Checking Those Boxes


Often my posts mention my dealings with academia, and the stark contrasts between the “normal” world and the academic domain.  These differences have sparked an interest in figuring out the psychology of not only some professors but the world they are enmeshed in.  One of the things I have noticed during my time as a graduate student in an MFA program is the difference in publishing goals and how the professors treat their writing versus how most authors deal with their work and how they market it.

To be hired as a professor, one must publish at some point, and it seems for some that the only reason they have published anything is to able to put it on their resumes.  Maybe I’m naive and idealistic, but to write a novel or short stories to check off a box seems disingenuous.  If you have a passion for writing, why would you only write one book or a handful of short stories?  Most writers have a hard time stopping or getting other work done when the writing bug bites, so how can one instruct and inspire young writers when they haven’t really done it themselves?  Can you really consider yourself a writer or author when you only write to further your career goals?  It most definitely is not my motivation for writing, but I cannot say why others do it.

One of the other major oddities is the gravitation to small presses.  Academia often shuns self-publishing, yet it seems most professors publish via small presses instead of the major publishing houses.  I don’t know whether this is due to a lack of connections to the major publishing houses, a lack of interest from said publishers, or if it is simply easier to ally oneself with the University of Nowhere’s press than it is to find an agent and kneel on corn kernels until one of the big five picks your work.  From what I have noticed, most of these small presses only do limited runs of their work, do very little to promote it, and often do not publish the book in ebook form (which sells much more than paperback or hardcover novels).  The reviews on Goodreads or Amazon tend to be few and far between and are usually written by former students.  Why bother going with a small press when it leaves your writing career in obscurity?  I guess this goes back to my first point about writing to check off boxes.  If you want to publish a book to say you did it, this is a suitable option, but if your writing goals extend beyond simply looking like a better candidate on paper, don’t go with a small press.  You may as well maintain creative control and self-publish your work.  At least print on demand means that your book will never go out of print.

Unlike many of the writers I am acquainted with, the writers of the academic world do not seek to garner a readership or fan-base.  This boggles my mind.  I know it all relates back to point one, but why would you not want to have fans and people who actually look forward to reading your next work?  It is the most flattering, validating, and wonderful sensation to have someone say they cannot wait for book two.  Not looking for an audience says to me that you wrote your work selfishly.  Either you believe everyone will love it and you will automatically go down as part of the literary cannon for your work simply because you wrote it or (more likely) you wrote the book to check off that box.  You may be proud of your work, but you wrote it to get to point B, not to become what I would consider a true writer/author.  Your audience was an afterthought, and while I agree that I do not write strictly for my audience (most of my writing first and foremost satisfies a literary itch I need to scratch), I do write in hopes that others will enjoy my stories.  A writer without readers may as well not exist.

This obviously does not apply to all academics who are also writers or poets.  I actually know quite a few who publish regularly and have an established audience, but the portion that strays from the norm and seems to lack passion when it does not further their goals is what interests me.  As a writer who would one day like to be a professor, I hope I do not become that person.  I want my writing to inspire others, to make them feel things, and to have them root for my characters.  First and foremost, I write for myself, but I do not write to climb the make myself look better on paper.  Art is not meant to get you a job; art is meant to captivate and bring others into another world.

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