatsoever on my writing — which I didn’t begin seriously, BTW, until my early forties. I was not one of those kids scribbling stories in the first grade — had no stories to tell, then.

    Wasn’t until I’d spent roughly four decades of observing my fellow humans muddling through this thing we call life that I felt ready to turn those observations into fiction. The good news is, not only had I been an avid reader from very early on, but I’d had the basic tools of grammar drummed into me by some of the best teachers the Baltimore City school system has ever seen. Even though I wasn’t writing fiction, I knew how to write *before* I hit college, as did everyone I shared classes with…which saddens me greatly, because I see far too many high school students today who seem to be lacking those basic tools of grammar, punctuation and syntax that I took for granted as part of my education in the ‘sixties.

    Of course, fiction writing was a whole ‘nother learning curve — and yes, count me in the camp that believes that storytelling requires talent, and that talent is a gift. Good writers aren’t necessarily storytellers, or have that insight into human nature to write “real” characters. Conversely, plenty of people have stories that stay in their heads for lack of ability to translate their ideas into words. Magic happens when you have a confluence of imagination, craft, and discipline — and that doesn’t happen as often as some might think.

    Certainly, one has to learn the craft from somewhere (and the writer who doesn’t learn language skills early on is at a definite disadvantage, since it’s been proven that language structure is harder to assimilate as an adult than as a child — not impossible, just harder), so education certainly has its uses. ;-) But writing is not only such a ephemeral thing — that coalescence of experience and skill that many of us can’t even define — but a personal one, as well. What’s vital and precious and priceless to one writer would have been a waste to another, whose own, vastly different experiences have shaped *her* into the writer *she* is, or will become.

    There are no “better” ways, only “different” ones.

    ReplyReply

  78. Christine Merrill
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 15:20:17

    ~I don't think I know one writer who loves the actual *process* of writing.

    I’m going to have to come down on the side of loving the process. Not today, of course, since I’m supposed to be editing, and not hanging out here. But generally? I’ve had jobs that were ‘manual labor-no brain needed’, and one where the boss locked the fire exit, to make sure we didn’t sneak out.

    In comparison, there is nothing better than a good day of writing.

    And I also must have been the worst college student in the world. Undergrad from University of Wisconsin, not Ivy League, but an excellent school; double majored, theater and English. But I was one of those people who did the minimum of work for the maximum result. If the sun was shining, I skipped the class. I slept in the library. A lot. My papers were consistently late, badly typed and a half page short. But I was a strong writer, and smart enough so none of the bad behavior killed my grade point.

    Except for the only class I took where we studied Jane Austen. That one I flunked outright because I never went to it.

    And that was my background for writing historical romance.

    I made friends, discovered Chinese food, saw lots of movies, and had a great time. And the part of my degree that I used for work was for technical theater, and I didn’t need school for that. I wouldn’t call myself willfully ignorant. I was just interested in learning things that weren’t part of the curriculum for the classes I took.

    After the kids were born, I dropped out of theater, and went back to school for a masters in library science. I was a quite a bit better at deadlines, but school still wasn’t the main priority in my life, and the writing was a necessary evil.

    When I decided to write fiction, it was totally from love of the craft, and a hunger to prove myself. And it was unlike anything I’d written before. The research, the grammar, the reading, writing and re-writing were all things I did by choice. And since it was my decision, I did it with a light heart.

    When the time was right, I found the self discipliine to do what I wanted. But I sure didn’t get it from school.

    ReplyReply

  79. Janet/Robin
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 15:20:39

    It’s one thing, I think, for a writer to feel that a program helped them become a better writer. It’s quite another, IMO, for certain names in education to be sold as some kind of guarantee of quality writing. In the first case, there is an articulated relationship between the work the author has done in school and the strength of their craftsmanship — it’s a personal measurement of growth and competence. In the second, the only thing being presented is an ambiguous notion of “excellence” that circulates without context. Which is why, fwiw, institutions like Stanford now reject the US News and World Report rankings. Bill Readings did a wonderful analysis of the cult of excellence in his posthumously published book, The University in Ruins. If the relationship between certain types of education and the writer’s experience are expressed substantively and relevantly, I think it can be very powerful, but as a superficial endorsement, not so much, IMO.

    ReplyReply

  80. Stephanie
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 15:21:04

    People come out of all schools — public, private, community colleges, Ivy League, whatever — with degrees they couldn’t afford that can’t directly get them a job. They do this for many reasons, but one of which is one we’ve been bouncing around: the idea that if you don’t have a degree, you can’t do what you want to do, whatever that is. Ugh.

    And, Caroline, here’s an example (I count ‘underemployed’ as unemployed) from five years ago: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/10/26/business/yourmoney/26ivys.html?ex=1382500800&en=9e13d5cf7ca23d18&ei=5007&partner=USERLAND

    If only 77.6% of Harvard Business School graduates could get a job by graduation (down TEN PERCENT from the year before), I hate to know what the job stats on Harvard graduates with B.A.s in music or art history are. (I can say that. I have a degree in music history.)

    ReplyReply

  81. Janet/Robin
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 15:29:25

    I think that writers who love the process are incredibly lucky, but I have to share this perspective, because I understand it so well, lol.

    ReplyReply

  82. Leslie Kelly
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 15:39:58

    Well add me to the non-college-grads who’ve pulled off this writing thing. Got halfway there, then got distracted with hubby and babies and life and just never finished.

    I do not think it has hurt me at all in terms of my writing ability. Having an education can never trump being a person who loves words. I inhaled (and still do, when I have the time) anything I could get my hands on. I carried books around before I knew what all those squiggly letters were, and I wanted to write stories from the time I could hold a pencil. That made all the difference.

    It also helped that I had a very eccentric aunt who used to bring me books, then quiz me on them the following week. She put Brave New World and 1984 into my hands when I was in 5th grade. I’d read all the so-called classics before I started middle school. Reading, in my opinion, was so much more important than sitting in any classroom listening to someone try to teach me how to be creative. (Must say, about my aunt, she and I debated my romance reading habit. Until I went through a history lesson with her on torture methods used during the Spanish Inquisition all because of a fabulous, rich, meaty historical I read called Come Faith, Come Fire. Anybody remember that book?)

    Beyond being readers, I think writers are inherently people-watchers, as well. I got inspiration from snippets of conversation I overheard while ordering Happy Meals at McDonald’s when my girls were little. Other authors might have been getting them from the professors and classmates they interacted with at the very same time. Neither’s better than the other, IMHO, but like the point Jane made, they have a marketing hook that I just don’t.

    That said–Nora’s “wrote my first book when my kids were driving me crazy because they were housebound in a snowstorm” has always been a good marketing hook. And (as a stay-at-home mom) was something that really inspired me. Especially because I was living nearby and SO remember that snowstorm!

    Oh, one more thing: I read Eloisa James’s first book when it came out. And as an avid regency reader, I absolutely noticed the problems. However, her voice was utterly magnificent, and for that reason, she won me as a reader for life. It wasn’t her degree, or her credentials, it was all about the storytelling.

    ReplyReply

  83. Bev Stephans
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 15:40:42

    As a reader, it all comes down to, “Can you tell a Story?” All the education in the world is useless if you don’t have the story telling ability.

    ReplyReply

  84. Gail Dayton
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 15:47:13

    I guess I see writing as a skill and storytelling as the talent or gift. People can work on the skill of writing but if they can't tell a good story…

    This is where I totally agree. I believe that the craft of writing can be taught. But the talent of storytelling is pure gift.

    Julia Quinn wrote:

    And yes, the Harvard part of my bio makes me interesting to journalists looking to cover the genre. They find it unexpected. It breaks a stereotype. It makes for an interesting story. Journalists who don't know anything about the romance genre know about Harvard. It gives them something to start with.

    As a glorified typist at a small town daily paper with a fancy title (editorial assistant), I recognize that journalists want a hook, something unusual to hang a story from. I suppose the fact that I have two degrees from Baylor University, (the largest Baptist university in the world) and also write romance (the steamy kind, not inspirationals) might be a hook to some journalist, if I should, some day, make a bigtime list.

    My undergrad degree is in journalism, and it did help me learn to write. It helped me with structure and with clean tight writing and with organizing my thoughts. It didn’t help me with the storytelling aspects. But as la Nora has said– different things work for different folks.

    Okay, my comment hasn’t added anything new to the discussion, but wanted to get my 2 cents in. Now I’m going to go back and read Rebecca’s comment more thoroughly. I’m really enjoying the academic discussions of romance, though, as from Teach Me Tonight and a few other places.

    ReplyReply

  85. Stacia Kane
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 15:47:16

    Count me as another one who loves the process of writing, start to finish. Sometimes it’s harder than other times, but I love it anyway.

    ReplyReply

  86. Kalen Hughes
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 15:53:47

    but from a reader's standpoint (and I know you don't say this or assert this but just wanted to make the point) it is important that we don't rely upon the credentials of the author in judging whether we should buy the book.

    Oh gawd no. I can name dozens (if not hundreds) or writers who I think are waaaaay better than me (as story tellers and as word smiths) and very few (none?) of them have MFAs. As a reader I don’t put any emphasis on a writer's education, awards, or endorsements (Oprah et al). I trust my friends, a few key reviews, and that’s about it.

    Ok, I'm lying. I avoid anything with the Oprah stamp like the plague, LOL! That sticker is like a big warning sign: DO NOT READ.

    ReplyReply

  87. Leslie Kelly
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 15:56:05

    Magic happens when you have a confluence of imagination, craft, and discipline -’ and that doesn't happen as often as some might think.

    Very nicely put, Karen.

    Add me as one who loves AND hates the process. When it’s flying and I’m in that “zone” there’s almost no better feeling. When it’s not I wonder why on earth I ever started this writing business in the first place. On those days, I much prefer having-written to writing.

    ReplyReply

  88. Ann Somerville
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 16:03:39

    I don’t have any formal training in writing. What I do have is an Arts degree with History, French and English majors, a BSc with majors in animal physiology and biochemistry (and units in chemistry, geology, evolution and ecology) and a Masters in IT. All but the last was done for the sheer love of learning, and all but the last has been invaluable in my writing – because being loaded up with useless but interesting facts is great :) None of the qualifications are from posh institutions, but I still have the knowledge anyway.

    I’d love to do a writing course but I’m afraid of it ending up like the critiquing groups I’ve been part of, where you spend more time massaging the egos of inadequate writers than learning anything ground breaking. Being published for the first time has been worth more than gold to me because my editor is teaching me about writing – teaching me about my bad habits, teaching me how to tighten my writing and make it work better. I love nothing better than getting back a hard beta or edits from a pro editor, because I love to learn, and I love to improve.

    I also (usually) love the process of writing because usually it’s easy. I have a lot of friends who claim to want to be writers but they never seems to sit down and do it. They knit, or go to movies, or blog about their writer’s block, or how they plan, real soon, to sit down and write – what’s obvious to me is that they don’t enjoy writing, and it’s not a priority with them, so why do they want to do it? You have enjoy something about the process or you’d never do it. There’s just too much work and frustration involved to do something you don’t enjoy at least partially.

    Fortunately, I think it’s the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Mostly :)

    Bev Stephans: Totally agree. But if you do have that, then the rest can be taught and polished, if the author is open to learning. That openness is actually rarer than raw talent, if you ask me.

    ReplyReply

  89. Leslie Kelly
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 16:14:49

    Oh, one more point on the education thing. I was once invited to teach a continuing education “how to write a romance novel” course, non-credit, at a community college. I’d probably published a good 20 books by then.

    Then they found out I didn’t have a BA and they uninvited me. I knew people who’d signed up for the course thinking I was teaching it. They ended up getting someone with an English degree who’d never published a book in her life and who didn’t even read romance.

    So I guess in that case maybe having a degree would have come in handy…grr…

    ReplyReply

  90. Janine
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 17:02:09

    On hating vs. loving writing:

    I have days when the writing flows out and satisfies me on a very deep level, the way reading a book that is exactly what I wanted to read that day satisfies me. When that happens I love writing to bits.

    But I also have days when I have to squeeze out every word and none of them want to come forward. Hate those days. Hate them.

    My most recent review here, the one for Emily Giffin’s Love the One You’re With, did not want to get written. I went through five drafts and it was still way too long and laborious when I stopped working on it because I felt that it was taking too much time away from my other writing.

    Most of the time, though, I’m somewhere in the middle, and what I’ve noticed is that the writing process itself usually goes better than I expect it to when I’m getting ready to sit down and write.

    I’ve therefore come to a conclusion: it’s not writing that I hate on those bad days; it’s perfectionism. It’s that internal pressure I feel to write the best writing I can produce. On one level that pressure is a good thing, because if I didn’t care at all about the quality of my writing, it would probably be worse. But on another level that pressure is also what makes my stomach muscles tighten up when I think of turning on the computer on those bad writing days, and therefore, I wish I could do without it.

    I started writing creatively around second grade and it was just bliss then, because I didn’t feel that pressure. If writing itself was so awful, no one would do it in childhood. Children do what’s fun for them; what they are naturally drawn to and enjoy. It’s that perfectionism that sucks the fun out of writing.

    When I was in college, I took a poetry writing class. The graduate student who taught it was extremely demanding. He taught me a tremendous amount about good writing — I learned a lot about meter and other sound effects, and he drilled “abstract vs. concrete” into my brain. But after that class, I also became much harder on myself as a writer, and for several years, I lost the urge to write for fun, which had been with me since childhood. So I see writing classes as something that can be both positive and negative, and sometimes even both at the same time.

    Now something I don't love, something I can definitely consider drudgery…edits. I hate edits. Sad sigh. I have some waiting for me, too. They are a necessary evil.

    I, on the other hand, really enjoy editing. It’s so much easier for me than writing, mostly because I feel a lot less pressure when I edit. The words are already there, and all I have to do is polish them. Editing is my warm up for the actual writing — I usually start out editing the previous day’s output, and then move into the day’s writing from there. It helps me ease into it, because I start out having fun and then I’m more relaxed when I move into the writing portion of my day.

    ReplyReply

  91. Meriam
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 17:49:00

    I, on the other hand, really enjoy editing. It's so much easier for me than writing, mostly because I feel a lot less pressure when I edit. The words are already there, and all I have to do is polish them.

    Mmm. I like editing, too.

    Still don’t love A Countess Below Stairs, though :-)

    ReplyReply

  92. K. Z. Snow
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 18:08:31

    Although I’m proud of it, I’ve found myself more often downplaying my education than touting it. (Hell, I’ve even lied on job applications so I wouldn’t be considered overqualified.) There seems to be a kind of backlash in this country against “academic” types. It’s been a problem for me all my adult life.

    I find it rather sad that I need to defend my education — something for which I and my tavernkeeper, eighth-grade-dropout parents worked hard, in more ways than one. The reason I became an English major in the first place is because I’ve always loved and respected the written word and have always had something of a gift for it (not a startling, Faulknerian, kick-you-in-the-ass kind of gift, but a gift nonetheless. And, shit, it’s the only one I have . . . so I’m owning it!)

    I struggle; I self-correct; I agree with edits and argue with edits. But, the bottom line is, I love to write and I love to spin stories. I only hope readers and other writers don’t assume that educated authors are stuffy and inaccessible.

    At least my editors appreciate me. :-)

    ReplyReply

  93. Nonny
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 18:15:55

    Thank you.

    I’ve been told by many, many people that in order to be a published, successful author, I need to go to college and get at the very least my bachelor’s, and preferably my master’s and doctorate as well. Never mind that there are plenty of successful authors out there who don’t even have a high school degree, much less a doctorate.

    I always want to ask them if they’re willing to pay for these degrees, because I certainly don’t have the money, and I’m not willing to put myself in major debt for something I believe is really not that necessary. I can see how and why it would help some writers, but what is true for one person is not true for everyone, and I very much resent it when people act as though that is the case.

    ReplyReply

  94. Janine
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 18:52:32

    Still don't love A Countess Below Stairs, though :-)

    LOL. That’s totally okay. Nothing says you have to.

    ReplyReply

  95. Janet/Robin
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 19:40:50

    There seems to be a kind of backlash in this country against “academic” types. It's been a problem for me all my adult life.

    It’s been a problem since, well, the conception of the US, really. Check out Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, published all the way back in 1963; you’ll think you’re reading a book published now. Then there’s Susan Jacoby’s recently published The Age of Unreason, which is still in my TBR pile, but which is supposed to be an updated Hofstadter-ian analysis of current (bad) attitudes toward intellectual thought.

    ReplyReply

  96. the fshk blog » quickies: it’s gettin’ hot in herre edition
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 19:53:37

    [...] Dear Author has an interesting discussion of our odd deference to people with Ivy League educations. For the record, I’m good enough and smart enough, etc, etc, and probably could have gotten [...]

  97. Stephanie
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 22:44:08

    I love and hate the process of writing. But I must love it more than I hate it, because I’m still doing it. Experiencing the creation highs, the dry-spell lows, and the plodding slash&burn-let’s–edit-the-hell-out-of-this-puppy middle, which sometimes feels like the longest part of the whole thing.

    I do hate proofreading, though–especially for the glitches that my spell and grammar checker fail to catch.

    ReplyReply

  98. Shiloh Walker
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 23:00:54

    Now something I don't love, something I can definitely consider drudgery…edits. I hate edits. Sad sigh. I have some waiting for me, too. They are a necessary evil.

    I, on the other hand, really enjoy editing. It's so much easier for me than writing, mostly because I feel a lot less pressure when I edit. The words are already there, and all I have to do is polish them. Editing is my warm up for the actual writing -’ I usually start out editing the previous day's output, and then move into the day's writing from there. It helps me ease into it, because I start out having fun and then I'm more relaxed when I move into the writing portion of my day.

    Yeah, I’ve had other writers tell me before they enjoy the editing process. It’s something I can’t wrap my mind around. ;)

    ReplyReply

  99. Suze
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 23:16:23

    I tried to google it, and failed, but a few years ago Bill Moyers gave a commencement speech (I think it was Bill Moyers, hm, maybe that’s why the google failed). It was to a class graduating with Humanities degrees, and the gist of it was that, while other degrees seem to give you a hand up into a career, a humanities or arts degree teaches you how to think critically, and be aware of the importance of the intangible, human factor.

    A lot of people with science or business backgrounds can be analytical about measurable, quantifiable things, but when you start to talk about philosophical or emotional things, they lose the ability to analyze. Critical thinking is HIGHLY underrated these days, IMO.

    That said, a body can still write an entertaining, engaging story that is technically flawed and become a best-selling author (hey, there, JR Ward!).

    Writing is an art and a skill. Just like in skating, you can get points for artistry, and you can get points for technical execution. If the stars align, you can be blessed with both artistry and technique, and be Laura Kinsale.

    From everything I’ve heard and read, the one thing that writers have in common is that they write. I’ve never heard of a writer who doesn’t spend significant chunks of time writing.

    ReplyReply

  100. Keishon
    Jun 10, 2008 @ 23:33:47

    I don't mean to hijack this conversation, but who are these people? I don't know a single unemployed person who went to an Ivy. Lots of people change their careers or move on from their major (cough *me* cough), but they are doing something

    I was pretty much criticizing the cost of education today. In some professions, it really doesn’t matter what school you went to because the end result is the same. I guess I’m lucky in that I actually get to [cough] use my degree and I didn’t break the bank to earn it. But this is getting beyond Jane’s initial topic, so carry on…

    ReplyReply

  101. Lori
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 08:33:20

    Does an Ivy League degree make you a better writer? No, it makes you a better educated one.

    My 2 cents.

    ReplyReply

  102. May
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 11:59:16

    I’m an undergrad at the moment at a pretty good school.

    Yasmine Galenorn said it was vital, and I’d agree that is vital in the sense that it’s a new experience, not that all writers need a university education. No experience, nothing to write about–I’ll admit that I think the no experience bit hampers my writing.

    I’m studying economics, and I’m already thinking about my MSc and PhD–FYI, I’m extremely against the whole going to university for a Creative Writing, Eng Lit etc degree, but that’s another topic. I very much enjoy my classes.

    Writing?

    Well, it’s improved my analytical skills and taught me what critical engagement actually is. But I could have improved them and learnt that somewhere else.

    But for me, I’ve moved from Singapore to the UK. I’m living on my own for the first time with people who were complete strangers at the beginning of the academic year. It’s a new experience, and that is the much bigger contribution that university has made to my writing.

    ReplyReply

  103. Zeba
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 12:15:30

    LOL – I haven’t read Diana Peterfreund, but one thing that Lauren Willig, Eloisa James and Julia Quinn have in common is that I’ve read their books and avoided second helpings. That’s my taste I know – I like historical accuracy and I increasingly prefer historical fiction to historical romance. All three struck me as writing wallpaper settings with humour and psychology that were distinctly 21st century. I know that lots of people love them, but just not my cup of tea.

    But to put this in perspective, one of our greatest British playwrights, Tom Stoppard, is erudite, witty and without an undergraduate degree (I believe he’s earned plenty of honorary degrees, including one from Yale).

    It’s not what you know, or where you learnt it – it’s how you use it.

    ReplyReply

  104. Gail Dayton
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 14:40:55

    I was once invited to teach a continuing education “how to write a romance novel” course, non-credit, at a community college. I'd probably published a good 20 books by then.Then they found out I didn't have a BA and they uninvited me. I knew people who'd signed up for the course thinking I was teaching it. They ended up getting someone with an English degree who'd never published a book in her life and who didn't even read romance.

    Huh. My fella is a community college prez and has gone out on accreditation visits. And while there is a requirement that teachers of academic for-credit subjects have a master’s degree in the subject matter they are teaching (which means that I can teach history, but not government)(Or Engish/writing), there is no such requirement for non-credit continuing-education type classes, at least for the schools who are members of the Southern Association of Collleges and Schools (which is the oldest accrediting body in the US).

    Also, in “technical” programs (and it could be argued that “writing a romance novel for publication” could be considered a technical program), instructors get “points” for experience. So many years’ experience is the equivalent of so many graduate hours/a degree. Individual schools may have their own requirements set up as policy, but that is certainly not a nationwide requirement. Seems to me experience would count more, especially for a non-credit class. If I weren’t married to the boss, I could teach novel-writing classes at the local community college, even though I’m not qualified to teach a credit class in writing… But there’s that nepotism thing.

    Oh well. Those people don’t know what they’re missing.

    ReplyReply

  105. purposefully anonymous
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 17:53:21

    This blog post infuriates me. I’m seeing red right now, and my BP just shot up. I went to Harvard. In fact, I just came back from reunion weekend.

    I’m an aspiring writer. Harvard hasn’t helped me one single little bit to get ahead. In fact, the kind of reverse snobbery I see in this post shows up ALL THE TIME.

    Why do you think Harvard grads say they went to school in “Boston”? Because there’s so much prejudice against us. And yet Harvard grads are some of the most down to earth, diverse, interesting people I’ve ever known. You can’t stuff us all into one snobby basket. It doesn’t work, and it’s deeply, profoundly insulting. And to diss us all because Eloise James had some factual errors and historical sloppiness in her first novel? Puleez. Her writing is light and frothy and it is what it is, Harvard degree or no Harvard degree.

    All I can think is that you have a serious chip on your shoulder because you didn’t get in. (BTW, I couldn’t afford it either. That’s what the huge endowment is for, in part. Scholarship money.)

    ReplyReply

  106. Erastes
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 18:09:53

    Dear Purposefully,

    I really dislike an anon commenter, I write things that people disagree with all the time, but I do it openly, so why can’t you?

    I think you’ve missed the point of the post. It’s not slagging off the Ivy/Oxbridge brigade, but it’s simply saying that having a degree doesn’t always mean that you are the better writer. I run a review site, and the number of times I find “Mary sue has a degree in historical this and that” and yet they don’t bother to research enough to know that men don’t kiss in the street or worry about the etymology of words.

    Hell, we all know that there ARE good/GREAT writers from the Ivy/Oxbridge system, no-one’s doubting that, but it doesn’t always follow. It’s not personal, it’s simply encouraging idiots like me who left school with next to no qualifications. Qualifications for what, anyway?

    ReplyReply

  107. Patricia Rice
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 18:38:11

    having an Ivy League education is simply another marketing hook like being an airplane pilot or a beauty queen. Publishing will use any hook they can to market a book. If the buying public thinks a writer is better because they have an Ivy League education, fine, that’s their decision. We all choose our books in peculiar ways.

    If only authors could make up fictional biographies, I’d go for being a Transylvanian graduate with a degree in blood analysis, a hobby of ghost-busting, and a career in aeronautic space travel. Ivy League is much too unimaginative in today’s romance market!

    ReplyReply

  108. Ann Somerville
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 18:46:33

    My question isn’t for ‘Puposefully Anonymous’ because someone who becomes that enraged over something which isn’t even directed at them isn’t in a position to talk rationally.

    But to the rest of you – this ‘you’re all just bitter and jelush’ line gets trotted out by authors dismissing bad reviews, publishers called out for their lousy business practices, and any number of frothing at the mouth supporters of same.

    Has anyone, in the history of time, ever been convinced by it? Has anyone seen an author respond to a review with ‘you’re just jealous of my success’ and gone, oh, wait, maybe they’re right? Changed their minds about a failing publisher because of it? Been willing to excuse the shenanigans we’ve seen of late with authors going able and beyond the call of duty to act like bullying thugs to critics?

    Anyone?

    Because if that’s the sound of chirping crickets (I typed ‘critics’ first [g]) I hear, and we’re all just too dumb to realise how brilliant these people are, why aren’t they smart enough to come up with an argument that actual works?

    Just wondering, is all.

    ReplyReply

  109. Diane
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 18:51:07

    Like Purposefully Anon, I thought this post *was* slagging off the Ivy/Oxbridge crowd.

    My problem started with the sentence: “It is believed, I am certain, that Ivy Leaguers know how to write it better.”

    I will now display my superior education and point out that this is a passive sentence, conveniently assigning that thought to no one in particular. And that assertion is taken as the leaping off point for the rest of the blog (and many of these comments).

    You mentioned Eloisa James’ book as a mark against the Harvard education; frankly, I’m more interested in who the editor was on that one. And as a lawyer you should know something about introducing biased samples. Unless you’re going to do a comprehensive study of accuracies in all books published by Harvard graduates (in comparison to any other group), James means nothing.

    And all due respect to Julia Quinn’s talent aside, when I read your assertion that she was in TIME because of her education, my first thought was: “She was in TIME magazine because she’s attractive.” When she then mentioned that TIME was looking for the *youngest* writer, I said: Yup.

    You also said: “I would argue an astute roadside waitress would be able to tell as good or better of a story than an ivory towered academic. Because that astute roadside waitress could see the visual clues of people's interaction with each other and if she was gifted, could articulate those things.” Uh…because ivory-towered academics don’t get out much? Because ivory-towered academic == boring literary AU-THUH who knows nothing of the real world?

    How are you *not* slagging off on Ivy/Oxbridge/other high-status educations by saying something like that?

    In your last comment you said, “it's simply saying that having a degree doesn't always mean that you are the better writer.” But you didn’t start with “having a degree”; in your second sentence you go straight to calling out the Ivy League-educated. And again: who is saying this? The population at large? Our society? Editors? Any editor who picks up a book simply because of where the writer attended college is an editor who won’t be in that job long. As anyone who’s attended college knows, having a degree from (fill in) is impressive…up until you get your first job. Then it’s all you, baby.

    Btw, I didn’t attend Harvard. Or Yale.

    ReplyReply

  110. Ann Somerville
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 18:58:52

    Diana, not being familiar with how mainstream romance is marketed – is it common to mention education other than the Ivy League/Oxbridge schools in promotions?

    If it is, then Jane’s post does seem to be picking on the elite colleges, but if it’s only those elite colleges which tend to be mentioned, then singling them out does seem fair.

    ReplyReply

  111. Diane
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 19:10:12

    I’ve seen author bios mention Notre Dame and Purdue, although I can’t think of what those books were off-hand, so maybe they don’t count.

    ReplyReply

  112. Ann Somerville
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 19:15:44

    Maybe the focus on the Ivy league schools for romance is a form of reverse snobbery – ‘Hey look, these gals are smart enough for Yale etc, but they’re writing romance!’ Like the perception is that you don’t have to be that smart for this genre or whatever. The lesser known or less prestigious universities don’t show up this false dichotomy well enough to be worth mentioning, maybe.

    ReplyReply

  113. Janet/Robin
    Jun 11, 2008 @ 19:24:06

    For whatever reason, this seems to be another issue that provokes discussion at the extremes. To wit: ‘you’re just bashing/jealous of Ivy League graduates’ v. ‘you Ivy League graduates all think you’re better than everyone else.’ I realize that this is an issue that can make people feel uncomfortable and even insulted, and that overgeneralizations are a danger, but in between these extremes, IMO, there is some interesting discussion to be had.

    Someone above argued that the lack of historical accuracy in the James book had nothing to do with James’s educational pedigree. But doesn’t that make the inverse (or is that the converse — I always mix those up) true, as well, that James’s educational pedigree has nothing to do with the book’s historical accuracies (or lack thereof)? If it has no impact in one direction, why should we think it has an impact in the opposite direction? And yet if you take into consideration the marketing of certain authors, I think we’re supposed to believe that it does. If an educational pedigree means nothing in terms of an author’s perceived weaknesses, it shouldn’t, IMO, be credited for the author’s strengths, either, unless those strengths relate obviously to the author’s educational background and work. That doesn’t mean an author should hide her educational accomplishments. As Jane said, this seems to be largely an issue of readers (and I would add marketers) placing an increased emphasis on certain name brands. It just doesn’t mean that every Harvard or Yale grad is suited for a career as an author. Or, for that matter, as president.

    ReplyReply

  114. Nora Roberts
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 04:44:02

    I didn’t read the post the same way Purposefully or Diane did. I read it as questioning the validity of a marketing tool and reader perception. An Ivy League degree, or a doctorate IS a good marketing hook. I’m certainly impressed when I read so-and-so graduated from Harvard, or earned her PhD pretty much wherever. I’m going to think, hey so-and-so is really smart.

    While I’m not going to think so-and-so is a better writer than whoever didn’t have the same education, it’s still a basic marketing hook. Just as someone pointed out the old ‘snowbound mother of two’ is and has been a marketing hook for me. And boy am I sick of telling that story.

    While I don’t agree with the Galenorn quote above that college is vital, it’s certainly valuable, imo, in any field.

    ReplyReply

  115. Bernita
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 06:41:43

    I think it’s merely a marketing ploy to counter the perception in some reviewing quarters that romance novels are literary “trash.”
    However, I’m sure that no degree-bearing author who writes romance feel they are slumming when they do so, or feel in any way superior to non-degree-wearing writers. If they do they haven’t read much.

    ReplyReply

  116. Steph B.
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 11:01:10

    I have enjoyed reading this column and all the comments. I’m not a writer and have no aspirations to ever be one. (Although all the way through high school and college, my instructors generally felt many of my essay answers were worthy of creative writing awards!!)

    I am, however, in love with the written word and learning. I have read works by most of the authors who have posted in this blog and enjoyed their work.

    I have a college degree in Marketing with a minor in Communications and a minor in Computer Science. I minored in Computer Science because a Dean in the Computer Science department told me I couldn’t pass Computer Science classes without taking Calculus (which I refused to do) and I HAD to prove him wrong. I have a Master’s of Education in Instructional Technology. My instructors in my master’s program wanted me to go ahead and do doctorate work but I was unwilling unless they volunteered to pay for it – grin! I do not have any college debt and never have had any. My parents paid for my undergraduate degree (at least the tuition and books) and I paid for my master’s degree. Obviously I didn’t attend Ivy League schools. My college degrees helped me in “my” job market and were probably necessary for the types of jobs I have held. So for me, college had merit. I doubt I would have been hired anywhere as a computer programmer/trainer without my college degrees. I am currently doing what I consider to be the most important job of my life — raising my 10 year old son to be a good, moral, and ethical man (and yes I get lots of help from a wonderful hubby) and I don’t have any training for that. My son is a miniature engineer in the making so yes I expect he will need a college education (I sure hope HE gets a scholarship). I have been blessed in my life and I know it!

    Since I love to read and love to express my opinion – VBG – I spend a lot of my free time reading books for reviews and writing reviews (LOL I work for review sites with editors to catch my grammatical errors). Quite frankly, I could care less what kind of education an author has if they can tell a good, entertaining story. (And an Oprah book club recommend it a death sentence on the book for me!) I rarely even read an author bio. If I do read a bio, it is generally after I have already finished the book and have already formed an opinion on the work. I probably miss most grammatical or syntax errors in a book unless it is so glaring that it distracts from the story so since that isn’t my specialty I don’t comment on them. I do notice if an author (or their editors) miss errors like the character’s name changing part way through the story, math errors, detail inconsistencies like changing hair or eye color, etc… but that is probably my “nerd” brain at work! For the most part, an author just has to keep me engaged in the story and entertained to garner a good review.

    I don’t think imagination or creative story ideas is a skill easily taught, I suspect it is innate. It does make sense to me that an author can benefit from a program (college or otherwise) that teaches how to plot the story, how to develop their characters… etc… but what do I know? The only claim I can stand behind is whether or not I liked the story!

    ReplyReply

  117. Xandra
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 11:17:58

    Seems to me like singling the Ivy Leaguers out is an attempt by the Forces of Marketing (TM) to play upon the “opposites” factor. For those of us in the genre, and in the “fandom” so-to-speak of romance, we know that authors come from all educational backgrounds and all walks of life and a bazillion different circumstances (each one with a potentially marketable angle, if you dig deep enough). But outside writers, avid readers, or avid readers of romance, that perception is just not there. Even to my close friends and relatives, who now know better, they’re still just “grocery-store books,” and the perception of bored-housewife-pr0n is still very firmly entrenched. To the casual browser, seeing an author interview or bio that mentions an Ivy league education is *supposed* to flick that, “hey, that’s an opposite!” switch in their heads in order to pique their interest.

    And it may have a little bearing on the expectations readers will have regarding the books they are about to read. It may not be conscious, but it creates a subconscious expectation in a reader’s mind about the journey they’re about to take, the same way a name-recognized author’s name, or a quote, or a sub-genre label like “romantic suspense” or “epic fantasy” would. That is, not necessarily enough to carry a book they don’t like, but enough to single it out from the dozens of others around it.

    And I have to lean towards agreeing with the spirit of Galenorn’s opinion that college is vital, but I wouldn’t declare it an absolute. It was vital to me because I learned all my critical thinking and reading skills in college. Prior to that, I read some Shakespeare and learned how to color in the right ovals on standardized tests.

    ReplyReply

  118. Nora Roberts
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 13:34:22

    ~And I have to lean towards agreeing with the spirit of Galenorn's opinion that college is vital, but I wouldn't declare it an absolute~

    Well, if the spirit of the statement is true, what does it say about writers like me, who didn’t go to college?

    ReplyReply

  119. Christine Merrill
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 13:59:32

    I would wholeheartedly agree with the Galenorn statement, if we could substitute ‘intellectual curiosity’ for ‘college’. I don’t think you can be a good writer without being an observer of the world, and a life-long learner with insatiable curiosity.

    Going to college is often a sign that an individual has these behaviors. Or it can help foster the behaviors, if they are not already formed. But it is not the only path to enlightenment.

    To see both sides, and recognize learning and respect wisdom, gained or existing, outside of an academic setting is a way to use the critical thinking skills we were supposed to be getting, while in school.

    ReplyReply

  120. Patricia Rice
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 14:50:22

    I’ll buy “intellectual curiosity” but I won’t buy “college.” Yes, some students profit from college. Of course, they do. I only went so I could have a degree to prove that I could do what I was already doing (accounting, at the time). It was a waste of time and money and I was teaching the kids around me while I was doing it, but society requires that sheepskin for certain professions, so I got it. I guess it proved that I’m a stubborn witch, but it didn’t make me a writer!

    If we’re going to do the college argument, then I’ll say that colleges would be far better served if they all had apprenticeship programs to send the students out into the real world. One learns a whole lot faster being knocked around by reality than studying about it in books. A writer who learns her craft from college still needs life experience before she can write a word. Unless, of course, she’s writing about college. “G”

    ReplyReply

  121. Janine
    Jun 12, 2008 @ 17:44:23

    If we're going to do the college argument, then I'll say that colleges would be far better served if they all had apprenticeship programs to send the students out into the real world. One learns a whole lot faster being knocked around by reality than studying about it in books. A writer who learns her craft from college still needs life experience before she can write a word. Unless, of course, she's writing about college. “G”

    IMO the ideal college education would be a mixture of a varied academic curriculum as well as apprecnticeship programs. Yes, one learns a lot by being out in the real world, and there are times I wish my alma mater had provided me with more of that. But my more old fashioned academic curriculum really widened my horizons, taught me how to think critically and how to research, all of which have served me in good stead.

    I’ll add that I loved college, and would happily have spent many more years there, not as a graduate student or as a professor, but as an undergraduate, if I could have afforded it. I loved the wide array of subjects my university made available to me — after the more limited selection of classes in high school the scope of the subjects at college seemed breathtaking. There are so many subjects I would have loved to learn more about that I did not take even one class in because I only had room for so many electives.

    So yeah, while I agree with you that school (even high school) ought to do a better job of preparing students for the real world, I also wish that the real world presented us with more opportunities for old-fashioned academic schooling.

    ReplyReply

  122. Gillian
    Jun 13, 2008 @ 11:21:27

    Count me in as one of those who has a problem with this post, but for a reason that I feel has not yet been articulated. (Full disclosure: I went to Princeton and loved it. I’m one of those who could have stayed an undergrad for ever.) The simple fact that the column was written at all is the problem for me, because where is Ivy League education being used as a marketing technique within the romance genre?

    Jane wrote:

    I agree that it is a marketing technique and a good one from a marketing and authorial standpoint. But only because we readers respond to it in a positive way. I.e., we readers elevate authors who have the pedigree.

    So which readers are elevating authors with this pedigree? No one in this blog’s audience, it seems. And is educational pedigree actually being used as a marketing technique? You don’t see “Harvard-educated” splashed across the front of Julia Quinn or Eloisa James’ books. No, it’s “bestselling author of X and X” or the usual blurbs from other romance authors, just like it is for every other writer. Are there readers out there who check out author bios when they’re deciding whether to buy a book? From everything I’ve read online, it seems like the front and back covers and the first few pages are what help make that decision. So my first thought about this post was, “Why are we having this discussion at all?” I agree that such marketing happens in other genres, such as literary fiction, but I just do not see it in romance.

    As for the authors mentioned, I had no idea of educational backgrounds except for Quinn. And I think the only reason I know that Julia Quinn attended Harvard is because I remember being struck after reading Splendid that here was a young woman only a little older than I was with a similar educational background. And it was her youth (very clear from the author photo) that was as much of a draw as her Ivy League education.

    I think that the question of whether a college education makes you a better writer is a completely different question.

    ReplyReply

  123. Monica Burns
    Jun 13, 2008 @ 11:58:24

    And is educational pedigree actually being used as a marketing technique? You don't see “Harvard-educated” splashed across the front of Julia Quinn or Eloisa James' books. No, it's “bestselling author of X and X” or the usual blurbs from other romance authors, just like it is for every other writer.

    It’s a technique that’s been used enough to make people aware of the authors’ education. I knew about the education background of all three authors mentioned in the post. I think the way the marketing was used in the cases of JQ and EJ provided them with an expanded range of potential readers. As referenced earlier, it was used in JQ’s Time Magazine article. With EJ, her “coming out” as a romance writer made national news as I recall. With that information out there, it gets passed on over an extended period of time, which generates continued publicity.

    The educational hook might not be used on the back or front of a book, but it’s seen in other publicity efforts. The question is whether or not the marketing actually creates a bridge for new readers to cross over and read the author. But then that’s the same marketing question one asks for any hook one uses in promoting an author. Most marketing is not easily quantified, but every little bit counts toward the bottom line. I don’t see the educational hook as being any less valuable than a cover quote for the same author. It is what it is—-a marketing hook.

    ReplyReply

  124. Doreen Alsen
    Jun 13, 2008 @ 17:45:12

    I’m late to the party because I thought about things too long. This thread pushes so many buttons for me. My husband taught English and American Lit for too many years to count. He finally retired (I am a child bride. Really.) and one of the reasons he retired was that none of the kids coming out of high school knew how to write anymore. He wasn’t teaching about literature, his great love (besides me) he was doing remedial work teaching people how to make a sentence.

    And college writing is nothing like telling a story. It’s about having an opinion and using other people’s opinions to prove your opinion is right.

    It’s a sad state of American education that people have to go to college to learn how to make a sentence.

    ReplyReply

  125. Yasmine Galenorn
    Jul 22, 2008 @ 01:25:42

    I find it interesting that people didn’t notice my qualifiers (and that my actual response to the blog post was far longer than what is clipped here) that college doesn’t work for *all* people, and that part of the value I see in it is to expand horizons in ways other than educational. I would never blanketly say a college degree is required for being a writer–in fact, my own is in theatre, not writing, but my years spent in college (a state college) were priceless in terms of opening up new experiences for me.

    Yasmine

    ReplyReply

  126. Review, The Lost Duke of Wyndham, Julia Quinn « Racy Romance Reviews
    Sep 10, 2008 @ 21:43:46

    [...] not because Quinn got her undergrad degree at an Ivy League university (I work with a number of pretty [...]

  127. Racy Romance Reviews » Blog Archive » Review, The Lost Duke of Wyndham, Julia Quinn
    Dec 01, 2008 @ 19:30:03

    [...] not because Quinn got her undergrad degree at an Ivy League university (I work with a number of pretty [...]

  128. scene girls
    Jun 11, 2009 @ 15:16:44

    That’s some excellent information you’ve gathered on , but how do you find the time to gather it all??

    ReplyReply

  129. Best Bread Machine
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 18:46:06

    Good work over again! I am looking forward for more updates;)

    ReplyReply

  130. Robert Lehr
    Aug 06, 2012 @ 02:11:16

    True, the diner waitress could write a good story. But about what? Ay, there’s the rub! It’s easy to write about dumb people, criminals, policemen, etc. but a redneck education will not allow for knowing how the really educated think or behave, except on the most superficial levels. C.P. Snow was a dean at Cambridge, and was thus able to write about the inner lives of professors, and their social interactions. Read “The Affair”. Michael Gruber had an excellent educational background, so his characters can be credible anthropologists, psychoanalysts, judges, etc. A 4th tier college education will most probably limit what a author can credibly write about.

    ReplyReply

  131. Robert Lehr
    Aug 06, 2012 @ 02:31:29

    This is in response to Nora Roberts, above: It says that you would never be able to write anything that could be thought of as “literature”. It says that you’ll be at your best when creating characters that have lower levels of education than yours. Dancers, nursemaids, soldiers, cowboys, farmers, etc.
    A good education is priceless, and not easily acquired. You need very high quality professors AND very high quality student body AND you need to live among them for several years. A intro Psych course at The University of Chicago is NOT the intro Psych course at University of Central Florida. There is simply no comparison!

    ReplyReply

Leave a Reply


+ 8 = 11

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

%d bloggers like this: