Experiencing Capitalism

Posted on October 15, 2019


Don’t worry, this is not a piece about capitalists and socialists. You are bombarded enough with those pieces by both politicians and journalists who all claim to have the final say on the truth.

I have been an academic, a professor all my working life, except for a couple of years in the Navy which had nothing to do with capitalism, socialism, progressivism, dictators or democrats. I “professed” history since that was my field, not chemistry, math, philosophy or the dozens of other fields in university life.

Like millions of other teachers, from K-12 through colleges and universities, I find/found teaching very fulfilling. At the college and university level, however, one is expected to do more than teach. One is expected to research in your field and advance the state of knowledge.

All teachers of course get paid for their work, but at the university level you are also rewarded for your research. While, for most of us, I tend to believe our rewards are our students, at the research tier universities, you have the added responsibility of research.

The rewards of the system come in the form of tenure, promotions and raises. On the other hand, for what we usually produce, let’s say academic articles and books, there is little remuneration for our efforts. In other words, we aren’t paid for our research.

Occasionally a scientist on the faculty at some place like the University of Florida will invent Gatorade and it’s off to the races on money-making. But those are rare instances, and I heard that the Univ. of Florida gets most of the profits since the scientist was on their faculty and their time.

Now, in my field, I’ll write an academic book for a press like Cambridge University Press or the University of Alabama Press and they may print a few hundred copies and if we sell 100 in a ten-year period, we can have a Diet Coke and celebrate.

Little money changes hands although I have received royalty checks now and then which can usually be exchanged for a quick trip to Publix, or, better, the Pig. Your research is a contribution to the general expansion of knowledge, from poets to physicists, each producing for the edification of our culture and science. Some who write textbooks can actually make a few bucks and make two trips to Publix.

Recently, however, I published two books with self-publishers, or publishers for hire. These are publishers the writer pays to publish their manuscript. People in the past who paid to have their manuscripts published were considered beyond the pale of respectability, selling out to “vanity” presses. Such publications were not acceptable to committees making decisions on your tenure or promotions since these manuscripts were not vetted or reviewed in a rigorous fashion by the publisher before being accepted.

Now the challenge is if you have stepped out of the academic environment and written a novel, or perhaps packaged the best of your Op-eds in a book form. You may have good connections to recognized “legitimate” university or commercial presses for history books, but they’re not interested in your new-found talents.  You can send them your novel, but they will only sniff at it politely before returning it. If you have an agent, you have a better shot at getting published, but getting an agent is kind of like getting an appointment to chat with President Trump. You can substitute any other President if you like. This isn’t a political column.

So, what to do? You have two books, one, a novel, mine is The Andean Cross, and two, a collection of the best of my Op-eds, Through My Christian Prism, and no traditional publisher. So, you turn capitalist. I’ll pay a publisher to do my book. They make money that way, and you hope to sell thousands and tens of thousands of copies and make money also.

Here are some lessons I learned. One, if you are going to be capitalist, you have to invest capital in your work and vision. Two, I was amazed at their professional savvy in producing first-rate products, and, three, I am now learning to sell my books, kind of like when I sold Fuller Brushes one summer while in college, door to door peddling my wares. You youngsters can Wikipedia Fuller Brush. One of the best stories floating around wannabe bestselling authors is about John Grisham’s first book which was rejected by scores of publishers and agents until he started selling it from the back of his car.

You can find both of my books at the usual online bookdealers like www.amazon.com  and www.barnesandnoble.com. You can find what readers have said so far on my blog www.laclayton.com and navigate to “New Books 2019.”

Let’s hear it for capitalism, especially when it delivers. But let’s also hear it for teaching which doesn’t raise money but does raise our children and pushes them into the world of knowledge that’s one of their tickets to a good life.

And if you see me some day with my can and doors open, stop by and buy a book.

Published as “Here’s to capitalism, and also to teaching” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday Oct. 13, 2019.