When Major Publishers Underpay Editors, They Shoot Themselves in the Foot

What is the point of a corporate trade publisher’s existence in the 21st century?

Great editorial support. That’s it.

And the large English-language publishers are pissing their editorial departments away.

Editors have been leaving large corporate trade publishers for decades. To a large part, this was because of mergers. The new, consolidated, corporate-owned publishers laid off ‘surplus’ staff. Unfair as this was to the people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own, this didn’t harm the editorial power of the publishers as long as the editors they kept maintained a high standard. Conceivably (though I don’t believe this actually happened), reducing the number of editors could even improve quality if it solved a ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ problem.

Recently, a bunch of editors have quit their jobs at large English-language publishers, most notably Molly McGhee, who quit because her publisher overworked and underpaid her. Here’s a summary of what happened.

Great editorial departments are the only reason to keep these large trade publishers around. Others can do everything else cheaper and/or better.

If Molly McGhee’s claims are correct, the publishers are under-investing in their editorial departments. That’s the road to failure.

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Why I Search Under the Streetlight—and Why That’s Okay

I thank everyone who commented on my post from last week, publicly or privately, whether you felt it described you as a reader or not. You reminded me that, as I try to get a better understanding of readers, I have a ‘drunk searching for keys under the streetlight’ issue.

My ‘original’ research is binge-reading Amazon reviews of books and sharing the analyses with my newsletter—speaking of that, I’m running a silly giveaway to build my email list, if you need an antique book from Victorian England with a broken spine and have a U.S. postal address, this is a great giveaway for you.

Amazon book reviews are a convenience sample—I only get information from people who post them. That is, the readers who have especially strong opinions. Lukewarm/casual readers are severely underrepresented. (But how do I know that? Actually, I don’t. I’m making an assumption. I don’t have concrete evidence to prove that lukewarm/casual readers are underrepresented in Amazon reviews).

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We Have Hella Psycho-Baggage About How We Read Books

Never did I imagine that researching how and why people read books–really read them—would be so hard. Even finding books about the topic based on observation and not theory is tough.

It’s because we all have to peel away so many layers of psychological baggage of how we read books.

First, I have to take out my own trash—that is, I need to face the role book-reading plays in my life. If, over the past few years, I hadn’t increased my self-awareness of how I feel about books and reading, I would miss so much. I’m probably still missing a lot because of my own hangups about books and reading, so that’s a work-in-progress.

Then there’s everyone else.

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Strange Spring

This winter had particularly low temperatures by San Francisco standards. Not the coldest in my lifetime, but the coldest I recall in recent years. Then, in February we had a little heat wave. It was NOT the warmest heatwave I’ve experienced in a San Francisco winter—we get winter heatwaves once in a while, some years it’s warmer in winter than in summer because of our peculiar weather system. What was unusual was that the colder-than-normal temperatures and the heatwave happened within the same winter.

Then there was the precipitation. We had a really wet December and then… dry January and February. Though March is proving to be wetter (it rained today).

It’s like we got winters from two different years spliced together.

This being California, we’re worried about whether the reservoirs have enough water to irrigate all the farms, and whether we’ll have a bad wildfire season later this year.

Right now, it’s messing with the flowers.

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