Arts & Entertainment, Writing

The Business of Being a Writer

Margaret Atwood

Lesson time 09:28 min

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

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

Topics include: Getting Published • The Question of Agents • Know How to Talk About Your Book • Weathering Reviews • A Note on Second Novels


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...

About the Instructor

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.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Margaret Atwood

Learn how the author of The Handmaid’s Tale crafts vivid prose and hooks readers with her timeless approach to storytelling.

Explore the Class
Sign Up