I’m occasionally reviewing the essay anthology MFA vs. NYC, choosing different essays that I thought were interesting. Here’s Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 and Part 4. Plus I already wrote about Emily Gould’s essay that appears in the book.
This is about Jim Rutman’s essay, “The Disappointment Business.”
This is the essay where I realized how depressing this book really is.
No one likes MFA programs. No one likes the NYC publishing process either.
Rutman was trained on great literature, and he hoped to find it as an agent, but instead he only finds meager attempts at the idea. And they’re stuffed with MFA credentials. Rutman describes one typical advance novel like this:
“So this book, with its neon-frosted, heartland sentimentality its square, high spirits, was the source of our office’s–and the industry’s–highest h0pes and expectaions? Huh. Was my boss just lucky enough to share the public’s dull taste?”
Seems like we’re doomed. Rutman also blames his workload (and part of writing’s mediocrity) on the increasing amount of MFA programs–if you have one, the thinking goes, you deserve more recognition or respect. From now on, I’ll start every agent query (if I ever do one again) with the words–I DO NOT HAVE AN MFA.
Because look, it doesn’t matter. We’re screwed either way. The reading community is so fractured, just a fortunate few will bust through the ceiling into the bestseller-dom. It’s better to hit some inside-the-park home runs to a group of people that like your stuff, rather than hit a grandslam to the reading public as a whole.
In the words of Rutman: “Even for the lucky books that do make it to publication, disappointment awaits.”\