Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Shocking News!

This week’s Publishers Weekly has a shocking revelation about salaries in publishing: editors – mostly women – make less than anybody else in the biz. Oh, wait. Anyone’s that’s spent more than six months in any major publishing house could tell you that.

In publishing, the money belongs to those in sales, and those in what PW refers to as “management,” which I can only assume refers to people on the business end and those who run the creative departments, ie, your CEOs, Senior VPs, Publishers…anyone who heads their own department, imprint, or house.

Having never been in sales or a high management position myself, I can’t speak to how hard they work or how much money they deserve. What I can talk about, though, is the extreme discrepancies between the salary and promotion patterns in publicity/marketing department versus that of editorial, as well as those huge salary divide within each department between its lower and upper echelons.

First, let’s track the careers of your typical new publishing employees. One chooses editorial, the other publicity. Both have BAs - probably with a major in English, writing skills, and internships under their belts. Both are ready to take the industry by storm, to soak up the knowledge around them while answering phones and making copies. The publicity assistant is thrilled the first time she writes a press release or is allowed to make pitch calls. The editorial assistant is ecstatic the first time she is asked to read a manuscript. They work hard for their measly $30,000 a year, content with the knowledge that they are doing something they love, and that one day, they too will run their own department as their bosses do. Then, all the menial work, the living paycheck to paycheck, the lack of respect…it will all be worth it.

Fast forward three years. The publicity assistant has become a Senior Publicist. She is now working on several of her own books a month. Her salary as gone up somewhere between $15 and $20,000, although this is still one third of what her boss is making. She may even share an assistant, or at least manage the interns that rotate in a couple times a year. She has plans to move onto another house soon, perhaps strive to be a publicity manager. She crosses her fingers that by 30, she’ll be managing her own department, or at least be an associate director. Dreams of hitting six figures in the next decade do suddenly not seem so far away.

The editorial assistant has seen all this. But, three years later, she is still only an “assistant editor,” perhaps, if really lucky, “an associate editor.” Her salary has only increased $5,000, and she has no hope of becoming a full fledged editor anytime in the near future. She is still answering the phones of the people who hired her, and her bosses still control what books she can acquire. She is working longer hours than her publicity counterparts, and receiving fewer rewards. After three years, the excitement has gone and extreme frustration has set in. Is it any wonder that there are more “not satisfied” or “only somewhat satisfied” employees out there than “very” or “extremely satisfied?” Or that topping the list why are low salary, increased work, and lack of recognition? These, afterall, are complaints of almost every low-ranking editorial staff member I’ve ever known.

Yet, editorial is one of the most crucial phases in all of publishing. Without editors to spy a good book, snap up a new promising author, the industry is lost. Sure we need people to spin it, to make it look good, and to get it into bookstores, but the initial seed for the final product we all work so hard to create is born from a good editor. And in a world where the consumer attention span is shorter than ever, an editor with her finger on the pulse of our cultural shifts is more crucial than ever. But instead of tapping our young editorial staff for ideas, for rewarding them for their creativity, the powers that be frequently reject their ideas, ignore their suggestions, and often drive these smart and clever individuals out of the business. I’ve lost many former editorial friends to marketing jobs, teaching gigs, and the decision to just go back to school. People who started out with such passion to find the next great American Novel or Memoir, but by the end, just wanted to get the hell out of the underpaid and underappreciated existence.

Ask almost anyone under 40 (and some above) what they think of the state of publishing, and most will tell you it’s ass backwards, or at the very least, has some screwed up priorities. The salary survey in PW simply illustrates what we already know. The future of publishing is getting fed up and getting out. We need to give our up-and-coming editors a bit more credit and a lot more opportunities, otherwise the rise of the internet and the demise of book review sections will be the least of our worries.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Jonathan Ames is dating Fiona Apple? WTF?

So, who showed up on Ames' arm at the fight against Craig Davidson?
Fionna Apple. Now there's a girlfriend for you. I wish my girlfriend would show up when I fight Letham. Especially if she was Winona Rider. Then she could shoplift his trophy. Jonathan definitely gives hope to nebbishly sexually confused Jewish men everywhere. Thank You Ames.

3 rounds, 2 authors, 1 book: The Fighter

Pugilistic pundits and prolific purveyors of protagonists Jonathan Ames and Craig Davidson duked it out at Gleason's tonight in Dumbo Brooklyn, to a record crowd of 300 spectators that were first entertained by the gyroscopic gyrations of Miss Saturn.

Each round was announced by a husband and wife team: the Mangina hoisting Valmonte Sprout on his shoulders and parading about the ring in truly disturbing fashion - sure to warp the dreams of the mantastic, steroid-induced spectators in the other ring. The ones that had to stop beating the shit out of each other to see what the hell was going on.

Now, I grew up with the Rocky films, so I was expecting three rounds of pure bloody confrontation. Instead, I found a lot of hugging or man cuddling in the first 2 rounds, but in the 3rd round, my expectations were redeemed by pure brutal brilliance. Hats off to SOHO PRESS for pulling off one of the best publicity stunts for a Canadian author ever. Eh?

-The Slunch Editors

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter Hell

Here was my plan for Friday night: a delicious dinner with Publitron. A screening of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix . Swing over to Barnes & Noble in Union Square, meet up with fellow Harry Potter fans, peruse the decorated floors until midnight, wait until the number on my gold wristband was called, grab my book, and head home.

Here’s what happened instead –

Delicious dinner: check
HP 5 Movie: check
Meet other HP folks: check
Head to B&N: check
Peruse decorated floors: failure

Why you may ask? Because Barnes and Noble had somehow, between the hours of 5:00 pm and 11:00 pm become a giant, unorganized clusterfuck . Some of you may be staring at this thinking, well, of course. It was the release of the final Harry Potter. Of course there were crowds. To which I reply, yes, of course. Crowds, I was prepared for, even anticipated. I had reserved my copy ahead of time, spent my lunch hour on Friday waiting in a line to pick up my wristband with my number (675 – not too shabby), and had been assured by the oh-so-cheerful employees that I could show up at “anytime” with my special golden ticket and enjoy.

Lies. All of it. For those of you unfamiliar with the Harry Potter process at B&N, let me explain. There are two types of wristbands which you may pick up ahead of time: gold and red. Gold means you called at least the day before to reserve a copy and are therefore among the “first” to get your book. Red means you forgot to call but bothered to come by before the party, so are now “second” to get the book – still ahead of the poor schmucks who just show up at the party with no wristband at all – they’re last. Now, all of these wristbands are numbered. The plan is, at 12:01 am, the B&N employees announce a group of numbers over the loud speakers, i.e. “Gold Wristbands #1-50,” and these people happily march up in an organized fashion and purchase their book. Simple, right?

Wrong. So wrong. As our little band of Harry Potter readers approached Union Square, it became clear that somewhere along the line, the system had broken down. A line was formed around the building. We quickly bypassed that, assuming that with our special wristbands, we were, well, golden. As we rounded the corner and approached the entrance, another problem quickly became apparent. The entrance was completely blocked by an organized mob of people – all of them with gold wristbands…

Despite being about 20 feet from the door, no one seemed to have a clear idea of what was happening. From what we could garner from word of mouth, B&N had shut their doors until midnight, when, as people purchasing the book began leaving, more people would be allowed in, presumably by the order on their wristbands. Again, we put too much faith in the organizational powers of this major chain.

Yet, no one was really complaining. After all, we were less than 30 minutes away from the release of the final Harry Potter. And we, of the gold wristbands, still believed that we would be inside shortly after midnight. The clock ticked down, and as we neared the final moment, the crowd joined together to count down the final ten seconds with all the enthusiasm of the Y2K New Year. The general feeling of excitement continued for a good five minutes, especially as the first Potter fans began to exit, holding the new book triumphantly.

As it became clear that despite the people exiting, the crowd outside was not moving, the mood began to shift. I happened to be standing next to a woman who knew someone on the inside, and every 5 minutes or so, her kindly friend would call with updates, which we would then relay to the crowd. This second hand information was our only source of news, as the staff of Barnes and Noble had not bothered to dip into their unlimited party budget to purchase a megaphone (At first, news was relayed with complete enthusiasm…as we announced the numbers that were being called inside, these people would gleefully push towards the door as we cleared a path, happy that our number would soon come.

By the time we hit the 600s, it became clear that the doors of B&N were still not opening . Apparently, they had decided to serve EVERYONE inside before allowing the crowd in. So much for our numbers. Still, we clung to the hope that once they went through the gold wristbanded folks inside, the employees would call us in by order of our bracelets. A second tier of gold, which, although not quite what we had bargained for, still a relatively painless process.

Wrong again. At some time shortly before one, the doors began to open, letting in small sections of the mob at a time. Anyone with a wristband was allowed in, first come, first serve. The group quickly began to turn on each other. The same people I had been commiserating with for the past hour and half were now shoving past me, throwing elbows, wands, and broomsticks (did I mention all the costumes?), all the while holding their hands up high, as if the piece of paper wrapped around their wrist justified it all.

1:30 am. One hour and fifteen minutes after the estimate I had been given by B&N earlier in the day for my purchase time, I was finally inside. Again, no one had any idea what was happening. We appeared to have been corralled into a large holding pen, surrounded by ropes. After 10 minutes or so there, in which the shoving and pushing from outside continued, we were bottlenecked into narrower and narrower sections, eventually into a single file line that wrapped around the store.

Delirium seemed to have set in. No one even cared about the book anymore. Our legs hurt, we were thirsty, and many of us were in desperate need of a restroom. All that mattered was making it to the front of the line. The goal had shifted – holding that precious book paled in comparison to the greater prize – getting to leave the hell hole that was Barnes & Noble.

I’m happy to say that I managed to get my book shortly before 2 am, and after a cigarette and a Vitamin Water, I was almost ready to say it was worth it. I read the first 40 pages on the subway ride home, and finished the entire thing by Saturday evening.

Could I have just woken up early Saturday and gotten it? Sure. Would it have been a hell of a lot easier? Of course. Would I do it again? Most definitely – only, next time, I would go to McNally Robinson


Sunday, July 22, 2007

listen to the sound of my tiny violin

It’s Sunday and I’m at work. Again.

That, in and of itself, doesn’t warrant a gold star – I mean, this is New York after all, but this week I’ve got two authors on tour for which I’m pitching local and national media; I have to write (and re-write) three press releases for upcoming books; pull media lists for four books; send out two publicity galley mailings and one finished book mailing; and write an acquisition announcement about a new title. I also have to do follow-up on books that released last month; secure long-lead press on eight titles publishing between March and June; and this list doesn’t include all the meetings I have to attend. Even though I’m only assigned three books publishing this month, I’m working on twenty. To top it all off, I’ll probably be showing up to work tomorrow with a hangover. There’s a party I’m expected to attend tonight.
Publicists by nature are social creatures. They party, gossip, and keep that famous revolving door rotating by changing houses more than any other position in the publishing industry, acquiring an incredible network in a short period of time. Nepotism is the name of the game and while it’s not uncommon for an editorial assistant to stay at that level for three years, a hungry publicity assistant can work her way up to senior publicist in that time.

Although publicity is the keystone for any successful book marketing campaign most companies don’t empower their publicists with all the resources and time needed to accomplish their tasks. Because of the shear volume of books publicists work on, they’re forced to make a decision about which books have potential and will warrant their limited time to aggressively promote, and those that don’t and will get the bare minimum of attention.
Publicity is the keystone that supports the marketing, sales and ad/promo campaign, and has the ability to reach critical mass, which, in an ideal world, can “make” a book. As each placement (which can take weeks of phone calls, letters, and creative pitching to secure) catches the eye of another reviewer or booker, it will result in more hits and, ultimately, more books sold. But really, without that one big break – Fresh Air, The Daily Show, a feature in The New York Times or the holy grail of publicity (which every author believes to be within reach): Oprah – a book is basically treading water unless the elusive “Word of Mouth” grabs hold or it becomes the darling of independent booksellers.

If you think about it, for the price of a full page book ad in the New York Times (which I feel is nothing more than vanity placement for an author and a transparent marketing ploy to get stores to order more books) a publisher could cover the salary of an additional assistant and a publicist who could dedicate an entire year to pursuing every single possible outlet to promote the very same title.

Publicity is a thankless job. It requires handling rejection on a daily basis from reviewers, feature editors, bookers and producers. On top of that are the demanding agents, authors and bosses. Many a time I’ve been asked “What else?” when I already have several major print features, national television and radio interviews lined up. The thing about publicity is that you are never truly finished. There is always a review to secure, a feature to place, a show to book. Active publicity on a book doesn’t end; it just slowly dies out as time goes by.

Fortunately a few of my authors understand what I can do for their book and have seen fit to bestow upon me gifts. These tokens of gratitude make all the difference to a publicist bereft of appreciation, and ensure that they will put that author’s book at the top of his or her mile-long list. It’s Pavlovian really, nothing more than a bell and a tasty treat, but when the treat is a bottle of single malt scotch, it makes all the difference in the world.