How to Be an Author Publishers Want to Work With, Part Two

Yesterday, we offered some great pointers for aspiring published authors…but there’s more where that came from! Here are three more bits of advice. Best of luck!

4. Do not, under any circumstances, call or drop in at the office of an agent or a publishing company to speak with an employee about getting your book acquired. Agents and publishing companies are not like bookstores, where you can expect to walk in and get your questions answered; they are business offices like any other. You wouldn’t walk into your doctor’s office without an appointment, and you would understand why your doctor also can’t diagnose you over the phone (for many reasons). Most companies have just enough employees to keep things rolling smoothly, and no one has a professional dedicated to talking to you about your unsolicited submission. Send your proposal as the publisher instructs, and if they’re interested, they’ll be in touch with a real contact name and real phone number.

5. Understand the difference between showing initiative and being rude. Don’t call the front desk of a publisher and pretend you’re returning a call from an interested editor; the office staff has heard it all and they know what you’re up to. If you choose to play games like that, you’ve instantly become someone most publishers won’t want to work with. And it’s a small industry—bad behavior gets discussed among publishing professionals and you can be blackballed before you’ve even made contact with other publishing companies. (Don’t believe us? Start reading agent blogs.)

6. Find an agent. (And we don’t mean someone who you pay before your book gets signed—that’s supershady and not how legit agents work.) Many big houses don’t accept unsolicited or unrepresented book proposals; they want to know that at least one person other than the author stands behind the proposal and that there’s been some level of professional vetting. If you could see how many manuscripts come through the slush pile (and the quality of those manuscripts), you’d understand why.

How to Be an Author Publishers Want to Work With

Despite examples to the contrary, publishing isn’t a secret society that we’re trying to keep everyone out of. We want authors to find us, we want to share our expertise and help writers move forward—especially if we think their material is valid and well written, and if they prove they can follow instructions, communicate clearly, and work hard. Obviously, we don’t know everything, but with some very unprofessional and alarmingly off-target submissions coming in lately, we thought we’d offer some advice to writers out there who are looking to become published authors.

1. Follow the publisher’s submissions requirements to the letter. If there’s one rule you acknowledge, please make it this one. Many publishing companies won’t even look at your submission if you can’t follow instructions (for an example, see ours). Even if you think your book is a special case, don’t skip anything.

2. Do your homework. Know the competition and identify the audience for your book, then find publishers that specialize in those areas. This will probably require you to do some research, but if you’ve already put in the effort of writing a book, this shouldn’t be considered a monumental task. Even if you haven’t yet written the book but are proposing it, this research will only serve to clarify your purpose and organization of ideas. Here are some considerations:

  • In what subject areas does the publisher publish and does your manuscript fit? If they don’t publish fiction, don’t send your romance novel. Don’t send your manuscript to every publisher out there—it’s not a fit for every house’s line, and we can tell when a submission is a mass mailing rather than a tailored, targeted piece. Save your money and time.
  • What are the competing titles for your proposal, and how is your book like or unlike them? And don’t say there’s no other book like yours, because you’ll just look lazy or arrogant. If you don’t want to look up comparables, we won’t do it for you. And then we’ll pass on your manuscript.
  • Who is the audience for your proposed book? In other words, who is the publisher going to be able to sell this book to? Don’t say, “My book is for everyone!” If you really think about it, you know that’s not true. And despite the romantic notions about publishing, it’s still a business: we need to know where you see this being placed in a bookstore and what groups we could target with sales, marketing, and publicity.

3. Learn how publishing works. Publishing is a difficult industry to learn about, whether you’re an author or someone considering an editorial, production, marketing, or sales career. There are a few books that are helpful, but if you love everything digital, there are a lot of great blogs geared toward educating authors (some favorites include the archives of Editorial Ass, Editorial Anonymous, PubRants, Janet Reid, Pimp My Novel, and The Intern; check out the blogrolls at each of these to find even more publishing blogs. And check out Query Shark if you don’t know what query letter is). Once you know a bit how the industry works, you’ll understand why tip #1 is so important.

To be continued, with tips 4-6, tomorrrow…


Uncompahgre Peak: A Journey In Photos

Here’s a little fact about me: I love climbing mountains, especially Colorado’s fourteen-thousand-foot peaks. There’s just something so beautiful about putting one foot in front of the other until you are on top of a high mountain, where you can be one with the clouds and look down at every surrounding peak, lake, town, river, and stream.

Last weekend, my husband and I climbed our fifth Colorado fourteener of the summer, with the help of Gerry Roach’s Colorado’s Fourteeners, Third Edition: From Hikes to Climbs. Fulcrum’s guidebooks are part of what brought me to work for this company, and this guidebook is a great one. We found ourselves in awe at the top of Uncompahgre Peak, at 14, 309 feet. The volcanic rock, interesting geologic features, and sheer cliffs at the top made it one of the most interesting climbs I’ve ever done. I thought I’d share a few photos of our journey.

If you’re interested in tackling a Colorado fourteener or two, I highly recommend picking up a copy of this useful guide.

Colorado fourteener Uncompahgre Peak

Sunrise on Uncompahgre

Wildflowers, stream, and Uncompahgre Peak

Uncompahgre Wilderness

Meandering streams, Uncompahgre Wilderness

Happy pup

Uncompahgre Peak hiking

Awesome rock formations. Wetterhorn Peak in the distance.

Cautiously climbing up the loose rock at the top.

Top of Uncompahgre Peak, Colorado

Success!

Taking it all in from the peak of Uncompahgre.

Summer Vegetable Fun

It’s been a little while since we’ve checked in with our friend Renee Wilkinson, author of Modern Homestead and creator of HipChickDigs.com, a wonderful blog filled with inspiring homesteading ideas. After Jack and Carolyn’s post earlier this week on their incredible garden, I’ve had gardens and veggies on my mind, so I headed over to Renee’s blog to see what she’s been up to. Renee’s post from last week, Good Haul, is just beautiful. I just love her vivid photographs of delicious-looking vegetables. And I must admit, it’s hard not to be a little envious when she says, “I am almost getting buried in the harvest this summer!” How fun is that?! I would love to have more homegrown vegetables than I know what to do with…

Renee’s blog post from yesterday, Cool Summer Eggs, got my stomach grumbling as she shared ways in which she’s been using the abundance of chicken and duck eggs from her backyard homestead. With three chickens and four ducks, you can imagine you’d need to get a little creative to find ways to use all those delicious eggs. Renee shares some yummy recipes for deviled eggs and egg salad. I think I know what I’ll be making this weekend!

And now, I’ve got some exciting news to share. I admit I am a complete gardening newbie, so don’t laugh…but we have our first red tomato on our tomato plant! We have ten little tomatoes on the plant,(our first try at growing tomatoes), and just two days ago one finally started to turn red!

Fulcrum gardening blog

Red tomato!

Look at that beauty! Well…she’s not perfect, but once fully ripe, I’m sure she’ll taste divine.

Modern Homestead red tomato

I imagine we’ll be able to bite into it in just a few short days. With a 70-90 day gestation period for tomatoes, it is a long, slow process waiting for the plant to start growing fruit, but boy is it exciting when you finally have something to enjoy from it!

Do you have anything exciting going on in your garden? We’d love to hear about it if so!

Book Giveaway—The World-Famous Alaska Highway

With this month’s release of the fourth edition of The World-Famous Alaska Highway: A Guide to the Alcan & Other Wilderness Roads of the North (ISBN-13: 978-155591-749-4, $22.95) by Tricia Brown, Fulcrum is giving away one copy of this best-selling guide to driving the beautiful wilderness roads of Alaska. Share with us your best road trip story, either from travels in the Lower 48 or in Alaska, and we will select one lucky winner to receive a FREE copy of The World-Famous Alaska Highway.

It has long been a dream of mine to visit and travel through Alaska, and flipping through The World-Famous Alaska Highway has rekindled that dream. Tricia’s passion for Alaska really comes through in this wonderful guidebook. For more information on Tricia Brown and Alaska, visit Tricia’s website.

There are some road trip websites out there that can help you plan your route through North America, such as RoadTrip America, but if you are planning a trip through the Pacific Northwest and up into Alaska, The World-Famous Alaska Highway is hands-down the best resource. Pick up a copy today, or leave us a comment below with your favorite road trip story to enter our giveaway!

My husband and I, along with our dog Tela, have taken several road trips through scenic places all over the United States and down into Mexico. We’ve seen amazing wildlife, stunning sunsets and sunrises, and breathtaking natural wonders, but I can only imagine the incredible sites awaiting us when we someday make it to Alaska, the Last Frontier. Until then, I can only reminisce about past trips. Below are my two favorite road trips taken (so far):

Trip 1

  • Starting point: Aspen, Colorado
  • Jackson Hole, Wyoming (Dramatic views of the Grand Teton Mountain Range, and a must-stop at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar)
  • Yellowstone National Park (America’s first national park! Geysers, waterfalls, bears, oh my!)
  • Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota (Drive through the spectacular Needles Highway with hairpin curves, towering granite formations and pine covered mountains)
  • Badlands, South Dakota (Camp amongst the most unique geologic deposits and landscape I have ever seen. It’s like being on the moon!)
  • Bayfield, Wisconsin, and Madeline Island, on beautiful Lake Superior (A true gem of the Midwest. Visit Bayfield in early October during Apple Festival, then catch the ferry over to Madeline Island to take in the spectacular fall colors)
  • Back home to Aspen

Trip 2

  • Starting point: Aspen, Colorado
  • Zion National Park, Utah (Utah’s first national park! Camp and hike amidst massive canyon walls, towering cliffs, and narrow canyons. Don’t forget your camera!)
  • San Diego, California (Visit Blacks Beach in La Jolla, one of the most secluded beaches in San Diego)
  • Coronado Island, California (Explore the charming shops, restaurants, and beaches on this little island, and enjoy fresh seafood in the harbor with views looking at lit-up San Diego at night)
  • Manhattan Beach, California (Rent a beach cruiser and cruise up and down the boardwalk)
  • Back home to Aspen

Get out on the road and have some fun!


Trickster Gets a Nod from the Will Eisner Comics Industry Awards

Fulcrum received some very exciting news last week when we were notified that Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection, edited by Matt Dembicki, was nominated for a 2011 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award. Trickster was nominated in the “Best Anthology” category of this prestigious comics and graphic novel industry award. Everyone on the Fulcrum team and the Trickster team is buzzing over this wonderful honor. Named for acclaimed comics creator Will Eisner, the awards are in their 23rd year of highlighting the best publications and creators in comics and graphic novels. The Eisner Awards are presented under the auspices of Comic-Con International, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to creating awareness of and appreciation for comics and related popular art forms, primarily through the presentation of conventions and events that celebrate the historic and ongoing contributions of comics to art and culture.

Trickster was chosen by a panel of veterans in the comic industry, but the final voting is done by you—comics writers and artists, publishers and editors, librarians, and retail store owners/managers. By voting in the Will Eisner Comics Industry Awards, you have a say in who is recognized and honored. Ballots with this year’s nominees have gone out in packets to Comic-Con’s mailing list. If you’re eligible to vote but don’t think a ballot is headed your way in the mail, a downloadable PDF of the ballot is available on the Eisner Awards website and a special website has been set up for online voting. The results in all categories will be announced in a gala awards ceremony on the evening of Friday, July 22 at Comic-Con International in San Diego.

Ballots are due by June 13th, so vote now if you love Trickster as much as we do!

In the Bluff

a blog from Wisconsin’s west coast

(the opinions expressed in this blog are the opinions of the author only, and do not represent the opinions of the company or its employees)
April 11, 2011

Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all!
By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.

John Dickinson, “The Liberty Song” (1768)

Well, we managed to pull back from the brink of our national budget crisis the other day. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who feels we have once more simply delayed the inevitable, and that the reckoning will come soon enough, likely with the battle over the debt ceiling. The notion that we cannot find compromise in a budget as large as ours and that neither side is willing to give something for the greater good is disappointing.

Meanwhile, here in Wisconsin, the politics have gone from the ridiculous to the sublime, with upcoming recall elections and an overly politicized judicial election marked notably by the 13th hour discovery by a local official of missing votes. The Walker administration continues to forge ahead with its agenda to end collective bargaining and make severe budget cuts (but not seek to increase revenues) at a time when we should be investing in our schools and municipal infrastructure and addressing the dire situation faced by many of the have-nots in our society (for example, cuts in Badger Care, the state-run health program, will negatively impact many farmers in the state, who are already living hand-to-mouth).

I respect Governor Walker’s desire to face into our budget issue in the state; what I have a hard time swallowing is that this is being done in an uneven manner (why no taxes?), without inviting any collaboration with those who may not agree with his proposals. Not only are the state Democrats being shut out of the process, but those of us in western Wisconsin don’t even get the benefit of a public hearing on the budget in our region (there was one planned, but it was moved to another part of the state). Moreover, while municipalities across the state are facing reduced state contributions for their budgets, these cuts are very uneven. My community, for example, is facing close to a 50 percent cut, while other communities of similar demographics are seeing aid cut by 5–15 percent, without any justification for the difference. Given the state of dialogue on the budget, it appears that calls for clarification or collaborative efforts to work toward common goals will not be heard.

So what is a good old idealist like me to do? Well, for one, continue to read my history. Our nation has faced much bigger problems than those we face today, though you might not believe it if you tune in solely to the 24-hour news channels. During the forging of our great nation, differences of opinion as to the very nature of our government consumed our “best and brightest,” and yet compromise was struck. And 150 years ago this week, the first shots in the Civil War were fired and the very future of our country was at stake (reading hat-tip of the week—1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart is an excellent overview of the first year of the war). Though it took a bloody war, we as a nation persevered.

We have suffered through world wars and the Great Depression, through a cold war and battles over civil rights, and yet survived, all along continuing “to forge a more perfect union” (every time I reread the Constitution, I am struck not only by the genius of the Founders, but the literary merit of their work). We have done so because citizens of this country have ultimately put aside their individual differences to work toward our shared goals, that we have listened to others as much as spoken our opinions. It hasn’t been easy, and will not be in the future. But unless we are willing to try and find civil solutions to our problems, unless we stop the name-calling and try to truly engage the other side, and unless we recognize that, in a country that is pretty much divided evenly between Democrats and Republicans, neither side has a mandate and thus the solutions must be forged together, progress will be even harder to come by.

Fulcrum’s Own Homesteading Tips

Modern Homestead

Spring is upon us and the summer growing season is nearly here. Green-thumbs or soon-to-be green-thumbs all around the country are starting to buy seeds, clean up their yards, and plot out their summer gardens. Last week we asked our blog readers to share their best homesteading tips and ideas as we prepare for the release of Fulcrum’s newest spring title, Modern Homestead, and in honor of the always welcome change of seasons. (FYI, the Modern Homestead giveaway contest has been extended to April 5th, so comment on our blog with your best homesteading tips to be entered to win a free copy of Renee Wilkinson’s new book!)

It’s been so much fun hearing from our readers that Fulcrum’s special sales manager, Ingrid Estell, became inspired to share her own homesteading tips. Ingrid, an avid gardener and canner in Missoula, Montana, discusses what it’s like being a gardener who hates tomatoes, gives tips on what to do when a cold summer leaves you with 100 pounds of green tomatoes, and shares her wonderful recipe for salsa verde. Yum!

Ingrid: I am a gardener who hates tomatoes. Yes, I hate tomatoes. The plants give my arms and hands a rash if I don’t wear long sleeves and gloves when I’m around them. The ripe fruits are a wonderful color, but disgustingly slimy when cut. The fresh juice, just like the leaves, gives my skin a rash and can make my lips look like a botox treatment gone horribly wrong. So, I am a gardener who hates tomatoes, but I am also a gardener who loves homemade salsa and tomato sauce. Lucky for me, once tomatoes are peeled, diced, cooked, and spiced, they become the food of the gods.

I plant anywhere from 10 to 16 plants a year to feed my salsa and sauce habit: yellow pear for mellow sauce, San Marzano for homemade ketchup, Stupice for an early crop, and Costoluto Genovese and Brandywine for amazing sauce flavor. The yellow pear tomatoes I grow in pots on my deck; the rest I grow at a local community garden plot I’ve had for years.  Each plant can easily produce 10 pounds of fruit, sometimes considerably more.

I garden in Montana, and last year’s weather conditions were not the best for tomato ripening but were very good for fruit set. (Fruit set: once a flower is pollinated, it “sets,” or begins to produce the vegetable or fruit that is later eaten. Some plants have both male and female flowers, but only the female flowers produce fruit or vegetables.) The summer stayed cool; only a couple of days reached 90 degrees. Night temperatures hovered between 45 and 50 degrees. So what? you ask. Well, tomatoes are particular about what temperature they like for each part of their growing process. Soil temperature must be between 70 to 90 degrees for seeds to germinate, and plants are happiest if soil remains at 70 to 90 degrees throughout the growing season. Generally, fruit set happens between 59 and 68 degrees air temperature. Fruit ripening happens at 70 to 90 degrees air temperature that holds steady—meaning, no drops in nighttime temperatures. In 2010, the weather conspired with my tomato plants to produce many, many tomatoes, but to ripen very, very few. As cold fall weather approached, I had at least 100 pounds of green tomatoes on the vine.

What to do with 100 pounds of green tomatoes? Well, first, I picked the crop and laid it in a single layer on newspaper in a cool room with just a little light. That old adage of “ripen on the windowsill” will result in rotten tomatoes. Also, when ripening, the tomatoes cannot touch each other—just like toddlers, they spread disease and mayhem to each other. Most of the slightly red tomatoes quickly ripened up and I made them into sauce or ketchup. But many stayed a vibrant, glossy green. So, in the interest of actually using my garden’s produce, I learned to make several canned green tomato products: Piccalilli Relish, Green Tomato Chutney, and Salsa Verde (my favorite).

Here’s the Salsa Verde recipe I used:

Makes six 8-ounce jars or three pint jars. Recipe doubles easily.
7 cups chopped, cored, peeled green tomatoes
5 to 10 seeded and finely chopped jalepeño, habanero, or Scotch Bonnet peppers (for a milder salsa, use milder peppers: Anaheim, yellow wax, etc.)
2 cups finely chopped onion
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup lime juice (bottled works best)
1/2 cup loosely packed, finely chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Prepare canner, jars, and lids. If you don’t know what this means, please check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation at www.uga.edu/ncfp/how/general/recomm_jars_lids.htm.

2. Peel and core green tomatoes: make a small x in the bottom of each tomato, then drop into rapidly boiling water for 60–90 seconds. Then transfer the flash-boiled tomatoes to a bowl of ice water (or sink filled with ice water). Once they’re cool enough to touch, the skins should peel off easily with a small knife. To core the tomatoes, use a paring knife to cut out the top end (where the tomato was attached to the plant), taking out about 1/2 inch of the core.

3. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, and lime juice. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in cilantro, cumin, oregano, salt, and black pepper. Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring frequently for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

4. Ladle hot salsa into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace (headspace is the distance from the top of the salsa to the top of the jar, the rim). Remove air bubbles (run a knife or small rubber spatula around the inside of the jar to break-up any air bubbles—this is important, as air bubbles can harbor bacteria) and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot salsa. Wipe rim, make sure the rim is absolutely clean before putting the lid on. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.

5. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process both 8-ounce and pint jars for 20 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool, and store.

6. Be sure to label and date your jars of canned goods. In general, home canned products are good for a year.

(Recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, edited by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine. Toronto, ON: Robert Rose Inc., 2006.)

Salsa Verde is wonderful with chips, on tacos, or mixed into chicken noodle soup! Here’s a quick and delicious pumpkin soup recipe using a pint jar of Salsa Verde:

Serves 4–6
1 large can pumpkin (32 oz.)
1 quart vegetable broth (or chicken)
1 can black beans (16 oz.)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 pint Salsa Verde
Sour cream, for garnish (optional)
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)

1. Place pumpkin and vegetable broth in a blender and combine (or whisk together in a stock pot).

2. Pour pumpkin and broth into a medium/large stock pot.

3. Add drained black beans, corn kernels, and Salsa Verde and heat through over medium high heat (5–10 minutes).

4. Ladle soup into bowls and top with sour cream and cilantro, if desired.

5. Serve with warm tortillas or with tortilla chips crushed and sprinkled on the top.

In the Bluff

a blog from Wisconsin’s west coastPublisher Sam Scinta

(the opinions expressed in this blog are the opinions of the author only, and do not represent the opinions of the company or its employees)

March 10, 2010

 

“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice.

Alice in Wonderland

As most of you are aware, things have taken a turn for the strange and the worse out here in Wisconsin. It definitely feels like we are tumbling down the rabbit hole and that these latest actions will most certainly have national ramifications. I will leave it to others smarter than I to weigh in on the legality of the Wisconsin State Senate’s move last evening (passing in special subcommittee, with no public notice and without a quorum, a bill that strips away collective bargaining for most public employees); upon cursorily reviewing the materials, a case can certainly be made for its legality. Suffice it to say, legal or not, what happened here in Wisconsin last evening was an affront to the democratic process. To rush something like this through without notifying the public (and giving cursory notice to the Democratic state senators), effectively making a secret backroom deal (when hints of compromise by both sides were being expressed just the day before) and twisting procedural and parliamentary rules to get your way, is not what we should expect from our government. I request that those who support actions like this halt any references to the founders and our constitution in making their arguments, for surely, this is not the sort of government our founders had in mind.

While almost all of the Republican state senators voted for the bill, a lone voice of dissent stood up yet again—Senator Dale Schultz. We should all thank Senator Schultz today for his stand on government transparency, for his continued willingness to find compromise on a complex and difficult issue, and for his sense of fair play. He is a modern-day profile in courage. I have had the good fortune to know and work with many courageous and principled politicians over the years, (including one of my political heroes, Wisconsin-native Dick Lamm, who was willing in many instances to stand up for his convictions even if it meant losing support of his party). Senator Schultz will be remembered long after this debate has passed, when all of the other names are forgotten, as the Republican who stood up for the people and for democracy.

So where do we go from here? The state legislature will move ahead with its actions and battle lines will continue to be drawn; legal challenges to the latest actions are almost a certainty; and protests and recall efforts will push ahead, as the citizens of the state engage in the democratic process. Because these issues represent a turning point not only for Wisconsin but for the nation, I am going to redouble my efforts through Fulcrum and its affiliates to continue providing a platform for intelligent and civil debate on the future of our country. This will include looking to the founders and their wisdom, for we need them now more than ever. Don’t confuse this with the recent trend of founder fetishization; men like Adams and Jefferson were not giants walking the earth, and they certainly made their share of mistakes. But in creating the American political system, they understood that this American experiment was subject to change and continued debate. As Fareed Zakaria noted in a recent article, “The founders loved America, but they also understood that it was a work in progress.” This much-needed debate can only occur by those willing to share and listen, to sometimes face uncomfortable truths, to show a willingness to compromise, and most importantly, to comport oneself with civility. In the coming weeks, through a variety of projects under way, we will be doing our small part to help restore the debate and forge a more perfect union.


In the Bluff—February 23, 2011

a blog from Wisconsin’s west coast
(the opinions expressed in this blog are the opinions of the author only, and do not represent the opinions of Fulcrum or its employees)

“We thought, because we had power, we had wisdom.”
—Stephen Vincent Benét, Litany for Dictatorships, 1936

Seven years ago, Fulcrum launched a book series called Speaker’s Corner, with the intention of increasing civil dialogue on a variety of issues facing America and the world today. In 2011, we will be launching several new initiatives in support of this endeavor, which will be discussed in a future blog. We live in a world today where civility is largely absent from our political interactions; increasingly, politicians on both sides see black and white in a world that is largely gray. It is my hope and intention that through the expansion of this series, we will contribute to building the much-needed bridges for constructive debate in the future.

The absence of constructive debate has really hit home with the continuing troubles here in Wisconsin. Last night, the governor continued to dig in his heels on his unyielding stance on benefits for public employees (which is troubling given the compromises offered by the public employee unions as well as by one brave Republican state senator, Dale Schultz). The movement has now become national, with similar efforts in Indiana and Ohio and rallies in support of the unions across the country (including 1,000 supporters in Colorado). There are many troubling underlying aspects to this issue, many of which go well beyond Wisconsin and public employee benefits. To wit:

The keeping of campaign pledges. The governor of Wisconsin has repeatedly stressed that he has given the voters in the state, who elected him as well as a Republican legislature last November, exactly what he pledged in his campaign. Unfortunately, neither the governor nor any of his supporters has of yet been able to produce any evidence that the governor campaigned on a pledge of ending collective bargaining for public employee unions. He did indicate that he would seek concessions from the unions in terms of their benefits (which the unions have offered, an offer ignored by the governor), but nowhere did he indicate that this basic right to collective bargaining would be abridged. To my mind, this gives moral force not only to the efforts of the protesters, but also the 14 democratic senators who refuse to return to the state until the governor agrees to discuss this issue. Had this issue been a part of the governor’s campaign pledge in the fall, his actions today would be reasonable, as voters would have had an opportunity to debate and process the issue. Sadly, this did not happen, and thus the voters are left with a leader taking unanticipated actions.

But the Democrats did the same thing. A lot has been made about President Obama forcing healthcare reform on the nation, and the notion that by doing this, he set a precedent that the Republicans are merely following. A few critical differences. First, while the final vote on healthcare was held using arcane parliamentary rules (something I disagree with regardless of party), the whole public debate on healthcare reform was out there for many months prior to passage. Remember all the vitriolic public forums preceding final passage? In Wisconsin, the governor has attempted to push through significant legislation not only with a lack of public debate (and no indication of compromise, which at least President Obama attempted to do), but to do so in a mere week, simply because he “had the votes.” Moreover, President Obama campaigned in part on healthcare reform; unlike the Wisconsin governor, he put the idea out there for voters to process and to vote on. Finally, there is the old-fashioned notion that two wrongs simply do not make a right. Even if a case could be made against the other two points above, does one really want to do something wrong simply because somebody else did it first?

Follow the money. More than one commentator has made the observation that what is really going on here has little to do with workers’ rights and collective bargaining, and more to do with money in politics. It seems to me this is an astute observation. For those of you who have read our book The Blueprint (Speaker’s Corner, 978-1-93621-800-4) released last year, you will see that authors Rob Witwer and Adam Schrager were on top of this bigger story well before the national media; this book, which received positive endorsements from commentators on both the left and the right, should be required reading for anyone interested in how money shapes politics today. By eliminating the power of the unions, which are the biggest contributor to Democratic Party campaigns, a significant base for candidate funding would be eliminated. Now, I am very much in favor of removing the influence of money in politics; but until we are able to create strong and fair legislation to achieve this end, it seems to me that eliminating union influence would create an uneven playing field for the near future, tilted to one party’s favor.

Unions are the enemy. The saddest outcome of this debate, in my opinion, has revolved around the status of union employees. These union members are our neighbors, our teachers, the local firefighters and police officers, the kind faces we see at city hall, the nurses and EMTs who take care of us, the state employees who diligently work to make the state a better place. They are not the enemy. Yet, the Wisconsin governor has created a situation where middle-class private sector employees are at odds with middle-class public employees. This to me is class warfare at its ugliest. I don’t want to dwell on the canard that state employees are somehow overpaid, other than to note that there are several studies that conclude that, including benefits, public employees tend to be underpaid, and I have yet to see a study that contradicts these findings. To ask these public employees to take a lion’s share of the pain in the midst of a state budget shortfall (I hesitate to use the word crisis, because Wisconsin’s problems, while significant, pale compared to those of other states), to in effect brand them as the enemy while giving tax cuts to corporations, seems unethical. The perception that unions are bad in general, that they have somehow outlived their usefulness, is also troubling. While I would agree that unions have at times taken advantage of political situations to forward their agenda (as have corporations, the wealthy, etc.), they have also provided many of the good things that benefit all workers. Think safe workplaces, healthcare, minimum wage, child labor laws, and the list goes on. In the grand scheme of things, unions have done much more good than bad. And they continue to be vital to providing a voice to workers. The basic right to collectively bargain is provided in the UN Declaration of Human Rights; I do not understand what we gain as a society by removing this right.

Why do I, a private employer, care about this situation? To put it simply, what is happening here in Wisconsin is not only a referendum on the future of public employee unions, it is a turning point where we Americans determine what sort of country we want to have in the future. Do we want to live in a nation where dialogue should precede large decisions? Or should we simply vest power in our leaders, to use at their whim? Do we want a level playing field for the free exchange of ideas and opinions? Do we want all sides to be heard? Do we want to protect and grow the middle class or do we only want to protect those with the most wealth?

The governor of Wisconsin, along with other state governments across the country, certainly has the power to decide many of these issues; they must recognize, however, that the wisdom comes from including all of the people in the debate.

To learn more about the Speaker’s Corner series and to see a list of titles, please click here.