August 24, 2011
The website GalleyCat has been running a series, based upon numbers crunched by an outfit called Glassdoor, about the average salaries of publishing professionals. The numbers aren’t pretty. The average salary for a book publicist in the New York area, for example, appears to be $37,093 per year. (I say, “appears to be” because in the surveys that generate this data the sampling is very small.) The figure is higher for those working at the biggest houses, but only by about ten percent.
Next time you get mad at your in-house publicist, remind yourself that every day she’s probably walking past people in Manhattan with more money invested in their wristwatch than she earns in a year. Meanwhile she’s forced to spend five percent of her take-home pay just on her dry-cleaning bill. The wolf is at the door and she devotes most of her waking hours to hearing “no” from magazine editors and TV producers while authors call constantly asking why the Today Show doesn’t want them.
Editors, whose jobs combine a form of quality control with brand management, fare somewhat better. At Penguin, according to GalleyCat and Glassdoor, the average editor earns $55,125 per year and the average senior editor $70,000. That sounds like a decent payday, but consider that the rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan exceeds five grand a month. With expense accounts now virtually extinct, this person doesn’t get many restaurant meals.
I thought of these figures recently while embroiled in a bit of unpleasantness with a freelance editor whom I’d hired to advise me on a short story. This guy — let’s call him Dick, shall we? — had been laid off by a major publisher not long before I hired him for this small project. Our interaction went something like this:
- I introduced myself via email and told him what I was looking for. We promptly set up a phone call, where we agreed on a price and that I’d send the manuscript to him. We said we’d work out a deadline later.
- Via email we agreed on a deadline of mid-July, which Dick soon pushed off to the end of July, which I said was fine. This process happened in slow-motion. He took longer to get back to me than I would have expected, considering I would be paying him. I tried to send a subtle message about this by delaying a reply to one of his emails and then saying we needed to agree to stop communicating in slow motion. This bit of magnanimity, however, seemed to go over his head.
- He had promised the edit “by the end of July.” I didn’t hear another peep from him, but the edit did arrive on July 30. Tight by the deadline but acceptable. I immediately emailed out of courtesy that I’d received the edit and would look at it soon. No response from Dick.
- I took a glance at the edit and sent an email on August 1, joking that I hated his f–ing guts (which is the cliched emotional reaction authors usually have to their first glance at an edit), but quickly going on to say that it looked thorough and I was sure I’d be grateful once I went to work on it. No response.
- On August 4 I sent Dick an email telling him I was still working through the edits and wouldn’t get back to him until the following week. Dick didn’t respond.
- On August 11, I sent Dick the rewrites. No response.
- On August 18, I sent him a pointed email telling him that if he couldn’t find the Reply button on his email program, we wouldn’t have much future together. Well, that got a pretty quick reply, telling me what a jerk I am.
Let’s allow for the possibility that I am indeed a jerk. Even so, presumably I’m a jerk who’s helping Dick pay his bills.
For a day I thought long and hard about what this all meant. I told the story to a couple of friends, who assured me that if they were paying someone for a service, they’d expect him to reply to their emails with alacrity. I’d had no such problem with Patrick LoBrutto, the editor of Primacy, who was responsive and communicative during the editorial process for that book, even doing the re-read during a very trying personal time for him. But, then again, Pat has been freelance for a decade, whereas Dick is less than a year out of a major publishing house.
One can make allowances for differences in personality while asserting that there are basic courtesies in life. Responding to emails from a person who’s paying you for a service should be a pretty basic courtesy, I would think. It’s possible that Dick just has no manners, but he’s an intelligent human being and therefore at least ought to be more in tune with his self-interest. So what’s really going on here?
I think I know.
Consider the relationship between editor and author at a major publishing house. The house has paid you an advance, has blessed you with its acceptance, and dangles the promise of possibly making your book into a bestseller. They hold the cards. So when your editor is rude to you, what recourse do you have? He is, in effect, your client. And now you’re contractually obligated, to boot.
But under the paradigm of independent publishing, you are the editor’s client. Think about that. Isn’t that the way it ought to be?
Not everyone seems to believe so. I wrote a post a few weeks ago on the absurdity of the Mystery Writers Association withholding full membership from those who have paid their own money to reach the market. In response, one commenter wrote: “I agree with M.W.A. (assumed) attitudes that it is really a dumb thing to do to self publish and lose out on working with people who believe in you and care about your novel instead of how much you are willing to pay them.”
To which I replied: “Caring ‘about your novel instead of how much you are willing to pay them’ is a false correlative. Does the plumber not care about fixing your leak because you pay him? Does your attorney not care about getting you out of jail because you pay him? Does your college professor not care about your education because you pay him?”
Setting aside the matter of pride in one’s work, doing a good job for your client simply makes sense. If you do a bad job, after all, you’re likely to get less work in the future. The same may be said for showing basic politeness.
With major publishing houses having made years of personnel cuts, there are a lot of editors on the street right now, some of them very talented. Maybe most of Dick’s business will come from traditional publishers, in which case he can continue to treat authors as a nuisance. But if the paradigm is shifting, then Dick, for his own sake, would be well advised to remember that he’s in a service business. Besides just making life more pleasant, common courtesy also has an economic value.
Next week: Publishing Primacy — Folio 24: Where the Fish Are
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Publishing Primacy posts every Wednesday by 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time.