Booksellers we spoke to said the presence or absence of a writing qualification on the part of the author didn’t make much difference to their perception of a book.
Jemma Pirrie is the buyer at Mc Leod’s Booksellers (pictured above).
Catherine Robertson (pictured below) is a published author who has done several writing courses, most recently the MA course at the International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) Te Pūtahi Tuhi Auaha o Te Ao.
She says: 'Before I took my first writing course in 2001, I had done no creative writing since high school, so you could say the course launched my whole career.
She says: 'When I do the book buying, the qualifications of writers are hardly mentioned to me – emphasis is placed more on whether the reps have read and enjoyed the book, how well it is doing in the media, whether the author has received any awards, how popular the author is, etc.
They also discuss books in reference to our bookshop’s target market and our tastes.' Thomas Koed of VOLUME sees the importance of writing courses as contributing several steps before the books hit shelves.This can mean it’s hard to get published because there’s more competition.' Another effect writing courses can have on publishing is that sometimes they grow their own publishing ventures.For example, Escalator Press has emerged from the Whitireia Creative Writing courses, as has Cloud Ink Press from AUT.He says: 'writing courses do deepen the writing pool, which deepens the publishing pool, and it is from this publishing pool that we pull the books for our shop.' Bronwyn Wylie-Gibb (pictured below) of UBS Otago says: 'I haven’t ever noticed that a qualification has any effect on sales …I don’t think customers particularly care: it certainly isn’t plastered all over the front and back of a book by the publisher.But the experience of that MFA, the workshops and seminars, the time you spent working on your book and being mentored – that might help you write something good.' Ashleigh Young is a writer and editor who co-convenes the science writing workshop at IIML.She says: 'It's not true that you HAVE to do a writing course in order to have a writing career. 'What's of value is having a person or group who can be your first readers and who can be honest with you, and for whom you can do the same.' Other things writing courses do The value of writing courses in Aotearoa is not measured purely in terms of books produced, although all the writing course convenors we interviewed proudly spoke of the many books their graduates had published and are continuing to publish in impressive numbers.For example, Wilkins says: 'I think there are a couple of MA classes from the early 2000s in which the book publication rate is now 100%, but that was after a decade or more.However, when it comes to choosing manuscripts for publication at VUP, he says the presence or absence of a writing qualification makes no difference: 'that decision is made solely on the book'.Where courses can make a difference is in (a) the writer finishing the manuscript, and (b) getting it to a publisher.