Thursday, April 15, 2010
A Day in the Life of an editorial assistant, Part I
Most people who want to get a job in publishing focus on Editorial. I did too. However, not everyone should be an editor (including me!) There are a ton of other publishing jobs, some better suited for different personalities. Also, Editorial isn’t quite what you think it is. I’ll go over other departments later, but I want to start with exactly what an Editor does and what the job entails.
In Editorial, you would start out as an editorial assistant, with an average starting salary of $31K to $36K depending on the size of the publishing house (and as those numbers are averages, yes that means some people make less.) According to a study published in July 2009 in Publishers Weekly, an editor with up to three years experience earns an average of $32K. Do those numbers sound scary? They should. And yes, you have to live in New York City on that. In 2000 I started at $22K, and I lived in a basement in Queens near Rikers Island with a mile walk to the subway.
You start as an editorial assistant. Then you’ll get promoted to Assistant Editor then Associate Editor (yes, editorial assistants don’t even get capitalized.) All three of these positions are pretty much the same. You don’t get an office or get out of answering someone else’s phone until you have been Associate Editor for a while, or even until you get promoted to Editor.
When starting as an assistant, who you report to is important. The higher up in the company they are, the more you’ll learn about the industry, but the less freedom you’ll have and the less editorial experience you'll be getting, as you’ll be more of a personal assistant. Younger editors, while less influential, remember better what it was like, can be better mentors, and you will likely be given more responsibility earlier. But fewer people at the company will know who you are.
An editorial assistant:
• Answers phones
• Opens and sorts mail
• Makes lunch reservations
• Waters plants
• Maintains your boss’s schedule
• Types your boss’s rejection letters
• Maintains and updates your boss’s submission database
• Types up deal sheets for your boss, make copies, send to Contracts
• Fills out check request forms, send to Contracts
• Sends Author Questionnaires to authors, ensure they are returned
• Attends Editorial, Art, and Launch meetings
• Makes copies of manuscripts, route them to readers
• Makes files for new books, be sure appropriate material is in the file
So far, probably not what you expected, is it? Sounds like a personal assistant, not a junior editor, right? Well, that is the bulk of the job. And it gets worse. I knew one assistant who had to get her boss’s furs out of storage every fall, and put them back in the spring. I had to make my boss’s personal bank deposits and reserve limos for him. Luckily the days of assistants having to do their boss’s expense reports are generally past, as expenses are online these days which mostly means bosses now do them themselves. That’s good because the first expense report I submitted after my boss spent three weeks in London was for $25,000. Yes, that was more than my annual salary, thanks for asking! I understand it, but for me it was really demoralizing. My favorite of the ridiculous tasks was the Meeting meeting. That's no typo. Three times a year there would be a meeting of all the department heads' assistants and we'd go through the master schedule for the upcoming season of publications, and we'd say things like, "No, I'm sorry my boss will be at the beach that week so can we move Launch to the week after?" We did get free donuts though.
You do get to work on some books, but not actual editing. The first books you’ll be assigned will be imports, foreign offsets, paperback reprints: books which require no editing. If you are assigned a domestic manuscript, your boss will be doing the editing, and you’ll be doing the gruntwork. That includes:
• Writing the flap or jacket copy
• Writing the catalog copy
• Writing the copy for the sales sheets
• Sending out authors’ contract copies of their finished book
• Mailing out copyedited manuscripts to authors, be sure they are returned on time, return them to Production
• Making sure your boss signs off on jacket mechanicals and they are returned to Art
• Mailing out galleys with letters for pre-pub blurbs
Oh, and you probably will be assigned books you’re not the least bit interested in. Initially I was assigned a 1000-page biography of Yeltsin, a British cozy mystery, a travel book about a remote Greek island, and a sweet historical novel about farm girls in England during WWII. Diverse, yes. My cup of tea, no.
So, that’s the first few years. No editing yet! I’ll get to that next week.
UPDATE: If you want more info on working in publishing, I have published a book, The Insider's Guide to a Career in Book Publishing, inspired by this blog post series. It's available for order at any bookstore or bookselling website.