Last Friday, Publisher’s Weekly published an article called “What Tumblr Taught Me About Writing.” The article was written by Tim Manley, a writer who, after being accepted into two MFA programs in New York, decided not to enroll. Manley also decided to quit his job teaching a ninth-grade humanities class. That summer, Manley started a Tumblr called “Fairy Tales for Twenty-Somethings,” and by November, “Fairy Tales for Twenty-Somethings” had gone viral. The Tumblr gained the attention of a literary agent, who helped Manley turn the blog into a book, Alice in Tumbler-land, which was sold to Penguin that January. His story and appreciation to his fans is depicted in the comic strip below.
At this point, some of you may be thinking that Manley’s story is the exception, not the rule. In order to see how realistic of an approach this would be to get an agent and a book deal, I interviewed Fiona Kenshole, a literary agent here in Portland who has previously worked as the Editorial Director at Harper Collins UK. After reading the article and viewing Manley’s Tumblr, Fiona had this to say:
This guy writes really well, so he would probably have found an agent whether through Tumblr, and MFA, or just sitting in an attic writing a query letter. Agents look for talent wherever they can find it–and the good stuff really stands out.
When Manley decided to forego more schooling and just write, he made the right decision. MFA programs are great for writers who still feel like they need to fine tune their craft, or simply want to make connections with other writers. But if you’re good, you’re good, and sometimes, you just have to force yourself to sit down and write.
Yet, as Fiona pointed out to me during the interview, Manley was clearly good at self-promotion. Because he wasn’t working, he spent his time and energy focusing on the design of his website and building a social media presence through Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter. He researched the best way to tag his posts so that they came up in a search engine, figuring out what worked and what didn’t.
The most inspiring part of Manley’s story is that he did it all on his own. He didn’t rely on a friend-of-a-friend or some degree. He focused on delivering well written content to his fans, and his hard work paid off.