I was wondering... how much access do you have to clients and publishers, how do you get to know them, and how easy is it for you to move up in your world? In the Hollywood system, assistants are expected to listen in on calls, memorize everyone's phone number, and talk to clients a lot-- this is sort of the "apprenticeship" phase of your career, and while you are getting this education in "who's who and how to please them," you work for $300-500 a week, with the promise that eventually you will be a better-paid agent/manager/producer. Does the lit biz in NY work like this, or do you have to be creative in figuring out how to meet people? And are you paid any better?
If I was working even close to full time, yeah, I guess I would be making about $400 a week. I'm not, though. That's the first misconception. Most assistants are only part-time. I know assistants who work for multiple agents on different days of the week to fill out their schedule (this is an accepted practice).
Beyond the hourly-wage part-time assistant, you generally move up in two ways.
(1) You become a sub-agent to your boss or go to work for another agency as a sub-agent and start representing your own clients. Your boss takes a cut, but you get to use her name and contact sheet and she holds your hand through the process of your first few contracts. More and more people are doing this as agencies proliferate, but in the past, being an agent required years of experience working on the other side, in a publishing house. I could go into long theorizing about why that's changed, but it would be guesses and I can't say if it's better or worse for the industry. It's difficult to make any hard statements about the book industry.
(2) You now have a year's experience and get a job as an editorial assistant (or a publicity assistant, or a production assistant, or whatever - the bottom rung) at a publishing house through the normal methods of calling your contacts and submitting resumes and whatnot. This is what I'll be doing in December, when I graduate from my MFA program. While an agency would be a better working environment for me (setting your own hours) with my chronic illness, I don't want to be an agent. Contracts and sales and pitching books to editors and rights don't interest me. My first boss nailed it on the head when she said I was made for editorial. So, that's where I hope to be, in a few months (hint hint, industry people) - rejecting people from the actual publishing house and not the agency. Or just doing general editorial work. Plus it's a standard paycheck thing, not relying on the success of your author to make any money, which I'm more comfortable with. As much as I enjoy working for an agent, I'm not a saleswoman at heart and I don't think I could do it for a living.
On an additional note, many, many people have been emailing me, asking how to get a job like mine. Please refer to my earlier post about it.