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Professional Residency Gives MFA Students Insight to Publishing World

By Gina Myers

MFA students pose for a photograph in Times Square

February 08, 2022

New York City has long been the center of the publishing industry in the United States. For writers dreaming of book deals and advances, it is a world they must learn to navigate.

This past November, second-year students in the MFA in Creative Writing program found themselves under the bright lights of the big city to get a feel for what getting a book published is all about.

The professional residency is a distinctive part of Drexel’s low-residency MFA program that helps prepare students for their post-degree career. For three days, fiction writers convene in New York to meet with publishers, agents and editors, allowing students to form professional ties and gain real-world perspective on the publishing industry.

“We intend to show our students that agents, editors and publishers are real people who love books, and are anxiously waiting for them to show up by creating polished work and sending it out into the world,” explains MFA program director Nomi Eve. “When you are in your own house and community, far from the machinery of publishing, it can feel very daunting and impersonal. We aim to create a sense of intimacy and familiarity that takes some of the edge off of the submission process.”

The most recent residency had writing students meet with agents from Folio Literary Management, editors from St. Martin’s Press and bestselling author Ann Garvin. The students had several opportunities to share their pitches and receive feedback about their book projects.

The experience helped demystify the publishing process. Student George MacMillan says, “Before I thought of the writing industry as a cold business, but now I understand it as a people-centered industry. It’s more human.”

Classmate Nick Perez agrees, “The NYC residency made the business side of things less scary. Before, I pictured the Hollywood version of an agent who doesn’t care about individuals and just wants you to go away. Obviously these agents have a job to do, but I saw they actually care about the things that you care about too.”

While the MFA program also helps writers develop their craft, it’s experiences like the professional residency that give Drexel students an edge, as student Juliet Del Rio notes: “Before I was in the MFA program, I could Google ‘best places to submit work,’ and I would just get the same results on different websites that thousands of others were getting, too. In this program, I’ve learned the exact language and the worlds of niche grants, awards and residencies. You’re really immersed into the literary world in a way that you can’t get from Googling and bloggers.”

She adds, “I can’t imagine trying to get something published not only without the craft workshops, but with the professional development as well.”

MacMillan echoes this sentiment. “You can write the best novel out there, but if you can't get someone to read your first 10 pages, you're never going to be published,” he says. “It is hard as a creative person to know that you have to do some of these mechanical business things to get your work out there and to become read and develop an audience. Without knowing how to query or how to formulate a pitch that is going to generate attention, you might as well just be writing for yourself.”

While there is nothing wrong with writing for oneself, the Drexel MFA program is geared toward writers who want to be published and make a career out of writing. Learning to write for publication is invaluable.

Eve says, “Emerging writers need to understand how important it is to craft books with an eye to the marketplace. If you want to write books that will sit on a bookstore shelf one day, you need to have an awareness of what it means to write books that sell as you are writing them. That's not to say that craft is second fiddle to career—only that there can be a beautiful marriage between craft and career awareness, and it's in that sweet spot that books sell, readers read them, and writers start cracking the spine on the next project.”

In addition to participating in discussions about the current publishing landscape and trends, and receiving instruction on pitching and query writing—including learning what not to put in a query letter—the residency also provided an opportunity for the students to meet in-person for the first time.

Due to the pandemic, the cohort’s previous residencies were held over Zoom, and though the students felt like they knew each other, they agreed that this trip made clear their special bond.

“I didn’t fully appreciate the relationships I had formed with my classmates until we got to see everyone in person, and I really felt the connection we have,” says Perez.

The MFA program at Drexel is especially known for building a strong community amongst its participants and professors, so the opportunity to finally comes together as a group was a highlight of being in New York together.

Eve says it was hands-down her favorite part of the residency: “What a joy to be together!”