David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Scholars Shill Sex For Salacious Story Sells

February 6, 2014: Scholars Shill Sex For Salacious Story Sells

What's it take to catch a break?

When I self-published It's All Academic, I sent copies to the editors of Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Ed, mostly because I thought they might be interested.  Sure, they were unsolicited copies and I have no idea if they even would have liked the book if they read a few pages.  I never heard anything, not even if they received them, and I thought I was o.k. with that -- until I read today's Inside Higher Ed.

"Literary Affairs" is an article about two self-published novels by first-time novelists in higher education.  Sound familiar?  It should.  It could have been describing my book and me.  I look at the article and wonder, "there but not for the grace of God go I."

Both novelists hold respectable positions in academia.  One has been president at two universities; the other has been a faculty member at USC and co-director of a center for higher education.  Impressive resumes.  When I wrote It's All Academic, I had the prestige of being a former provost at a large, private university. While not quite at the level of the president, I do believe I was at the level of the faculty member.

As indicated, all three books were self-published. Until today, I have lived with a self-imposed shame of being a self-publisher.  There is no respect for self-publication.  ANYONE can do it.  Apparently presidents and professors of named professorships do it and are worthy.  For the rest of us, maybe we are simply frustrated writers working out of our parents' basements.  (By the way, Joe Price's comment after the article says it all: "'I had never read fiction,' Cochran said of his new venture, 'but I always liked to write.' Sigh.")

Both books in the article are described as having varied casts of characters.  The president's book focuses on so many sexual interests of the main character "that it becomes rather difficult for the reader to keep them straight;"  The faculty member's book is praised for an "ambitious" "ensemble cast." The editor my (self)-publishing company provided me chided me for having too many characters, that it was too difficult to keep them all straight.  Maybe I shouldn't have listened to him (her--the identify of the editor was kept from me).

What did my book lack?  Based upon this article, I would assume sex.  The president's book is apparently full of sex (purely fictional, he argues, just ask his wife.  Why am I making creepy associations with Toronto's Mayor Ford?).  The faculty member's book relies less on the sex angle, but it is still prevalent.  The closest thing to sex in my book is Mark Carter soaking in a bathtub while his wife brings him glasses of bourbon.

Honestly, the prevalence of sexual desire across academia is probably no greater than it is for any other industry.  However, it is the stereotype that fits the perceived "liberal" nature of higher ed.  Most novels about higher education don't tip-toe around the sordid liaisons and sexual affairs that can happen on a college campus.  I didn't feel the need to perpetuate the stereotype. I was more interested in perpetuating the arrogance, cluelessness, competitiveness, chaos, and mind-numbing endlessness of life in academia.  I thought that might interest an editor at Inside Higher Ed or The Chronicle of Higher Ed.

I guess I was wrong. I should have gone with the blow job scene instead. {Smack head, so to speak}