Urban Dictionary has this to say about Small-Town Syndrome:
When someone has lived for so long in a small town that they form a sense of entitlement to themselves and act as if there isn’t a relevant world outside of their town.
Someone with small-town syndrome usually is majorly concerned with gossip and events only happening with people in their town and let their life revolve around such meaningless rumors. They act as if life is high school. Parents/Adults and children all engage in cliquey behavior.
People with small-town syndrome usually don’t realise they act this way, and may be insulted if pointed out.
People with small-town syndrome may have lots of trouble adjusting to life in the real world (wherever they move to out of the comfort of their family/friends also from same town)
Link to the rest at Urban Dictionary
While PG was reading yet another author account about being mistreated by a major publisher in a way that was likely to harm the author’s writing career, if not destroy it, he started thinking about all the self-destructive idiocy in Big Publishing he has observed. He’s observed some of the stupidity directly while working for author-clients and has seen some imbecility through the eyes of authors who have experienced it.
In the United States, Big Publishing effectively means publishers that are headquartered in New York City.
As a prelude to his thoughts, PG has lived in Chicago and Los Angeles and, at one time, almost all his friends lived in New York City. At another time, he spent several days each month in New York City on business. Each of these large cities included groups of individuals that manifested symptoms of Small-Town Syndrome. No location were exempt from this social/psychological phenomenon. Someone once said a city is really an amalgamation of a lot of small towns.
For many people, one of the pleasures of living in a large and active city is a feeling of shared cosmopolitan sophistication and a sense of a higher status than people who live in places without such advantages. If many people around you are considered sophisticated (or consider themselves sophisticated), you might feel like you’ve grown sophisticated yourself.
The mirror of this is sometimes found among those who live in much smaller places, where the perceived differences between their environment and the environment in which they imagine big-city residents live are stark. PG graduated from high school in a town with 636 inhabitants. One of the common phrases shared by his classmates was, “Good enough for a town this size” meaning not very good at all. Anyplace bigger had to be better.
Back to Big Publishing and Small-Town Syndrome.
Publishing employees and managers work in a sophisticated city and are part of an industry with an elevated cultural status in New York. Along with music, art, museums and the theater, books are very much a part of the New York media and arts environment. New York is like no place else when it comes to commercial publishing. This confers a higher social status on publishing, its managers and employees than would be the case if they worked for an insurance company.
Absent substantial family wealth, however, there is more than a little status anxiety associated with the low pay that predominates at all levels of publishing. College classmates and friends of publishing’s employees who work in New York’s large financial sector enjoy enormously higher incomes.
According to Glassdoor, an editorial assistant at Penguin Random House earns about $37,000 per year. An associate editor earns about $48,000 per year. A senior editor will earn about $84,000 per year. A vice-president earns $168,266-$182,180 per year. A substantial piece of each of those salaries will go to pay New York City taxes (6.45% city income tax, 8.875% city and state sales tax), state and federal taxes.
In contrast, at a Manhattan investment bank, a first-year analyst straight out of business school will earn a base salary of $85,000-$90,000 per year plus a bonus of about $60,000. Third year analysts who perform well can expect total compensation of $200,000 or more. A summer intern will earn $5,000-$6,000 per month, a higher monthly salary than an associate editor at PRH.
The overall cost of living in New York City is almost 70% higher than elsewhere in the US. The cost of living in Manhattan is more than twice the cost of living anywhere else.
Back to Big Publishing. We have employees who have some social status but, by New York City standards, are scraping by financially. They can get good seats at book signings, but the doorman in their apartment building may earn more than the publisher pays them. Their financial limitations are a little easier to live with if they spend a lot of time with other people in the publishing business. Agents are great because they’ll buy lunch and understand the stresses and unfairness of the business.
There is one part of the life of a Big Publishing employee where she/he is close to an absolute ruler and commands obeisance – dealing with would-be and non-bestselling authors. Finally, people who are desperate to impress someone who works in publishing and will do anything to gain favor.
Emails and phone calls from aspiring authors don’t need to be returned. In the case of an already-published author, sales figures determine how easily an editorial assistant can ignore questions or concerns. Some authors can be so annoying with their Wichita concerns. They’re just so needy.
Unless an author has demonstrated substantial best-seller potential, nobody higher in the publisher’s hierarchy cares how an underling treats the author. Whether the author sends in another manuscript or not won’t move the publisher’s financial needle in a meaningful fashion. The employee knows hordes of authors will always be knocking on the door no matter how she responds to one author’s concerns.
No promotions will result from an employee treating all authors courteously and with respect. Impressing the people higher in the corporate hierarchy is what will lead to raises and promotions. No one need ever know if the employee alienated an author who later hits the New York Times bestseller list. Indeed, amid all the rejection slips, the employee himself will probably not remember any author who was rejected.
Back to the Small-Town Syndrome as potentially applicable to Big Publishing:
- People with small-town syndrome form a sense of entitlement to themselves and act as if there isn’t a relevant world outside of their town
- People with small-town syndrome are majorly concerned with gossip and events only happening with people in their town
- People with small-town syndrome usually don’t realise they act this way, and may be insulted if pointed out
- People with small-town syndrome may have lots of trouble adjusting to life in the real world
PG has worked in a lot of different types of businesses, either directly or as a legal representative of clients in those businesses. In his experience, he has never seen another industry that treats its suppliers and would-be suppliers worse than traditional publishing does.
UPDATE: PG’s thoughts about this subject originated as he read the latest post from Kris Rusch.