Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Should you take a Mediabistro class?

Several writers have asked me about Mediabistro online courses. Here’s my opinion:

I've taken four online classes with mediabistro.com:

Personal Essay Writing

Travel Writing Boot Camp

From Essay to Memoir

Non-Fiction Book Proposal

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?

81 comments:

  1. Thanks for the advice, Chantal. I've thought before about taking one of these classes, and now I think I just might. Also, thanks for keeping up with this blog, by the way. Switzerland is one of my favorite countries in the whole world, and writing abroad is my fantasy. I appreciate living vicariously through you :)

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  2. Hmmm... I'm still not sold. I took a personal essay writing class with mb and though I connected with the students, I found their feedback unhelpful because they seemed only interested in praise. And the instructor was a total schmuck, ot the point that I wondered sometimes if he'd even bothered to read our assignment responses. I stayed up twice (3 a.m. for me in Germany) to do the chats and those often got waylayed, with a lot of non-structure (I believe we had 16 participants), people either begging for more feedback because the teacher rarely gave it or kissing his butt because they just loved his writing. This might sound harsh but I really wanted my money back after this mb course. Perhaps, though, it really is all about the teacher because I am still in touch with the other participants (who have gotten some use from the course). I wonder, a bit, though if other outlets wouldn't be better. Or at least have better vetted teachers (like Stanford's online classes, which are taught by some of the Stegner fellows). Just my 2 cents.

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  3. I recently took a Media Bistro class and although I did learn a lot, I'm not sure it justified the high cost of the class. If they were cheaper, I would take them much more frequently.

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  4. Thanks for this post! Very interesting....I didn't even know these kinds of classes were offered! I've been wanting to take some writing courses to improve and make contacts but was not sure where to look. There really aren't any in my local area so online classes, such as the MB ones, would be a great option for me. Sounds like you generally had a good experience with these, plus they are all subjects I'd be interested in learning about at some point, so I'll check them out. Do you know of any other classes that have good reputations? Thanks :)

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  5. Glad this was helpful. I think it really does depend on the teacher as well as the students. And yes, I do think the prices are a bit high considering it is all online. If you become a member of the Avant Guild you get a discount and you can usually get a coupon (or negotiate) for at least another $50 discount. That's my experience, anyhow. And C, I agree that the chats are pretty useless. There's usually one student that whines or wants individual feedback throughout them and keeps people off topic. So no need for those of us abroad to lose sleep over them!

    Kim, not sure about other classes? C mentioned Standord's. Anyone else know of any?

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  6. Hello, I just stumbled upon your blog, and it so happens that I'm completing a novel writing class at mediabistro. I agree about the class being very expensive for what you get. I'm glad I took it because I needed the structure to help me complete a "shitty first draft" and I'm practically there, so that's good. But I'm disappointed by the low level of involvement all around. And I agree that the chats are really not worth getting up at 5.15 am for me. So, even though I'm glad I did it, I wouldn't repeat the experience.

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  7. Hi Katia, thanks for sharing. Sorry to hear the novel writing class didn't live up to your expectations. It really depends on the group of students you end up with. If you need a class to help you reach a goal, there's no harm is doing that. But I think the mediabistro classes should be more affordable in general based on what most writers are paid for work these days!

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  8. I think that this is a good assessment of the classes, you really do only get what you put in. But when you do work I think that you really do learn something. If people are looking for a less intensive class I would try the workshops and there is actually a great deal going on now through buywithme NYC. You can buy a voucher to attend a mediabistro workshop for only $30! Here is a link: http://bit.ly/9uXZKi Try it out, its really worth it!

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  9. I teach for Writers.com and the workshops are a little more affordable! Some student comments here on the travel-writing program: http://roadremedies.blogspot.com/2012/09/better-than-any-apple-for-teacher.html. And, for a more impartial view, there's a thread reviewing lots of schools over at this bulletin board: http://bbs.travelwriters.com/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=29419&hilit=Castleman

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