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.

Thank you to Margaret Atwood. As an avid reader of your work, gaining insight into your writing processes have helped me better clarify parts of my own methods I wish to improve. It has been a joy and a blessing to be able to learn from you.

There were so many insightful elements that Margaret Atwood shared during this course. I have much to contemplate and put towards my own attempts at writing. Thank you Ms. Atwood for your generosity.

Margaret Atwood is the young grandmother I never quite had, and having this time with her is like stepping into a parallel life where she is, passing on the writer's lifeblood in our genes, assuring me that it's perfectly, strangely normal, and an adventure of a lifetime. Margaret has changed my life for the better, and I thank God for her helping me find my fulfilment as a writer.

I have loved this class. Margaret is charming and I enjoy how she teaches and presents herself. She has given me much insight and great information that will encourage me as a writer.


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.

Marilee S.

Springtime rolls around again and with it comes the almighty cheerleader tryouts. My friend - who already is a cheerleader - and I practice our routines judiciously after school in my driveway for the fateful auditions."Fight, Tea, Fight," "V-V-Victory," "Fight the Team Across the Field." All, of course, intended to stir up adrenalin in those guys under the spell of being "a football hero." Splits, cartwheels and, jump for six weeks after school in my driveway in preparation, or the fateful day. I worry that my jump isn't high enough, that it will be hard to unseat anybody this year, four girls still who held positions for all four years are graduating. Be still my heart. I can tell my friend is worried about my unseating her, as she did to someone else two years ago. "You'll probably take my place here." She helps me anyway. The girls' gym teacher - a woman with buck teeth, who wears Chuck Connors high-top tennis shoes - has the opinion "You girls are getting just too anxious." Anxious? My last chance for a spot before I graduate. My opportunity to wear one of those jazzy purple and white uniforms with box pleats and short skirts. I'd be a sex symbol, at Avon High School. Since I can't seem to be able to attach anything, I'm enclosing a selection from my second book - I refuse to self-publish or send to a slush pile. All of the information is important. I will recommend this Master Class to everyone, who has the guts to be a writer. Don't you need an editor before an agent?

Craig H.

I appreciated and will follow her advice to go with the agent ""who loves you". There is so much advice out there on picking an agent, focusing on the business aspects, connections, acumen, etc. I don't yet have an agent, but hope to, and I now have the criteria for choosing. Not a best friend, but not a mere purveyor of my pages. Oh, and "Don't Believe the Billboards - Good or Bad" - Brilliant. Should put that on a billboard.

George T.

Here's a class delivered by an accomplished author for which I can say I had a WOW! moment. Words of wisdom and straight talk, no B.S. I particularly enjoyed the how to star and end a novel. Mrs. Atwood (ok not her in person) actually made me change the beginning of a novel after I had submitted it to agents. She has given me the courage to keep my eyes on the big picture, which is to give people a good story. It would have been very easy to simply wing it and hope for the best that people will like the story regardless. Be as it may, they may still hate it nonetheless.