Monday, March 28, 2011

Publishing Asst's and a long overdue Thank You Note

Okay, I know I'm coming a little late to the game here, but a steady rage has been seething in the back of my mind since then...and it's just now cooked itself into coherent thoughts.

I read this article a week or so ago. You know, that one which describes assistants in publishing as privileged starry-eyed dreamers, who find themselves confronted by real world problems (oh no! Taxes! Answering the phone! The horror!). Dreamers who are shocked, of course, by said problems because they thought that they'd be sitting at a desk, reading Great Works of Literature all day.

This article does have a kernel of truth to it. But a kernel of truth the same way that Propaganda can a teensy, tiny element of truth - usually one fact taken out of context and blown way out of proportion. I won't go point by point here and refute each paragraph of the article, because some other awesome people have already done this - here and here.

But I still feel like I need to stand up and defend the assistants of the publishing world.

Their life is hard.

Yes, their job is filled with tasks for which their education has over-qualified them: the mailings, the phone calls, the routing, the filing, the schedule keeping, etc. Yes, if a new assistant doesn't have prior office experience, they have to quickly master their polite business phone voice. All of them have to master how to prioritize their tasks and how to manage both their own time - and actually some of their boss's time as well.

They have to learn it pretty much on the first day and hit the ground running.

Is that actually different from most entry-level positions in New York? Not really.

Honestly, in New York, the competition for jobs is fierce. As an assistant, you're so grateful that you've gotten your foot in the door that you'll do these tasks gladly and do them as well as you possibly can.

In fact, many of these assistants were passionate, Type A, high-achievers when they were still students. So, a lot of their stress comes from the fact that they're still trying to do the very best job they can for everything they do - all the tiny little tasks that take up their day and the big tasks that conquer their 40-hour workweek.

So, what happens? The job spills outside the nine-to-five/ten-to-six portion of the program. Publishing assistants also work evenings and weekends. Almost all reading gets done not during the day, but well after all their bosses have gone home.

Yes, despite how many times on Twitter you might hear about so-and-so having drinks with so-and-so, the publishing assistants are usually hard at work when other people are commuting home or beginning to eat dinner with their families. With reading, and after hours catch-up, 60-hour workweeks are the norm. Usually, it is more.

Again, this isn't all that different from other entry-level jobs in New York. Everybody works insane hours there.

Here's what is different: the way people view assistants in the publishing biz.

For instance, these assistants get articles like this hounding them. Why?

I think it's jealousy, partly.

Publishing assistants have the entry level positions in what is essentially many people's dream job. Because it's a dream job, because other people fantasize about what life would be like in this industry, people also don't view it as a real job.

It definitely doesn't have that hardworking mystique which is attached to landing a job as an assistant in other high profile industries. *cough cough* advertising *cough* stock brokers *cough* investment bankers *cough*

So, the assistants in the publishing biz get crap from these other folk in the City, who look down their noses at them. (And heaven forbid if one of these assistants works on the children's side of the book world. "When do you get to graduate to the real books?" many brainless people have asked. "You know, for adults?")

And say these poor assistants leave the City, go home to visit family in Wisconsin, or North Carolina, or someplace, and they're forced to explain their job to friends of the family. You know who I mean. The ones who - if you told them that you were majoring in English - they automatically ask, "What are you going to do with that? Teach?"

These people find you, say that they've heard that you live in New York now, and ask you how you're doing. You explain your job with pride thinking, Take that, you condescending jerk. I got a job where I use my major, and it's not teaching. They listen with interest, and then they say something like, "It's so nice that your parents let you do that. I had to [work in the coal mines/labor in the fields/sell my firstborn child/something else really hard] when I was your age."

Then, without skipping a beat, they add, "Listen, my aunt [brother-in-law/son's best friend/business partner's wife] has written this novel. Would you take a look at it?"

That's right. They insult you and your hard work, and then they want your help. (Bastards.)

Another big difference: what publishing assistants are paid.

Peanuts, y'all. And sometimes - but not always - free books.

In 2008, the starting salary for an editorial assistant at one of the bigger NYC publishing houses was $30-35K/year. With taxes, and the cost of benefits, that's like $2K/month in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. Where rent - even when you have a roommate or several roommates - frequently exceeds $1000/month.

Compare that to the starting salary for those college grads entering investment banking.

So, there's little prestige in this job, and even less money, and next-to-no free time to enjoy the many cultural riches of their new hometown, NYC.

So, why do these assistants do it?

They love books. That is the truth, plain and simple.

Unlike some people, these assistants believe that literature is not dead. That the book industry is not dying. That the world of words is alive and growing and well.

Not only do they believe that literature is still a living breathing entity, full of stories ripe for the picking, assistants in publishing are literally staking their lives on it. They are devoting the majority of their waking hours to words - to the creation and publication of more books.

They are sacrificing their youth to literature, because they believe in it so passionately.

This is not an exaggeration. This is a fact. They work in the trenches, and they fight on the frontlines in the Battle for the Book's Survival. They do it for love. And this is no small feat in this day and age, with all the panic about e-readers, rising illiteracy, and the overall state of publishing.

For that fact alone, these young people deserve our respect and our thanks.

(I am looking at you, Kat Stoeffel. Well, glaring at you, to be more exact.)

How do I know?

I spent my first year out of college as an editorial assistant in children's books. In New York.

(If you didn't already know this, you might have started to guess when I started to get peeved all over again halfway through this post.)

And to be perfectly honest, I couldn't handle it. I couldn't handle the pace, or the demands on my time, or actually, living in New York, especially on a shoestring budget. So, after roughly a year, I quit.

(FYI: it's not like I'm any less passionate about books, though. I mean, I'm a writer now, for crying out loud.)

I'm just telling you so that you understand two things:

a) I do know what I'm talking about.

b) This post is not about me.

It's about the friends behind in New York, good friends who - even after several promotions - are still publishing assistants. It's about the lovely young ladies, who took the (kind of) job I left behind. It's about the new hires in the publishing houses, and the literary agencies, and the magazine world. Yes, it's about the interns too.

This is for them:
Dear long-suffering publishing assistants,

I want to thank you guys. I want to thank you for your time. For your energy. For your sacrifices and for your passion.

Thank you for answering those phones, and making those copies, and routing those documents to those VIPs, who are too busy to do it themselves. Thank you for answering the fifty emails you received this morning, which you didn't really have time to answer. Thank you for writing flap copy/marketing letters/pitches, and for revising said copy/letters/pitches every time your boss told you there was something wrong with it. Thank you for taking home those submissions and reading them when you could've gone out to dinner with your friends. Thank you for giving 110% at a thankless job, which costs you a great deal and which gets you insulted. Thank you for believing in books - all books - so very much.

Your passion keeps the publishing industry alive. Without you, the world would be a bleaker place, where books had fewer champions and more stories would be left untold. Without you, we writers and readers would be lost.

You guys are rockstars.

With undying gratitude and all of my love,

Monday, March 21, 2011

One Crazy Month (Part 2)

I’ve been entertaining visitors.

People have been in and out of Charlotte like whoa.

First, it was me, gone in New York. Then, my parents went up to Boston – to watch my little bro’s squash final. The next weekend, they went to Mardi Gras.

During those times, I was in charge of taking care of our dear bulldog Churchill. You see how cute he is? Adorable. This is him after our walk, not moving – until I opened the door and we went for a second walk.

Then my good friend Angela and her boyfriend came in from DC. The next day, my sister arrived from Charleston. And a few days later, my grandmother arrived in town, and the next day, my aforementioned brother came home for spring break.

It’s nice. I’ve been social. I’ve talked to people in person rather than over the phone or over BBM (umm, I mean, Blackberry Messenger for those of you who love your iPhones or other devices). It’s sad and odd to rediscover how much you miss someone – even if you talk to them every other day. Sometimes, digital communication really isn’t the same.

I’ve been sick.

(Disclaimer: this may be a TMI section. Feel free to skim/skip.)

It’s so weird: I’ve basically been sick for over a month. I’ve got one of those stubborn sinus infections, which really won’t go away, and I’ve been on three different antibiotics since February 9. (But please don’t be alarmed. An ENT doctor told me what was up, and life is back on track.) The low-grade fevers finally went away this week (yaaaay!), but guess what I got instead?

The stomach bug of doom. It was ridiculous. Tuesday morning, I woke up and rushed to the toilet. I rushed back three more times before noon. God, I haven't been so violently ill since I got food poisoning in high school.

(But don’t worry: I don’t have any pictures, and I definitely wouldn’t force them on you even if I did have them. :-P)

But there is one good thing about being sick: TONS of reading time.

….And I’ve been reading awesome things. :-)

Really awesome things. Awesome like whoa, in fact.

I’ll only talk about four – briefly, because I plan to devote whole posts to some of them.

Divergent – OMG, I feel like I’ve been waiting to read this book forever (but it’s really only been about a year)!

(Jo was nice enough to sign me up for an ARC tour, and it came to me right before I went to New York. And then it went straight on its way again, so unfortunately, I can’t send the ARC along to any of you readers.)

And it. Was. AWESOME. No, really – I wouldn’t just say this. I didn’t rush through it the way many other people said that they did. I forced myself to go slow, to savor it, because I knew when it was over, I couldn’t read it anymore. When I read the last page, I immediately wanted to start over at page one (but I couldn’t…I had to send it on…Sadness…).

The MC, Tris (short for Beatrice), lives in a dystopian Chicago, where the whole population is split up into five factions, which all try to become the epitome of one virtue: Abnegation (which is big on Selflessness), Candor (Truth), Erudite (Study), Amity (Kindness or Peacefulness - basically, comfortable living), and Dauntless (Courage).

I’m not totally sure I can write a real review yet, but here’s what I loved the most: Tris and her relationship to her fear. Her initiation into Dauntless forces her to confront all of her fears, and she gets ranked among the other Dauntless initiates in relation to how well and how easily she conquers these fears. Tris is a person small in stature, but with nerves of steel. But she has next-to-no recognition about how brave and awesome she is. She tackles her fears, and conquers them, one by one. Which leads her to do what she needs to do to keep the people she loves safe.

Which translates to awesome awesome AWESOME.

Can't wait to read it again come May.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate – Okay, I’ve been keeping this in the TBR stack for a couple months now, on the recommendation of a trusted bookworm friend. But I couldn’t bring myself to read it. I mean, a girl-scientist in 1899 Texas? (Of course, I also had an ulterior motive for keeping it close: it’s just pretty to look at. I’ve always had a thing for the Victorian silhouettes (ie. the cut-out profile look), and this cover gives me happy flashbacks to the picture searches in the Highlights magazine I read in my youth. But in a nice way.)

But it was so funny!! I never thought I could love biology so much. Calpurnia herself is the kind of character who latches onto you – she’s so flawed, so smart, and so loveable. There’s not really a plot in the strictest sense of the world, though lots of stuff happens, but there’s a great feeling in it: the sense of wanting more from life, and not being sure you’ll be able to get it.

The Rotten Adventures of Zachary Ruthless – This book is for everyone who wanted to be an evil villain when they grew up, or maybe just…everyone with a sense of humor.

Seriously, it was AWESOME! I laughed so freaking hard, and I kinda now just wanna make a shirt like Zachary’s that says, "Born to Be Rotten." And get some zucchini-flavored gum – also like Zachary’s – so I can trick people into thinking that it's spearmint or something.

Once you finish, you too will want to perfect your evil cackle: Bwa-ha-ha!!

Stay tuned, dear friends: I’ll do a giveaway once it pubs next month. :-D

This is Dream...with his chipper older sis, Death.
He's kind of moping. He does a lot of that.
(This scene comes from the end of Volume One, by the way.)

The Sandman series: They call this the comic book series that redefined comic books. And they should.

(Disclaimer, though: this is not for kids.)

If you write for children, you might know about his novel Coraline or The Graveyard Book, the 2009 Newbery Award winner. If you read fantasy, you might have read Neverwhere or American Gods.

But this is one of Gaiman’s earliest works. The main characters is Morpheus (a.k.a. Dream), one of the seven Endless: Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium - siblings, older than gods, who have lived from the dawn of time and rule over their respective dominions.

But it’s really a writer’s comic, because it’s really about Story (which is also about Dream’s realm). We see Shakespeare, we see the Muses, we see the Fates, we see Mark Twain, we see Lucifer with a mention of Milton, and also, an Alice in Wonderland type world with evil Cuckoos. We see Norse gods, and Egyptian gods, and Babylonian gods, and we see comic book heroes.

It shouldn't work, but because it's Gaiman, it does.

It also defies description without spoilers, so I would just go check it out. All ten or eleven volumes. Like literally, from your local library. :-)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

One Crazy Month (Part I)

I haven’t blogged in so long. Like a whole, freaking month.

Confession, though: ever since I learned how to schedule posts on Blogger, I’ve had this bad habit of backdating posts if a long negligent-blogger period goes by. Just so I seem more on top of things than I am.

But that only makes me seem like I had my act together a week/month ago, rather than like I’m doing some good blogging right now.

And so, no more backdating.

But now, dear reader, you are stuck reading about everything that happened while I was away. And let me warn you: it amounts to


(which reminds me: I still need to track down and read One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia. Okay, that’s going in my “To Read.doc” right now. What? Don’t you have a “To Read.doc”? Ahem. Okay, carrying on.)

We moved.

Remember that move I’ve been complaining about for almost a year? Well, it finally happened. This Valentine’s Day and the day after.

The day before, I baked epic amounts of cookies for the neighbors to um...sweeten the news (:-P) that a) we would be moving and b) two giant moving vans would be blocking half the street come morning. For two days, I watched some very nice dudes from Webb’s moving company carry furniture. I was helpful, I promise. I opened doors, and handed out waters, and said thank you so much at least a thousand times.

We’re still getting used to the new place and all its quirks. It’s a cool house, but we’re trying to figure out how to live in it.

For instance, I have this awesome window in my bathroom. But can you spot the problem with it?

It’s kind of in an awkward place. Showering here might get me arrested for indecent exposure.

So I’ve been sneaking off the guest bath every time I need to wash my hair. We’ll eventually figure it out though. Last week, I got curtains in my room, so I no longer need to change clothes in the tiny closet. (I am actually first on the curtain list. My brother only got his this week, and my sister and parents don’t have theirs yet.)

Aaaand it’s a nice opportunity to get new furniture. Here is a pic of my brother's brand-new bed-in-progress from West Elm:

Yes, my friends: at the age of 20, and a height of 6’3”, my dear little brother has finally graduated to a grown-up bed. He was so patient, and also so excited. I stayed up late Monday to help him. (My expertise was needed, because I’m the only person in the house who has bought furniture that requires assembly in the last five years. My parents are big on antiques. My brother and sister are students, who get cast-offs and school-issued beds.)

I went to New York!

I can’t believe I haven’t written about it yet. Usually, I write about it right away.

It was fun, like always.

Maria Gomez (good friend and editor at HarperCollins) and I visited my very favorite tea place ever - Alice’s Tea Cup. You know, the land of the epic-sized scones (pumpkin is the BEST! I get it every time I go). They were all decorated for Valentine’s Day. Which meant that they had all these fictional valentines up, and they totally made my day. Here’s my favorite:

In case it’s tough to read, it says, "To: Hermione. From: Ron. I may have the emotional range of a teaspoon, but you'll always be my sugar."

(Awesome, right? LOL!)

I also had wonderful, talk-filled dinners with my college friends. Two of those friends had gotten engaged since I’d seen them last September (to each other, btw – not separately), so we chatted a fair amount about the what, when, and where of their wedding. Very fun, but a bit surreal – they’re the first of my non-Southern friends to tie the knot.

Another friend, Kirsten, came to lunch to me at Rohm. I hadn’t seen her in a year, but it was like old times. She is really one of my favorite people. There’s a warm glow around Kirsten all the time, even when she is having a rough day, and whenever she asks, How are you?, you can feel that she actually cares about the answer.

(Also, fun fact: She currently works in the Flat Iron Building, which has to be the coolest office building ever. I love looking at the historical photographs in the lobby when I wait for her. You can see how once it was the tallest thing for blocks, and how skyscrapers have grown up around it like grass.)

Then, on Tuesday, I got to hang out with Jo, my agent who’s lovely, talented, and fun like whoa. She took me to see Gnomeo & Juliet. (She may never take me to a movie again, though, because I tripped over a small child on the way to the restroom.) We didn’t know anything about it before we went, we were even a bit apprehensive, but it was actually awesome! It’s wacky, it’s smart, it’s full of Shakespeare puns, and it’s got a smattering of Elton John songs. What more could you ask for?

Then we snuck back to Suite 500 to do some brainstorming for a Top Secret Project, which will remain nameless until later. (It is writing-related, but it is not a work of fiction. It is internet-related as well, and that is all that I will say. Stay tuned for details…) Sara Kendall was super brilliant. Every time we got stuck on a thought, she knew it in five seconds. Or she knew to ask the best source for knowledge on the go, ie. Twitter.

That night, Jo, Sara, Maria Gomez, and I headed downtown for some deliciousness at Blockheads, where we forced Maria to join Twitter. Which basically means that we took her phone, set up an account for her, and placed it in her hands. (Yes, this means I know her password. But I’m pretty sure that she has changed it by now. *resists temptation to make mischief*)

And….I met my editor!!! So exciting!! Courtney Bongiolatti. (Look! I finally learned how to spell her name without looking it up! This is awesome!) Jo and I met up with her at Bar Americain, which was super swanky.

Which made me a little nervous, because I’m not exactly the swankiest of people. But then Courtney arrived! And she’s very down-to-earth. We talked a little bit about EAS, but more about baseball, and our dogs, and Boston, and fun stuff. In case you’re curious, I ate a very swanky burger. The fries were awesome, perfectly fried and dusted in sea salt, and they came in a cute, little, irresistible tin cup.

And also...

It’s strange and lovely to return, you know.

Remember how I lived there once? Remember my mixed feelings?

Right before I get on the plane, I remember only all the things I miss most about it: how easy it is to travel without a car; the fantastic restaurants (and their variety); the beautiful old buildings, especially on the Upper West Side (see above); the Parks; and the high population of people who love books as much I do. I left a lot of friends in New York, and seeing them is probably my favorite things about visiting.

But by the time I leave, and the noise and the pace (and the smell) has gotten to me, I’m always happy with my decision to move away. I’m a much more cheerful tourist than resident.


Oooookay, this month was more epic than I thought. So, I’ll need to split it into a couple separate blog posts. Until tomorrow, my dears. :-)