Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Latest interview op-ed: "Political Discourse Can Only Be Efficacious If It Is Free: Expert," in Tehran Times, August 25, 2014

For this and other writings, visit my Web site, EricThomasWeber.org. Follow me on your preferred medium: TwitterFacebook, and Google+. I'm also on LinkedIn and Academia.edu.
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"Political Discourse Can Only Be Efficacious If It Is Free: Expert" 

Printed in The Tehran Times, August 25, 2014, International section

Dr. Eric Thomas Weber

You can read the scan of the article by clicking here, or you can read the HTML version following the image.

Photo of the scan of my op-ed interview in the Tehran Times from August 25, 2014, "Political Discourse Can Only Be Efficacious If It Is Free: Expert."
Click here to open a PDF scan of the article.
HTML/text version:

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW, by Javad Heiran-Nia

TEHRAN - Professor Eric Thomas Weber believes that political discourse can only be efficacious if it is free.

In an interview with the Tehran Times, Weber says, "Political discourse must be supported by honest and sound reasoning."

Weber, the professor of public policy leadership at the University of Mississippi, also says, "Without basis in the truth, in proper logic, and in the use of healthy emotions, the exploitation of sentiments to shape people's attitudes is immoral."

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: How does political discourse shape society? 

A: Many factors shape society, including especially the environments we live in and the conditions we endure or enjoy. Many problems arise because the majority of people do not feel the concerns of a minority. In some countries, the majority or its political representatives prohibit the minority even from voicing its concerns in public dialogue. Political discourse is one of the important avenues by which we argue for this or that solution in policy for the resolution of our problems. Such discourse is not always the most powerful force in changing people's minds, as people are often moved by emotions or by self-interest. Therefore, to change minds, we must often find ways to exert pressure on people's emotions or pocket-books.

When a majority or advantaged group routinely does wrong or is insensitive to the plight of others, we can shame offenders by talking about, recording, and broadcasting the troubling behavior we wish to end. We can also tell the stories of those who are affected and oppressed, humanizing them for others and enabling people to see the world from the point of view of that minority. The former force exerts psychological pressure to change for those who feel ashamed when their behavior becomes known and the subject of discussion and disapproval. In areas of great injustice, public discourse in the press, the arts, and the humanities are routinely circumscribed precisely because of their power to shape public opinion for the sake of redressing harms done by the powerful or the majority. As a result, a key measure of a society's freedom is the extent to which such channels and means are free for inquiry, allowing people to speak up against injustice.

Political discourse can draw on the imagery and emotional rhetoric necessary to influence people, but it adds a vital component to the effort to pursue reform for the sake of justice. Political discourse must be supported by honest and sound reasoning. Without basis in the truth, in proper logic, and in the use of healthy emotions, the exploitation of sentiments to shape people's attitudes is immoral. Political discourse is the medium in which ideals and considerations are assessed, clarified, and rendered concrete in reference to contemporary problems. Therefore, any movement towards justice using emotion and rhetoric to shape public opinion must be rooted in the values of free political discourse. Societies which repress political discourse thereby reveal a spreading crack in their governments' claims on legitimate authority.

Q: Does political discourse need a manager for survival? 

A: There are several ways to interpret the question of whether political discourse requires a manager. On the one hand, oversight by a government which decides that some ideas or challenges cannot be discussed is evidence that its grasp on authority is achieved only by censorship, by threat of violent, social, or economic pressures to conform. In that sense, a manager for political discourse will appear deeply troubling to anyone who loves freedom and democracy. On the other hand, without some kind of check on public voices, people could injure one another with baseless libel, rooted in falsehood and intended to harm. Credibility matters. The truth matters. Therefore, the real managers of discourse in the context of libel are mechanisms like the courts, through which individuals can protect their reputations with lawsuits. In addition, in the courts, laws against perjury contribute to managing truth-telling, but only in limited contexts.

Two more points are deeply important for considering what kind of management is acceptable and even morally necessary for political discourse to avoid harm or to enable social progress. The first is that people lead busy lives and often lack the time to dedicate themselves to the research and writing it takes to weigh in provocatively on political issues. Given this constraint, "opinion leaders" play an important role in advancing political discourse. The trouble is that powerful and advantaged citizens and organizations have enormously greater resources for the sponsorship of voices representing their interests, while the disadvantaged citizens lack such resources and consequently voice for their concerns. Some people can help diminish the imbalance to a small degree, including the nobler religious leaders who speak up for the least among us. Others are journalists who are sometimes supported by their readership and editors for speaking up for the greater public interest. Then there are the more occasional contributors from universities around the world, like mine, and from other industries.

The second though more important source of management of political discourse is an educated public. The public exerts its force on political discourse first and most fundamentally in its reactions to the news of government action. The public's critiques must be informed and enabled, however, which occurs through the empowering results of universal education. Thomas Jefferson famously advocated for an educated public as the only guarantee for the preservation of a free society. Without an educated populace, the arguments of those in power do not have to be well reasoned and demonstrated. Frederick Douglass explained long ago that power concedes nothing without demand. The public must both understand and react intelligently to the ideas put forth in political discourse. Then it must demand that persons in positions of power enact those policies and decisions which reflect the will of the people. In this sense, then, the greatest manager of political discourse, as inchoate as it often appears to be, is the people exerting pressure on public figures and raising expectations for leadership.

Q: How can political discourse prevail in a society like societies in the Middle East? 

A: Political discourse can only be efficacious if it is free. Before any other demand brought to politicians, a free press must be the first step. No figure should be above scrutiny. When people go hungry, when medicines are needed but denied, when persons are imprisoned wrongfully, the people have no recourse, no avenue for redress if they are not permitted to raise concerns about justice, truth, and reform. In the United States, the protection of free speech is so great that radically unpopular messages are tolerated. The reason is not that people enjoy such speech. Rather, it is important to know what citizens think, even if they are wrong. More importantly, if people do not have the release of energies and pressures which comes from speaking one's mind about what one believes to be right, the only alternative is explosive violence. Therefore, the protection of radical and unpopular speech is crucial for social stability, even though one might expect the reverse to be the case.

In recent years, the world has witnessed uprisings in such developments as the Arab Spring. These moments are examples of the buildup of dissatisfactions not permitted release. In time, more constriction of the people will almost certainly result in further eruptions of revolutionary action. Societies unwilling to expand people's freedoms will be the least able to maintain themselves. Ironically, the desire for stability should prompt leaders to fight for opening up the avenues for political discourse which will appear turbulent and chaotic. Battles in the realm of ideas, however, are processes by which intelligence is refined and the best ideas can rise to the surface like cream. Conflicts about how best to lead society replace political imprisonment, violence, and censorship, and in exchange offer the give and take of public inquiry in pursuit of the wisest course of action for leadership. After all, there is no better test of the merits and flaws of one's policy proposals than the deep scrutiny which arises when one submits his or her ideas for objective evaluation, for the receipt of the objections from opposition and skeptics.

There is no more important development which could yield moral, social, and intellectual progress in the Middle East than the progressive growth of freedom in public dialogue. All else hinges upon this, including the legitimacy of existing political authorities, and consequently the likelihood of their long-term survival. It may seem counterintuitive, but the clearest path to a stable society in much of the Middle East runs through change – through the sincere release of the reins which presently inhibit the exercise of free political discourse.

Dr. Eric Thomas Weber is associate professor of Public Policy Leadership at the University of Mississippi and is author of four books, including Democracy and Leadership: On Pragmatism and Virtue (November, 2013) - 30% discount available when you buy from the publisher's Web site, see discount flyer
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Monday, February 17, 2014

UPDATES: Discount and Book Proposal Potential

Visit EricThomasWeber.org, follow me on Twitter and on Facebook, or connect with me on Linked and Academia.edu.

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UPDATES:

I was having a look back at some posts and wanted to let readers know about two updates.


New Discount Code

Image which reads "Now available at 30% discount"
The first one is that the 20% discount code I wrote about in an earlier post, for Democracy and Leadership, for whatever reason stopped working. The good news is that there's now a new discount code, and instead of 20%, it gives you 30% off when you buy directly from the publisher's Web site.

The code is:
LEX30AUTH14

The Web site where you'll find the book, click "order," and soon have an opportunity to put in the code is here:
https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780739151228

If you want to download and/or print an Adobe PDF flyer with this information and more about the book, click here.


Next Book Proposal News Coming Soon

Thumbnail photo of the University Press of Mississippi's logo
I've gotten promising word of editorial support for releasing a new short book, based on the last chapter of Democracy and Leadership. The last chapter is an extended application of my theory of democratic leadership to Mississippi, and so the book might be titled Democracy and Leadership in Mississippi. I should hear soon about whether it will be published by the University Press of Mississippi. The press generally focuses most on literature and history, but it devotes some significant attention to Mississippi-related work. So, they seemed like the natural fit for such a project.

I'm grateful to my editors at Lexington Books, who gave me permission to republish material from chapter 9 of Democracy and Leadership. Of course, updating, extension, and additions went into reformatting the chapter into a short book. Each of the long sections of the chapter is now a chapter of its own in the new book, and I've added material necessary to capture in short the nature of the theory I've laid out in the longer book.

If the project is accepted, I've got an exciting and great person willing to write the Foreword for the book. I couldn't be happier about that. I'll tell you more about this soon, as I might know in the next four days.

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For more information about my work, visit EricThomasWeber.org.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

'My Coolest Internet Experience,' or 'People Can Be Remarkably Kind'


Check out my Web site EricThomasWeber.org and "Like" my Facebook author page. I'm also on Twitter @erictweber, LinkedIn, & Academia.edu. For some reason, I now have a Pinterest page too (maybe I'll get better at it sometime...).

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I've always been somewhat optimistic. There are limits to what we can control, which we need to be stoic about, but positive thinking makes a difference within those limits. When we see daily reports about crimes or read books and watch television shows about crooks and drug dealers, it's no surprise that some folks come to feel cynical about people. I'm happy to report that this week I've had my coolest Internet experience ever, which confirmed my feeling that people can be profoundly kind.

With all of the silly and crazy Internet tools we have available (see the absurd variety hereabove), we can spend a lot of time spreading the word about issues we care about or projects we're working on, while none of our individual tweets or posts seem to be particularly effectual. I'll write about the several interesting opportunities and connections I've made through these channels in some other post, but I have to say something here about an amazing experience I've had this week.

Thumbnail photo of the cover of 'Democracy and Leadership,' bearing Ashley Cecil's painting, "Politician at a Podium."
My 2013 book, Democracy and Leadership: On Pragmatism and Virtue, came out with a publisher that permitted me to pick and design the cover, from a few possible form templates. The talented Ashley Cecil's beautiful painting is on the cover, as you may already know (it's on right here). To spread the word about the book, I posted on these various Internet channels, including on a new Facebook Author page -- why not?

I have friends with nearly 1,000 "likes" on their author pages, which is great. It's a way of reaching lots of friends and interested audiences when you've got something you feel needs to be said. My own page today has a modest 247 "likes," but I'm just getting started.

As I was spreading the word about the release of the book and creating the Facebook page, Ashley Cecil posted an announcement about the release of the book on her Web site. Some of Ashley's fans and art collectors connected with my Facebook page. That's how I came into contact with John Rogers, an attorney and art collector from Glasgow, Kentucky. It turns out that John was the art collector who had bought Ashley's painting.

Obviously John and I have sympathetic taste, because when I was looking for cover art -- and I searched quite a bit -- I knew instantly that this was the painting I wanted for the cover, if I could make it work out. John asked me how I had come across the painting. Though I had looked through various databases of art (paintings and photographs), starting with works in the public domain, I eventually stumbled across Ashley's painting by wading deep through search term results that I found on Images.Google.com.

While it's fun to connect with an art collector with sympathetic taste, the story gets better. John wrote me (via Facebook message) to say that he thought that I should have the painting.

I couldn't believe it.

Art collectors sometimes invest in works that they hope to sell later for a profit. For me, the painting has great sentimental value, because it's the beautiful first artwork that I've been able to select for a book cover. In addition, the book was 4 years in the making and was a lot of hard work, so the artwork is seriously meaningful to me.

At the same time, my university has granted me a sabbatical to write my next book. You can either accept full-pay for one semester, or you can take the same funds divided over the course of a full year. More than a year ago, I discussed this with my wonderful wife Annie (yesterday was Valentine's Day, I should note), and she agreed that time is the hardest thing to come by. So, we trimmed expenses, saved up for about a year, and now we've made it so that I can take this full year to write. It also means that I can't get into art collection... Certainly not for a while, anyway.

I didn't see John's generosity coming. And remember, I'm one of the optimists out there.

Three days after John's message, the painting arrived -- on Valentine's Day, no less. Here it is on our kitchen table:

This is a large photo of Ashley Cecil's original painting, "Politician at a Podium."

The painting is 8" by 10" and is going to go up in my office at work. It is not only the artwork that an artist first gave me permission to use on a book cover. It is also the first such work that I also now own. I'm still somewhat in disbelief about John's magnanimity. I believe that people are largely very good and sympathetic with others when not conditioned otherwise in some way. That doesn't capture just how friendly and giving people can be, though.

Therefore, this blogpost -- and a copy of Democracy and Leadership soon to be in the mail -- is dedicated to John Rogers of Glasgow, Kentucky, for showing me just how remarkably kind people can be, especially to a stranger several states away. Thank you so much, John, for your generous gift, and thanks to Ashley for creating this piece and allowing me to use it for the book.

I can't thank you enough, John.
All the best,

Eric

Democracy and Leadership is available on Amazon here and also with a 30% discount if you buy directly from the publisher's Web site, with the code on this flyer.

Visit EricThomasWeber.org.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

"Modernity is not ‘anti-religious’: Weber" - An interview I gave the Tehran Times

An interview I gave the Tehran Times on religion, modernity, and secularization was published 12/14/13, p. 12. Here's the Web version:

Modernity is not ‘anti-religious’: Weber - Tehran Times

Visit my Web site: EricThomasWeber.org, follow me on Twitter and on Academia.edu, and connect with me on LinkedIn.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Democracy and Leadership: On Pragmatism and Virtue now out

Democracy and Leadership: On Pragmatism and Virtue now out 

Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, a division of the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, November / December 2013.

Cover art by Ashley Cecil (www.AshleyCecil.com)
Large PDF of the front & back covers here .

Dr. Eric Thomas Weber
Associate Professor of Public Policy Leadership
The University of Mississippi

Available online on the Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group's Web site here - with 20% discount code: LEX20AUTH13.

The book is also available on Amazon.com (including UK, CA, and FR, among others) & Barnes & Noble.


About the book: 

Democracy and Leadership: On Pragmatism and Virtue presents a theory of leadership drawing on insights from Plato’s Republic, while abandoning his authoritarianism in favor of John Dewey’s democratic thought. The book continues the democratic turn for the study of leadership beyond the incorporation of democratic values into old-fashioned views about leading. The completed democratic turn leaves behind the traditional focus on a class of special people. Instead, leadership is understood as a process of judicious yet courageous guidance, infused with democratic values and open to all people.


Editorial reviews: 


“This book will certainly re-orient the field of leadership studies, but its impact will extend beyond that field. By connecting leadership with broader issues about participatory democracy, Weber will find grateful readers across political theory. He strikes a tone of optimistic practicality that especially rings true for pragmatic generation Xers and civic-minded Millennials. This book and its author are positioned as precisely that sort of new public voice capable of leading the next generations as they rise into political power and leadership themselves.”
– Dr. John Robert Shook, University at Buffalo, New York

“From Plato through today’s college students, Eric Weber’s Democracy and Leadership carefully examines the pedagogy of leadership development. Because the book is so rich in content and style, you can add Weber’s name to a select list of noted Southern scholars and writers.”
– Dean James L. “Skip” Rutherford, The Clinton School of Public Service, The University of Arkansas, Little Rock, AR

“This superbly researched and written book defines more clearly than anything that I have read in recent years the elements that are essential for a democratic political system to fulfill its proper mission. Coming as it does in a time of diminished public decision-making capability, particularly at the national governmental level, this volume points the way out of our current malaise. It should be read by every citizen who wants to see our system work as well as it is capable of. As a former governor of Mississippi, I can attest to the value of the wise and pragmatic counsel which it contains.”
– The Honorable William Winter, Governor of Mississippi from 1972-1976 and from 1980-1984, the “Education Governor.”


Learn More
If you'd like to learn more about my further work and writings, visit EricThomasWeber.org, follow me on Twitter, connect with me on LinkedIn, or follow me on Academia.edu.

In addition, if you like the cover, see Ashley Cecil's full painting here, and visit her Web site: www.AshleyCecil.com.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

'Democracy and Leadership: On Pragmatism and Virtue,' set for release in Dec 2013

For more info, visitEricThomasWeber.org and connect on TwitterLinkedIn, and Academia.edu

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Democracy and Leadership: On Pragmatism and Virtue 

to be released in December of 2013


Thumbnail photo of Ashley Cecil's "Politician on a Podium," visit www.AshleyCecil.com.
By Ashley Cecil (www.AshleyCecil.com)
Democracy and Leadership is the product of five years of research. When I moved to the University of Mississippi in 2007 to teach in the department of Public Policy Leadership, I had only studied leadership tangentially in connection with ethics and political philosophy applied to public policy. My second book, Morality, Leadership, and Public Policy (Continuum 2011) touched on leadership in the arena of public policy, but focused uniquely on how to think about its moral dimensions in the face of competing moral outlooks. In that work, I defended the theory called experimentalism. While working on that book, I encountered some strange articles in the field of leadership studies, which asked whether it makes any sense to speak of democratic leadership. One article suggested that it might be a contradiction in terms.

When I looked to theories of leadership, very little work addressed basic philosophical questions about how to understand the concept. We all know and have heard about some great leaders, like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so much scholarship on the subject of leadership tends to start there — with great leaders. Doing so, however, does little for an understanding of leadership in general. Instead, it offers insight about a great leader, or about some special leaders of note. Famous leaders might teach us all lessons about leadership, to be sure, but they might also bear characteristics that do not make sense to apply to others. Consider by analogy the idea that a small liberal arts or community college might try to do as Harvard University does. In a few matters, it may be a good idea to mimic Harvard's practices. In countless other contexts, however, it makes no sense to imitate a university that is very different and remarkably unique. 

When I reviewed the literature on leadership, I was astonished at the lack of contemporary philosophical study of the concept. To say that there are a handful of philosophers studying leadership would almost be an exaggeration. At first I could not make sense of this. When you look to the tradition of philosophy, there are rich resources for thinking about leadership. Among the most influential and oldest is Plato's Republic. The Republic considers what kind of society is virtuous and what kind of social system Plato thought would be necessary for it, including a special leadership class of rulers. Returning to Plato for initial considerations about leadership, I stumbled on one possible reason why philosophers have avoided the study of leadership, for the most part. Plato thought that democracy is the absence of rulers. According to Plato's view, democracy lacks leadership.

Today, people proclaim democratic values and also the need for leadership. Therefore the public at least thinks that the ideas are consistent. They could be wrong, one might argue, but I think that they are not. The aim of Democracy and Leadership is to look to Plato for insights on leadership, while disagreeing with him about his views on democracy. The classic virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice need not be authoritarian in the way that he takes them. Instead, I draw from John Dewey's democratic theory to show how these virtues can be rendered democratic. In this way, I advance a general and then a particularly democratic theory of leadership rooted in these four classical virtues. Perhaps the most important change I make from Plato's outlook, however, is the abandonment of the idea that leadership refers to a special class of persons. That view is a lingering authoritarian assumption and value which infuses and plagues leadership theory today. People speak of democratic values in theories like "servant leadership" or "catalytic leadership," but the radical change I advance demands that we think of leadership as a process, not as a person. 

When we abandon the class outlook on leadership in favor of a process and virtue centered model, and then frame the latter with democratic values, a theory of democratic leadership emerges which offers valuable insights for the public sphere. I am very happy to say that the beloved former Mississippi governor William Winter believes that the democratic theory of leadership developed in this book has a lot to offer for addressing today's challenges.* 

If you are interested in learning more about Democracy and Leadership, such as in reading reviews from scholars and former Mississippi governor William Winter, visit the Rowman and Littlefield site for the book. The book will be released in hardback in December of 2013. The initial target market is academic libraries and scholars who might review the book, though a discount code will be available for individuals soon. Contact me (etweber@olemiss.edu) if you are interested in that.

The painting hereabove, "Politician on a Podium," is used courtesy of Ashley Cecil. Visit www.AshleyCecil.com. You can also see a larger version of the painting here.

The Rowman and Littlefield page for the book: 


* The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi is named in his honor and funded by the Kellogg Foundation. In addition, their Director, Dr. Susan Glisson, whom I'm honored to have as a colleague, was recently named one of the "new Civil Rights heroes."


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Again, for more info, visitEricThomasWeber.org and connect on TwitterLinkedIn, and Academia.edu


Thursday, July 18, 2013

On Starting Out as a Writer

If you enjoy this article, visit my Web site: EricThomasWeber.org and connect with me on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu.

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On Starting Out as a Writer

Dr. Eric Thomas Weber


Photo of a typewriter, just for fun.
I received an inquiry today from Montique Clark on LinkedIn. I had posted about the fact that I've just sent an article to a journal that is very proud of its incredibly high rejection rate. The good thing about this particular publication is that they answer you quite promptly, in general. The reason is that the journal has committed to either answer you very quickly or to give you feedback on your submission. Giving feedback takes time, so that motivates them to say no very quickly to more than 93 percent of submissions. From the author's standpoint, that means it's unlikely to land one's piece there, but why not try? After all, you'll know quickly whether they're not interested. It doesn't hurt them, furthermore, since they're proud of a high rejection rate. If you know that the first great place isn't interested, you can then move on to the next possible outlet, feeling confident that at least you tried.

Montique explained that she's interested in writing and would like some suggestions for getting started. Here are a few thoughts for anyone who is thinking about starting out as a writer. I'm no famous writer, but I've been studying the publishing industry and process and have plans in motion for a career of writing, ideally for wide audiences in time.

For scholars who are looking to land their first publications, the typical advice is excellent: Start with a book review. An incredible number of books are published every year, even though we're told the print industry is on its way out. Given the volume of books released, publishers struggle for attention. One way they get it is by sending free books to outlets that review them. For scholars, that generally means scholarly journals. If you're not too interested in more technical or academic readership, then consider looking to the many publications, often magazines -- which today are becoming "e-zines." Many of them review books that are sent to them and welcome volunteers to read the books and send in carefully written, short reviews. Reviewing books provides a service to the public, that can now choose book purchases with a bit more information in advance. It also gets you a free copy of the book. In addition, it gives you a chance to thinking about your own writing while you review someone else's. Finally, it gives you a very beneficial chance to be published and to start building your track record.

Among scholarly outlets, the journals in one's field are the ones to look to, checking whether they publish reviews and who is the review editor. For general audience or non-academic audience authors, look to the relevant trade magazines related to your interests. Find the stuff you like to read and see whether it includes opportunities to write reviews. If you're having a hard time finding an outlet, go to your library to find the year's Writer's Market book (released by Writer's Digest Books), or spring for it yourself, if your library's copy is old. The book's got a few informative essays, but it's amazing value is that it is like a phone book of writing opportunities. You'll find info about countless outlets for publishing your work, some of which are paid and some of which are not.

This leads me to an important point. If getting paid for your writing is important to you, know that it will take time to get there. I've been paid a little bit for some of my writings, but the vast majority of them have not come with financial compensation. Writing certainly can be a paying occupation. Syndicated authors can make millions of dollars, even if that's mainly the rock-stars of writing. Nevertheless, if you're getting your start as a writer, you need to invest considerable time on the front end, to build your skills, network, and audience, and to hone your voice as a writer. I've heard that a big deal author in my town had to invest in his own writing, self-publishing his first book, which was no real success until his second book was turned into a movie. Be patient, and start writing because you love to do it. If you don't love to write, it's probably best to stop thinking about a career in it (whether "career" refers to lifetime or source of income). I'll come back to ways of getting paid for writing in a moment. For now, though, know that it will take some time to invest in one's writing career.

Another route to getting started as a writer is through letters to the editor. If you start with your local paper, not the New York Times, landing a letter to the editor is pretty easy. They're often quite short too, so that means you can get one done quickly. The nice thing about short pieces like letters to the editor or op-eds is that you can have a first draft done quickly. The challenging and exciting part about writing them, though, is that given how short they are, it doesn't take so much time to go over them 20 or 40 or 50 times. Yes, that many times. Comb over every word. Decide whether you're being as economical as you can be (a practice I'm not exercising in this blog post, to be sure). Write with pith, power, relevance, and sincerity. Pitch a letter to the editor, land a few, and suddenly the editor at a regional newspaper knows your name. Letters to the editor are a great first step comparable to book reviews, though shorter.

Once an editor knows your name, consider that many local or regional newspapers post the contact info for their editors on their Web sites. Give him or her a call. Talk over your interest in writing a  piece for the paper, and pitch -- briefly -- four or five ideas that you might write about. This is vital, since you could otherwise end up spending a lot of time on a piece that a newspaper editor wouldn't find particularly newsworthy. Always think about the gatekeepers and their interests. Consider their interests while you speak to an audience and you'll be on the right track. When an editor gives you no positive feedback, it's time to approach another outlet. Give it time too, and then come back to the first paper with new ideas. If the editor nibbles, he or she will generally look at a draft of your submission on the piece of interest. Know too that it's invigorating to write about a subject that a news editor thinks is interesting and worth reviewing. You'll already have surmounted one of the big challenges.

Once you've got permission to send the editor a piece, comb over your draft 50 times. Yes, 50 times. It's only about 500 words anyway. If you go over it 5 times an hour, you can send it to him in 3 or 4 days, even if you're writing in your spare time. When you've combed through a piece that many times, you'll find your words are carefully chiseled, and ideally they reveal just what you mean on a topic that is both interesting and important to you and to your target audience. Send it in. If it is accepted for publication, make sure to buy a copy or two and to scan it into the computer. Make a digital scrapbook of these pieces, and soon you'll have a track record of writings. A lot of these points pertain to magazine writing also, though some magazines just want to see your submission first. Then again, magazines will often publish book reviews, so look into that first. 

Once you've got a relationship with one or more newspapers, think about making your contributions regularly. What kind of themed column could you put together, contributing once a month or eveyr two weeks in a way that is valued among the people in your audience. Publishers all the time buy syndicated material because they don't have enough local material, or because they need a balance of subject matter. In any case, if you put together a column and publish it regularly, you might find that other papers are interested in publishing the same column. Boom. You've just become a self-syndicated columnist. You're reaching a wide audience and doing so regularly. Now guess who's interested in you. People who like your ability to reach an audience, namely literary agents. They'll help you (and be highly necessary in most cases) to land your book proposal with a major publisher. The publisher, like Random House, Vintage, etc., is interested both in quality work AND in the author's ability to reach an audience. After all, doing so means you can let your loyal audience know about your forthcoming book. They need to know about it and be interested in you in order to be motivated to buy your book.

When you get to that point, you might start making some real money, maybe. It depends on the audience for your book. If people are so interested in it that they invite you to come speak about it, you could earn some money for such efforts. Also, along the way, your newspaper columns might earn you some money, a lot if your pieces start to come out in hundreds of newspapers or more. At the same time, though, if you've made a great impression with a magazine or newspaper, you might find that a salaried position as a writer is even better, more stable, etc. More power to you. There are many ways to get involved and to make writing a career. For a lot of people like me, though, there are ways to align one's work or free-time enjoyment with our passion for writing. In such cases, money's not the object, and the goal is really to participate in our democratic conversation about things that matter to us and to others. 

To my mind, that is the big reason to be a writer. It's to contribute to the public discourse. If you don't speak up, others will. You might not like what you hear. So, either speak up, or your complaints will only be heard by your Facebook friends. There are many ways to become a writer. Going to grad school isn't a typically good one for becoming a widely read author. After all, at one time I heard that the average academic journal article is read by 7 people. The point there is not the same as writing for general audiences, of course, but it is writing nonetheless, and can be joyful. If you want to learn more about writing, check out some of the following books. I will warn you that, sadly, one or two of the books that are valuable for learning about writing careers are themselves poorly written. As strange as that may sound, it is still true that they contain valuable information about what it takes to be a professional writer. 

I am sure that this is much more than what Montique was looking for. Don't worry. I won't mind if people skim this. In a sense, here's another value of writing, such as on blogs like this one: it's often helpful to organize one's ideas just for oneself. To get clear on what we're doing, how, and why is an invaluable benefit of writing. So thank you, Montique, for the opportunity to reflect on getting one's start as a writer. I hope that some of this proves helpful for you and for others. It certainly has gotten me thinking again about strategy and the big picture for my career as a writer.

Resources:

2013 Writer's Markethttp://www.amazon.com/dp/1599635933/

2013 Guide to Literary Agentshttp://www.amazon.com/dp/1599635976/

Get Known before the Book Dealhttp://www.amazon.com/dp/158297554X/

Thinking Like Your Editorhttp://www.amazon.com/dp/0393324613/

From Dissertation to Bookhttp://www.amazon.com/dp/0226288463/

Book Proposals that Sellhttp://www.amazon.com/dp/1932124640/

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Eric Thomas Weber, Ph.D. is associate professor of public policy leadership at the University of Mississippi, representing only his own views in this article. His third book, Democracy and Leadership, will be published in December of 2013. If you enjoy this article, visit my Web site: EricThomasWeber.org and connect with me on TwitterLinkedIn, and Academia.edu.