Qualification shmalification: who needs an MA in self-publishing?

What’s the point of a qualification?

If anyone had asked me that question before today, I would probably have answered something along the lines of it being a combination of a) proof for an employer either that you already have the knowledge and skills needed to do their job, or that you’re generally bright enough to pick them up; and b) a sort of pat on the back to yourself for spending time and energy learning something new. It can be both of those things, or one or the other, and either is fine. But basically, that’s what it’s all about.

"To Amazon!"

“To Amazon!”

That was until today.  Because today I heard about the University of Central Lancashire’s new MA in – wait for it – self-publishing.

Now I’m not going to come over all Michael Gove here.  If someone wants to do a doctorate in the evolution of the daleks, or the plot structure of Hollyoaks, or how that fairly thin woman without luggage managed to take up the entire corridor all the way between the Jubilee and Bakerloo lines at Baker Street this morning, that’s fine with me.  Hell, my degree was in Egyptology, so you’re not going to find me throwing stones in that particular glass house.  All of these topics come under the general heading of “self-fulfillment” in my book, and if you can afford the time and money, why not?  Who knows, you might even stumble across a shiny new logarithm to prevent tube station corridor-hogging by skinny women in leggings.

But self-publishing? Really?

I mean, presumably the way you demonstrate you’re up to the requirements of the course is – I don’t know – to publish something? And if you’ve gone to the trouble of writing that something, wouldn’t getting it out there for the world to see be reward enough?  Wouldn’t wanting people to read the thing that you’ve pored over and sweated over and drained your very lifeblood into be kind of the most important thing?  And wouldn’t the best possible indicator of how well you’ve done the job be, not a certificate and a photo of you wearing a silly cap, but the number of copies you sell?

As for impressing a potential employer… Imagine the conversation – sorry, monologue:

“Well when I’d finished writing The Amazing Adventures of Millicent Muckraker, I naturally considered self-publishing. So I took myself out for a coffee, and I was really impressed with my vision for the book.  I was nice enough too, and I obviously had my best interests at heart… But when it came down to it, I just wasn’t happy with my credentials. Anyway, a year later, I got in touch with myself again and this time I had this great qualification – oh yes, from the University of Central Lancashire – and I thought: yes, this is the self-publisher for me!”

And before people tell me I’m underestimating the new market in assisted self-publishing, that’s not how this course is selling itself. There’s no mention of “assisted” in the title; no reference to dealing with authors who refuse to have their work edited, or to accept that they might not meet with the success of Fifty Shades of Grey.  Needless to say, that doesn’t mean the marketing team haven’t mentioned E.L. James in the blurb, for they have, the not-so-subtle implication being that fame and riches await those prepared to shell out a little upfront investment in the other UCL.  After all, says course leader Debbie Williams, gamely attempting to maximise her market, “Everyone has a book in them.”

A course in self-publishing I can get behind.  Everyone I’ve spoken to who has any experience in it says it’s bloody hard work, and giving people the skills to do it well seems a perfectly legitimate endeavour. But the idea of self-publishing as an end in itself? An MA – a post-graduate degree, no less – not because you’ve managed to produce anything worth reading, but because you’ve got something, anything, published on Amazon? That seems a pretty hollow enterprise to me.

Let me know what you think! Am I being narrow-minded? Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with a self-publisher getting an extra couple of letters she’ll never use after her name when she’ll be doing all the work anyway?  Add your comments below…


25 thoughts on “Qualification shmalification: who needs an MA in self-publishing?

  1. sueslaght

    Well my first thought was that it would be about assisting others to self publish. If that not it then …..
    I could read your posts all day. Still giggling. 🙂

    1. yakinamac Post author

      Thanks Sue! Nope, they don’t seem to be interested in assisted self-publishing at all: all the marketing is about making a bundle by digging out that MS lurking in the back of your sock drawer and publishing it to popular acclaim. Just bizarre.

      1. michellejoycebond

        No, you’re right. :). Sometimes, I think I actually will go back and get it. I got a BA in English and an MA in English Ed., but writing was always my primary passion.

      2. yakinamac Post author

        I had vague intentions of doing an masters when I got my BA, but having failed to do anything at all about it is probably an indication I wasn’t up to the challenge… Being able to use the letters MFA would be great fun though!

  2. jackiemallon

    I’m with you, I say screw that and get on with publishing your work yourself…which is…ahem… self publishing…See, no MA needed? And that’s from a fashion designer, wIth no previous writing experience to speak of!

    1. yakinamac Post author

      Absolutely – and great to hear this from someone who’s actually done it. Maybe you could get Central Lancs to send you a certificate – or better yet, employ you as a tutor!

  3. vicbriggs

    You always know how to make me smile. This is the first I’ve heard of this and … shocked that it made the MA level. Self-publishing may be an art and it is a good idea to master it, but a certificate ?

    1. yakinamac Post author

      I don’t think it’s evil or anything – it’s just the pointlessness of it that offends me. I think its a fairly recent thing (the wonders of Twitter in creating the illusion of being well-informed!).

      1. vicbriggs

        I agree. As for Twitter… To think only that information could ever be relied on when it comes in a number of characters that just about allows one to say hello.

  4. navigator1965

    In our age of narcissism, the BA is what the old high school diploma (using North American language) used to be in terms of credentials and prestige. I assume a BA in English no longer gets you a degree.

    This sounds like a good new economy vocational school dressed up as a Master’s degree to get better fees. A good idea, but not worthy of an MA. Diploma would be fine.

    How apropos that I quoted Edward Gibbon today in my own post:

    “Unprovided with original learning, unformed in the habits of thinking, unskilled in the arts of composition, I resolved to write a book.”

    And so I did.

    1. yakinamac Post author

      And good for him – at least that’s something someone other than himself might conceivably find interesting and useful. And I bet he’d be really good on quiz shows!

  5. Miranda Stone

    I agree with your sentiments here completely! And as for that quote, “Everyone has a book in them.” No. No, they don’t.

  6. yakinamac Post author

    I’m with you. I used to find that sentiment encouraging – now that I’ve actually written a book, I’ve changed my mind.

  7. sandradan1

    Maybe everyone has an idea for a book in them [doesn’t have to be a good idea] but what makes you an author is actually writing it. SD

  8. Sharon Bonin-Pratt

    Dear Yaki,
    Does this mean that you will not be signing up for my new masters program? It’s a masters degree in Twitter technology and will be known as the Master of Twitter Fritter, or MTF, available through the Distance Learning Program at Hokum Pokum University, the only on line U that YOU need. You must please remember not to lose the T when adding the pedigree after your name. You apply by demonstrating, among other skills, that you have fast thumbs but thoughtful wit. No, not slow wit; that’s something else entirely. Other digit exhibitions are not accepted so keep that middle one cupped snug in your palm. *: )

  9. yakinamac Post author

    Now let’s not be hasty – I quite fancy being a Master of Twitter Fritter. I’m only disappointed that you’re not offering it as a doctorate. Perhaps you could let me know if you’ll reconsider the letters? MTF is all very well, but I think a Doctor of Intelligent Computing and Kinesics has a certain ring (that would need to be D.ICaK, of course). And I’m sure you could add a bit to the course fees.


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