It was the early 1980s. I was young and hungry and vulnerable and putting myself through six years of university without financial help beyond that which I could do for myself. It was the second semester of my four-semester M.B.A. program, and I was invited to work for the chair of the marketing department at my university. I didn't know it at the time, but he'd hand-picked me because I'd gotten top marks in one of his marketing courses. Since the class size was 400+, I didn't figure he even knew who I was. But he gave me the choice of becoming either his teaching assistant or his research assistant. I was the youngest M.B.A. candidate in my program, one of only five women, and shy, so I chose to do research rather than stand in front of large undergraduate classes and teach bonehead marketing. And I was very happy to chuck my minimum wage night-shift job at a fast-food joint for a higher wage, office job. The fact that my new boss was a nice man was gravy.
By my second year of the M.B.A. program, I was offered a full fellowship, which included a tuition waiver (worth a whole lot to an impoverished out-of-state student) and the graduate research assistantship. By that time, the chair of the marketing department knew my capabilities and tasked me with "helping" him write a text about retailing, including faculty and student guides and all the support materials. Not to be disrespectful to someone I admired, but the man I worked for couldn't write. And so the lion's share of the work fell to me, including working directly with the publisher in New York. When my boss left the country for five months to teach for a semester at sea, he didn't hand off the completion of the textbook to one of his peers. He delegated it to me, and he informed the publisher. And then, since this was before mobile telephony and the Internet, he was entirely incommunicado until his book was completed and I had graduated.
I was invited to the book launch party and given an autographed copy of the book. And I noticed the boss gave me a nod in the Acknowledgments section for "work on the galleys while I spent a semester abroad." It was accorded the same level of respect as the work of the typist and the undergraduate student (who happened to be the niece of the Dean of the College of Business) who basically sat around the office, applied makeup, and flirted with boys. His handwritten note acknowledged the extent of my contribution and offered encouragement to write my own book "because you can."
At the time, this was bittersweet to me. I had published before, in my hometown newspaper, in the Congressional Record, and in a juried neuroscience journal called Cortex. But I was not confident enough as a person or as a researcher and writer to ask for proper authorship credit and a fair share of the royalties. My contributions to the book went far beyond the customary graduate research assistant work and galley proofing to responsibility for the final product, intellectual and structural contributions, research and content, writing, managing other people, meeting and beating deadlines, and dealing with the publishing house.
And, so, the biggest mistakes I made in publishing my first book (i.e., the one without my name on it) was not giving myself sufficient credit for my contributions and not placing a high enough value on my intellectual property. One learns and grows from one's errors. I did go on to write and publish more of my work, but I will always feel a little disappointed that I let myself be exploited because I didn't ask for what was rightfully mine. Even at the time, I sort of knew better. The editor of the book, other faculty members at the university, and even other graduate research assistants expressed their concerns, but I was too shy, too polite, and too in need of my fellowship package to risk that relationship with my boss of the time.
My message to all writers and aspiring writers is to value your own work and ideas. If you don't, it's unlikely others will.
Causes Ellen Sheeley Supports
For All Women Foundation