a_d_medievalist: a gift for my birthday from gillo.  Please don't use it! (Default)
For those of you who don't read Whatever, you may have missed John Scalzi's recent post on the pay offered by Black Matrix Publishing, or his follow-up post that rounds up the responses of lots of pro writers and editors. Today, Scalzi points us to a very cranky response by MFA student and aspiring pro writer Jenn Brissett. The comment thread is wonderful. It's useful. It makes clear that Brissett doesn't get it.

So why do I care? Scalzi is not my friend, although I would love to hang out with him some time. I do know some professional sf writers and editors, though, and have been on the fringes of fandom for a long time. I don't see myself writing professionally, because I think I'm not really imaginative enough to write something that isn't jejeune and embarrassingly full of the Mary-Sue-ness that, even though it can sell (I'm looking at YOU, Stephinie Meyer), is not really very good. And if I wrote sf or fantasy, I would want it to be good, because I don't want the people I respect as writers to laugh at me. So yeah. Don't look for fiction by ADM anytime soon.

Right -- so this is why it concerns me at all. There are really a couple of reasons. The first is that, well, I have friends who write, and I want them to be writing for markets that pay relatively well. The second is that, well, I do write. I mean, I write really slowly, and I don't get paid in anything but CV credit, but in some ways I think that's relevant to the larger conversation. One of Brissett's arguments is that publishing with businesses like Black Matrix is still better than not publishing, because it can give a writer pro credits. The counter-argument is that some publishers are better than others; while the publishers who pay well tend to be the best-known and have the big pro reputations (hence good publication credits), many of the smaller and badly paying venues are also not places where the credit will count as much. This is not true for all of them, and I can imagine that, given the right publisher and editor, it might be advantageous for a newbie author to publish for free.

That seems pretty sensible to me, because the same is true for academic publishing. We rank our venues. A peer-reviewed publication is the bottom line, and from there there is a hierarchy of journals and publishers. Oxford UP or Cambridge UP will publish your book? Gold standard for many of us. Non-academic publisher or publisher with no guarantee of peer review? Not so much. There is an assumption of quality based on venue.

The second issue that strikes me about all this, though, is the one of payment. Academics don't expect to make tons of money from their books (although some do bring in some good royalties). To the best of my knowledge, most sf/f authors also do not make ginormous profits. Brissett argues that, by calling publishers like Black Matrix on their sweat-shop like wages, pro authors are acting as gatekeepers who don't want the newbies to get a fair shot. I call shenanigans on that. I may be a medievalist, but dammit, I teach the modern survey, too, and passed macroeconomics. I am familiar with Ricardo and his Iron Law of Wages. It's not about gatekeeping as much as it is looking around us and noting that, when we live in a society that undervalues labor, everybody's wages suck. This is true whether we look at people working at places like Walmart or in the kitchens of restaurants, or at humanities faculty. When people undersell themselves, they make it possible for employers to underpay them. Not only does it drag the wages of everyone else down, but it also encourages people to see what we do as having little worth. Unions can sometimes mitigate that, but honestly, they can't prevent state budget cuts and furloughs, which would not pass if people were properly infuriated and placed a high value on what we do.

Yeah -- that's getting a little close to blaming the victim, and I don't mean to do that. But this also connects back to our discussion of Bennett's History Matters, in terms of women and their occasionally willing participation in the perpetuation of the patriarchal equilibrium. Actually, it just connects back to feminism, plain and simple. If we aren't part of the solution, we are part of the problem -- and Brissett not only is part of the problem, but her arguments are so self-interested that she seems unable to see the same problem the rest of us do, i.e., that a poor wage structure, especially coupled with a venue that does not supply any particular cachet to its writers, is a sucker's game.

A final issue, which make it three for the promised two, is that ... WHAT? As I said above, I'm really sort of on the fringes of fandom. I don't drag myself to cons, even though I am starting to explore options there (Readercon, Sirens, and Wiscon are on my radar these days, although often they are not at convenient times for me to travel). But my overall impression, from being on those fringes for the past 30 or so years, is that the world of sf/f writing and editing is really not one of extraordinarily high, multi-bolted gates. There seem to be an awful lot of pros who got their start writing fanfic or editing fanzines. Smart people with something sensible to say seem to get put on con panels, and get worked into the system, although there does seem to be a flexible, but existing, frontier between the pros and the fans. But by and large, it seems to me to be a world where the talented can reinvent and establish themselves in ways that are not nearly as possible in many other professional areas.

You may wonder what all this is in service of. First, it's my blog and I had too much to say in a comment. Also? I've just successfully avoided marking essays for about 40 minutes! Guess it's time to get on that...


x-posted
a_d_medievalist: a gift for my birthday from gillo.  Please don't use it! (Default)
NaNoBloPo/NaSchoWriMo 23

I have finished my teaching obligations for the week. I have finished my service obligations for the week. And all I can think is that I have several days in which I can actually get some damned work done. I have a big pile of marking to do -- essays for all classes, and catching up on all the online marking. The plus is that I will only have one set of papers to read the weekend before finals, and then the finals.

I am so looking forward to break, when I can ... ok, take a little break. I'm going home to visit The Kid and X and friends for five days, and there are a couple of parties and maybe some hiking, too. But mostly I will be looking forward to re-reading LDW's latest book, which I'm using for class, and at least one of his other books, and working on my damned book project (about which Superdean is nagging me) and also perhaps on my article for TenthMedieval. And going to the gym.

Maybe I'm just like this because I'm hopeless about time and balance. Maybe other academics spend their holidays actually having holidays. But I have this weird feeling that I'm not the only one who sees non-teaching time as a way to catch up.

On the other hand, I expect that it's a good thing that I've got to the point where I see these breaks now as real breaks, mental breaks, opportunities to do things I want to do, rather than as something I resent because I won't have a break. Still, I think I'd like to get more writing done in term time, and actually have a holiday, too.
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(NaSchoWriMo/NaBloPoMo 12)

I haven't written anything in ages. I have been trapped, even though I'm only teaching three courses (and two preps), between teaching, advising, and administering. If nothing else, the past 12 days have reminded me that, when I want to, I can carve out time to write. If I can carve out time to blog, I should be able to carve out time to work on my research. Of course, it took actually sitting down and committing to blogging to remind myself of that. Ok, a couple of other things happened, too. I have to admit that blogging is not the same as research, even when it is thoughtful blogging. I don't worry about getting the facts straight, for example. But much of what I should be working on is also not the sort of thing where I have to carve out research time. Much of it could be done (after some revising) in smaller chunks, here and there.

Recently, Notorious, PhD posted about why we write (a couple of other people did, too, but at the moment, I can't brain. I used to write because it was a way to get and keep a job. Now that I have got to the point that I see research and writing as really important parts of my job, and things that I really like to do, I have a much harder time finding the time. Part of it is real. I teach in a demanding way. I should probably just write lectures, but you all know by now that I don't. I will also admit that I don't prep enough when my students aren't keeping up. But my time always seems to be eaten up with chairing, assessment work, advising (I've only got 25 advisees at the moment, which is not horrible compared to some of my College colleagues, but is about eight times more than any of my departmental colleagues), and committees. Only one search committee, but I've got to read some apps ...

And, as a friend pointed out the other day, I could actually do something useful in the morning rather than get on facebook and read blogs! The thing is, I *do* like to write. I like to read. But somehow, I get caught up in the semester and it always seems that I have no time free in substantial chunks. OH! It was Jonathan Jarrett who wrote about carving out time for writing. I need to go back and look at what he said, although I disagree with the tidying up. I do work better when I tidy up, perhaps because the action of tidying up means that I've moved away from the computer and the internet and am just focusing on what needs doing.

But mostly, I just need to do it. After all, I'm doing this, aren't I?


x-posted
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(NaSchoWriMo/NaBloPoMo 4)


This is going to be a short post, because I've been transcribing excerpts of sources by hand (i.e., typing, because I haven't been able to get the scanner to work) for the past couple of hours. Why? Fair use.

In response to Jonathan's and Susan's comments on the last post regarding excerpts: for me, it depends entirely on the level of the class and the point of the assignment. If what I want is primarily for the students to get a really good overall view for a period or place, or if the reading is relatively short anyway, I'm all for the whole thing. But say I want to show something about Roman provincial administration -- do I really need them to read all of Pliny's correspondence to Trajan? Or (heaven forfend) more than the pertinent pages of Civitas Dei to give them an idea of Augustine's response to the sack of Rome?

What about when I am trying to teach the students to pick apart a document? how much do I need?

I'm not really arguing against more reading or the value of reading entire works or substantially longer excerpts. I'm just saying that I'm not sure that shorter passages are any more problematic, if what one is trying to teach is how to read a source and/or how to construct an argument and write an essay around it.


Speaking of which, I'm going to have to do some modification of a series of assignments I use in my surveys. For a couple of years, I've given three papers, each worth a bit more than the one before, as part of the course grade. Each paper is successively more difficult, and they are meant to build on things we discuss regarding primary sources. The first essay is simply two or three paragraphs in which they have to identify things: author, audience, type of document, etc., and then one piece of historical evidence in the document and how a historian might use it. The second paper is longer, and asks them to look at one document and write an essay that shows that they can use that document to tell us what it reveals about [a specific theme, e.g., gender relationships or trade] the time and place. The third paper requires them to consider 2-3 documents (usually from different time periods and/or cultures) and compare and contrast a couple of themes evident in the documents in ways that show that they can not only identify themes and create arguments, but also show that they are considering how all the external criticism stuff comes into play. Just assigned such a paper. Am thinking I may have to re-think and tighten it up.
a_d_medievalist: a gift for my birthday from gillo.  Please don't use it! (Default)
Today, I wrote 1332 words of self-reflection and self-advertisement.  That's about all the writing I can handle for today.
a_d_medievalist: a gift for my birthday from gillo.  Please don't use it! (Default)
I'm going to try to write something of substance every day, with the understanding that, if I write something academic, a word count post on the blog will count.  Database enlargement will also count as writing.

X-Posted
a_d_medievalist: a gift for my birthday from gillo.  Please don't use it! (Default)
I've posted something research-y on charters at Blogenspiel. You can comment here if you like. If you comment there, I'd appreciate not mentioning you saw it here first! Thanks!


In other news, I went to a spinning (the kind at the gym with bicycles) class tonight and am exhausted.

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