Tuesday, April 1, 2008

How to Survive on a Salary that's Sad

Amazingly enough, when I took my first job in publishing my salary was actually an increase from my previous job as a part-time stage manager and full-time box office manager at a non-profit theatre. I was pretty sure that surviving on $26,000 a year would be easy peasy-- I was sorely surprised when I started apartment hunting in Manhattan and realised that $25,000 a year was the maximum income you could make and still qualify for government subsidised housing. Eventually, I found an apartment share with two other room-mates in Queens. Both of my room-mates made over twenty thousand dollars a year more than me and were living in Queens to save up money to buy their own properties or pay off their debts.

My current salary is an increase from my crushingly small stipend in New York-- I wont discuss what I now make, but its considerably more then my last job. While I graciously ate my ramen in my apartment in Queens I consoled myself with the following truths I've learned about pay in the publishing industry.

Everyone in Publishing Starts at the Bottom
Its true. Everyone starts as a lowly EA (editorial assistant), MA(marketing assistant), PA (either a publicity assistant or personal assistant to a VP or company director). There's no real short-cut to the top. At least, I haven't met anyone who's had a short-cut to the top not in New York or London. Everyone puts in their grunt years at the bottom. The big difference with publishing is that some people have their lifestyles subsidised by their parents, boyfriends, lovers, sugar daddies (or mamas) while they go through these lean first years. Sadly, I wasn't and am not one of those people-- thankfully, I've got a very generous and patient husband who's helped me to continue a career in publishing.

Part-time jobs are pretty standard
While I lived in Queens I worked at the local Gap in our mall and I tried to get as many freelance writing gigs as possible. My bosses at that time had both worked as waitresses and Barnes and Noble booksellers to supplement their salaries. When I advised my bosses that I would have to find additional work to help pad out my income I was (amazingly enough) given a small cost of living raise (about $1,000 a year) which was a wonderful gesture, but not quite enough to keep me from folding jeans during my spare time.

Complaining wont change anything
To be honest, everyone knows that publishing jobs are underpaid and whinging about it to your co-workers, boss, or family members isn't going to change it. Most people either suck it up (I know, its horrible) and work through those very lean first few years or they find another profession. Most of my friends who I worked with at my first publishing house have gone onto other more lucrative non-publishing careers. Jobs in publishing are seen as 'love' jobs, meaning you work in publishing for the 'love' of working with books. These jobs are very much in demand and this is how employers get away with paying you next to nothing. In a perfect world if all the minions stood up and demanded better wages we would then be able to create a labour revolution and reform the industry. This isn't going to happen-- sorry folks. Mostly because there are about five people fresh out of university lining up for your low paying job.

So, the next time I'm going through a lean time or one of my existentialist delimas of 'where is my career going', I'll calmly remind myself that everyone goes through this. Which is somewhat reassuring, no matter how grim.

1 comment:

Kirsty said...

I read an article t'other day that said we poor publishing monkeys all felt "overworked and underpaid" - I'm definitely feeling the underpaid bit, but I do love my job, so I'm okay with the overworked bit.

When I started in publishing, I was scared that I'd taken a rather roundabout route, via an unrelated MA, a bank job, and the start of a PhD, and that I'd have kind of missed the boat. I was happy to find the contrary - I'm one of the youngest people in the office!