Do I Need a Degree to Be an Author? Plus, Top Ten Virtual Writing Programs

An English program can provide a structured environment for learning from experienced professors and receiving feedback on your work. However, an English program can be expensive, and the financial investment might not lead to financial gain. There are other paths to becoming a successful writer that do not involve pursuing an English degree. Many authors have built their careers through self-study, writing groups such as Write 2 Ignite, mentorships, and conferences.

I was an English major for my undergrad. For my master’s, I received a degree in English education with a focus in writing to teach college-level learners. I now teach at a community college and love it, especially since the flexibility of part-time classes allows me to maintain both my author and mom careers.

When I pursued writing and publishing Young Adult novels four years ago, I thought I knew everything about writing. I was wrong. From my experience, unless the goal is to write literary fiction or academic essays, having an English degree does little to prepare for genre writing. Yes, I learned how to write a well-crafted short story (which is the best way to start before writing a novel) and I can edit dissertations, but I gained very little “writing” knowledge beyond that.

My degree didn’t teach me how to tighten sentences, plot a novel, and choose the best words. It didn’t show me how to start a website, grow a follower’s list, market on social media, network, host a podcast, write a proposal, and pitch to agents. And it most certainly didn’t teach me how to self-publish a niche market of Young Adult Christian fantasy. Yet many of these components are critical to any writer interested in doing something with an English degree that doesn’t involve teaching or writing for academic journals.

I understand that not everyone who studies literature in college desires to become an author, but enough do, which tells me more universities could improve on applying learning toward real-world jobs. There are MA and MFA programs available in popular fiction. One in particular is Seton Hill, which teaches students to “write the book you want to read” in genres such as Young Adult and science fiction.

College students typically choose an English major because their creative minds want to explore all the possible ways to use words and learn from them.

Is it necessary to have a degree in English in order to become a published author?

I believe the answer lies in your preference. Like anything, becoming an author takes time and education. An option is to learn at an accredited university that offers a genre writing or publishing program. However, with the plethora of writing education available both in and out of college, the best way to learn the craft and business is primarily up to each individual. One does not have more value than another.

The biggest component to becoming a published author isn’t how you learn but rather if you’re ready to.

Check out what I voted as the 10 best virtual programs outside of college:

1. Now Novel

Learn how to write a book with help from writing coaches, story outlining tools, and peers.

2. Christian Writers Institute

Helping Christians become proficient in the skills, craft, and business of writing.

3. The Nine Month Novel

Providing you with the encouragement, instruction, and direction you need to write a novel in nine months.

4. David Gaughran

Helping tens of thousands of authors to self-publish their work via workshops, blog, and books such as Let’s Get Digital.

5. Jane Friedman

Reports on the book publishing industry and helping authors understand the business.

6. The Creative Penn

Teaching you how to write, publish, and market your book and make a living with your writing.

7. Roseanna White Designs

Roseanna offers insight on all things Writer-Life.

8. Words for Writers

Helping writers identify and clarify their message and hone their skills.

9. Author Media

Five year plan to becoming an overnight success. Click on this link for Author Media’s view on a college writing degree for novelists.

10. Write 2 Ignite

Education, inspiration, and encouragement to Christians who write for children and young adults through services and resources.

Do you have or are pursuing an English degree? In what ways have you found it useful for your career goals? Add a comment below.

Image of college student graduating

Amy Earls is a professor of first-year college students and holds a master’s degree in education for adult learners with a focus in writing. Amy is passionate about helping teens and adults build strong faith. When she’s not grading papers, she’s writing, mentoring authors, or dreaming up ways to make life an adventure. She lives in a bike-riding and Beaver-loving college town in Oregon with her husband, two daughters, and a never dying goldfish.

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