During the 1960s an 1970s the Famous Writers School collected from $785 to $900 for a three year course from thousands of people who wanted to make a living writing. The school was raking in $48 million dollars a year at one point. They were famously sued by Jessica Mitford. In 1972 the school declared bankruptcy. There is a company that still sells the school’s materials and offers courses.
This weekend I purchased a first edition set of the original course material for Famous Writers School at a garage sale for $5. Actually $5 was way more than I usually pay for books, but I have succumbed to their advertising, which was in every magazine for years.
In the late 1960s when I first started sending my stories to The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly and some science fiction magazines, I would receive a sales pitch from Famous Writers before I got the rejection back. It got to the point where I would ask in the cover letter that they not sell my name to FWS, and would they please send me back the big paper clip that held the story together. (The big spring clips cost a quarter and no one ever sent them back!)
I really wanted to be a writer and I read books on it, bought the 1968 writers market, and filled up notebooks with stories. It was not until spell checkers were invented 40 years later that I was able to publish anything.
I wanted to take the course and be a writer like their ads described. I even sent them in a story for a free critique. The person that read the story seemed to miss the point of it, although it is more likely that I did not write the story well enough for him to get the point. I was very frustrated with the results of the critique and the fact that they wanted hundreds of dollars for me to buy the course, and all they really did was correct my spelling.
So now I have my revenge. I own the complete set in mint condition. It looks like the person who bought it never read it. I started reading this morning on the bus and, boy, am I glad that I didn’t pay more than $5 for this stuff. 48 pages through the first book and it is nothing but motivational advertising copy.
The fiction writing volume has a chapter on writing for pulps that I want to read, but I am now pretty sure that nobody ever became a good writer from reading this.
The books go on eBay for a bundle, so I made out well. I’ll be auctioning them off soon.