Another Article

Some insecure people feel the compulsion, but really don’t know why.  Speaking strictly for this insecure person it’s because (I think) I’ve been ignored most of my life.  I didn’t cause trouble so teachers seldom paid me any mind.  (I’m pretty good about obeying rules.)  I was a middle child with less than a year at youngest status.  I was abandoned in a house at the age of one for God knows how long when my father went out on a bender.  Who knows?  In any case, this piece isn’t really about any of that.  It’s about the compulsion to write articles.  I don’t know why I keep volunteering to do this.  They get me nowhere.  You’re not paid for them, and you get little exposure.  I seem to be addicted to appearing in print.

This blog is purely an electronic phenomenon.  It exists nowhere in print.  I post on it every day in the hope that, like a Pioneer probe, it will connect with somebody who comprehends.  As a non, but erstwhile, academic I am not compelled to write.  In fact, it sometimes complicates things.  (If you believe that freedom of written expression exists you’ve never read a publishing contract.)  So print publication appeals to me.  I had an email from a volume editor the other day and I couldn’t place the name.  I opened it to read that the volume had been accepted as I was struggling to remember what I promised I would write for him.  I had to do an email search to locate the chain.  So that’s what I said I’d do! (The previous article I’d committed to I remembered well, since the proposal was long overdue.) 

Print publication, you see, takes a long time.  An erstwhile editor (likely an academic), gets an idea.  They wrestle with it a while and then write it down.  Pitch it to a publisher.  The in-house editor has to pitch it to the editorial board.  Often after peer review.  It can, in my defense, take months—plenty of time to have forgotten I said I’d contribute.  Then the book has to be written.  That part can take years, but in edited collections many hands make light work.  After the disparate pieces are finally cajoled in (one editor had to keep after me for four months), the editor, well, edits them.  Then they finally get sent off to the publisher.  The production process takes about a year.  The volume comes out and you get a congratulatory email or two, and then it’s forgotten.  I’m not sure why I do it, but I’ve been published by university presses for taking these on.  When I was teaching I couldn’t seem to get their interest.  Now that I’m writing about horror they’re starting to notice.  But then, that’s how monsters behave.

War of Egos

As an author you have to believe in your book.  Experience has taught me that if you don’t, nobody will.  Still, there are ways of believing in your book while keeping your ego in check.  Given the ego we’ve seen along Pennsylvania Avenue these last few years it may come as little surprise that even some wannabe authors can nearly match it.  The line, as professionals draw it, is balancing between the importance of your work with the realism that few books sell well.  Your best approach, as author, is humility.  Many people don’t read the professionals.  You quickly learn this if you’re in an editorial role.  It is normal to receive emails from authors telling you how important their work is, some even claiming it as an even on a cosmic scale (I am not joking).

I often consider how much pain authors could spare themselves with just a tiny bit of research.  If a publisher has turned your book down twice already, don’t submit it a third time.  (You already crossed the line the second time you sent it.)  And don’t send your proposal with a list of demands.  What I’ve noted both on this blog and elsewhere is that editors value professionalism.  We don’t like turning down books.  We don’t want to ruin a prospective author’s day.  There are, however, safeguards you can use to prevent the worst kinds of disappointment.  Rule number one is check your ego at the door.  Do you know how many books have been published?  Do you know just how difficult it will be for your book to get noticed?  Take a reality check.

Also, scale your expectations.  How many bestsellers have come from university presses?  If you’re after bestseller status you need to aim for a trade publisher.  This is pretty basic stuff.  Those of us who publish in the academic world do believe our books are important, but many of us also know that they start only small conversations.  Biblical studies isn’t exactly a growth field.  We talk amongst each other, a collegial little group for the most part.  And to keep things on the collegial level it is helpful to remember that we’re not publishing for ego.  We’re publishing to try to move knowledge ahead, even if just by a micron or two.  Good writing, I was once told, is simply clear thinking.  Getting that writing published is part of a conversation and conversation only works if  we are willing to keep our egos on their leashes.

I’ll Be Googled

It’s a strange sensation to do an innocent web search only to find yourself cited.  (And no, I was not googling myself.  At least not this time.)  I was searching an obscure publisher and my own pre-publication book, Holy Horror, came up on Google books.  Now, the computer engineers I know tell me that Google remembers your searches, and this has a way of being unintentionally flattering; when I search for my book it pops up on the first page because I have searched for it before.  Still, it was a bit of a surprise to find myself where I had no idea I’d been cited.  All of this drew my mind back to my “post-graduate” days at Edinburgh University.  To how much the world has changed.

One of the first things you learn as a grad student is you can’t believe everything you read.  Granted, most of us learned that as children, but nevertheless, with academic publishing a new bar is raised.  That which is published by a university press is authoritative.  So we’re led to believe.  But even university presses can be fooled.  This prompts the fundamental question of who you can really believe.  Our current political climate has elevated that uncertainty to crisis levels, of course, and the vast majority of people aren’t equipped to deconstruct arguments shouted loudly.  Where you read something matters.   Even publishers, however, are fallible.  So what am I to make of being cited by the web?  And is my book already available before I have seen a copy?

Even credibility can be bought and sold.  Colleagues make a much better living than me with the same level of training, but with more influential connections.  It was just this reason that I decided to try to shift my writing to these who don’t need credentials to impress each other.  Some of the smartest people I ever knew were the janitors with whom I started my working life.  As a fellow post-grad in Edinburgh once said, professors are always ready to fail you for your lack of knowledge but most can’t tell you what an immersion heater is.  (That’s one of those Britishisms that no amount of graduate courses at Harvard will teach you.)  I suppose when it’s all said and done nobody else will ever search for the obscure publisher that brought my book to Google’s attention.  No matter, at least Google will always flatter me.