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I’m having a crisis of conscience today. Recently, a publishing company I have always very much admired posted an actual job opening for an editor. Not an intern, not an assistant, not a publicist, but an editor. This is very rare indeed.
Of course, I applied. I worked for days on a completely new cover letter – normally, I just mix’n’match from old letters and send them in. Anyway, because I recently made a couple of contacts within the company (and because of the stellar, typo-free experience that was the application), I have been called for an interview. And now I am worried.
The rub is that I am currently working part-time, on a freelance basis with a magazine, and I really enjoy it. There is lots of opportunity there for more work, and the editor and the whole editorial team have gone out of their way to make me feel like a part of things. Hell, I was all ready to give up on writing/editing before getting this gig. I feel very warmly towards them, and would be committed even if there was no formal contract.
The publisher would be a prestigious one to have on my resume. The question is – can or should I ask for flexibility to still meet the commitments of my current gig if I get this job? (The magazine editing involves a couple meetings a month, with the rest of the work done from my home, on my own time; the book editing job would be full-time and on-site.)
The book publishing job would be great experience, and I would hope it might lead to freelance work in the future, after the contract is up. On the other hand though, I have worked for two other book publishers in the past, and neither of those jobs have led to one single hour of billable freelance time. So I should not count on that happening here, either.
I’m just really happy with the way things are – working freelance for appreciative clients, etc. – and would like to build on what I have rather than give things up for one job, even if it’s my “dream job.” Yes, I want to fit it all in and make everyone happy, including myself. What would you do?
A new study of workers entering the labour market between 1979 and 2002 confirms what I have been feeling about work and jobs. The study looked at thousands of workers and their patterns of mobility and found that those who did not find their place within a few years tend to suffer the consequences. From the press release announcing the publication of the study by sociologist Dr. Sylvia Fuller:
“On average, every job change reduces a worker’s wage by a little over one per cent. So if someone changes jobs 10 times, they’d be earning about 11 per cent less.”
The statistics paint a sobering picture of wage penalties for women who leave a job for family reasons, almost on par with getting fired. For example, female employees who quit for reasons such as taking care of children or following a husband to another city would see a 2.6 per cent drop in wages compared to 2.7 per cent less if they were fired.
“It seems that leaving a job for a family-related reason results in significant wage disadvantages, even beyond what we would expect given the time out of the labour force that such quits often entail.”
The press release goes on to say that whether the reason for leaving a job was dismissal, layoff, or for career or family reasons, employers tend to start stigmatizing such potential employees as, frankly, damaged goods. It’s a cruel slap in the face to those of us who came of age in the era of massive corporate layoffs and cutthroat competition for good jobs. We’ve also been weaned on the advice that having 5-10 jobs over the course of one’s career is not only okay, but expected. Throw in the lies about “work-life balance” (mostly aimed at women) companies are so fond of touting and see if you don’t start getting cynical, too.
The sobering news that I may be approaching my sell-by date for respectable employment is hard to swallow. But in a weird way, this study’s findings are more comforting than the perky career advice doled out by e-mail newsletters from Monster et al. to dress right for the interview, shake hands with authority, handle pesky co-workers and face change with a positive attitude, always! Oh yeah, and set them goals. It confirms that although competence and experience are what employers say they want, they are actually judging workers on image (physical appearance, career track record, gap-free resume) and likeability and personality. “Fit” is ephermeral, yet paramount. I don’t fit in, never have, never will. I always hoped to find a place to learn and grow in the bosom of a company, but now it looks like going my own way may be the only way.
It’s not as though there is a dearth of interesting topics to write about. Transportation, the Olympic$, the Climate Change Dividend, even the asylum next door – all kinds of people are doing interesting things and events are going on all around us. People are blogging about them too. Every day, something new to know.
As for me, I signed the papers I’m over the shock. And here I am again: my own boss and cruise director, tasked with doing something useful, not just the dishes. That means thinking up my own projects as well as mustering up the courage to go after all the opportunities that cross my desk. (At least the ones that don’t look too dodgy.) Sometimes when there is a legitimate posting, whether it comes via the Editors’ Association mailing list, Craigslist, Jeff Gaulin or Freelance Writing Jobs, I talk myself out of it before even applying. This habit must be stopped – if I plan to make any money.
I like money.
Writing for money is hard work – I’m not kidding – if you plan to get paid for it. It feels like that today at least. Getting a job was a way to get money that I needed at the time, but it’s the easy way out. You don’t have to think for yourself and the cheques come regularly.
My sister, a creative chick who’s been at the freelance game for awhile, said to me, “You have to stop working the backup plan and the safety net, and go do it.” She’s absolutely right. There is no happiness in mere acceptance at the workplace, I need to go achieve something and make a name. It would be easier to just fit in, but that is not to be.
I’ve seen this ad for a writer’s assistant on Craigslist a couple of times now. Typically it offers no pay, but promises to provide “valuable experience” working with 2-3 professional writers. One line in particular puzzles me: “Although there is no direct remuneration for this particular role there will be opportunities to work on some projects that may offer payment.” What does this mean? Do you get tips for blowjobs? Can you keep the change from Starbucks runs? Will you dance the hokey-pokey while they throw quarters? Also notice the hedging – although there WILL be opportunities, there are only SOME that MAY be paid.
I have heard of this type of arrangement before, where an established writer takes on a new writer and helps them break into the business of selling novels or screenplays. But I think it’s more common in the US (read:***Hollywood***) and perhaps includes room and board in the bargain.
I’ll bet I get to provide my own rent with these people.
- Have to think up stuff for self to do. Tempted to just give in to daytime TV and snacks.
- Tendency to check Craigslist thousands of times per day – purely to check if anything legitimate has been posted in jobs area yet. Also to feel righteous indigination at the gigs area AKA “everybody wants something for nothing” pages. People: my portfolio is full and my wallet is empty, dig?
- An office mate that spends half its time snoring and the other half licking my toes. He also tends to shed on my pants.
- Refreshing e-mail mercilessly.
- Taking breaks “just to think” but end up eating leftover gyozas and making tea.
- Dog (AKA office mate) appears to be getting so used to having me around that he is developing separation anxiety.
- When there is really nothing to do, I feel guilty about reading books in the middle of the day, even if they are professional ones such as On Writing Well.
I really should be writing.
Book publishing is a bit like intergalactic anal probing; sometimes you just sit back and ask, “What’s the point of what we do?” We make sure that there are no typos in the book you just paid $19.95 for. We make sure that if the text says to look at Figure 9.2, that there is a Figure 9.2 somewhere nearby. We make sure those monkeys down in production didn’t accidentally set Chapter 6 in Verdana while the rest of the book is in Arial, or that there are no pages with just one word on them and nothing else.
Editing is the invisible cloak over a book; you won’t notice it unless something goes amiss, say, a word like “count” losing a vowel somewhere. Editors, and editorial peons, are certainly blamed when that sort of thing happens.
In most artistic creations – movies, albums – you get credit for being a part of the project, even if you’re not the star. Movies list everyone from the STAAAARS to the negative cutter in roughly the same font when rolling the credits. CDs usually come with a dense page telling who played what, who produced, who mixed, and all the people “we’d like to thank.” Books – in order to be mentioned – you have to be on the author’s radar screen to be thanked. You depend on a person who isn’t there to thank you for making sure their words look good on the page, and helping them not sound like a total jackass.
So what do we have here: no point, no visibility, and no credit. In some circles, being invisible is a mark of power and status; the visible ones are exposed, they have no status. Although I enjoy the invisibility thing, it comes with no compensating perks.
And that would be nice. It’s been a long time since I’ve worked hard for someone, and they’ve said in return, “We like you. You’re good. Here, have some money.”
That would be a much nicer sentence than something like this: “I know we’re not paying you much, but if you find a better-paying thing, you should feel free to take it.” Can you feel the love? In an eerie parallel, my first boyfriend used almost the exact same words to let me know he was still damaged goods from a previous girlfriend and that I should probably steer clear: “If you meet somebody you like, you can go out with them, you know.”
Give up the “no money” line. I have eyes. I see the publisher’s summer house, the owner’s luxury car, the snootful of toys belonging to the publicist. Yes, I am an an editor(ial assistant) and I give you my totally non-standard Gimme! I don’t just live for words; I want some money. I want a moped and a trip to Paris, too.
Give me some money and I’ll knock out every typo, every illogical argument, every research error in my way. I want recognition as the intergalactic anal-probing professional that I am. Spread the love, you purveyors of words, and say it with money.
My eyes are dim, I cannot see, I must always carry my specs with me. In the time I was gone (at least from a blogging POV), I’ve been doing a lot of editing. This profession involves long hours of sitting at a computer, staring at tiny fonts on a screen. So like an old lady, now I make those fonts huge! I think that’s one thing that I really like about Firefox over Explorer – the change font size command actually works. Right now, Firefox is letting me write this post in about 24 point type. It’s fabulous. So what if I’m blind?
Studies have shown that we don’t really read on screen, we scan, because it’s so tiring. I guess thats part of the excuse I can give for being out of this blogging thing for so long – after a long day of reading whole chapters, never mind whole manuscripts, on-screen in order to prepare books for production, the last thing I’ve felt like doing is writing on a computer when I get home.
The other reason I haven’t been writing much – period – is that I feel I’ve lost focus a bit with what I want to blog about, which is books and publishing. And food. Books, publishing, writing, and food. So after some pretty mediocre posts, I wanted to give up altogether.
But I didn’t want to leave you forever, my friends and readers, so as Gordon Ramsay would tell me if he were here, I’m going to get the fuck on with it.
I know it’s been awhile. I’m sorry. My brain feels like an overripe peach that’s rotting on the stem. Except perhaps not so full of sweetness and insects. My temping days are down into the single digit range and there is light at the end of the teal blue tunnel. Who invented the cubicle? I shout into Google. Robert Propst, as it turns out.
But I am registered for my courses, bought my still-obscenely overpriced textbooks from Abebooks, and am currently cruising the back to school sales for nerdy gear. Only two weeks and I get to have the enormous priviledge of being where I want to be while the office goes on without me. I’ll miss the food. Is it lunchtime yet?
Tune in for further updates on my stream of consciousness as the synapses try to remember how to fire. Wake up!
Tra la la. Another day I am confusing Word with my habit of spelling the Canadian way. I stick u’s between my o’s and r’s, but use z’s rather than s’s in all my -ize’s. That’s about it, really.
I am also mad for properly hyphenated adjectival phrases. In the long term, I’d like to achieve my short-term goals.
Men who read are mad sexy. A man propping up with book with one hand and looking all rapt is just so inviting.
According to a study, which I don’t happen to have handy, but will post later, Canadian spelling is falling out of favour with Canadian book publishers. Because of concerns about sales of co-editions to American publishers and booksellers, we don’t want to distinguish and oft-put with a display of vibrant Canadian colour. I can attest that I wrote press releases and sales copy for our American distributor with proper attention to words like “center” and “neighbor”. It did feel a bit strange; it’s not as though the Americans insisted, its that we wanted to please.
By the way, poutine is vile. Pass the sushi.