Monday, November 14, 2011

Academia's Golden Opportunity

In the midst of the well-deserved uproar in response to the unfolding Penn State child abuse scandal, an unintended opportunity has presented itself to university officials to rein in the run amok college athletic scene.

There was a recent recruiting scandal at UCF, one that was completely overshadowed by the Penn State debacle, but symptomatic nonetheless of the same problem. To UCF President Hitt's credit, he took quick and decisive action to regain control of the athletic department and fired those who were in charge of overseeing athletics.

The talking heads have had a field say with nearly every columnist and TV pundit agreeing that the football behemoth has been allowed to dominate college campuses at the expense of just about everything else. All agree that the situation needs to be changed. College sports long ago stopped having anything to do with the college or university's mission—assuming that it to provide an education. In fact, the term "athletic scholarship" has become an oxymoron on a par with "friendly fire."

I've heard a lot of hand-wring commentary but none that really suggests a solution. Why isn't there a universal code of conduct for college campuses endorsed by all universities (maybe even the NCAA although it has become part of the problem) that at a minimum would call for the following:

·        Instruct all employees and students (that included coaches, players, and staff) that they are to bound to notify the police if they see any type of criminal activity, (sexual or physical) taking place. After that is done, they are to notify their superiors.

·        Ban athletic dorms and have athletes live with the other "less privileged" students.

·        Place limits on the amount of practice time allotted for sports to insure enough class time for student-athletes.

·        Inform campus police that any and all criminal activity must also be reported to the civil authorities. (The "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" mantra must be eliminated.)

·        Inform everyone that violations of this policy will be cause for dismissal or expulsion.

This not intended to be a complete list, but a good start. If the leaders of institutions of higher learning want to reassert their academic mission and regain control of their campuses, there was never a more perfect opportunity to do so. Public opinion is running very high in their favor, and against what college sports has become. So, don't blow it.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.
T. S. Eliot

    Any writer, if he is to advance in the field, must at some point subject his work to the scrutiny of an editor. This experience can run the gamut from intimidation to exhilaration. Since art appreciation is essentially a subjective exercise, one person's shimmering sea is often another's muddy pond. It happens all the time, and there are many examples of such dissonance in judging literary works. Although it doesn't get near the notoriety that an author receives for a successful work, editing is an art form that is creative in its own right. The ability to look at another's work objectively and give positive guidance is often a thankless exercise—frequently unappreciated both by readers and authors.

    Max Perkins was an editor extraordinaire. When he got a job with Scribner's in New York, he decided he wanted to work with younger writers. Unlike most editors of his time, he actively sought out promising new artists, and against his cohorts' advice, signed F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1919. Perkins worked with Fitzgerald to revise The Romantic Egotist, and then lobbied to have it accepted until he wore down his colleagues' resistance. His perseverance was subsequently rewarded with the publication of The Great Gatsby.

    Editing is a lot like business management. A manager is charged with putting the company's business objectives ahead of his individual creative ambitions. A good manager will leverage his talents across his group thereby getting much more output than he could produce working alone. That's why the best managers are often those who aren't the most creative contributors. A common mistake made in business is to take top individual performers and make them managers. It is very difficult for those accustomed to originating solutions to subjugate their creative instincts, allowing seemingly less capable individuals to do the interesting work.

    An editor doesn't have to be a person with a resume of writing credentials. In fact that might actually be an editing deterrent. Creative writers who edit another's writing are always tempted to recast the work in their own style, thereby robbing authors of their originality. There is, after all, virtually an infinite number of ways of expressing the same thought.

    Editing is a tough job, but when done well is a huge boon for the writer.

An editor should tell the author his writing is better than it is. Not a lot better, a little better.
T. S. Eliot

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Be very selective about giving your books away!

In marketing their wares, authors are always faced with the promotional problem of "planting seeds," in order to grow more sales.

When my book first arrived on the scene, I listened to those with experience in the marketplace who recommend giving copies to certain opinion makers, as a way of promoting the work. I have to say, this has had spotty results for me.

My dad always said, "You'll never learn how to play poker if you play for matches." (It was a common practice back then to use wooden matches as poker currency, and as the adage claimed, if it didn't cost you anything, you wouldn't learn anything.) Thus, it has been my belief that when someone gets something for free, they don't place the same value on it they would if they had to pay for it. Secondly, people in the book business who receive free copies, seem to think nothing of selling them on outlets such as Amazon or eBay. Thirdly, they often re-gift books to friends or relatives.

Once, when I was a guest at a banquet, I was introduced to the audience as an author who happened to have a few books with him for sale. A young lady approached afterwards saying said she heard good things about the book and would like to buy one. Before she could open her purse, a gentleman standing nearby interrupted to say, "You don't have to buy one, I'll let you have my copy. No need to spend your money." This person was a clergyman who had been given a free copy as a promotional inducement for considering me as a speaker at future events for his congregation. No engagements were ever scheduled, as his flock "weren't readers," he said. It never crossed his mind that authors are all about selling books, or that he was using his gratis copy to thwart a sale for the author.

There is no way around the problem of giving books to reviewers because, like it or not, it's part of the writing game. I always write to reviewers beforehand, and send books only if they reply positively. No one has ever turned down a free book, but it is disheartening that all too often I never knew if the book was received or read, and no review, good or bad, came forth.

Oh, I know, this is all part of the game. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. But, I believe caution should be used, and books given away only to very select audiences. A lot of people mistakenly think that the author has a huge supply of cheap books, waiting to be given away. They also wonder why you don't give them a copy. I tell most of them up front—if you don't pay for the book you won't value it. And, most seem to understand that.

Writing, contrary to some, is not a lucrative endeavor—especially when you consider the time and effort involved. I liken it to professional sports. For every notable success you read about, there are a million aspirants trailing behind who never make it. Every author's book embodies a part of his or her life—something that can never be reflected in its price. Treasure it, and don't toss it around as if it doesn't have any worth, because if you do, other people won't value it either.