I've taken four online classes with mediabistro.com:
The personal essay class (with Liza Monroy) has been the most profitable so far–after taking that course I've published many personal essays, including two in The Christian Science Monitor. However, this class was the first I took (in the fall of 2007) so I’ve had more time to reap the rewards.
The travel writing class (fall of 2008) led me to learning about an opportunity with National Geographic’s glimpse.org, and I went on to become one of their Spring 2009 Correspondents. I’ll blog more about the program in the future. For those who might be interested, the deadline to become a Fall 2010 Correspondent is June 15 and you must be between the ages of 18-34 to apply.
From Essay to Memoir (fall 2009) helped me organize, find the theme, and begin to write Hausfrau: The Memoir, and Non-Fiction Book Proposal (winter 2010) helped me learn how to sell the book and complete a proposal for it. Once I finish editing the book and putting the finishing touches on everything, time will tell if I find an agent and publisher. But I do think these classes helped me to better understand the industry and learn what it takes to write a marketable book.
As most classes do, Mediabistro classes vary by 1) the instructor and 2) the students. The instructor you can research online, but the students are kind of a mixed bag. The best class, student-wise, was the Non-Fiction Book Proposal class. Many of the students were journalists and many had written for prestigious publications. It was a very motivated group and most gave great feedback week after week. In this class, I learned as much from the instructor as I did from the students. (Usually what happens is only about five or six students stick with the class and the unmotivated ones stop posting after about week three. But this isn’t necessarily bad because the class gets smaller.)
As far as getting industry contacts out of the classes, I don't know. I've actually had more success meeting and networking with people from this blog. The Mediabistro instructors don't seem too keen to give out industry contacts but in each class I've always connected with a few of the students and that's been beneficial. One of them was featured here, Celeste Brash, a travel writer in Tahiti.
Another question I get is, “well, the chats are at a bad time for me so I don’t know if it’s worth taking the class.” My opinion: the chats aren’t worth worrying about. You can read the logs of them the next day. Half of the chat is pointless babble anyhow. I usually read the chat the next day, write down about two sentences worth of actual information, and save the time to do other things—like sleep (the chats are usually at 3 a.m. Central European Time—not worth losing sleep over in the literal sense or the actual sense).
In general, you get out of the class what you put into it. I spend time giving feedback to everyone because it helps me learn. I spend a lot of time on the assignments because I choose to. The classes gives me deadlines and force me to get done what otherwise might take me much longer. They also help focus my work for a period of time. As you can see, I've taken four. So I think it’s worth considering a Mediabistro class.
But what do you think? Have you taken a Mediabistro or other online writing course? Did you have a positive experience?