The Business of Being a Writer

Margaret Atwood

Lesson time 09:29 min

From finding an agent, to getting published, and dealing with negative reviews, Margaret offers her perspective on the business of being a writer.

Margaret Atwood
Teaches Creative Writing
Learn how the author of The Handmaid’s Tale crafts vivid prose and hooks readers with her timeless approach to storytelling.
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What you really want to know is, how do you take your radiant manuscript, get it turned into a book, have people provide some sort of income from it for you, so that you can write another book? And in the world that we live in today, there's various ways of doing that. You can get an agent. Tends to be chicken and egg. If you have a published book, you'll get an agent. If you have an agent, you may have a published book. But what if there isn't an entry point for you yet? There is, of course, always self-publishing via the internet, and there is the other route, which is sending your manuscripts into literary magazines, which are, however, deluged with manuscripts. So it's not easy, and some of it, let's face it, is luck. You happen to be in the right place at the right time. Your book happens to hit a nerve. People respond to maybe something you published in the "New Yorker" that happened recently, and bingo, you've got a publishing contract. [MUSIC PLAYING] How to find an agent? Well, there is-- there's old agents, middle-aged agents, and young agents. But of all of those, what you need is to go with the one who loves you. Somebody may want to just collect you to add you to their, quote, "stable." That may not necessarily be the one you want. Someone may take you on hoping to make a quick sale, and then when they don't make that quick sale, you find that they're not really answering your emails very quickly. That's probably not the one you want either. How do you know who that special person will be? It's sort of like the movies. Bells go off. They they have to love you. You have to love them, at least enough to form a good working relationship. So you don't want to be just a commodity for them, but you also don't want to be their best friend. I think it's harder in some ways than it was when I was in my 20s and starting out because, in those days, not very many people wanted to be writers, whereas now a lot of people do, and they can even go to writing schools or take online courses to help them do that. I don't think there's any one secret formula that will make that happen for you. Time and place, the moment, luck, connecting with someone who actually can see what you've done, can see the worth in-- of what you've done-- these are all-- they're all variables, and there's no way of making it. There's no surefire way of making it happen. [MUSIC PLAYING] How valuable is it for you to be able to speak in an intelligible way about your book? I was in at the beginning of all of this, so I go back to the point at which you would find yourself on the radio show, and the person would say to you, I haven't read your book. I'm not going to, and why should anybody bother with it? What would you say? So you probably won't be put in a position like that anymore because I don't think people are that aggressive anymore about writers. And if they're going to have them on the show at all, they're not going to be tha...

The art of powerful storytelling

Called the “Prophet of Dystopia,” Margaret Atwood is one of the most influential literary voices of our generation. In her first-ever online writing class, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale teaches how she crafts compelling stories, from historical to speculative fiction, that remain timeless and relevant. Explore Margaret’s creative process for developing ideas into novels with strong structures and nuanced characters.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Very actionable and relatable advice. And i love Margaret Atwood's way. She's wonderful, and so is the production format at Master Class. Just fix your crappy player, please.

it is awesome. I am so excited that I am Margaret Atwood's student.

I am going to miss each lesson (though I may revisit them). Ms. Atwood teaches and shares her stories with her heart and thoughtfulness. This course is a terrific study in one person's creative process. The many additional links and recommendations in the workbook are valuable. Also enjoyed the community's insights. Thank you!

The notes I've taken are invaluable. Thank you Ms Atwood.



I loved the whole thing! And I laughed when I should have. Thank you Margaret Atwood.

Alice T.

Love the idea of 'Mortification, writers and their public shame'. She's most likely right that for us it won't ever be that bad, but if it is? Well, at least we can console ourselves that maybe someday it will be a great story for the next edition of Mortification!

Velma B.

I have learned so much, my notebook is full of notes and shorthand squiggles to merge and change with what is already written. I have 36 chapters and 46,000+ words so I am excited about incorporating all my new and insightful lessons I have learned from. Thank you so much Ms Atwood.

Tauna S.

I love this. It is so amusing to me that anyone writes expecting to be paid let alone published. They think the magic of writing is in the reception of the finished piece, instead of realizing that it should be in the creation. Throw caution to the wind and join the lottery by sending your work to publishers or indie publishing. If it does well, don't take it too seriously any more than you should if it doesn't.

karla M.

This was very inspiring. Now I’ll work harder than ever. One day I’ll give a masterclass like this, i also want to inspire writers to chase their stories and make it true. Thank you so much for this.


That one bit about mortification made my jaw drop. Something like that certainly would put an icicle through my heart. But I like how this lesson touched on the fact that bad reviews aren't as scary as they can be made out to be. The publishing advice is also incredibly helpful!

Caetlin W.

I thought this was a very beneficial lesson as this course is winding down. I will definitely be seeking out Mortification, and I appreciate all of the publishing advice.


Not really ready for this yet, but I liked the recommendation of "Mortification"


This was such a wonderful class. Her words are more valuable than those of many other authors I've heard speak. So glad I watched this.

Kathryn W.

At one point I believed I had finished my manuscript and blithely submitted it to a selection of agents. No luck. Little feedback. I am re-editing my work: major changes, mini-changes, hopefully enough to get someone to bite. Meanwhile, I'm frustrated and discouraged. This course is helpful and encouraging, but the bit I keep coming back to is the idea of luck. You can work and work at your manuscript, but there is a large element of chance in actually making it a success.