• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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I’m Just a Love Machine

Dear Betsy,

I start most workdays by reading the latest post on your blog, particularly apt given that I work in publishing. I am however a young fledgling (aka editorial assistant) and lately I’ve been wondering how you and others have bridged the gap between editorial assistant and editor. Where I work there is a nice name for it, assistant editor, however it is not much more than a title. From what I’ve seen, you have to either be in the right place at the right time (another editor drops off) or you wait and wait and wait and finally are rewarded for your perseverance. I wonder if this is common across publishing. What was your experience like and what have you seen? Any suggestions?

Fortunately or unfortunately, I am itching to edit after being an assistant for almost two years. Maybe it is because I work in academic publishing, but all the editors I’ve seen are a decade or two older than me. Where are the young editors?

I should clarify that though I work in academic publishing, my interests are with fiction and literary publishing.


Dearest, Darling Editorial Assistant:

Going from assistant to assistant editor to editor are the most difficult rungs on the ladder. It’s easier to go from marketing manager to head of sales, or CFO to CEO. At least it used to be. I began my climb 25 years ago and everyone said it was extremely difficult then. We had a pool among the assistants betting on which assistant would drop next, and by drop we meant head to law school or grad school.

You’re doing one thing right: reading my blog every morning. This is as nourishing as a good breakfast.

You’re doing one thing wrong: waiting. You should be finding the young scholars, you should be reading journals your boss isn’t, attending conferences that are a little off the beaten path. You’ve got to bring in a book. If you don’t want to be in academic publishing get out asap. It gets more difficult later. But no matter where you go, you must make yourself indispensable.

Before anyone asked me to edit, I made copies of my boss’ projects and edited them at home, then compared my version to his. It was a self-tutorial. Eventually, I asked him why he did this or that, and he was impressed that I was reading and taking notes. Then he gave me a book to edit when the right one came along. I hated that book, btw, but it was good experience.

Finding books is the most important job an editor does. Until you have an expense account and a bevy of agents who send you their projects, you must go to readings, read blogs and on-line magazines, network, talk to booksellers, get invited to conferences, look under rocks, etc. etc. And if you find a young writer who isn’t quite ready to publish a book but has tons of promise, then keep in touch. This is a business of relationships, contacts, and drive. It’s not about being in the right place at the right time. There is no right place, and no right time.

5 Responses

  1. I recently started writing in YA–following my wife’s footsteps–and at the moment both of our editors are so young that we worry we might break them.

    So part of this is maybe the emailer’s field, too? In any case, she or he oughtta get to a publisher of fiction, if that’s what she really wants to edit. Though clearly Betsy’s advice is even golden-er than usual.

  2. “You must make yourself indispensable.”
    So true in many many fields. And, if you love what you are doing, then the process of making yourself indispensable can be quite satisfying!

  3. Re: Indispensability

    A good friend of mine in the corporate shark world followed the creed “If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted.”

    So, certainly make yourself needed and appreciated, but show you can teach the new kids too, so they don’t decide that you’re so amazing at your job that you can’t go anywhere (including up).

  4. Hmm. I like this post, but you’ve made me wonder about being indispensable. How you strive for that status may depend on where you are in your career. When you are young, it’s good to be of service as an individual…when you grow older and more seasoned, being indispensable can mean bringing out the best in others.

    I tend to admire people who set up systems and practices that empower others – they constantly work themselves out of a job so that they can tackle new things. Being indispensable is tricky after awhile…it’s not all about you, it’s about the work that you perform and how you perform it, and often that means giving other people more power, more permission, more teaching.

    Executives who think that they are indispensable tend to be poor leaders and micro managers. They take credit for actions performed by a team.

  5. The desirability of being “indispensible” aside, Betsy is dead right about not waiting around for something to happen.

    The business is full of brainy experienced people, but the publishing business pyramid is tall, steep and skinny. Brains and experience are just not enough to keep you clinging to it.

    You must make lots of money. Period. I’ve forged ahead by following the old saying “You must do good to do well”. I recommend it.

    Be relentlessly active in your professional and social circles. Donate your time and talent to your favorite charitable causes.

    Be a good friend and family member. Drop any old hurts that don’t involve outright abuse or criminality.

    Don’t forget to write your former English teachers/professors often. They are great talent scouts.

    Act like a success while you are becoming one. This means, among other things, don’t be trashy. Oh, and please, please, please don’t be some kind of literary hipster.

    Don’t spend a lot of time with people who complain all the time or make fun of others who have done them no harm. Avoid heavy drinkers and dopers no matter what. If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

    A high school dropout who can make a profit will climb right past any Ivy Leaguer who does not do so.

    Ask yourself this question every day: “What can I do TODAY that will help make a big profit?”. It sounds corny, but post that question on your refrigerator door.

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