You Don’t Always Get What You Pay For: Online Writing Classes

Online Writing Classes

(This post originally appeared on the blog formerly kept on my Mary-Kate Valentine site. Digital recycling!)

Earlier this year—knowing that I wouldn’t make it to a conference in 2014—I decided, “Hey, I’m saving a lot of money. I can afford to spend a little on an online writing class.” One RWA chapter was hosting a class (there are always a bunch of chapter-sponsored classes) that I was interested in, so I paid the $25.

It wasn’t the first online class I’d taken. I’d taken two of the free classes from RWA University; one was fantastic, the other pretty decent. But this was the first one I’d paid for, and I expected it to be comparable to the RWAU classes—maybe even better. Imagine my surprise when each lesson was smaller than this blog post, several were just a paragraph or two long, and some had excerpts from the author’s books which were longer than the lesson itself. Moreover, I leaned not a single thing that I didn’t already know ten years ago, when I was still new to writing as a business.

I don’t want to bill this as a how-to post, since I’ve not actually taken the plunge and paid for another online class. But I will someday, and when I do, I’ll be keeping these things in mind before I shell out the cash:

1.) Is the presenter’s name familiar? If you follow lists that feature online writing classes, such as the ones published by RWA, you might recognize a few names over time. If a workshop you’re interested in doesn’t list someone familiar, look through some back issues (or that’s my plan). With RWA chapter-sponsored classes, at least, the workshops and presenters tend to rotate around. If the presenter keeps being asked to teach, chances are better that they offer something worthwhile.

2.) Does the presenter have a history of teaching? Maybe they’ve never taught an online class, but have they taught writing workshops at conferences or chapter meetings? Do they write for a group writing blog like Writer Unboxed, or do they offer useful insights on their own writing blog? In other words, do they have credibility as a teacher, not just as a writer? There are lots of published writers—just like the one who taught the $25 class. That makes them authors. It doesn’t make them teachers.

3.) Are you sure you know what you’re getting into? I was under the impression that this workshop wasn’t a beginner’s course—and I don’t think I was the only one; only two or three questions were asked the whole two weeks. Next time there’s not a clear indication of knowledge level, I’ll email for clarification.

I would gladly have paid $25 for either of the free classes from RWAU. If the class I paid for had been free on somebody’s blog, I would have stopped after the first paragraph, but I didn’t, because damn it, I paid for it! I kept hoping it would get better. It never did. So you don’t always get what you paid for.

Another myth put to rest.

* (I do have to say with RWA University, you actually do pay for the free classes—with your membership dues. This occurred to me after this post was already written. Still, to pay separately for a class rather than being offered it free with membership dues implies value.)

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