Women, Blogging, and Academia: Part Two

After each of the woman had give short description of how and why they began blogging (see Part 1), Jenny Davidson asked a few questions and then there were also questions from the audience. Much of the discussion focused on pseudonymity versus anonymity, as well as issues of creating characters and naming people. Both Claire and Tedra used pseudonyms but are now out. Tedra misplaced where she was writing from and created some amalgam characters.

On the other hand Jenny always used her real name since her blog was linked to her publishing a novel. She feels that there are other issues connected to this concerning how you talk about other people. She used the example of being on a job search committee and how it would be inappropriate to blog in a negative fashion about the meetings since the job candidate could read it.

Eva started her blog as a graduate student which she described as being a cheap lab employee. She used her first name only but on other more serious blogs she uses her full name.

The issue of how fully you disclose your identity when blogging is connected to the potential risk of blogging for graduate students and nontenured professors. None of the panelists felt that they had suffered in their careers because of blogging but they all agreed that it is a personal decision. People should use common sense. Alexandra did say that “being public about being wrong can be a racialized privilege.”

Although the panelists did not really discuss in any depth issues of class and race in blogging,  Alexandra’s  comment reveals some of the issues inherent in writing in a public forum. Tedra see blogging as primarily social media and therefore likes the comments. All of the panelists delete obnoxious and offensive comments.

One of the questions from the audience was about blogging counting as publications for tenure. Both Jenny and Tedra felt that if anything it would be counted as service. Claire pointed out that there is still not agreement about how to handle publications from online journals, even if they are refereed. Thus she feels that counting blogging as writing is far down the line. Tedra said that blogging is “raw” writing while published works are “cooked.”

The panelists pay some attention to the news cycle and the immediacy of blogging about events as they happen. However they are not journalists and don’t claim to be.

The discussion made me think a lot about my own blogging and on-line persona. I will say more about that tomorrow.

Good Beer Test

My friend,Jan Whitaker, who blogs at Restaurant-ing Through History sent me this item. I am pretty sure Lyn Hoffman wrote it

One provocative suggestion comes from physicist Mark Denny, author of the entertaining little book Froth!. Denny suggests that you pour out about six ounces of beer, cover it and allow it to go flat and come to room temperature. Taste it without its chill or its bubbles. Good beer, Denny says will still taste good when it’s flat and warm. Bad beer will display all its faults after the masks of temperature and gassiness are removed. Denny concedes that without foam, beer loses it’s refreshing character, but he’s not out to make you happy here. He’s trying to offer up a tool for evaluating beer by removing some of the distractions.

It’s easy to see one objection to this idea: each beer is designed with a serving temperature in mind, so what’s the point of evaluating-and comparing-beers under conditions that weren’t what the brewer had in mind. We wouldn’t start an ice cream tasting by melting all the samples first and we wouldn’t serve portions of pizza at body temperature. Closer to home, we’ve all tasted the unpleasantness of wine served too cold or too warm.

And yet there’s something appealing about the simplicity of the Denny Good Beer Test. We know that human taste buds start to lose their efficiency when tasting liquids below 40F (4C) and we may suuspect that all the emphasis on super-chilled beer is just a way of covering up some pretty foul stuff. Denny suggests that if we were able to look past the distractions (serving temperature), we could at last see the essentials (the ingredients and the brewing techniques).

I’m more curious than sceptical. I think he might be on to something even though I’m not sure what that something is. So I’d like to ask you to give the Denny Good Beer Test a try. If you can bring yourself to sacrifice a few ounces of beer for the sake of discussion, pour some out, let it sit and give it a taste. I’ll be doing this myself and I look forward to hearing your results and discussing them in public.

I haven’t tried this yet but I have a few thoughts.  I agree if beer is really cold in a frosted mug, it doesn’t have much taste. However I think warm beer, which is how the English serve all drinks, doesn’t taste very good. I still think you can just ask for your beer cold but not iced and then decide if you like the way it tastes. My son feels there is nothing wrong with pizza at room temperature and plenty of people eat cold pizza for breakfast.

Book Review: “The Wettest County in the World” by Matt Bondurant

The Wettest County in the World, by Matt Bondurant, (Scribner:New York, 2008)is well written. The device of placing Sherwood Anderson within the story is more problematic. Anderson does serve to frame the story as a mystery. Under the guise of writing a story about the Bondurant boys and moonshine, Anderson’s character helps guide the reader through the narrative maze. It is interesting that Bondurant starts his story of hardship for the family in the Flu Pandemic of 1918-1919. This certainly gives his book a timely feeling.

Bondurant presents illicit distilling or moonshine production as occurring because of both hard times and thrill seeking. Moonshine, governmental corruption, and tax evasion have a long history, dating back to 1862 and the creation of the Bureau of Internal Revenue to finance the Civil War.

Until the passage of the Volstead Act, which established enforcement procedures for Prohibition, the federal government had a limited view of its proper role in the regulation of the liquor industry. From 1862 on, officials conceived of liquor taxation as an easy, painless, and morally expedient way to raise revenue. High excise rates led to speculation, corruption and illegal distilling, significantly reducing the amount of money the government received. The Internal Revenue Act of 1862 created many new patronage positions and new opportunities for spoils. Because officials established a bureaucracy but paid little attention to administration, time honored patterns of political appointments and gain continued.

Despite reform efforts by David A. Wells and others, the combined forces of speculators and government spoils men dominated the federal tax policy and its administration. In the generally lax atmosphere of the Grant presidency, corruption reached new heights. Using the need for funds for Grant’s reelection as a pretext, mid-level revenue officials in St. Louis and other Mid-west cities set up a collection ring that cost the federal government millions in revenue from St. Louis alone.

Following the breakup of the Whiskey Ring, the administration of the Bureau of Internal Revenue stabilized. Although fraud by licensed distillers did not disappear, the Bureau shifted its attention to moonshine, particularly in the South.1 These unlicensed distillers are the characters in The Wettest County. During Prohibition, any production of alcohol for commercial purposes was illegal but the Virginia distillers in the book had a history of illegal production dating back to the nineteenth century.

After Repeal, widespread illicit distilling subsided but Southern moonshine has remained a perennial problem for the federal government. Federal legislation prohibits distillation of spirits for home use. Distilling sprits always requires payment of taxes and filing of paperwork prior to beginning production. In the early twentieth-first century, the ATF was the lead agency in Operation Lighting Strike, formed in Virginia and North Carolina to fight the big business of illicit distillation of alcohol. In a first, Operation Lightning Strike used federal money-laundering legislation to combat moonshine.2

Jack Bondurant is the chief protagonist; the author does not fully develop his character. The epilogue, which ends the book, although factual, is the least developed aspect of the book, particularly because the author does not really explain why Jack left the family business. Overall, The Wettest County is enjoyable to read and provides some, good historical information.

Revisiting Old Posts

I have recently been thinking about the thirty-eight posts from my pre-wordpress blog.  I  realized that people might want to see what else I have written on a topic and there isn’t an easy way to do that. I thought about re-posting all of them, but that seems like too much work. I also thought about linking to them every time I am on a topic again, but I would get stuck in an endless loop. So I will just remind all of my readers that you can go to  my website and find the old posts. Click here to do so.

This was cross-posted from Women Grow Business

“Am I a Woman in Business?” Learning to Promote Yourself the Same Way Businesses Do

amy-m-wgb-post-42009

Am I a woman in business, a businesswoman?
That is an interesting question for me to contemplate in writing a post for Women Grow Business. I started my website, AmyMittelman.com, and my blog, Musings, because I wrote a book, Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer.

Many years ago, I had a business, Academic Publicity, that provided promotional help for academic authors.

In retrospect, my business plan had a fatal flaw: academics didn’t want to pay for my services.

In general, academics do not think of themselves as writers and thus do not want to pay to increase their book sales. The existence of the book itself punches their tenure ticket. And most academics write only one book. The one major business success I had was getting my husband‘s book, Nazism, the Jews, and American Zionism, 1933-1948 into paperback.

New business, young family, and next steps
At the time that I was running Academic Publicity, I had completed a PH.D in American history and had two small children at home. I had started the business because I was realizing it was unlikely I would be able to get an academic job without significant disruption to my life.

The perfect vision of hindsight
Because of life’s increasing complexity with family, including buying a new home, I ended the business after two years. With the perfect vision of hindsight, I realized that was too short a time to grow a business. I pulled the plug on Academic Publicity so quickly because I was losing money and I already had some feelings of guilt because I had been unable to find an academic position.

I think inadequacy, guilt, and feelings of illegitimacy are all common problems for women as they negotiate between professional goals and family life. I ended the business and quickly looked around for some way to be gainfully employed.

I settled on becoming a nurse.
I have been a nurse for 14 years and have worked in many different healthcare settings. I do not feel that being a nurse replaced being a historian. I brought all the skills and lessons I had acquired from my academic career, my business, and my family life to my new profession. Again, I think this is typical for women.

Many women’s lives do not occur in a linear fashion.
Both male and female baby boomers are famous for second acts and continually reinventing themselves. I believe this has always been truer for women and has certainly been true for me.

Contemplating a book on beer
Although I enjoyed being a nurse, I had always wanted to publish my dissertation as a book and that remained a goal. About seven years ago, with an increased focus, I began to contemplate taking material from my thesis and writing a book on beer. I was fortunate enough to obtain a publishing contract in the spring of 2006 and Brewing Battles was published in December 2007.

I believe persistence was the key to my achieving this long held goal.

And to achieve anything you probably have to have a passion for the endeavor.

Algora Publishing (who published Brewing Battles) is a very small press, providing very little marketing support for my book. So I have had to market the book myself. Luckily, I had the experience from once running my business Academic Publicity to fall back on. However, in the 15 intervening years since I ended the business, publicizing and marketing books changed completely.

I have marketed the book in both traditional and new ways.
I sent out advance copies to various academic and trade journals, hosted a book party, and have given book talks. Of course, almost all of my correspondence and press releases have been via email (…haven’t done any direct mailings). And many blogs also received my press release about Brewing Battles, in addition to traditional print media.

Learning curves and achieving mastery on the blogosphere
The blogosphere represents the most significant change from the world of book marketing 20 years ago. Setting up my own blog was definitely a challenge with several false starts. Every new task I have attempted has come with a new learning curve and a deep sense of accomplishment when I achieve mastery.

Persistence is key here as well.

Finding the answer to “Am I a woman in business?”
So in answer to my original question, I am a writer and that means I am in business for myself. My varied life experiences have taught me that everything in life is about marketing, marketing yourself. Not in a conceited or self-absorbed way but in the sense that…

You have to put yourself forward and promote yourself in the same way that businesses do.

 

Self Publishing

Many people seem to feel the book as a printed, tangible object may be on the way out. The rise in popularity of digital readers such as Kindle would seem to support this idea. The apparent demise of the book has not stopped books from being published. In 2008 almost 480,000 books were published or distributed in the U.S. This was an increase of over 100,000 books from 2007.

A recent article in the New York Times explored the contribution of self-published books to this increase. Technological advances have enabled aspiring authors to obtain printed copies of their work for as little as $3. Most self-publishing companies charge authors fees, staring at $99, for various services. The article points out that self-publishing authors sacrifice access to marketing and distribution that traditional publishers usually provide.

The article posits a strict dichotomy between self publishing and conventional publishing. Many authors who have their books published by main stream publishers do not receive any marketing services and have to market the book themselves. Technology and Amazon have given publishers greater latitude in printing and distribution which can led to a conventionally published book not being available from a wholesaler such as Baker & Taylor. Often being published by commercial publisher gives the author that distinction and nothing else. Some self publishing firms provide distribution via wholesalers as part of their services. It is more appropriate to look at publishing in 2009 as being a spectrum with major publishing houses on one end and self publishing at the other. For many authors in the middle there is little difference.

E Books

There was a review of the new version of Amazon’s Kindle in the New York Times the other day; today the Times has a story looking at several e-book personal reading devices. The question I have is about ebooks in libraries. WorldCat says about 140 libraries have a ebook version of Brewing Battles. On June 30 2008 WorldCat had 120 libraries owning the e book.I got my royalty statement in August and I got royalties on 3 ebooks. Does anybody understand how that works? So if the future of books, particularly more scholarly ones, is ebooks, does that mean authors will make even less from their books?

The other issue with ebooks in libraries is connected to the different databases and electronic services various libraries have, depending on the cost of the items. So if an academic institution doesn’t have a lot of money they may not have as big a collection of ebooks as another library. Some libraries may allow you to download a pdf of the book -in essence borrow the book-  and some may not.

Beer Books on Amazon

Right now, 12: 55 p.m. on Saturday January 10, 2009, the hardcover version of Brewing Battles is number 87 in Amazon’s  list of  “The most popular items in Beer. Updated hourly.” Yesterday the paperback was 84 and the hardcover 100.

The rankings really do change by the hour so it could all be different by 2 p.m. I have always intended to write at least one blog about Amazon and I have been trying for a while to catch a moment when at least one of the versions of the book was on the list so I could write about the contents  of the list rather than its meaning and value .

Number One right now is How to Brew: Everything You Need to Know to Brew Right the First Time by John Palmer. Of the nine other books in the top ten,  eight are about home brewing, including  Charles Papazian’s classic, The Joy of Homebrewing which is number 3. Number 5 is  The Alaskan Bootlegger’s Bible which, according to Amazon, tells the reader  “how to make beer, wine, liqueurs, cider and moonshine whiskey.” Home distilling is  illegal in the United States.

In my recent AHA talk, I discussed the fact that scholarly work on alcohol and temperance has been more weighted towards temperance than the industry. The reverse is true for popular literature as the Amazon list indicates.

Number 10 on the list is Charles Bamforth, Grape Versus Grain: A Historical, Technological and Social Comparison of Beer and Wine. Bamforth is the Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Brewing Science at the University of California, Davis.

The next fifteen follow the same general path, being either about some aspect of brewing geared toward the home brewer, or about beer styles and types of beer. Number 18 , Stan Hieronymous, tells you how to Brew Like a Monk while number 23 is the late Michael Jackson’s opinion on the best beer in the world, Ultimate Beer. Charlie Papazian makes another appearance with the same book at 24 ( one of the many peculiarities of  Amazon’s list – for another post).Shine on Shiner Beer rounds out the top twenty-five and commemorates the 100 year history of the Texas brewery.

Numbers 25 to 50 cover more brewing how-tos,  a book on beer drinking games, a beer memoir by Steve Hindy, Beer School:Bottling Success at the Brooklyn  Brewery, Brewing For Dummies, another book by Michael Jackson as well as another by Charles Papazian. Numebr 36 New Jersey Breweries by Lew Bryson, is a guide book; the first history on the list is number 49, Maureren Ogle, Ambitious Brew, the hardcover.

Numbers 51 -75 include books on wine, sake, and root beer as well as another book by Charles Bamforth. Number 72 is Maureen Ogle in paperback ( that peculiarity again)

Okay I have been writing this for forty-five minutes . Let’s see if Brewing Battle’s is still on the list. I am but at 89.  Number 77 is Gregg Smith, Beer in America: The Early years 1587-1840 which is a good , popular history of the pre-German American brewing industry. The rest of the groups is more of the same with  beer drinking games, sake, Michael Jackson, The Big Book O’ Beer which is shaped like a beer can, and several cookbooks. Number86 is Ken Wells, Travels with Barley,a  journalistic endeavor. The final book, number 100 is Bill Yenne, Beers of the World. Yenne has written several books on beer.

Even though the list changes every hours and did so while I have been writing, the actual content of the list does not vary very much. You can pretty much count on Jackson and Papazian as well as a  few others; then books on home brewing and beer styles with a very small smattering of more serous works.

It would have been surprising to find an anti-alcohol work on this list, but having examined the beer list, I think I will try to find a similar list for health, temperance, prohibition or the like and see what that holds.

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