Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Why do well-published authors use this office more than unpublished ones?

(Just asking!)

Of the scores of faculty members who have requested literary consulting over the last two years, the overwhelming majority are already published, and some have multiple books in print. My guess is that once most of us have been through the mill that is contemporary American publishing, we all understand just how much we don't know, and how much we can benefit from the assistance and advice of others who have also been through it.

It is a stunningly consistent characteristic of many of the unpublished, however, to try and go it alone. I actually had one young assistant professor sniff to me in a snobbish tone that her tenure committee would never approve of an academic author who needed (harumpf) help with her manuscript, or assistance in finding a publisher. Meanwhile I didn't have the heart to tell her that I was already working with two of the tenured members of her committee-to-be on their books (she is in a narrow field and some of the players are obvious), and that each had asked me in separate conversations if I had any success convincing more of their department's pre-tenure faculty to seek the guidance they so obviously needed.

Oh sure, there are superstars who don't need me, God, or anybody. I've watched them and their brilliant trajectories, and they are glorious things to behold. But you know what? Many of them come to my office as well, even though they've published more and better than most of us can ever hope to match. Why do they come? Because the best authors are collaborative in every good sense of the word. These fine scholars come to teach me. I listen to them carefully, and I count myself fortunate to benefit from their wisdom. They are the éminences grises of this office, and I couldn't do my job without them.

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