Loree Lough

At last count, best-selling author Loree Lough had 70 books, 59 short stories, and over 2,500 articles in print. Dubbed “edgy, heart-tugging adventures” by reviewers, her stories have earned dozens of “Readers’ Choice” and industry awards. A frequent guest speaker for writers’ organizations, government agencies, book clubs, college and high school writing programs and more, Loree has encouraged thousands with her comedic approach to ‘learned-the-hard-way’ lessons about the craft, and 600 (and counting!) of her former students are now published authors. Loree splits her time between an Allegheny Mountains cabin and a home in the Baltimore suburbs, and shares both with her husband and a formerly-abused, now-spoiled Pointer whose numerous vet visits inspired the nickname ‘Cash’. She loves to hear from her readers, so feel free to write her at loree [at] loreelough [dot]com. “And please,” she adds, “visit my blog (www.theloughdown.blogspot.com) and my soon-to-be-improved web site (http://www.loreelough.com) where, if you’re patient, you’ll hear some hauntingly beautiful music.”

Beware Faux Instructors

Q: I’m thinking about registering for a writing class, but the price is a little steep for my budget, and I’ve never even heard of this teacher. Any recommendations?

A: First, high five to you for wanting to improve your style, your voice, your understanding of the craft by signing up for a class. And your “I’ve never even heard of this teacher” comment tells me that, in addition to your willingness to work at your craft, you’re also a smart shopper. That has never been more important than in these tough economic times.

I’ve met far too many struggling writers who’ve allowed uncredentialed instructors to lead them astray with misinterpretations of information “borrowed” from the pages of how-to-write books. “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” might be true in other fields, but in publishing—an industry that requires writers to stay at least one step ahead of the latest trends—you can’t teach others to do what you aren’t doing yourself! To be sure, these phony instructors cost students money, but they also cost valuable time and, in some cases, the confidence to keep trying.

In my decades in this business, I’ve learned a ton of stuff at The School of Hard Knocks, like “Never take anything for granted” and “Spend your money wisely”—solid advice for members of any profession, but particularly useful for writers. The money we’re paid in exchange for countless hours of research, interviews, writing, and rewriting too often adds up to less than half the minimum wage . . . especially early in our careers. So forking over a portion of hard-earned cash to enroll in a writing class is important stuff, and we owe it to ourselves to make wise choices about the types of classes—and instructors—we’re spending that money on. (If I had a dollar for every student who told me how one of these faux instructor’s half-baked lessons led them astray, why, I’d have a couple hundred bucks. No kidding!)

Literally thousands of writing classes, workshops, and seminars are listed online, in pamphlets distributed by community colleges, and on 3x5 cards tacked to local library bulletin boards. Some are affordable, others can empty bank accounts. If, like any smart shopper, you’ve done your homework and believe the lessons you’ll learn are worth the price, go for it.

But before you scribble your name on a personal check or a Visa receipt, do yourself a financial and professional favor: check out the teacher.

While it’s been my experience that most writing instructors have the credentials to teach, I can list far too many whose padded CVs match nothing more than their bloated egos and do not qualify them to teach others to write.

You wouldn’t allow some dude on a street corner who says, “I’m a pediatrician!” to examine your baby, would you? Nor would you let some stranger who knocks on your door claiming to be a roofing contractor put new shingles on your house without making sure he’s licensed and hasn’t racked up a long list of complaints with the BBB. So you owe it to yourself to find out:

• Can the instructor back up claims that s/he is a “multi-published” and/or “award-winning” author?

• Can the instructor point you to real books—produced by legitimate presses—on the shelves? If they’re able to name a title or two, look for copyright information about the book(s); if a publisher isn’t listed online, that’s a pretty good sign it’s a “vanity press” (the route taken by desperate people who, after dozens of rejections, pay a glorified printer to turn their manuscript into something akin to a novel). It isn’t a pretty question, but you need to ask, “If these ‘authors’ aren’t being recognized by legitimate publishers willing to invest in the work, do I really want them ‘teaching’ me?”

• Were the instructor’s awards presented by real and existing organizations and institutions, or are the kudos nothing more than fiction, written to further pad the instructor’s opaque CV? I am acquainted with a handful of these phony author-teacher types who not only invented their awards, but the organizations that presented them as well. So now you have to ask, “Is a person who’d manufacture credentials someone I can trust to share valuable how-to-write lessons?”

• Are claims of “teaching experience” bona fide, or still more fiction? A phone call to the institution(s) where the instructor claims to be affiliated will enlighten you; if no schools are listed, ask the instructor for names of the school(s) where teaching experience was supposedly acquired, then call the institution(s) and check things out for yourself. Better to invest a few minutes up front than spend six or eight weeks in a class where everything is bogus! (That handful of wannabe teachers I mentioned? I know that, while their names were listed in pamphlets and/or brochures, the courses never got off the ground because nobody signed up for them.)

As often as not, these so-called instructors manage to pull off a really good con, and end up teaching a writing course or two. But anybody with a computer and access to a copy machine can retype and/or photocopy pages from “how to write” manuals and pass them off as classroom handouts. So you have yet another question to ask: “Do I want these thieves teaching me?”

Dedicated doctors whose patients request second opinions happily connect patients with whatever information might answer their questions, and qualified writing instructors have no problem providing proof that they’ve earned their claimed credentials. If they truly are who they say they are, the information won’t only be readily available, but also they’ll lead you to it! (Why wouldn’t they if they have nothing to hide?)

Just because you’ve chosen to write Christian fiction doesn’t mean you deserve to get less for your money, or that you should have to “make do” with less than qualified writing instructors. You work hard for every dollar and have a right to get your dollar’s worth.

“Let the buyer beware” has been good advice for centuries . . . with good reason. And it’s my opinion that God inspired the adage!

Love Finds You In Paradise