This morning I was thinking about book publishers in BC, the regional guys, and why they stay so small and exclusive and difficult to work for. Even a big publisher/distributor like Raincoast never posts actual job openings. Their website forbids employment inquiries by email, and no contact name or department is given even if you did call them up. Before I worked for “W” Books, I remember calling up Raincoast to ask about available internship opportunities. They put me through to a mystified-sounding woman who seemed absolutely stunned when I said “I thought you may need extra help when that new Harry Potter book comes out.”
“Why?” she asked.
“Won’t you be having events, promotions, that sort of thing?” I said.
“Yes, well, you can send us your resume and we’ll keep it on file.”
“What’s the address?”
“Just send it to the general email and we’ll get it.”
It took a couple of personal connections just to get a part-time volunteer internship at “W”. I even went part-time at my job at the bookstore. A few months later, there was a personnel shake-up higher on the food chain, and I was hired as a publishing helper monkey/receptionist. Then a little more than a year later, I was laid-off. In between the two events, I witnessed some bizarre cost-and morale-cutting measures that included restricting access to basic office supplies, layoffs of coworkers hired even more recently than I was, demotions of longtime staff, a sudden switch to part-time hours for a 3-month period, and complete and total disdain by the owners. We called them their Highnesses.
When I was given the boot, I could see the two of them through the window, getting in the BMW to go play tennis at the country club. I also learned that He had to be talked out of laying me off while I was away on my honeymoon.
According to former co-workers, the madness has continued – the production/editorial group was ordered to stop having coffee together and everyone has been forbidden to write personal reference letters for others who have left or are leaving the company.
This is might be an extreme example, but then again, I don’t any other publishing companies cropping up on “Best Companies to Work For” lists in BC Business or Macleans. I think one reason for this is that a lot of these companies were started either by optimistic young salesmen or hippies/activists in the late sixties/early seventies era. Book publishing being kind of an archaic pursuit and not a big moneymaker, it attracts iconolastic personalities who either couldn’t or wouldn’t spend time and money on developing management and people skills. The cachet of the book business means they have always had a steady supply of new workers who will live for words first and cash second. I was definitely one of the latter, but haven’t got the energy to go through another internship and shaky employment situation just because I like to read.
The Book Publishers Association of BC doesn’t even post any job openings, and their advice on getting a job in publishing is hopelessly naïve. I’ve gone to the workshops, I’ve networked and interned, but if the jobs are so elusive and ill-paid and the companies managed like fiefdoms, why do I want to try so hard for them?
Working with creative people, putting out good writing, getting free books, and feeling like a part of a community are all wonderful intrinsic payoffs. But I’m not going to work for those baby boomer ass clowns again. I’m going back to school and I’m going to do it for myself.


Update: This post has been changed to remove proper names and direct links to the publishing company I worked for. It was inconsistent with the general policy on this blog to be naming names, but the intent of the post remains. It would be dishonest to delete it altogether. Thanks for reading.

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