Shelf life

Interested in a career in books? Here's whatcha do.
By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  October 13, 2010

SHOW AND TELL: Tutoring at a place like 826 Boston can give aspiring English teachers invaluable classroom experience, and a feel for what the job is really like.

Some people visit bookstores so their children can chew objects outside the home. Others, to peruse the latest magazines for free. Still others walk into a bookstore and are filled with a vague but palpable longing.

Those for whom books exert a magical pull might consider a career that somehow involves literature. To that end, Boston-area colleges offer a number of classes — so many, in fact, that the volume can seem overwhelming. To launch head-first into any graduate program is expensive and time-consuming, and careers in literature rarely lead to instant riches.

How do you begin to determine if you should change careers? We found three low-cost, low-commitment ways for you to get your feet wet before you drop a hefty chunk of change or waste precious hours you could spend reading.

So before you go quitting your day job, check these out.

Do you want to write books?
Are you chafing with excitement at the thought of spending two years attending an MFA program that can cost as much as the down-payment on a house? Draw back! Before you spend time and money trying to get into MFA programs with $60 application fees, why not spend $115 taking a weekend class at Grub Street? The downtown, nonprofit writing school offers instruction from scores of notables on every kind of writing style.

Most classes are traditional workshop-style. Chris Castellani, Grub Street's artistic director, emphasizes honest feedback. Classes are so rigorous, in fact, that a certain number of people always drop out.

Castellani encourages students to be realistic. Though he doesn't set out to discourage anyone, he and the instructors — famous names and emerging writers both — are sure to let their students know that only a miniscule portion of Americans make a living from writing. But some students have found a measure of success: for example, Patricia Ryburn, wanted to share the story of her sons, both deployed in Iraq. She took a three-hour seminar about writing a column and one week later, the Boston Globe published the article she submitted.

In addition to classes, Grub Street provides coaching on applying to MFA programs ($350). Plus, most of the instructors have MFAs themselves and are happy to talk about their experiences.

This weekend at the Boston Book Festival, Grub Street will host a number of free talks for those thinking about taking a class. These include an open mic with free reading advice from Steve Almond and Writer Idol, a competition in which a number of literary agents will judge the manuscripts of anyone who dares submit them (see page 8).

For more information, call 617.695.0075 or visit

Do you want to work in publishing?
For those on the outside, the publishing industry can seem to be at once glamorous and bewildering. What does someone who works in publishing do, exactly, aside from lunch with David Sedaris and party with James Franco? Is it all mahogany leather, pipe smoke, and the NYRB?

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