A Minor Triumph of the Entrepreneurial A**hole Spirit

So (as the new link over there on the sidebar says) I wrote this book.

Photo credit to ME!

It’s a helpful little thing of ~60 pages or so, essentially a bunch of classroom lecture material turned into a few chapters of nattering. It is a book that I wrote to answer a need that my online students and I had — I needed them to understand what it meant to apply an ethical theory to a moral problem, and they needed some models for how to do it. I also wanted to be able to give them some hints for thinking and writing about ethics. There are a lot of really wonderful books out there that I could have just had them buy instead, but none of those books do what I want done (as I say in my preface) in quite the way I would like. I also wanted something at a lower price point that my students could more easily afford — the existing textbook for the course that prompted my writing was (I thought) really absurdly expensive.

So yeah, I wrote this book.

And now I feel like a total asshole.

Why? Because this book, no matter how useful (or, one hopes, mildly profitable) it might be, will never be a really good line on the ol’ CV. It might count against me, in fact, if I were on the job market (which thank Athena I’m NOT, fingerscrossedprayerssaidsacrificesmade).

This book — shamefully, selfishly, perhaps even unprofessionally — is self-published. I did it through the Amazon Createspace platform, and through Kindle Direct Publishing as well. Instead of doing the hard work of shopping the text around to educational presses and editors, I made what is widely regarded by academics (myself included) as a douche move and just did it all myself. Even the photo on the cover is one I took. There was no real editorial or peer review. There were no controls to stop me from saying outrageous and stupid things (although I hope my own decent judgment prevented the worst excesses from making it to the final draft). Honestly, this sort of thing is exactly what proper peer review (and its related editorial and scholarly practices) exists to prevent from reaching the market. An untenured faculty member with a self-published zit like this on her CV would be treated with no little contempt by any hiring committee. An eminent tenured senior faculty member with an endowed chair, a foundational place in a major subspecialty in the field, and a list of books and articles in top journals as long as Abe Lincoln’s leg might be forgiven for doing it — hell, that guy’s students might do it for him, collecting their lecture notes as a tribute to their mentor. I am in the wacky middle — unlikely to be too horribly damaged by it because I’m tenured, but not distinguished enough to be worthy of forgiveness, either. Scholarly social and intellectual practices have their own power over the people who adhere to them, after all.

So there it is, my book. In all of its asshole-produced glory. [Insert your own fecal metaphor-based joke here].

Scholarly publishing is a strange animal. As a recent post in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s “Vitae” blog suggests (and this is old news, really), there are deservedly famous and truly excellent scholars of earlier generations whose publication records would prevent them from getting tenure in the current academic environment. Pressure is on scholars to produce at a heretofore unseen volume, and there is an elaborate apparatus in place for seeing to it that what is produced is aired. Of course, much of this material fades immediately from memory upon being thus aired. How could it not? There is so very much noise against which any given article or book has to compete, it’s a wonder anyone ever gets a word in edgewise. Because the publishing apparatus wants to be profitable, and because scholars in a field really do, I think, want to promote good work above the noise, there are little procedural mechanisms and institutional norms that tend to favor getting certain names and lineages “out there”. Recent controversies over harsh reviews of senior members of my own discipline whose books got published in spite of obvious disengagement with contemporary research suggest that these norms and mechanisms may occasionally be problematic. Still, it’s the best and only game in town, at least until the glorious future of freely shared internet scholarship via open-access journals and lively blogs becomes viable.

In light of this, it was not nearly as difficult as it should have been for me to make the decision to skip the mess altogether and just do what I wanted. I, too, have profit as a part of my motive. I was truly planning to paste this material in as a set of lectures for the online course I was redesigning — right up until I read the intellectual property agreement that was a part of the contract for producing the course. These lectures are mine — for all of their many flaws, I like them well enough to want to be able to use them whenever I want for whatever purpose I want in whatever venue I choose. I do not want to sign them over to the institutional owner of the course I’ve designed. MINE!* I don’t want to be the kind of asshole professor, though, who writes a book, sees it priced absurdly high, requires it for classes, and then puts out a newer, even more expensive edition every other year or so, either. I may be an asshole, but I’ve got limits.

So, yeah, I wrote this book.

What strikes me as especially funny is that this spring, I will also be recording an EP of original music (indie all the way, mixed/mastered/engineered/folded/spindled/mutilated by a friend). To me, this seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do — I do not feel like an asshole for trying to sell my own music without jumping through record label hoops or signing an extortionate record contract. In fact, I prefer it. I have a sort of pride in it. I know it won’t sell to anyone but friends and family and local fans, but that’s enough. It’s art of my own devising, my work, and I will own it and sell it or give it away as I wish. That EP will also not count as a good line on my CV, but I really don’t care — I am willing to give myself credit for that work, even as I can’t help denying myself credit for the work I did on the book.

Weird.

*My parents have long suggested that “mine” was my first word. I am willing to believe it.

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About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. Otherwise, I labor to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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3 Responses to A Minor Triumph of the Entrepreneurial A**hole Spirit

  1. Glenn says:

    And despite the “douche” move, I still look forward to reading it Laura!

    I agree with the fact posited that once published a majority of the material is buried under the avalanche of oncoming and ongoing publications. I published a paper as a high school teacher and it is now buried and will never see the light of day outside my CV.

    This is a new realm I am entering, with very different rules. As a high school teacher, the rules are give away everything; share; help others; and collaborate and post the collaborations publicly. I am understanding the rules are very different as a Ph.D. student / candidate.

    That is sad.

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  2. It's a curious thing, Glenn. I understand why we do these things in the university setting, but I've never been comfortable with it. I've often wondered how many of the philosophers whose work I admire would have turned out *better* work if they weren't under constant pressure to produce as much work as possible in order to get and to keep their jobs. I also wonder what our contemporary debates would look like if this were the case.

    Honestly, what people have to do in order to get a job now is what used to be enough for *tenure*. There's also a subtle bias (in philosophy) against too much editing work, too much collaborative work, etc. For the sciences, collaboration is expected — grad students have their names on dozens of publications before they even start their own doctoral research.

    Some of the most exciting writing I've seen lately has been on blogs, not in journals. and the immediacy of the comments makes for a much more lively response (and sometimes much more robust philosophical work, I think) than the long turnaround time on journal review really permits.

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  3. Glenn says:

    I agree that the most exciting writing has been on blogs. As a blog author, I have found it to be very cathartic and helpful, and the blogs I read have impacted me far more than any journal article has in the last 5 years.

    It almost, almost makes me want to try to focus on blogging and not on publication, but then again, I know that would severely limit me in future employability. It is a conundrum from which I cannot escape at this point in time.

    If I was remaining as a high school teacher, I would have no question about direction, but since I have not firmly decided on my next steps of employment, then I need to keep my options open.

    There is no good answer here for me, just more questions.

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