I write a lot about academia and public writing, fueled by my accidental stumble into a very public life (it’s all about the 13th century! The 13th Century is a hot media property!). But then once you’ve got some op-eds, some practice at a public voice, then what?
It turns out that writing a book, as an academic, for a non-academic press requires making it through a lot of gatekeepers who are not pre-disposed to let you pass.
Here’s a story from Michael Socolow via Inside Higher Ed. Socolow found an amazing, publishable, story of Olympics history. The kind of thing, he judged, that could become a movie and/or best seller. So he did the work and tried to sell it. And tried. And tried. And failed.
Years passed, and eventually a famous author (using, it turned out, some of his interview notes that he somehow obtained), wrote the best seller, leaving Socolow to write:
A lot of ink has been spilled recently about the need for academics to write for wider audiences. Much of the criticism presumes that academics prefer to write and speak in impenetrable rhetoric designed to limit communication to only people initiated in the cloistered world of scholarly interchange. I don’t doubt that this problem exists. But many critics have no idea how many scholars — like myself — have attempted to write for wider audiences but found ourselves blocked by gatekeepers in the publishing industry. Although I’ve published numerous essays and newspaper columns for wide public readership, and I believe my book proposal proved my ability to deliver clear, serviceable — and even engaging — prose, no publisher took a gamble on this first-time author coming out of academe.
The gatekeepers are many. I have no real solutions other than to name them honestly, to tell these stories, and to build better pathways for academics to work in public spaces.
I’m pretty confident anyone who wants to can find ways to share their research and expertise with mass audiences.
But that’s not the same as reaping just profits for one’s work.
This is my side gig. I don’t know how to change that.