Friday, November 02, 2007

The Job Ladder

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.


Anonymous said...

"I'm not a saleswoman at heart and I don't think I could do it for a living."

Ha! And that's why I left a position as an editorial assistant at Viking 10 years ago. I looked at my boss's job, and her boss's job, etc. and realized it was more selling and advocating than editing. Oh well, maybe you'll find the exception.

The Rejecter said...

Advocating is okay. As for the rest of it, I'll have to give it a whirl and find out for myself, hopefully.

Anonymous said...

I've often wondered how people become editors. What kind of skills are involved? They have so much power over the final draft of the book, and their editorial comments to the author either help or hurt the book, seems like certain disaster, if an editor isn't skilled.

What's even more odd to me, on certain publishing blogs (not this one) the editors in question have literally admitted that they are not "writers" and don't know how to "write". Makes me wonder how they can feel confident or even worthy of telling "writers" what to change in their manuscripts. Hacking out plot points and changing endings seems like it should involve someone who knows about writing, right?

I am somewhat horrified by this, considering the editor trots off to work on her next book, recieving a steady paycheck, and the writer may not get another book sold if the first one (badly edited) doesn't hit it out of the ballpark.

Anyone want to enlighten me?

Anonymous said...

Once you become an agent, even if you have to give up a part of your income, don't you get a "base salary" and benefits? Wouldn't that be worth holding on for?

Anonymous said...

This is one of the most refreshing agent blog posts I've ever seen. And I think you'll be a very successful agent.

But just beware of one thing, and I'm only speaking as a writer and not an agent: Though selling is tough, when you do make a really good sale it's almost addictive. I never thought I was much for sales, until I started selling my work to editors. It's a giddy feeling, and hard to shake:) Now, for me, making the sale IS the fun.

Sandra Cormier said...

I'm not a big fan of approaching people I don't know or using the phone, so I'd definitely make a lousy agent. I had my fill of sales years ago.

A copy editor? Maybe...

You have a challenging job, Rejector. I wish you success.

Verification word: liftm. Something we all need, eventually.

Anonymous said...

Just curious if you are doing NaNoWriMo again this year, Rejecter?

The Rejecter said...

I am not doing it this year. I am very sad to miss it, but I wrote 98k in October and I'm still not done with the novel, so I would really have to stop my current work and lose steam to go start something else. Bad timing.

Dead Man Walking said...

Hey, you hit on the chronic illness thing. I think that may be the one thing that is stopping me from quitting my full-time, fully-benefitted position if and when I start selling my manuscripts. What to do about health insurance? Without it, I'd be paying close to 70K a year in out of pocket costs...ugh.

Here's one person rooting for you to strike a good balance between your career goals and health challenges.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why people who don't write go into editing. At the place where I intern, a lot of the other interns are not writers. I'm the only one.
Some people like language, some people like to read. I don't think you have to be a writer to be an editor, but it certainly helps.

The truth is, writers don't really know what makes a good book either. Although I can understand a writer's passion and want to be an editor, I wouldn't consider it a qualification.

By the way, the editor at my place is a writer, and I'm going to be basically "for-free" editorial assistant soon.