Don’t Buy Your Dream

July 27, 2018 § 10 Comments

Like this, but the cheeseburgers are your trust in the literary community

You may have seen Melissa Chadburn and Carolyn Kellogg’s excellent investigation of Anna March in the L.A. Times. March, as she was most recently known, ripped off writers by selling phony coaching/editing packages, offers to read their work and connect them with agents, and expensive writing retreats that didn’t happen.

March branded herself an intersectional feminist, sensitive to issues of race, class and LGBTQ concerns as well as gender, and also supportive of victims of trauma. She positioned herself as a connection between worlds: the published and unpublished, the successful and the hopeful.

Anna March crossed my path in a Facebook group for women memoirists. As a moderator, I messaged Anna a few times asking her to stop posting frequent, pushy ads for her services. I told her once privately, “Honestly, you might sell more coaching if you sounded a little less urgent/needy.” Finally, myself and the other moderator made a new ad policy: no more than once every two weeks. I ended up counting days for Anna. But I still tagged her in discussions about writing coaches.

Anna conned writers who took her at face value. But the literary world is all about face value. You are who you know; you are where you’ve published. Waving the “published in Modern Love” flag creates instant cred. Speak at enough conferences and you’re an expert. We’re told to overcome imposter syndrome, trumpet our own accomplishments, sell ourselves for the best price we can get.

We’re also told to invest in our careers. Spend our precious time reading widely and keeping up with literary news. Be good literary citizens. Pay for conferences and workshops where we make connections and find mentors. Get an MFA. Read for others so one day they’ll read for us; or hire an editor to tell us how to fix our work.

After the revelations of Anna March’s literary grifting, Roxane Gay tweeted:

and talked about learning to write (read the whole thread, it’s great):

Guys, look… there are good and great writing coaches out there, but… you do not need a writing coach. You don’t need an MFA. You do need to write and read a lot. Feedback CAN help you improve as a writer. There are virtual and real writing groups out there

Even when I was a young writer who did not know shit about shit, who did not know that you could get a degree in writing, I did not pay someone to read my writing. I just wrote, constantly. And I am not special. This is how most writers develop.

She’s right. You don’t ever have to pay anyone to read your work. I say this as a professional editor, as a writing coach who has helped people write better and get published, and charged them money for those services. But that’s not ever required.

You’re not on the outside of some magic literary community because you’re broke, or a parent, or can’t get time off. Writing’s just plain lonely. You do it by yourself. No matter how many conferences or mentors or writing buddies you have to sit down with, in the end it is you and the page. You and the story. You and the words.

It feels lonely because it is.

It feels hard because it is.

It feels like it takes forever because it does.

There is no way to get better at writing besides sitting down and doing it.

Can it help to hire someone or go to a workshop or take a class? Absolutely. It helps to have accountability and assignments and exercises. It helps to have an outside eye, whether you pay them or trade manuscripts. It helps to feel like someone is listening. It helps to bounce ideas around with someone whose creative instincts you trust.

You can protect yourself:

  • Get a sample edit and references. If you’re in a Facebooks writers’ group, ask who’s worked with this person. Usually people who feel good post publicly and people who know something shady will message you.
  • ONLY pay through PayPal’s “goods and services” option (not “friends and family”) or with a credit card. Don’t pay a lump sum; start with a couple of sessions, or a deposit or percentage.
  • Insist on accountability from people you pay. Missed deadlines should have a definite reschedule and a reason. Missed meetings should be promptly rescheduled. If you sign up for a writing workshop, email the hotel and ask about the rooms before you purchase travel.

Does it help to spend money on your writing career? Sure. But it helps like a personal trainer helps you get fit. If you’re focused and ready to work, money can help you over some speedbumps. But if you’re focused and ready to work, you can get over them alone, too.

No amount of money replaces your own hard work. Don’t try to buy your dream. You don’t have to. You can’t. But you can make it happen for free, one word at a time.


Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor and the author of Seven Drafts: Self-Edit Like a Pro from Blank Page to Book. Want writing news, events, and upcoming webinars? Join the A-List!

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§ 10 Responses to Don’t Buy Your Dream

  • Good work here. Thank you, Allison. Good advice both about writing and about protecting oneself if one is determined to hire a coach/editor. I paid once and while I believe the editor meant well, she was writing a YA novel and I was writing literary fiction . . . unfortunately I did not learn my lesson about not sharing work with wannabe YA writers. They want simple, young—a straight line. And even if I am wrong, I want complex, mature—multiple strands of story. Even in nonfiction.

  • JennieWrites says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the writing process–and the value of just doing it, even if those times can be lonely and difficult. In the end, the reward–at least for me–is that I’ve recounted a story that’s important for me to remember, and I hope others share its message.

  • this whole debacle has left me feeling so uneasy. how adeptly she convinced everyone that she was legit. it’s true what you say, allison – there are no guarantees to success, not even when you pay someone who claims to be able to get you there. the hard work alone makes that happen, as well as true, authentic, generous, and honest partnerships with other writers who only want to see each other fly.

  • Thanks, Allison, for writing about this sad and infuriating situation. There’s no “safe space” unless we make it that way, and our writing place is a lot safer today thanks to this con artist finally being outed.

  • Diana Rico says:

    Great follow-up piece to the LA Times article. Thank you. I just shared it with one of my author forums. The Roxane Gay thread is definitely worth reading.

  • Love those three spare, honest “it feels” sentences in the heart of this piece.

  • Karen Zey says:

    As a late-blooming writer, I have been fortunate to have had mentors through local workshops. I also appreciate the blessed editors who now and again have given me encouraging rejection notes with tips. These have been as valuable as the occasional “yeses.” Precious golden advice from the busy, overworked volunteer lit mag editors who care about lonely writers striving to get it just right. One word at a time.

  • juliemcgue says:

    Enjoyed this no nonsense, making sense of it all, writing advice!

  • melinda says:

    Thanks so much for shedding the light on an extremely important subject. Your story was very helpful to me.

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