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The Author Conservatory: my review of the college-level writing program {also, giveaway time!}

by Kellyn Roth |
November 20, 2021

NOTE: click here to go to the first post in the tour because you’ll need it for the giveaway.

Hey everyone! I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m a student of the Author Conservatory. To quote the website, “The Author Conservatory is an affordable three-year program that launches Christian students into sustainable writing careers.”

I’m part of a student-run, instructor-supported-ish (lol) review tour (that features an epic giveaway!) to share more about the program, so yeah, I am a little biased, but I’m also a huge skeptic. As you know, I enjoy trashing things.

For this reason, I hope you’ll realize that me taking time to tell you about this program is something special and unique.

I honestly a not the most enthusiastic student in this program (more on that later), but I still gush a little because I believe in what Brett Harris and Kara Swanson are doing with the Author Conservatory.

My Story

As a lot of you know, I’m an indie author who has been published since January 2016. As such, I’ve spent the last seven years trying to understand the confusing and difficult career of being an author.

I’ve written dozens of books (literally – I did the math, and it is officially into the dozens category). I’ve read all the blogs, tried all the programs, joined various groups, attended a couple events (not so much my speed since I started so young).

But more than that, I’ve been writing since I was seven, and that is now an entirety of thirteen years. I’ve been writing SERIOUSLY (meaning literally almost every day for at least a couple hours) for about eight years, during the biggest changes, biggest transitions, biggest learning periods of my life.

This is not the case for a lot of Author Conservatory students. Yes, the age range in the program is probably anywhere from 13 to a scattering in their early 30s, and some of them (like Faith Blum) are super advanced.

Most of them are not. I think a lot of my friends from the Conservatory would freely admit to you that they did not enter this program as experienced writers. Just as talented writers who needed instruction.

Folks, at this point, though I still need improvement (my plots are not always super tight, my writing can be a bit too old-fashioned) and am not rich from writing by any means (this year was the first when I’ve made a significant profit, and even then, I’m not about to buy a Ferrari), there are a lot of ways in which this program felt, as I looked at it, too basic. (Well, that’s kind of their biggest selling point to me now, but more on that later.)

Originally, Brett Harris and Kara Swanson had launched what was then the “Author Program” tract of the Young Writer’s Workshop to get individualized mentorship (September 2019), and I’d joined just for the mentorship from these amazing professionals. Little did I know then that this was just the beginning of Brett and Kara’s plans!

I took a break over the winter, and when I returned in June 2020, I learned that the program had been majorly revamped. Brett and Kara were launching the Author Conservatory for real.

I wasn’t sure at first if I wanted to be a part of it. I talked to Brett a couple times on the phone, trying to decide if I wanted to join. 

After all, instead of the more advanced stuff they’d been teaching before (which had been primarily platform/marketing/etc. things that I’d be able to use at this stage in my career with books already out), I’d have to learn about writing craft, start a side business, et cetera.

I felt like this might slow me down.

Brett basically told me (though don’t quote me on this because I don’t exactly remember what all was said) that they’d love to have me but he also wasn’t sure what I’d get out of this. Still, he thought there was a lot anyone could learn from this program.

I was a Founding Member, so I wasn’t paying full price, and I really do think Brett and Kara are amazing, so I decided to renew my membership and give it a try. Kind of not expecting much, frankly. I thought it’d be fun, and maybe I’d try the first year and see what happened, but like … how much could I possibly learn? I already knew all that stuff.

But in June 2020, I entered the first year of the YWW Author (now Author Conservatory) 3-year fiction program.

And you know, though I enjoyed it, I was still kind of skeptical.

  • Brett and Kara’s full plans hadn’t been entirely realized at this point, so everything was getting reorganized.
  • All the students felt, at that time, younger than me, in a different place in life and in writing than me. Also, I didn’t know them well, so I didn’t understand yet that they were rock stars. I’m a judgmental curmudgeon. Leave me be.
  • Though I someday want to traditionally publish, I’m in no rush & am perfectly happy being an indie author, but all the students at that point were 100% set on traditional publishing.
  • I also felt a bit out of the loop because so many big transitions had happened while I was gone.

Plus I was Dealing With A Lot that summer, so I’m sure I was like 80% out of it.

Then I started attending critique calls. And I loved those! And then the business tract started getting on its feet. And I loved that! And the program kept improving, sharpening itself, becoming better and better … until now, in November 2021, well, it’s frankly quite impressive.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s talk about what the Author Conservatory coursework entailed for me.

My Experience with Year 1

  • The goals of year 1 are to write an awesome novel and launch a simple business. I have already written many novels and launched several businesses, so I was kind of like, “Do I have to?” Of course I had to. Here’s what I learned.
  • There are a number of “fundamental” craft trainings that I was able to watch right off. I really enjoyed them, though the information wasn’t new to me. I was further a little irritated at having to learn some elements “their way” (mostly just needing to label plot structure with the terms they used instead of my own), but I adjusted once I stopped being stubborn.
  • I really appreciated that the craft trainings were fundamental – teaching everything you need to know in a way that’s simple but advanced. I truly believe you can watch these, implement them, and not spend the 10 or so years I did scrambling from writing program to blog to book like I did. This is all you need on writing craft. Then you can be done. Just like school – but without all the fluff that school generally includes. So like … homeschool. It’s just like homeschool. 😛
  • Plus, it’s true that a lot of authors DO NOT master the fundamentals. Their books are FUNDAMENTALLY flawed, like a beautiful bridge with shaky construction. Brett and Kara’s approach to teaching writing craft like engineers are taught bridge-building is fantastic.
  • In year two, I took two novels from a basic concept to a completed draft. I’m the type of person who was pretty stuck in my own process – and yet, I added another step, sharpened the way I write synopses and outline … and the drafts I wrote were very tight and quick.
  • Then came the business trainings. I’ll talk about this more, but this was the first time I realized that my fellow students are insane. I’ve adjusted to this, but y’all, if you read this, know that I am impressed and frightened by your enthusiasm. How on earth can anyone sincerely be this excited about anything?! Okay, but back on track.
  • I was also skeptical about the business trainings. (You’re nodding along at this point because I am skeptical of everything, lol. I’m starting to realize, reading the other student reviews, that I’m really the jerk of the program. I do not know how I feel about that fact.) However, they turned out to be super awesome. I learned some new things, but mostly, I’d already grasped a lot of these principles. That said, I deeply value the lessons learned there!
  • However, what I really did learn from here was not the principles but the action steps inspired by them. Though I didn’t run a typical business, and I don’t know that I ever will, I really appreciate what we’re learning through the practical steps of the business training. I think anyone, not just writers, should have this type of mentorship! (P.S. Gregg Harris came on to handle the business side along with Brett, and I was legitimately excited about this and enjoyed working with him on my business!)
  • They started bringing in new instructors and guests like Katie Phillips, Nadine Brandes, Mary Weber, Andrew Peterson, and Sara Ella, and I was an unimpressed historical fiction author until I realized how wise and amazing they are. Now, I’m so grateful they were able to bring on every one of these people to pour their amazing knowledge into us!
  • Then they also brought on Joanne Bischof, and I was VERY HAPPY with that. Plus I’d already adjusted to the idea of new people.
  • I was majorly impressed by Steve Laube. He is … literally the best. So much wisdom and insight! I love listening to his stories.
  • However, the biggest thing I was impressed by is the process itself. The Author Conservatory three-year program … itself. The efficiency and care with which writers are easily turned into authors through this course absolutely blew my mind.
  • The more I understood Brett and Kara’s idea here, the more impressed I was. And as the program has expanded and grown and clarified its purpose, I’ve become more impressed still.
  • This is it – the program that teaches writers exactly what they need to learn to have a successful author career. This program eliminates the struggle, the confusion, the wasted time. It takes writers on a simple, easy-to-follow path that, though not for the faint of heart, is absolutely ground-breaking.

Then Came Year Two

*cue me not understanding my fellow students’ reticence here*

  • I felt like I’d been waiting for Year Two for forever, and I’m so excited about it! In Year 2, we’re writing and editing a novella. I’ve already finished one and am working on a second just in case, so yeah, I’m thrilled!
  • We’re learning more specialized writing craft stuff which has been fun. Again, I’m struggling to take anything away from it, but I’m definitely loving the reminders.
  • I’ve enjoyed the craft critiques! I like getting my work picked at … don’t @ me.
  • I’m also finally having time and energy to critique other peoples’ works, join all the calls, et cetera. And let me tell you … what I’ve gotten out of it has really increased by leaps and bounds as I put more into it! Not so much in learning, though that, too, but in what I’m getting out of having this community. It is amazing.
  • I loooovvvveee the novella I think I’m going to publish! Can’t wait to share it with you!
  • So far, not a lot of Year Two thoughts (I’ve been a little too busy to engage as I’d like to), but I’m so excited for our many critiques and edits toward the end of the year!

Some Random Observations About The Author Conservatory Community

One of the coolest things about the Author Conservatory is that you have this built-in community of like-minded writers (and of course instructors) who are working together to achieve similar goals – namely, to create a sustainable and successful writing career.

These contacts are not going away. You’re basically working with the next bestsellers as you work to become a bestseller yourself. And I absolutely value every one of our awesome students for that reason!

However, let me share some things that I find funny about our community.

  • Everyone is WILD enthusiastic. Okay, I’ll admit it. Maybe this is because I’d heard a lot of the information before or because I’m just a calmer personality, but I find it HILARIOUS how all of them are so crazy positive about the new trainings! Honestly, even when I learn something hugely ground-breaking for me, I am not … like that? But it’s cool how hard everyone celebrates every little thing (even though I will never join in on this – I just don’t have that much emotional energy, ever, for anything).
  • Everything is a blessing. I’m also apparently a lot less grateful than all the other students. Which I probably need to work on as a spirit of gratitude is so important. As someone who wasn’t born happy about anything, ever, for any reason, this is definitely inspiring to me!
  • There are SO many inside jokes! Honestly, I’ve seen where most of them started, and sometimes, it makes sense, and sometimes, it doesn’t, but frankly, I find them hilarious and enjoy repeating them. I also love how, due to the recorded trainings, so many new students are able to share the inside jokes, too!
  • I love how there’s virtually no difference (besides knowledge level, perspective shifts, etc.) between the newbies and the more Year 2/Year 1.5 writers. We all help each other, we all work together, we all are friends. I never see that in communities! Usually, eventually there get to be little cliques, and it’s hard to make friends, but in the Author Conservatory, this hasn’t happened. (Maybe those cliques will come in time, but it’s certainly not because of anything done by us Founding Members. 😉 Y’all are gonna have to join and start your own cliques.)

It’s definitely a unique and special place!

Actual Accomplishments

I wasn’t going to talk about this, but I decided I might as well because I know I would like to know what ACTUALLY is done, so here’s that information in case you’re like me.

  1. I’ve drafted a novel and a novella. The Duke’s Twin and The Duke’s Firstborn (might be renamed The Duchess Imperative) are a slightly different genre for me, and they are a lot more twisty and complicated than other stories I’ve written. However, I was able to draft both of them seamlessly thanks to all the feedback I got!
  2. I’ve gotten two completed outlines that I was supposed to write but didn’t! Okay, more or less. I’ve started one novel and am debating when I’ll prioritize fixing it. They are both super strong outlines, and once my life stops shifting, I’ll write them pretty easily, I’ll bet! Especially with Author Conservatory support.
  3. Launched a business! Despite the fact that it was one of the busiest seasons of my life ever, I was still able to launch and support a virtual assistant business that raked in probably about $1,500 for me for very little effort over six months. Granted, I have probably the least impressive business on the community, and I shut it down after just a few months because I didn’t love the workload, but the process we go through to launch businesses is easy to follow and so perfectly un-scammy while also marketable. I love this process and wish I’d been able to dive into it a little more!

Random Fun Story Time:

When I first started at the Author Conservatory and began working on The Duke’s Twin, Brett (who was still doing critique calls at that time) and Kara kept pushing me to find a better plot thread. Yes, it was fine, and I’d actually drafted an outline a while ago that I would’ve written if left to my own devices.

However, Brett and Kara didn’t let me do that.

Instead, they kept pushing me to make the characters likable, the plot make sense, the twists more crazy, the ending more satisfying. They pushed and pushed, and frankly, I wasn’t sure how to reach the ending of this stupid story.

Then, one night, Brett woke up (possibly in a cold sweat, because that sounds more dramatic) and scribbled down this perfect ending for the novel that I couldn’t seem to end.

On our next critique call, he went, “Kellyn, have I got the plot for you.”

And … that’s what I wrote. Frankly, I’m half of a mind to split royalties with him because I think most of the other students had to, um, actually come up with their own stories???

Anyways, it was genius, and I’m so grateful for him for putting that much thought into my novel. (Also, apologies for Ana for any annoyance that came from this. You have my sincerest apologies. I am super blessed by it, though. Every time I reread those last few chapters, the hilarity strikes me again.)


But the thing is, we all support each other like that. It’s not just the instructors. It’s the students. They are all helping each other make their stories into the best ever.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This is an amazing program, and I’m so happy to be a part of it.

Overall Thoughts

The Author Conservatory is ground-breaking. It just is. I’m proud to be a part of this program, and every day I become more and more amazed by how awesome it is.

The instructors and students are all going above and beyond to create and participate in the most amazing course ever. Already, so many authors, agents, editors, and even publishers have expressed interest in our project. Already so many amazing accomplishments have been made by students.

I am so happy I became part of the Conservatory!

Information on the Epic Giveaway

For anyone who participates in the tour, best-selling authors Brett Harris and Kara Swanson will be hosting a live Office Hours where you can ask your questions about writing, careers, Author, and more! Brett & Kara co-founded the Author Conservatory to help writers reach their dreams of becoming self-sustaining authors.

At the end of the tour, you’ll be directed to a Wrap-Up post (on Coralie’s blog) with details on how to register for the Office Hours. Additionally, you’ll find a link to submit your name for two giveaways!

The first giveaway is for six winners. Josiah DeGraaf and Coralie Terry (the admission advisors) will host individual 20 minute coaching sessions via Zoom. Josiah is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of Story Embers as well as the Program Director of the Young Writers Workshop. They will each pick three names and spend 20 minutes with each winner to discuss your writing goals and questions. This prize is open internationally.

The second giveaway is for one grand prize winner! Each Author student is required to start a business, so the grand prize is a physical pack featuring products and services from our very own Author students!! The grand prize includes:


You must comment on each of the blog reviews in order to be entered in the grand prize giveaway (and the 20 minute coaching session giveaways).

You must submit the google form at the end of the tour (on the Wrap-up post here) so we can draw your name from the submissions!

The grand prize is open to US participants only. The coaching sessions and Office Hours are open internationally.

Next Post

To find the next post in this series, click here.




Are you a writer? What kind of ed-u-cay-shion are you putting yourself through? Would you ever consider a college-level alternative like this one? Let me know in the comments!

What do you think of my thoughts?

83 Responses

  1. Kellyn! This was soooo fun to read. I loved hearing your thoughts and perspective on your experience and you know what? I’m glad you are different and feel free to be yourself while still enjoying and benefiting from the Conservatory. My hope and prayer is that it will just get better and better for you as time goes on.

    Also… I will never forget the tossing and turning in bed in that half-awake place between waking and dreaming… and suddenly realizing how The Duke’s Twin should end!! I should be gracious and say I don’t need any royalties, but given that I think it’s going to massively successful I will leave the door open to a little royalty sharing maybe!! haha!

    1. Thank you, Brett! I had so much fun writing it so I just kept rambling for 3,000 words or so. I don’t usually write that long, but I had a lot to say!

      YES! And that was such an epic brainstorming call, too! I was in utter shock.

      LOL about the royalties! If I become massively successful, I shall have to see what I can do! 😛

    2. I adored the depth of details you gave here but I especially loved knowing more of your background!! Awesome, this was so good to read!!

  2. Love this! Man, it’s so detailed, and it really gives you a bird’s eye view on to what Author is really like. And I am so pumped for the giveaway, (I hope I win!) This is so cool, now I am definitely thinking about Author for my writing, and I am excited about the possibilities. Thanks Kellyn! ~Em

    1. The Author Conservatory is an absolutely amazing program! Even if I weren’t a part of it, I would recommend it, but since I am, my recommendation is that much more fervent. 😛

  3. Wow, Kell, I needed this! Thank you! I’ve been thinking about Author off and on for the last few months, but like you, I’m a skeptic. XD I know I’m not up to your level yet (not even close), but I also wouldn’t consider myself a first-time writer or anything…plus I’m fine being an indie author…and I think I’ve launched ten businesses already (not saying they amounted to anything, though)…so I’ve been unsure if Author is for me. Point is, I’m so glad to hear that you’ve gotten so much out of it! I’ll definitely keep thinking and praying about it! 🙂

    1. Personally, I think this program could be helpful for just about anyone – but of course it’s not for everyone. The traditional publishing focus doesn’t happen until late in Year 3, truly, so I have almost considered recommending that indie authors go through the first two years and not the third, or alternately, do the third year but with a slightly different emphasis in where they place their focus … Because, after all, writing craft, business training, and things like market/etc. which we’re starting to learn are even more vital to indie authors. For traditional authors, at least there’s a little gatekeeping … when you’re self-guided, the issues can abound. But yes, I don’t subscribe to a belief that anything can be for everyone (I mean … Jesus Christ … but you know, other than that) – so yeah. If you ever find yourself needing a deciding factor, talking to the admissions people might help. 😛 They do free interviews and are pretty cool people in general – and they’ll involve parents if asked.

            1. Yup! And if you weren’t planning to go to college traditionally, that can be a stopping place. I think it’s worth it, from a career standpoint, and it’s certainly cheaper than college, doesn’t include housing, not quite as big a time suck at if you miss a class, you can just rewatch the recording, self-paced, etc. … and of course a lot of students run a side business to pay their way through. It’s those first six months or so that are most concerning if you don’t have it up front, I think. After that, it’s doable.

              1. I could probably make it work if I decide that’s what I want to do! I’m honestly trying to do too much right, I think. XD What does the up-front cost typically look like, if you don’t mind my asking?

                1. I actually haven’t the slightest idea what tuition is! I know it stays the same from year to year and is somehow comparable to college tuition (which I don’t have the foggiest idea about the pricing of either), but other than that, and the fact that most of the students are able to pay for it or mostly with their businesses once they got those going, I don’t have a frame of reference. I pay a smaller yearly fee because I’m a founding member, so it’s next to nothing for me. You basically have to schedule an interview to find out the price because I guess it keeps changing as we have more content available so depending on when you join the program – and yet Brett has kept his promises and never raises the fees for students from what they were originally offered. I think they just don’t want outdated numbers floating around the internet as to their pricing. I know that they always say it’s not cheap, though. And I might’ve misrepresented a bit – it’s not an up-front cost. It’s just that once you get your business going, you can pay off your tuition with that but of course it takes a while to get a business going!

                  1. Aah, okay! That makes sense! I wouldn’t know anything about college tuition either, thanks to dual enrollment, so I’ll do a wee bit of research to make a guesstimate. 😉 I seeee… Thanks for answering all my questions, Kell! 🙂

                    1. Yup, though I don’t know if it’s comparable to a particular kind of tuition or …?! Anyways, it’s cloudy. The best way to do it might be to email them and say, “Hey, I’m interested in this program, but the major thing stopping me is tuition. Can you give me at least an estimate of what it is at present?”

      1. The program actually has students independently publish a novella whether or not they want to be traditionally published because they like the hybrid approach, so I also think there’s definitely something beneficial for indie authors!

    1. It’s a really amazing program! I definitely recommend it. I think it’s going to change the way the world views authorship as a career/calling/etc. And yes, it is like homeschool! XD

    2. I appreciate your skeptical tone and analytic view so much!! Thank you for walking us through each of the “benefits” of the program from your point of view, and giving us both strong pros and cons to consider. I’m so glad I get to look it over from your perspective through this post — thank you!

        1. Thank you, Gretchen, for your comment! I’m glad you appreciated the skeptical tone … I mean, I’m not entirely sure I’m capable of anything else, so I’m glad it was enjoyable despite the grumpiness thereof. 😛

  4. oh yes, I am a writer *wow what a shocker* And I’m currently just interacting with yww, though I hope to be in the author conservatory someday! *and that kind of answered everything*

    And is it weird that I’m glad you were more skeptical in your review? It makes everything feel more real then an explosion of sparkles *sparkles*, though if i cared enough to write a review it would be very…very sparkly and glowing

    1. That’s cool! I’m sure we would love to have you. It’s a really awesome college program!

      Nah, not weird at all! I wrote what I would’ve wanted to read – so complete transparency!

    1. Thank you for your honest and thorough review. I know that a couple years ago or so, I read another something you wrote (a blog post on Story Embers maybe?) and decided I really liked you, so I was excited to see you wrote one of the reviews. I can’t wait to join this program hopefully next spring or summer!

      1. Hi Sereena! I can’t remember if I’ve ever written for Story Embers, but maybe I have. Everything kind of has faded together from the last several years. 😛 Anyways, good to see you here! It would be nice to have you in the program … it’s a really good one!

  5. Thank you for doing a review! I always enjoy hearing your thoughts on things as you manage to make me laugh and think at the same time.

  6. This was just. so. good! Like pretty much everyone else here, I loved your in-depth review of the Conservatory. Thank you so much for the post!

      1. I just tried to click the link to go to the next blog tour post, and it doesn’t work. Which website do I need to head to next?

  7. Wow Kell! Thank you for giving an honestly skeptic review and then sharing your excitement about the program and your fellow students. Your story about Brett and the ending of your book. HAHA! Sounds about right. Side note: I’ve learned inside jokes don’t have to make sense. 😉

  8. Wow, thank you so much for telling us about this from a completely different perspective. I have a tendency to be a skeptic too.

    1. Glad I’m not alone! I try to balance my skepticism with grace, but I do truly believe such programs, especially when they make such big promises, need to follow through. Fortunately, the Author Conservatory is one of those programs that is truthful about its value.

  9. Kellyn, you are hilarious and I am absolutely the number one fan of all things Duke’s Twin and on!! I loved your snarky, practical, down-to-earth walk through your experience!! And I love that Author has wormed its way into your heart even though you’ve felt that you haven’t learned as much as others because you started out further along. I for one am SO glad you’re part of our community!!!!

    1. Aw, thank you, Coralie! Glad you enjoyed it, more or less. 😛 I had so much fun writing it! I don’t think at this point in my career the re-hashing is good for me, as is having to have the flexibility to adjust what I do to work with the way the Author Conservatory does things like story structure, even though I admit I’m still a little befuddled by it from time to time. 😛

  10. Your detailed breakdown is definitely helpful! I also appreciate how you addressed the difference levels of experience various students have. That’s very helpful for me to know!

  11. From one curmudgeon (had to look up that spelling!) to another… your skeptical approach was spot on! Thank you for a THOROUGH review from your unique perspective! My daughter is the writer… I’m the “hangers-on”. Blessings on your books!

  12. Awesome review, Kellyn, and that was really helpful!! I especially like how you told us how supportive the instructors and community are. I mean, it sounds extremely wonderful how the instructors take time for each one of you and help you with your stories and growth. ?
    I am a writer in the Young Writer’s Workshop and yes, I am considering Author! (Maybe I’ll fill out that applications sometime soon!!)
    Thanks again and have a blessed day!

    1. Thank you, Lorelei! I had so much fun writing it. Yes, the community and instructors are all super hard-working, enthusiastic, and supportive, and it’s been fun having so much specific feedback on my stories.

  13. Hi, Kellyn! I really enjoyed reading your review! I’ve also been involved in the writing community and writing seriously for several years, so it’s good to have your in-depth review of the craft side and know that the Conservatory kind of does start at the beginning. It sounds like an incredible program though, and I will definitely be applying soon!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Alexa! I hope it was super helpful to you. Ooh, good luck! It would be fun to have more people there in the Conservatory. We always get so excited about new enrollments!

  14. Happy Wednesday, Kellyn! Thank you so much for your in depth–and hilarious!–review. I agree that everyone I’ve met from the Conservatory is wildly enthusiastic, so it’s great to hear how wonderful the program is from a previous skeptic. Thank you again for sharing your experience, and I wish you the best on your writing journey!

    In Christ,
    Sarah Grace

  15. I am a homeschooler who considers herself a hobby writer – at least at the moment. I would (and am) definitely considering this as a college alternative. I’ve written some short stories before and I know I have a lot I can improve on, despite places where I have improved through my own searching, schooling, and practice (some of my early stuff is most certainly NOT fit to see the light of day…).

What do you think of my thoughts?

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