Slave Labor: My First Kindle Book!

Click on the image to go to Amazon! Buy, buy, buy!

w00t! My first foray into self-publishing is LAUNCHED! Slave Labor: The New Story of American Higher Education went live on Amazon Saturday afternoon. I don’t expect to make much money on the thing — in fact, this is a test-drive down the self-publishing highway. We’re told a self-publishing author starts to generate an income after putting about eight books out there.

At this point we have two more ready to go —  just waiting on graphic design. I’d like to get those online by the end of the year but will be surprised to make that deadline. Five more are on the proverbial drawing board. We hope to put those online by the end of 2015.

How do you like the cover design? That was done by my friend James Metcalf, a veteran of many a magazine issue and many an advertising campaign.

The physical e-book itself was created by the excellent Ken Johnson, a high-school teacher who reinvented himself as an IT tech of considerable skill and then reinvented himself again as Your eBook Builder. Copyediting was done by the redoubtable Tina Minchella, my business partner at The Copyeditor’s Desk. So…hm. When you come right down to it, all I did on this thing was the easy part: writing it.

Self-publishing gives this ole lady the heebie-jeebies, because when I came up, only people who couldn’t write anything good enough to faze past an acquisitions editor paid someone else to publish their golden words, which too often were gilded in a thin layer of pyrite. My books have been published through mainline publishers: William Morrow, Columbia University Press, Folger Shakespeare Library.

EssentialFeatureBut today the situation seems to have changed. Despite vast haystacks of chaff, quite a few decent writers are publishing on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook. Most of these are nonfiction writers — it’s just not that hard to write a decent piece of nonfiction, and occasionally you hit on an inspired idea that really does contribute something to the Greater Good or, if not, will provide real help or understanding to some specific group of readers.

Apparently some lively, decently written fiction is e-published, at least in the genre fiction categories. Friends who read this stuff tell me they find memorable and engaging novels self-published at Amazon. This is good. Very good.

MathMagicFurther to the point, it appears that in the Amazon environment much more money is to be made off a modestly successful book than one could expect from a mainstream publisher. The split with Amazon is as nothing compared to the proportion of gross sales that goes to a major publishing house. The books you see to the left here paid me 10% royalties. At Amazon, the situation is almost reversed: under most circumstances the author collects the lion’s share of gross sales. And neither the publisher nor the author has to split income from sales with a bookstore.

One cannot expect to get rich publishing on Amazon (although some do exactly that). On the other hand, precious few of us make much by publishing through traditional publishing houses. The Essential Feature has madSidneye several thousand dollars…since 1990. It still makes one or two hundred bucks a year. How many lattes would that buy? Anybody?

I did make enough on Math Magic to pay off the mortgage on my home. But that was because Flansburg, who contracted me to write the book, had already made himself a media phenomenon. And as for The Life of Robert Sidney? It went a long way toward landing me a full-time academic job: $43,000 to $65,000/year, over a fifteen-year period.

So, I suppose you could say the book that paid me the least ultimately earned me the most. 😉 Most of us don’t expect to get rich off a given publication, but do hope to leverage the thing in ways that are not obvious to the general reader.

Anyway, this is going to be an interesting experiment. I can crank books almost as easily as I can crank blog posts, which as you see I do almost as easily as…well, breathing. So if it’s true that after you reach a certain critical mass (some say five books; some say eight), you begin to earn enough to pass as middle-class, that will be very pleasing.

If it’s not, tant pis. I’m a writer. What I do is write. If no one reads it, that’s very much like no one hearing a mockingbird sing. Doesn’t change the mockingbird’s song.

Why i hated teaching…and why the whole credit thing is ridiculous

So, there’s a really bad blog headline, and here’s an even worse lede. 😉  Oh well. Spent about a third of the afternoon being reminded of why teaching f/t drove me batshit. Then went over to the credit union and was reminded of how bizarrely absurd (that’s “ridiculous,” dear Google bots) America’s credit rating and lending systems are.

Ridiculousness the First: My friend, the director of Heavenly Gardens’ journalism program, is trying to persuade the county’s junior college district, whose kingdom is VAST, to let her change the thrust of the program to include…well, some inkling of the future. She wants to teach digital media in addition to the old-fashioned, dying art of buggy-whip manufacture that is the content of most of our journalism courses.

This seems pretty reasonable, doesn’t it?

Print media are rapidly subsiding into irrelevance.
To keep our journalism programs alive, we are going to have to get with the times.
Getting with the times means adapting to the digital environment.
Therefore we need to teach journalism in digital media.

So sane. So easy. So fuckin’ impossible.

To pull this off, she has had to politick ALL OVER THE FREAKING DISTRICT, a monster entity, yea verily a GIANT SQUID that engrosses a territory larger than the City and County of Los Angeles. It has taken her months. Beeee-caause…wouldncha know it, the multitudinous campuses are full of aging faculty who a) do not want to learn a whole new approach to their subjects and b) most CERTAINLY do not want to have to rewrite their courses to fit the present reality, because (alas!) that would mean work.

You don’t even want to know the amount of work the woman has done to shove through the simplest, most commonsensical, most critical-to-the-district-programs’-survival strategy.

I know, because I’ve done this kind of thing myself, back when I worked f/t for the Great Desert University. If you are the entrepreneurial type, in any degree whatsoever, you are living in some kind of Hell when you endeavor to bring your talent and foresight into the field of teaching.


So that went on until almost 2 p.m. Many changes will be made in the magazine-writing course, all of them, IMHO, for the better.

From there, it was off to the credit union, for Ridiculousness the Second.

My car continues its odyssey toward oblivion. Its engine is now making crapping-out noises. I must buy a new car. I want a Toyota Venza with cream-colored leather seats and walnut dashboard trim and a six-banger. This is, in a word (or two), not cheap.

The credit union lady informed me that my credit score is 819 (take that!!!) and blithely qualified me for an astonishing $32,000. Kelly Blue Book says the Dog Chariot is worth around $2700. I probably can conjure a down payment of something between five and ten grand without having to raid savings. Interest rate is 2.2% at the CU.

I’m told some dealerships around here are still offering 0% interest.

So, the plan is this: even though I have enough cash, in theory, to pay for this thing out of pocket, it would be better at 0% to have Fidelity disburse the monthly payment, thereby leaving principal in investments, where it belongs.

I do not happen to believe that the Republicans will change their spots, and so expect within the next four to eight years to see investments go down the tubes again. But nevertheless would like to delay drawdowns to the extent possible. So, it looks like borrowing and paying out of the car-savings pot will be the strategy, especially if a 0% rate is forthcoming.

And now I must publish this without proofreading the thing because it’s almost time to race out the door for the evening event.

More to come…

Grateful (not) Postscript

Heeee! Let us add to the list of dubious gratitudes. Here is what a Ph.D. with almost 20 years of university and college teaching and another 20 years of journalism and business experience earns for the task of teaching one three-unit lower-division college course.


Yes. That would be for two weeks of work.

Adjunct faculty are limited to nine credits (“load hours”)  a semester, so the District doesn’t have to provide Obamacare. That actually is not as piddling as it looks. Consider: I’m carrying three load hours just now. The District regards one load hour as equivalent to two work hours.

3 load hours x 2 = 6 work hours/week
6 work hours/week x 2 weeks = 12 work hours/pay period
284.50/12 =$23.70/hour

Slightly more than half my editorial rate for academics and nonprofits. Significantly less than half my rate for businesses and professionals.

I suppose one should be grateful for whatever crumbs come one’s way, hm? And if you are a college student’s parent, or if you are a college student yourself, aren’t you grateful that the inflated tuition you’re paying goes to hire faculty whose skills and time are so highly valued?


Never Rains but It Pours…

damNAtion! Is this EVER going to stop????

So, having been rescued from a potentially bottomless fiasco, come yesterday afternoon I’m sitting here staring into the computer, trying to decide whether to start on the client’s latest barrage of chapters, whether to try to figure out what my own character is going to say next, whether to give up and just cruise the Web for awhile, or what…when the phone rings.

It’s the brand new English Division chair. “We have a problem with your online course,” says he.

“Which one?” I ask. I figure the 235 section hasn’t made and he’s calling to say he’s canceling it.

“The 101.”

“I don’t have a 101 section,” I say.

“I mean the 102 class. A student called…”

…Ohhh SHIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I think…

“…and said she couldn’t figure out why your assignments don’t jibe with the textbook. We realized your syllabus was written for the 10th edition. But they’ve bought the 11th edition.”


“Yes, we’re using the 11th edition. The admin says she gave you a copy.”

“No. I never got a copy of the 11th edition. I had no idea.”

The mailboxes in the departmental mailroom (needless to say, adjuncts do not have offices or even a corner of a desk in a bullpen) are set up so it’s hard to tell whether your name refers to the slot above it or to the slot below it. People often take mail for the wrong person, and so probably what’s happened is some other adjunct took the book out of my slot, months ago, and since of course I rarely go out to the campus, I had no clue. Chances are I wouldn’t have had a clue anyway, but I might have noticed a new text sitting in someone else’s mailbox.

I would know if a new text had been foisted on me, because every time that happens — which is about every two or three years with the damn Seyler book — I fly into a soaring rage. It invariably means I have to COMPLETELY rewrite my syllabus, a time-consuming, hair-tearing nuisance. Seyler doesn’t just throw in some new “selected readings.” She jacks the entire textbook’s organization around, so you’re forced to re-do everything.

The constant churning-out of new textbook editions has to do with the used-book industry, which exists solely because textbook publishers, seeing a captive audience, gouge students ridiculous amounts of money for their products. Seyler’s Read, Reason, Write is a prime example. At the high end, the thing is worth about $30, new. But as we scribble, Amazon is selling the damn thing for $116.84. Or you can rent it for a mere $87.99.

When a book is sold and re-purchased in the used-book market, the publisher earns nothing on the resale and the author earns no royalty. Since profits and royalties on a required textbook that costs $120 are significant (especially when it’s written for an almost universally required course like freshman comp), naturally publishers and their authors resent this commerce. To get around it, they cobble together new editions every two or three years.

So in the first year after publication, they make a bundle. Second year, they make a little less. By the third year, they’re going broke, as they DESERVE to be doing given the way they rip off the students.

At any rate, what this means on the microcosm is that the instant I regain consciousness from today’s fucking medical misadventure (as my friend Harriet pointed out, even though the doctor probably did what she was supposed to do in following the new DCIS excision guidelines, nevertheless the result is an unnecessary second surgery for me), I’m going to have to spend the better part of a day rewriting the syllabus. Actually, it won’t be the instant: the department is snail-mailing the book to me, so presumably it will arrive toward the end of the week. That will blow away my weekend.

Meanwhile, though, it develops that SOME of the classmates have the 10th edition! They presumably read the syllabus and also happen to order their books online instead of at the rapacious campus bookstore. So, students who a) were sharp enough to read the syllabus closely up-front and b) are smart enough to figure out that you can get these things a lot cheaper at Amazon and waypoints ended up with a textbook that works with the syllabus. Students who, as students are wont to do, simply went into the campus bookstore and purchased all their texts in one swell foop have the 11th edition.

I’m reluctant to make students who had their act together at the outset go out and buy an outrageously overpriced new text. If I’m to resist this shearing of my little flock, I’m going to have to create an adjusted syllabus for the people who have the 11th edition and let the ones who have the 10th edition use the existing syllabus.

Just imagine the grading nightmare that’s going to create.

I could deep-six the reading reports — that would get rid of 11 busywork assignments for them to have to write and us to have to read. But then I have no source of steady interaction in what is a 100% online course! So that’s not going to work.

There are only so many things you can say about how to write a freshman comp essay. And so really, there’s no good reason for them to buy the 11th edition (except that we as faculty are required to make them do so, by way of enriching the bookstore and the publisher).

[And, to make everything perfect, after I paid Luz $80 to make my floors glow in the dark yesterday, the dogs just frolicked through the mud and ran into the houses. Doesn’t matter: When my son comes to babysit me, he;s bringing Charley, whose snowshoe-sized feet will track in three times as much mud.]

So what I’m leaning toward is to keep the present 11 busywork projects (the so-called “reading responses,” which ask students to synopsize a chapter and then apply the chapter’s principles to one of the chapter’s selected readings) for those who already have the 10th edition and to create 11 new busywork projects for those who bought the 11th edition. The projects are essentially the same: synopsize the content/show how it works. It probably doesn’t MATTER what the chapter number is and what new reading selections Seyler has substituted for the old ones.

Except for the enormous hassle of trying to figure out which chapters in the new edition correspond to the chapters in the 10th edition, it may not be that difficult to simply let them write their “reading responses” on 11 chapters, any 11 chapters. It WILL be a hassle: this bitch of an author revises chapters by moving contents from Chapter A to Chapter B, so you end up with a new text whose chapters don’t correspond reliably with the old text’s. It will be a confusing, time-consuming, INFURIATING headache. But once that’s out of the way, it shouldn’t be that hard to score the busywork.

Isn’t teaching “fulfilling”? Isn’t it “rewarding”?


A Quarter of the Semester Already GONE!

ha Haaa! One week into a four-week section, and a quarter of the course is already past!

The li’l stoonts have turned in five papers — really just little reports on assigned chapters, designed to force them to actually read the stuff. They’ve been to the library and listened to the librarian lecture on how to find resources for their papers. A few of them have come up with viable topics for their papers, the first of which is due in a week.

This. is. GREAT.

I fail to understand why most of these de rigueur hoop-jump courses are not taught in extremely short format like this. Obviously, an intense format would be too much for some students — though it must be noted that several of the current classmates are alumni of remedial reading and writing courses. So if we must have these courses, they should be offered in 16-week sections for those who aren’t so fluent at reading and writing. And 8-week sections would probably do for those who feel  less confident but still are reasonably competent — I mean, we’re only talking about three papers here! For those who are good writers and reasonably well organized students, four weeks should more than suffice. That’s one week per short paper and two weeks for the 2,500-word term papers.

Since as a practical matter most students put off writing any paper until the last minute, those periods are probably as much time as any student in a 16-week course would devote to the assignments.

At any rate, from my point of view, teaching a four-week course makes the pay almost reasonable: $2400 for a month of part-time work. The class meets two hours, four days a week. Although I have grading every night, except for the three District-required essays, it’s pro-forma: just glance at their papers, see if they’ve actually done the assignment; if so slap 15 points on it; if not, downgrade accordingly, with as little comment as possible. It leaves the rest of the summer for me to do my thing, and it also leaves about half of every day for the purpose.

And so, to work…to read these exercises in front of Netflix. 😉