IndieJourney: Paul Pomerleau

Many Americans believe that people who go to college to study the liberal arts or social sciences emerge qualified only for jobs in the fast food industry. If your schooling doesn’t involve a specific job skill, the reasoning goes, you have wasted your years in college.

I assume clever people already know that this is not true–that people with liberal arts and social sciences degrees fit well into the upper levels of the American service economy–but I also know that this line of thinking still underestimates what people with good non-technical degrees can do.

I experienced this first-hand. For several years, my work included interviewing candidates for computer networking jobs. I quickly noticed an odd pattern. People with college degrees in computer science who had taken classes in computer networking remembered nothing about it, even though we told them the day before the interview what we were going to ask about and advised them to hit the books to refresh their memory. Furthermore, they had trouble learning anything during the interview.

On the other hand, people with non-technical degrees did better in the interviews. They knew more than the CS students about networking in the first place and they also quickly learned concepts taught to them during the interview. Smart people with degrees that taught them to read and write and think did better at computer networking than people who went to school looking to learn a trade.

But the CS students outnumbered everyone else twenty to one. I was (and am) incensed by this colossal waste. We think of universities as glorified vocational schools and yet still give the wrong training to people to do the work we want them to do. We teach people to think and then let society tell them that they’re wastrels, or we teach them to do a specific job but fail to expand their thinking such that they will be of much use in the workforce.

And so I wrote Networking for English Majors. I wanted to make it as easy as possible for people with liberal arts and social sciences degrees to break into technical careers, because I knew that many of them would be better at them than some of their technically educated peers. I knew I could teach them enough to get a job in less than 150 pages. Writing the book took me two years.

Self-publishing wasn’t just the easiest way to get to press: It never even occurred to me to try to get a publisher. I couldn’t imagine who would publish a first book by someone who espoused the exact opposite of what we hear so regularly in the popular media. Furthermore, I knew other people who had published books and hadn’t heard anything laudatory about their publishers from them.

I naively chose CreateSpace over Lulu because I blithely (and probably wrongly) assumed that most of my sales would be from Amazon anyhow. CreateSpace is owned by Amazon and, unlike Lulu, presents no easy way to get into bookstores. I wrote the book in OpenOffice and while I don’t regret that decision, it meant I was definitely on my own. It was a struggle to get the book to print properly on CreateSpace’s printers and difficult to figure out the finer points of chapter formatting. I stupidly took the ISBN CreateSpace offered rather than buying my own, so I can’t easily change printers.

I have two five star reviews on Amazon, but those two reviews are the only ones I have. People who buy the book are likely to love it, but very few people even know it exists.

I’ve learned a great deal. The single-most important part of publishing is publicity and I’m terrible at it. My second book, on office automation, will be much easier to produce, and I think it will be an important book on labor relations and productivity. But unless I hire a publicist, I suspect that very few people will read it. I’ll start looking for a publisher once the first draft is done.

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