An Interview with Manuscript Academy co-founder Jessica Sinsheimer

Manuscript Academy Happy #MSWL day! Today, agents and editors from around the world will Tweet their wish-lists. It’s a great way to fine tune your query list and to get an idea of what editors are looking for as well.

Manuscript Wish List co-founder Jessica Sinsheimer has been hard at work on another project recently as well: The Manuscript Academy. She stopped by The Winged Pen to chat with us about this exciting new opportunity for writers.

You already do so much for the writing community by running the amazing Manuscript Wish List, what made you decide to add The Manuscript Academy to your repertoire?

It’s actually an idea that had been brewing for years.  I was invited to speak at a conference a few years back—an amazing conference, one that sounded like so much fun. But, when I asked about travel stipend, they said that there wasn’t one—I could only get discounted admission. So I started pricing it out, and soon realized it would be well over $2,000 to attend. Worse, some told me that if I “really cared” about my career, I’d pay it.

It had never occurred to me that the events I attended regularly could be so expensive for writers—and that’s before considering the logistics of childcare, health, religious obligations, family needs, and just plain time. Plus, there’s just so much pressure to go—probably even more than was put on me, because I get to attend so many. It just seemed incredibly unfair. Having money shouldn’t be a prerequisite to a writing career. So this stayed with me, as a problem we needed to solve as an industry, but I didn’t know how.

But then co-founder Julie Kingsley and I met—thanks to a wild coincidence of her being on a bus to Book Expo with my colleague, then invited to networking drinks—and I was so impressed with her knowledge of the film, media, tech, and startup worlds. These were things I assumed were out of my reach forever, however fascinating I found them. But we quickly realized that, together, we could finally make something like this happen—and bring the conference to writers, in a way that’s accessible to so many more.

The concept is great–prerecorded content from industry professionals with unlimited access for thirty days for a price lower than any writing conference around, plus a series of live pitch sessions, critique sessions, and live webinars. How has the reception been so far?  

It’s been incredibly exciting. If anything, there’s been a LOT more enthusiasm than I expected (though I’m the pessimist of the group!) I mean, new different things are scary! Especially new, different things with technology. But we now have about 700 members, and the community is only growing. Lots of members are getting agents and book deals. We’re actually going to start making “class reunion” events to keep everyone in touch, because these are the people who are going to grow, learn, and eventually succeed together.

It’s always been important to me that we price everything as low as we can while still paying every single person who works for us—including those who helped Xerox and hold doors and organize agents and get snacks on filming day—a living hourly wage. We work with incredibly talented, kind people. And I’m thrilled that we could pay everyone right away.

There are lots of online writing courses out there and I know from experience that the quality varies greatly. How do you select faculty? How would you recommend writers decide how to spend their precious personal development dollars?

We select faculty not just for their brilliance but for their openness, kindness, and breadth of interests. I know it’s so scary to find yourself face to face with an agent—even if it’s through a screen. I wanted to be sure that I could trust everyone to handle that with grace, warmth, and kindness—to turn in work on time—and to bring new insight to their classes.

It’s true—there is SO much content out there. But we were very thoughtful about every single faculty member, every choice of class, and every new program. We’re very conscious of the fact that we’re not taking money from, say, bankers. We want everyone to feel like they get not just instruction, but a feeling of connection and support, from our programs.

Some people learn best in a group—and for that, we have classes (including our brand new Five Days To A Fab First Page challenge) where people can absorb the material, talk about it in a group, and then have live interaction with our faculty. Some people want individual feedback—for them, we have Ten Minutes With An Expert meetings to go over queries and first pages—and written critiques, so the notes are there and ready to be implemented.

Both of these web sites (MSWL & MA) are gorgeous. Who is your designer/tech guru? 

We work with Mike Chen and Sierra Godfrey of Atmosphere Author Websites. They seriously saved my life on the ManuscriptWishList.com site. Version 2.0 was a site that I updated myself—every time someone wanted a change, I did it. This was fine for awhile, but as we grew, it became not just a second job, but was taking over my life! Mike and Sierra then, as if by magic, appeared—offered to make a new site to benefit the community—and spent months with me (more than six months!) redoing the site in a way that made it sustainable for the future. Now agents and editors can update their own profiles, searchability is VASTLY improved, it’s MUCH prettier, and there are just so many things that work better. I could never have done it without them.

Plus, they’re both writers, so they really understand the creative brain that doesn’t get all of the tech speak—and could translate my clumsy descriptions of what I was hoping for into something that looks gorgeous and just works.

What’s next for The Manuscript Academy?

 Our next goal is to bring low-cost mini-courses to as many people as possible—all while creating a supportive community. Ultimately, we’re about access—to information, experts, and the support you need while taking this amazing creative journey.

You can check out ManuscriptAcademy.com, follow us at @MSWLMA, and check out our FREE podcast—including a mini first pages panel every week—on iTunes and Soundcloud. See more at ManuscriptAcademy.com/ourpodcast/.

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