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Ms. Merriwether Answers Questions on Writing, Life

Considering the Bar, Low or High.



Dear Ms. Merriwether,

I have enjoyed writing on the internet, but it has always been my dream to be a Published Author, which means printing a novel or anthology in book form. Preferably, The New York Times will review my book and it will appear on the bestseller list.

However, self-publishing seems to be easier and requires only that I, the author, do the marketing.

Which do you recommend?

Best-Seller or Cry-Baby

Gentle Reader:

Many writers yearn to be discovered by a top literary agent, go to a premiere publishing house, and have great runs as best-selling authors. Not as many writers buy bridges in Brooklyn, although a great many writers rent apartments there.

The bar for publishing has never been lower. The gatekeepers, for the most part, have disappeared. These facts are true for writers, musicians, and anybody who can hop on the internet and sell directly to the world, or at least to their mother.

Would Joni Mitchell have been discovered if she had to compete on the internet with every other singer/songwriter? Would the genius of Blue have been recognized?

If a work of genius is competing with dreck, will it float to the top?

Alas, we know the answer is not necessarily.

Whether you go through a traditional publishing house or self-publish, dear reader, you will have to Work, Work, Work. First, you must write a compelling book, and then you must market both it and yourself, whether to the few gatekeepers left or to The World, which may be more daunting.

Let Ms. Merriwether know how it goes.


Dear Ms. Merriwether,

I want to attend my local writers’ conference, but the cost of attendance is over $500. I have already paid for the association membership. During the pandemic years, writers’ meetings have been little Zoom boxes of faces and inadequate presentations which require one to hit the little hand-raised icon to ask a question.

Jostling in a row of folding chairs or scanning the audience for a likely date or getting drinks after the presentation used to be the best part of meetings.

Is spending $500 worth it?

Busted and a Starving Artist

Gentle Reader:

Ms. Merriwether is old enough to remember when there were a few well-regarded MFA programs at venerable universities, scattered across the country, and writers’ retreats and conferences were relatively limited to those well-known writers’ dens of iniquity, I mean higher pursuits of knowledge, Yaddo, Breadloaf, etc.

Now every community college has a writers’ program and classes taught by adjunct teachers with MFA’s from one of the dozens of schools that make tuition off the backs of people who will never earn as much from writing as they paid for school.

MFAs must make loan payments somehow, and so they teach writing classes at many venues. Some writers even offer facilitated book groups for a fee or are happy to show up to a book club by the magic of the internet. Ms. Merriwether regrets that writing has become the business of how to make money by hustling the writing business, rather than aspiring to join the Pantheon of the Great Writers.

Caveat Emptor applies, and Ms. Merriwether suggests you should vet your writing teacher, coach, and conference presenter at least as much as you vet your plumber. Perhaps your plumber has an MFA.


Ms. Merriwether may answer questions posed by the readers in the comments in future columns. Questions may be on life, writing, or the writing life.



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2 Responses

  1. jane salisbury
    | Reply

    Please tell me that Ms. Meriweather will be featuring regularly. I am enjoying The Common Sage very much, Sharon. It’s funny and thoughtful. Thanks.

    • Sharon Johnson

      Ms. Merriwether would be happy to make regular appearances. However, Ms. Merriwether flourishes when answering real questions from real people. Perhaps you or your extended acquaintances could assist.

      I am very glad you are enjoying the blog.

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