Tuesday, June 23, 2009

low publishing salaries ==> literature suffers?

GalleyCat posted this story about the stupid state of publishing salaries. I couldn't resist commenting.

I think everyone knows that publishing professionals (especially people in the early years of their careers) make salaries so low they're almost silly--it's kind of a truism, or maybe a joke.

But thanks to this guy for drawing attention to it again. Here's why, as he spells it out:

-In order to work in publishing, you have to be able to spend years (often lots of years) toiling at the bottom of the pyramid. Some of these years (in almost all cases, at least one of these years) are unpaid entirely.

-The only people who can afford to spend years toiling at the bottom of the pyramid are the (often elite) college grads with no loans and, frequently, outside help to subsidize their rents in some of the most expensive cities in the world.

-By hiring only the people who can afford to work for free or little money, publishers are essentially keeping the entire industry locked into a tiny socioeconomic bubble.

-The homogeneity of publishing professionals (see above) means a homogeneity of the literature they choose to publish--surely slots get filled based on (at the very least) interests or preoccupations that might not be as diverse or widely interesting as if human resources were drawn from wider demographics.

-The lack of perspective aside, think of all the talent that's getting arbitrarily shut out of the whole process.


Why does this matter to you, the aspiring author? Well, briefly:

-The first person in the industry to ever read your manuscript will probably be an unpaid intern at a literary agency. His/her opinion will make or break you.

-The first person to read your book at a publishing company will probably be a grossly underpaid editorial assistant. See above re: making/breaking.

You also remember Richard Nash's article (I posted a couple months ago) about the commodification of editors, and how underpayment and lack of job security essentially forces editors to not take their acquired projects too seriously.

Do I know how to fix this? Sadly, no. The truth is our profit margins are so slender I don't really know where in the process you'd squeeze out more for salaries.

But this is one of those gross problems in the industry, and one of the reasons I have a feeling there's going to be some major overhaul in the next couple of years.

Sorry for the rant. Missed you guys.


Nancy Coffelt said...

Editing is a profession. I also believe art and writing are as well. Otherwise I've wasted the last 25 years of my life.

This jumped out at me: "In order to work in publishing, you have to be able to spend years (often lots of years) toiling at the bottom of the pyramid. Some of these years (in almost all cases, at least one of these years) are unpaid entirely"

The same could be said of artists and writers pursuing their craft.

Our culture often rewards so called talents ( a lot of times personality cults)that I find hard to square.

In a perfect world, creatives - and I include teachers and very much so editors in that category along with many other disciplines I'm failing to name, would be considered professionals.

Maybe by labeling these people as such would be the first step in compensating them fairly.

Kiersten said...

Missed you, too. Also, good points. Sad points, but good ones.

I wish you edited stuff like I write : ) Then we could huff and glare at each others comments and be exasperated with one another, but in the end love each other dearly.

Maybe I need to sleep more.

Or get a book deal.

How about both...

brionywilliamson said...

Speaking as someone who has two fingers on the bottom rung of the publishing world ladder, all I can say is Amen to that.

I just have to hope that it will all be worth the tears and destitution one day!

nana k. said...

so, ok, i am that grossly underpaid editorial assistant who wades through the slush on a regular basis. i've been working in publishing for a total 5 years now (though the first three were not in editorial); while i can understand that low salaries might affect who is willing and able to maintain a job in publishing so they can endure that long, slow climb to the top, i take issue with the suggestion that the only people who can spend years writhing in the muck are those who are of more privileged means. i live in one of the most expensive areas in the country (it's not NYC), and, while i'm often frustrated by low pay scale the industry maintains for us assistants, i live a simple lifestyle and have also managed to pay on my student loans and have some sushi every now and again. i don't have a staggering amount of credit card debt, my rent is on time every month, and i haven't received any assistance from my parents in years. it's not impossible! there are a few of us who are invested in the industry and have the tenacity and temerity to see it through.

though i will admit-- i might eat my words in a few years.

i really enjoy your blog. it's always great to read!

moonrat said...

Nana--you sound like me. (Minus the credit card debt--I have kind of a ton of that.) But I also know that in my case I had about 14 lucky (very lucky) breaks. And that also, whine about my situation as much as I want, I'm a child of relative privilege, and if I had been a little less so a LOT of those 14 very lucky breaks wouldn't have happened.

When I hire interns and assistants, I try to give a special bump to public university kids, and people who have unusual career histories, instead of the classic Ivy grad from New England. Even though that's what I am. But I mean... I'm hardly getting to the root of the problem, you know?

Aimee K. Maher said...

I am afraid. Very afraid.

JES said...

You mention the slender profit margins. Ha ha, "slender" -- you're such a kidder.

During an old season of Saturday Night Live, they did a couple of bogus commercials for a business called First Citiwide Change Bank. (See them here and here, for now anyway.) The idea was that a customer could bring, say, a ten-dollar bill to the Change Bank and just like that, with no questions asked, the teller would hand him or her ten singles or two fives or 40 quarters, or whatever. And everybody was happy on both sides of the transaction. The punchline went something like, "How can we possibly make money doing this? Simple. Volume."

Sounds awfully familiar, hmm?

The heck of it is, what writers, agents, and editors are selling is something that people will pay money for -- even in an undigested-by-Hollywood state. But it's all out of whack: what goes into the machine is one copy of a single huge thing (let's call it a "story," not even a book), which somehow needs to be converted into enough inexpensive copies to pay for all the hands bringing it to the audience.


Maybe. But I wouldn't be surprised if even there, at some point in the future you're forced to sit through a 30-second commercial for detergent or J.C. Penney's or Toyota or -- yes! -- the next book in the series in order to be allowed to "turn" the "page."

Would this make the story worse? Ehhhhh, I'm not so sure about that. Not if it managed to keep great people working in the great chain of publishing.

[Good to see a new post from you!]

Rick Daley said...

Thanks for the rant. For those of us who are serious about breaking into the business of writing, this type of information is invaluable.

I_am_Tulsa said...

LOL, and I'm applying for a job at a publishing company right now...! Let's hope things are different here in Japan!

Anonymous said...

Yep. It's a conundrum wrapped in a...well, you know the drill. Damn shame, but there it is.

Helen DeWitt said...

I was looking at the website of The New Press the other day and their account of what they had to offer interns. This was scary reading.

An internship was for four months, during which an intern would be rotated through four major segments of the publisher. They took four at a time. So if you're an author, you have a 1 in 4 chance, at any given stage of the process, of dealing with someone who has less than a week's experience. (Sadly, the website doesn't state that they issue all authors with a supply of Valium free of charge.)

They may not be able to do much about the inexperience, but it shouldn't really be that hard to widen the pool of candidates. They could simply invite New Yorkers who believe in their work to give an intern a free room for one to four months, and spell out the fact that this would let people from a much wider range of backgrounds apply for an internship. They could invite people who believe in their work to sponsor an intern. The kind of people who buy their books should be precisely the kind of people who would understand why this matters. People from out of town could donate $10, $100, $1000. Local delis and such could donate lunch vouchers. Other local businesses could be invited to donate other gifts in kind. People like giving to a specific individual, for a specific purpose; once people make that commitment, the publisher can acknowledge their contribution, for instance by holding a party once a year at which all these people can meet staff, authors, and each other - and all these people could then be encouraged to stock a few copies of books from the press.

I read Katherine Graham's Christy when I was 13, and one of the things I took from the book, which I think is true, is that people like to help. They like to give. But they're not normally going to volunteer; you have to set it up so that there's a specific thing they can do. Once someone has made a contribution, they identify more strongly with the cause; if you're a publisher who would like more of your books out in the public domain, there's an extra thing a small business can do that could even turn them a profit.

I try so hard to be helpful and only come across as obnoxious, but the fact is, a few years ago I negotiated a deal and I begged the lawyer on the other side to let me include some kind of bonus, or entertainment allowance, or something, in the contract, for the support staff who might have to work late to turn something around, and she said this was totally unacceptable. But gosh, I used to work as a legal secretary, and after 7pm we could order in dinner as a matter of course, we got a free taxi home. Which the client paid for. Oh, and overtime. For an author, there's a huge advantage to have something done quickly and well; if one could reward people, instead of depending on their willingness to work for free, it would be so much easier. But that's just a sociological problem, not a problem with the scarcity of funds in publishing; it's not that the money isn't there, it's just that there are social constraints such that it feels better if staff either get paid by the publisher or go unpaid altogether.

moonrat said...

Helen--two summers ago, I actually put up one of our interns because I felt so sorry for her. But the rally monkey got irritated with my bleeding heart.

Pamela Turner said...

Missed my daily Editorial Ass fix!

You don't mention this specifically, but I wonder at the effect of colleges turning out many, many thousands of English majors? After all, publishing is one of the few areas where an English major can apply his/her skills rather directly, so there is going to be a lot of competition for those sorts of jobs, and that must push down salaries.

One thing I've noticed as a science writer is that the gatekeepers of children's literature (the editors, agents, and librarian/reviewers)are dominated by English lit or history majors, with some social science majors here and there. I have yet to meet anybody with a hard science background. Sometimes I think this means science books are at a disadvantage in competing for attention against biography and history, which more easily resemble fiction in their narrative arcs. On the other hand, if you can illuminate some area that's a mystery to most people, they love it; someone with a science background is likely to be less impressed.

JenniferWriter said...

As a former EA, I definitely had a grasp of the situation but this post helped me look at it from a new perspective. Thank you!

I remember being really weirded out when I attended these informational publishing luncheons that were open to all entry level publishing employees in Boston. The room was always full of twentysomething white women--myself included. I remember thinking, "Wait, this is it? This is publishing!?" It was more than a little disconcerting.

Matilda McCloud said...

I've worked in publishing for years and so has my husband. We've always been unsubsidized--no rich parents. It's possible...but it does get tough when you are trying to put kids through college (we're having a rough time of it).

One interesting thing I've noticed. Yes, people come from the same socioeconomic group (more or less, there are exceptions), but that means generally they DON'T want to read about preppy-ish people who live near NYC and work in publishing--that's just plain boring to them. So if you come from a unique background it helps as a writer! I wish I did!

Charles Gramlich said...

And that's the "good" news

Snarky Writer said...

Speaking as an English teacher, the class of students I get who would fit the socioeconomic group that can afford to do these jobs is NOT the group of people I want deciding whether my work gets published. Maybe I'm a little bitter and disillusioned (okay, I know I am), but the kids I've had generally don't care about reading at all or are literature elitists. Neither of those speaks well for genre fiction, like what I write.

On the other hand, the kids who don't care about reading probably won't be doing this job, and the ones who have entitlement problems won't, either, because the job won't pay for their lavish lifestyles (especially not in NYC). And the ones who are literature snobs probably won't be working for agents who represent genre fiction. So maybe it's not THAT bad. But it's still pretty bad.

Paige said...

For the curious, this is very similar to how the radio industry works. We start out in small rural stations, where we're paid more in "experience" in various areas of the station than we are actual salary. Moving up the ladder is moving up to larger stations in larger markets, where you might get paid something decent if you're good enough. Many people leave before they get to this point, though.

It's tough, but it's done for the love of either industry and it's a lifestyle that you have to want to choose. It's something you have to be willing to make sacrifices for, even if that means a bottom of the barrel paycheque for a while.

Dennis Cass said...

I worry less about where people come from (your background influences your taste, but it doesn't dictate your taste) than I do the revolving door.

I know a lot of writers who's editors changed jobs mid-project. I know very few writers who have had the same editor their entire career.

One way to "save" publishing might be to bring back artistic and career development.

The house that can keep and develop its staff, keep and develop its writers, and focus on the long game just might survive the chaos.

Dennis Cass said...

Quick add:

Playing the long game means paying people, developing a strong work culture and brand identity, etc.

Wouldn't it be cool if the little penguin on the spine meant something?

Justus M. Bowman said...

As long as your rants remain informative, I won't turn you in to the ra(n)t police.

I kid.


Justus M. Bowman said...



Worst Regards,

moonrat said...

ha, thanks, Justice. I've removed Maria for us.

Justus M. Bowman said...

De nada.

pacatrue said...

I don't know what to do either. Like others have said (and I think we've discussed before as well), as long as there are tons of people willing to do this for love, it will not change. Same for all the arts, music, radio, etc. The only ideas I have are 1) unionize to force wages (assuming there's any money to force), or 2) find some way to figure out which people truly have skills far above and beyond others and who can demand payment for it.

But even in places where there is money, one typically starts earning little. Doctoral students in the sciences might be turning $20,000 a year if they are lucky. It's only after 4-6 years of ramen that a pay day comes.

THE INTERN said...

extremely interesting! I never thought about the class aspects of unpaid literary internships. INTERN once got accepted for a magazine internship that came with free housing and lunch, but you had to be a raw vegan, like yappy dogs, and sleep in a bunk with another raw vegan intern beneath you.

my boyfriend is constantly incensed that publishing internships are unpaid: computer programming/tech internships get paid more money than entry-level JOBS in publishing. "isn't it insulting that they don't value your work enough to pay you?"

maybe instead of having cash-strapped publishers pay their interns, the government or private donors could provide grants to pay them. though that seems kind of backwards. at least it would get people who otherwise couldn't afford it into publishing.

problem too big for INTERN's brain! sorry for the long-ass comment.

Elizabeth Partridge said...

Wonder if this is a related issue, and I'd love to see you jump up on your soap-box on this. I just read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, pubbed 2009, Random House. The white main character goes on a riff about his act as a Chinese magician, dressed in a silk kimono. "I plastered my face with yellow chalk, and stretched a thin elastic round my head to pull my eyes up at the corners. A couple of sausage casings from Carnforth's, varnished and cut into long, curving fingernails, added a disgusting detail." ..."Sirence...Ancesthas lequire sirence." (p 185-186.)He goes on.

I'm literally shocked this could be published today. How did this get past the editor, the copy editor, the publisher? No one thought this was in poor taste? Would they have let it stand if it were black face and idiotic, demeaning, fake black dialog?

The First Carol said...

I'm 'studying' publishing from a small press perspective, and understand that 40% of every print run goes into recycle(?). Has to be a good reason, but wouldn't a little less waste help profit margins? Just saying.

Anonymous said...

Missed you too, Moonrat!

Nom de Gare said...

This is such a fraught & important issue. The publishing industry I work in (in Australia) doesn't have the same culture of unpaid interns as in the US, but the salaries (in general... but especially entry-level editorial) are similarly woeful, and editorial departments are staffed nearly entirely by white, middle-class women. And I have to admit that although I like to think I haven't relied on my parents for financial support, the fact that I grew up in a comfortably off family did make it much easier for me to go into this industry. Never having been aware of money-worries growing up, I was utterly naive about money by the end of highschool: thoughts of future income (or debt!) weren't in my head when I chose what to study at university, what careers to look into, etc. This ignorance, and the freedom to pursue a career path with no/little regard for money, are luxuries, possibly more valuable/extravagant ones than parental cash hand-outs -- I only realise that now that I know more people from different backgrounds, who grew up well aware of what debt and money-stress feel like, and who therefore think twice (sensibly) before signing up for years of unpaid/badly paid work.

Nom de Gare said...

PS: "40% of every print run goes into recycle(?)."

!?Really? My experience is limited to Oz, but this figure is definitely not anywhere near accurate here -- and if anything, I'd think smaller presses have less waste, because they have to be more careful about their cash. But is this figure really true in the US? Can it be? Would love to hear more.

moonrat said...

Nom de Gare--that's exactly how I feel about my background, and not without guilt.

And 40% is actually a good scenario. We usually make "worst case scenario" plans for 50% trash" and are fairly pleased if it's "only" 40%. But in the case of some books, it's much, much more than 50%. Say 80%.

I work at a small press, and yes, I can definitely tell you we're MUCH more conservative with print runs than the big guys (at least, more conservative than they used to be--I hope they've evolved a little). But there are some things you can't anticipate, and if the chains "buy in" 10,000 books, you usually don't say to them "No way are we selling you that many books; you'll never sell them through," because we get cash flow for putting the books out. Instead we say, "ok," and then if it's a tiny book that only sells 1,000 copies, we take the other 9,000 back and pulp them. Or remainder them if a remaindering house will take them.

It's stupid, and it's about cash flow. Wow, you know what? I'm going to try not to get started on that one just here.

moonrat said...

Elizabeth--while it's hard for me to speak on that particular title because I haven't read the book, I can only hope there's some explanation.

But regardless of whether there's an explanation for this particular case or not, there are social mistakes and uncomfortable and nonrepresentative choices made in book acquisition and probably in book editing at least in part because of homogeneity in the publishing industry. I wrote another longer piece about this issue awhile back:


Let me know your thoughts.

moonrat said...

The 40% waste--ok, Carol, you brought it on. I might have to do a separate post.

Justus M. Bowman said...

Do it. Do it.

Kim Kasch said...

This is worse than a sad state of affairs - it's almost criminal. What other career requires people to work for a year without pay!!!?

It's like indentured servitude. If it is legal, it shouldn't be. I can see an internship, paid at minimum wage but NO pay?...crazy.

Michael Reynolds said...

I proposed a simple solution a while back: charge for submissions.

Turn the slush pile into a profit center by charging the writer, say, $50 for a submission. It would finance reasonably-paid and professional readers. It would cut the number of un-serious submissions. And it would cut agents out of the early stage of the deal, potentially lowering their commissions to 10% or less.

Naturally everyone hates the idea. Apparently it's criminal to suggest that an aspiring writer who might spend $200 on an outfit to wear to a job interview would have to spend a few hundred to get professional eyes on his/her manuscript.

I think it makes a lot more sense than the current system.

Justus M. Bowman said...


It sounds like one more way to improve the lot of the wealthy. Wouldn't it be more reasonable to demand publishing creds?

Michael Reynolds said...

Publishing creds from the writers submitting? What about all the wanna-be's that don't have any yet?

Justus M. Bowman said...

Submit to magazines.

Michael Reynolds said...


Novelists are not magazine writers and vice versa. I've written 150 kid books -- but I have no interest in writing for mags. Nor would most mag writers be interested in doing what I do. Apples and oranges.

We need the newbies to be able to submit -- that's the growing talent pool. But we don't need them to be able to submit for free. There's no reason they can't invest in paying for the system by which they hope to profit.

Justus M. Bowman said...

I don't think someone's ability to pay for a service is a measure of their seriousness. Coming from ole Arkansas, I've seen a lot of untapped talent. Beware: if you force me, I will tell you a story about a baseball card.

Justus M. Bowman said...

150? Wow.

moonrat said...

Justus makes a good point that increasingly debut novelists can set themselves apart by having other publishing credits. I back that up 100%. Magazines are one possible venue, but there are others. They may or may not suit your writing style, but they're certainly one option.

Re: charging for submissions: It's a creative idea, and one that a lot of literary magazines and contests employ. But I think realistically it would be impossible to apply to publishing (as it exists now) in a way that would save more money than it cost.

I'm assuming you mean the publishing company should charge for submissions? I'm afraid that to me that smacks of corruption, and is economically unfair to writers. Also, I think in practice this would actually make more work instead of less--right now, most publishing companies only vet materials from agents, and basically don't take unsolicited submissions very seriously. In theory, they only have to focus on the projects respected agents have already vetted and polished, and in fact agents do most of the real submission-vetting in general.

Agents who charge reading fees are widely blacklisted, fyi. I'm sure there's some dialogue about this somewhere, but I don't know all the theory behind it, whether it's just ettiquete or if there's something more formally bad about charging reading fees.

Justus M. Bowman said...

Hmm. Moonrat may I use "Justus makes a good point..." for nefarious purposes? Ha ha.

moonrat said...

yes, but ONLY for nefarious purposes, please.

Michael Reynolds said...


I don't see why it's corruption.

I gathered we were discussing slush piles, not agented ms. Publisher's interns don't get the agented stuff. Although the agent's interns may.

The way the system works right now the publishers in most cases outsource the slush pile to the agents. How do they agents pay the cost? By charging published writers. The published writers subsidize the unpublished.

The best situation would be one in which unpublished writers could reach the publishers without going through agents for first contact. (And please, no paens to agents, I've fired too many.)

But publishers can't rationalize the cost of a slush pile or of competent editors to read same. So they outsource to agents who pass the cost along to their more successful authors. Meanwhile kids fresh out of Bryn Mawr with no practical experience are passing judgment at agencies and at the few remaining publishers that still have a slush pile.

This is fair, why?

moonrat said...

My interns absolutely read agented proposals--that is how they spend the bulk of their time at my company.

Michael Reynolds said...

My interns absolutely read agented proposals

I think that's a pretty good argument on my side. So I'm supposed to subsidize an agent so he can send the manuscripts of unpublished writers to inexperienced interns?

Hire an EA, task her with giving serious consideration to 12 manuscripts a day, and charge those submitting writers $50 each. That's $600 a day in the door. Pay the EA half that, spend half the rest on administrative overhead, and bank $150 in profit for the corporate overlords.

It cuts the number of submissions by weeding out a lot of the unserious or uncommitted, it allows experienced editorial eyes to make decisions, it allows for a much shorter and more efficient feedback loop within the publishing house, and it means Uncle Rupert or whoever gets a little profit and gets off your back.

nana k. said...

i receive agented submissions via the slush all the time. i chalk it up to an uninformed agent, which is sad for their client. the only difference is that i'm a little nicer and more encouraging when i say no.

Justus M. Bowman said...

"It cuts the number of submissions by weeding out a lot of the unserious or uncommitted..."

No matter what words you use, your plan hurts poor people. It's easy to say, "$50 ain't nothing!", which you've clearly said in those exact words, but most writers must submit more than once. In fact, some well known and once-poor writers (e.g., Rowling) submitted ten to twenty times before getting their work accepted.

Analogical query: Do you really think the people most serious about automobiles are those who can afford the most expensive vehicles?

Michael Reynolds said...


For point of reference when my wife and I sold our first book we were cleaning homes and offices after a decade of waiting tables. I was 35.

In any other profession you'd be expected to find the money for a suit and tie and a decently printed resume. Doctors, lawyers, dentists, accountants, actors, comedians, they all invest money in their profession, in getting over the threshold.

Boo hoo.

If you aren't motivated enough to beg, borrow or steal $200 to submit four manuscripts -- manuscripts you can be sure will be actually read, by actual editors, as opposed to the current absurd system -- then find another line of work.

I work hard at my job. Most professional writers do. It's a very competitive because everyone thinks they want to do it, and you can sometimes make a fair amount of money. But being published is not a constitutional right. If you or someone else doesn't want to work at it to the tune of finding a couple of hundred dollars, how serious are you about the career?

Call it a profession, call it a business, but even if it's just a hobby you'd spend more than that.

Justus M. Bowman said...

I'll say it again: one's ability to spend money has nothing to do with seriousness. Your comeback is essentially that people can make money, so why not take it from them, because if they aren't serious enough to spend it, then they aren't motivated to write, as writing and spending money are intricately tied together.

Yes, I can spend $50. Can I spend it 14 times (or whatever) like J.K. Rowling would have had to do under your system? No. Not really. I'm married, have a new child, and work at a low-paying job. And there are others worse off than me. They told me so not two days ago. Seriously.

Bottom Line: Affluent unskilled writers would still send in thousands or tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of manuscripts. Your plan wouldn't solve the problem as much as it would increase the chance that rich persons would get their work published. Hurrah!

Lily Cate said...

Plus another thought on this paying for editorial readings idea-
who's to stop any publishing house from just setting up a whole department of "Editorial Readers" to just collect reading fees? I see no reason why a large house would have to do this, and it would certainly encourage shady practices among those eager to make a quick dollar off of the naive writer just starting out in the submissions process.
There is a valid point that cutting down the slush pile would lessen the burden and maybe then the profession as a whole would require less unpaid assistance.
But to a lot of people, it's just going to sound scammy.

Chris Eldin said...

Speaking of charging fees for submissions, have you heard of POD houses paying agencies for referrals (of the queriers who have been rejected)?

Something I stumbled upon, but haven't heard much about this. Just curious...

Michael Reynolds said...

. . . who's to stop any publishing house from just setting up a whole department of "Editorial Readers" to just collect reading fees?

I'm usually up for accusing publishers of nefariousness, but even I don't think NewsCorp or Disney or Bertelsmann would sink this low.

Robin S. said...

Holy crap. Just read this.

Holy crap.

suzie said...

Wow, great post! I switched careers and when from a very nice comfortable income to a six month unpaid internship and then got my own series of lucky breaks to land an actual paying salary which is half of what I was making before. And how sad is it (for multiple reasons) when I say I'm making 50% of my salary from when I was a teacher (because they're not well paid either!)

Kronski said...

So I'm supposed to subsidize an agent so he can send the manuscripts of unpublished writers to inexperienced interns?

You know, Micheal is right. The only way we will ever have a truly enlightened and just society is if everybody accepts the "To hell with other people, every man for himself!" philosophy.

Anonymous said...

"computer programming/tech internships get paid more money than entry-level JOBS in publishing."

That's because programming computers ain't fun. You're not reading stories. The results of your work are not ambiguous--the program either works or it doesn't, conforms to specs or doesn't, and therefore your work quality is easily judged. Compare that to the subjectivity in writing where one person's mindless drivel is another's bestseller. It's hard to be wrong in the short term.

That's the difference between $ and unpaid internships.

Anonymous said...

"What other career requires people to work for a year without pay!!!?"

Try being a professional dolphin trainer. 1 year without pay?! Hah.

Michael Reynolds said...


Do you have an issue with people paying their own way?

This isn't health care we're talking about. It's the publishing business. Business. Not the publishing charity.

I never quite get why Bertelsman and Time Warner and Disney and Uncle Rupert can act with perfect ruthlessness in running their media empires but we down here at the bottom are supposed to be all mush and goo and happy thoughts.

Kronski said...

What I have an issue with is the seeming death of altruism. I mean, the whole point of a civilization and of a nation, and of a community, is that we work together towards compromise and mutual support.

Michael Reynolds said...


Well that's sweet. But publishing is owned and operated by five big corporations that have swallowed up all the smaller publishers. The reason they were able to swallow up all those smaller publishers is that the little guys were sometimes confused about the importance of profit and the big guys weren't.

Each of us is free to write. We can write whatever we like. But if we decide to pursue publication we step out of the world of free expression and into the world of business.

A person hoping to make it in this business would be better off dealing with the world as it is and not with the world as it is not.

Kronski said...

Yes, we don't have a perfect world, and that means we should give up striving for one.

Writing is art, and as such, should be free. Devoted artists should be subsidized by the government.

Michael Reynolds said...

Devoted artists should be subsidized by the government.

1917 called and it wants its ideology back. Are you the last surviving Marxist? Or are there others in your dorm?

I just spent 8 months in Italy. I don't think they have more than half a dozen actual Italian authors left. The bookstores are all translations of English language books. Why? Because we write things people want to read, as opposed to things a government employee thinks we ought to want to read, or things an academy thinks will be good for us.

Shakespeare wrote for money. Dickens wrote for money. There are two kinds of writers: those who write for money, and those who lie about writing for money.

By the way, if you ever meet an actual, published writer who claims money doesn't matter, ask them how hard their agent pushed for a bigger advance and a bigger slice of rights.

Kronski said...

If an opinion has been held in the past, it is silly and asinine to hold it now? Is this what you are saying?

Yes, and if people didn't have to write for money, imagine what creative heights they could reach! What problem do you see with the government giving devoted artists money?

Kronski said...

Also, how do my ideas relate in any way to Marxism? I am a strong supporter of capitalism, and of our democratic republic. I also happen to think that the arts can only achieve their full potential when they are unbound by pecuniary concerns.

Michael Reynolds said...


What evidence do you have that the arts can only flourish when government sponsored?

Shakespeare sold tickets to the public. Dickens wrote for magazines. David Foster Wallace's books were (and are) in B&N right alongside Rushdie and Updike and Fitzgerald.

They all wrote for money. None wrote for a government.

It's certainly true that Michelangelo worked for the pope, but he worked as well for private individuals. Van Gogh and Gauguin and Picasso all painted and sold their paintings on the open market.

Suffice to say I could go in in this same vein through every art form, in just about every era.

So I'm interested in which works of art were government sponsored, and how you would conclude that they were superior to those referenced above?

Kronski said...

There's never been a system where the government sponsored art, but did not control what art was being produced. Correlation does not imply causation. The fact that they wrote for money and were famous does not mean that the system of writing for money produces more good works.

And imagine what greater heights Shakespeare could have reached had he not been bound to appeasing the public. In Richard the Third, he made Richard seem like a hunchbacked monster, when he would have been perfectly capable of making a complex and nuanced villain. He did this so he could fit the Elizabethan opinion of Richard III.

Are you saying that people are best inspired to creative heights by money? I would disagree. This is the heart of the argument.

The First Carol said...

"The 40% waste--ok, Carol, you brought it on. I might have to do a separate post." Bring it on. I completed my three part series on small press perspective, and I'm ready for the next level of my publishing education.

Michael Reynolds said...

Are you saying that people are best inspired to creative heights by money? I would disagree. This is the heart of the argument.

I'm saying it doesn't hurt. And so far you've provided no evidence that it hurts, and nothing at all to support your thesis. You have only your felt intuition.

On my side I've pointed to pretty much the entire history of literature, almost all of which was produced for money.

As for me, personally, I wouldn't work for what the government would pay me. So if we had two parallel systems, one government, one private, I'd work for the private sector.

Which brings us back to your core Marxism. Because two parallel systems would bleed all the good writers into the private sector. So in order for your government plan to work you'd have to outlaw the private sector.

Kronski said...

And you've provided no evidence that it helps. If I gave you a million dollars, would you suddenly become as skilled as Shakespeare? Of course not. The fact that most great writers wrote for money doesn't mean that their works were great because of money.

How do you know what the government would pay? Now you're bashing a system that doesn't exist for flaws that you have imagined.

Miss Ember said...

Stumbled on this blog and it's great; I found that in Australia publishing people often seemed too reserved to speak out about salaries online ... I guess it's a small, incestuous business, esp. in Oz...

Anyway, from my experience good salaries can be found for editor jobs away from trade publishing, especially government, university, professional society jobs, or more technical/non-creative publishing; and publications officer positions for associations and departments etc.

I came to a crucial crossroads in my career: having a creative job in fiction (win!) - where I was being paid less than the receptionist three years into my career, working lots of unpaid OT with resistance from senior staff to promote me or give me a slight pay increase (fail!) - and taking a legal editing job (boring!), which had better conditions, better pay, 9-5 working hours (WIN!). I chose the latter, and am now working on Journals away from Legal and in a personal area of interest, with better pay, so I certainly don't regret my decision.

During my time in trade publishing, I noticed many a middle-class white woman who was usually supported by her extremely wealthy husband take a low-paid editing "hobby job", as she could afford the pay-cut with hubby shelling out for everything. But this in turn would certainly push the salaries down for the rest of us, and many of us were not from wealthy backgrounds, though I think the majority probably were :-(

As an industry dominated by women, I wonder too if there is also much discrepancy between men and women editors' salary for the same job? I have experienced firsthand such a thing, when I discovered a chap with less experience than myself and other female editors was on a higher salary for the same job. Not a good day! Sadly I expect this inequality is very common too ...