Editorial Resignations At Big Houses Spark Reckoning

From Publishers Lunch:

Multiple resignations from the editorial departments at two big houses caused an online reckoning on Friday. Four editors, Angeline Rodriguez and Hillary Sames at Orbit, Erin Siu at Macmillan Children’s, and Molly McGhee at Tor all announced their resignations, leading to a discussion about the workload of junior and mid-level employees and the difficulty of advancement across the industry. The online exchange brought into the open the frustrations of increased workload, burnout and turnover that have been brewing as the pandemic continues. Those feelings are intensified as big publishers report record sales and earnings, even as multiple people report on Twitter they believe their employers are not sufficiently reinvesting those proceeds in additional staff, systems and raises.

At the heart of the discussion was McGhee’s resignation letter which she posted on Twitter. McGhee, who was an assistant editor at Tor/Nightfire, writes that after ten years in assisting roles, she requested a promotion when her first acquisition debuted at No. 3 on the New York Times Best Sellers list. She says in her letter that she was told she needed “more training” before being promoted and she could not expect to be relieved of administration duties “any time within the next five years.”

McGhee pointed to “the invisibility of junior employees’ workload” as a major issue, asserting that “many executives in the publishing industry are technology illiterate” and rely on their assistants to manage databases, pull manuscripts, and navigate new technology, on top of the duties outlined in their job descriptions.

McGhee’s letter opened the floodgates to other people who have left editorial positions recently speaking openly about labor issues. As part of a thread, one former Penguin editor flagged “the fact that editorial productivity ONLY survives because of the exploitation of assistants.” Many others pointed out that the same pressures and frustration are being felt across all departments at publishing companies, though there may be less public awareness, and smart managers and veterans offered empathy and tips, and opened themselves up to consultation. A number of agents also underscored their own difficulties in establishing sustainable careers and keeping up with the workload and representing clients without overburdening editors, while emphasizing the broad financial hardship of converting “advances” into extended “guarantees” that are not paid in advance.

Former editor at Avon Books Elle Keck posted, “As one of the editors who left publishing this year, every editor you know, you’ve seen on Twitter, you’ve heard of: they are miserable and struggling. They’re tired of working all day, working at night, and feeling guilty if they take a weekend off.” Julie Rosenberg, formerly of Razorbill, also noted the “crushing guilt and anxiety” caused by the workload.

Speaking to PL, McGhee described this workload: “I worked with five editors during my time at [Tor parent division Tom Doherty Associates]. I always supported at least two editors, in addition to the publisher, all while building my own list. What this means is that I did all administrative work on my editors frontlist and backlist…. At one point in time I was tracking 150 frontlist titles across four seasons in one calendar year…. On top of doing this I was managing company calendars, scheduling my publisher’s meetings (publishers take a lot of meetings), reading my editors’ and publisher’s submissions, drafting contracts, executing deal memos, writing copy, positioning novels, networking to get to know agents as I chased my own submissions, training other junior employees, creating work flow systems to manage cross department care,” and much more.

McGhee emphasized that she loved working at Tor, but the amount of work was unmanageable, especially in light of the compensation. She said, “I think a lot of folks will view this as a disgruntled employee situation. It is not. I never thought I would leave TDA. I loved my editors, I loved my authors, and I loved my coworkers. But unfortunately the workload expectations and the pay were untenable. There was no way to communicate this to my managers in a way that was not seen as ‘poor time management,’ as they had never assisted/started in the technological environment junior and mid-level employees now face.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Lunch

9 thoughts on “Editorial Resignations At Big Houses Spark Reckoning”

  1. Boo Hoo.

    I know that’s an unkind thing to say, but these people have been part of the problem. I suppose their resignation might become part of the solution, but I find it hard to sympathize with someone who has been earning money supporting a system that has pillaged the work of writers.

    Sorry. Really not sorry.

  2. Coming up; GREAT RESIGNATION 2.0:

    https://www.themuse.com/advice/shift-shock-muse-survey-2022

    FWIW:

    “The COVID-19 pandemic changed nearly everything about the way we live and work. But amid the Great Resignation, workers are coming face to face with another, less-talked-about phenomenon.

    Kathryn Minshew, The Muse’s cofounder and CEO, is calling it “Shift Shock”: that feeling when you start a new job and realize, with either surprise or regret, that the position or company is very different from what you were led to believe.

    In early 2022, we surveyed The Muse audience, and, out of more than 2,500 respondents, 72% said they’ve experienced Shift Shock.

    “This is a generational shift, driven by Gen Z and millennial candidates who are more likely to believe the employer-employee relationship should be a two-way street,” Minshew says. “On top of this, the pandemic has emphasized for many that ‘life is short,’ which means candidates are less likely to stick around in unfulfilling jobs.”

    Additional findings from The Muse’s Shift Shock survey are as follows:

    29% said their Shift Shock encompassed the job and the company
    41% would give a new job two to six months if they felt Shift Shock as a new hire
    48% would try to get their old job back if they felt Shift Shock at a new company
    80% said it’s acceptable to leave a new job before six months if it doesn’t live up to your expectations”

    Yeah, right.
    The grass is always greener.

    • Watch the movie 2012 as a metaphor for what is happening in Trad today.

      2012 Trailer #2
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ce0N3TEcFw0

      The editors basically bailed out just as Yellowstone blew[1]. They are going to miss everybody dying in the Las Vegas airport. They are not going to land in China and be unable to get on the ships because they don’t have the billion euro ticket price. They won’t be there when only one ship gets out of the docks. They won’t have to fight to be allowed to land on what is left of Africa.

      Those kids are lucky to get out when they could so that they can go work in a job with a future.

      Maybe plumbing.

      [1] I want to be standing on the hill with Charlie, as Yellowstone blows.

      2012 (2009) – Yellowstone Erupts Scene (4/10) | Movieclips
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1Kbym7WYzs

  3. It sounds like many assistant editors are treated like authors: “No need to pay them much since we can easily replace them with another.” The truth is that they can… at least for awhile. The replacement’s quality may not be as good, but it’s not enough of a difference to upset the C Suite. They will ignore the protesting assistant editors and grumbling authors.

    The attitude will eventually cause the company to falter, but that often happens well after the instigators have retired with their bags of money. Decades from now, who will connect their downfall to how they treated lower managers and creatives so long ago?

  4. Being very public about why you left a previous employer is not supposed to be a wise move. I can’t see that telling the world has any value for those who leave – and the ex-employer isn’t going to change.

    Have they just made themselves unemployable?

    • Possibly.
      Here’s some stats:
      https://www.realestatewitch.com/great-resignation-2022

      Among workers who quit during the Great Resignation, the most common reasons were toxic company culture (31%), poor company response to the COVID-19 pandemic (30%), and changing career goals (30%).

      80% of respondents said the pandemic influenced their decision to resign.

      Of employees who quit because of the pandemic, 41% did so because their employer didn’t enforce enough health and safety protocols, while 28% didn’t want to follow their organization’s protocols.

      Nearly 1 in 4 people resigned after considering it for just one week or less.

      About half (49%) of respondents gave one-week notice or less when they resigned, while 1 in 4 gave no notice at all.

      1 in 8 employees ghosted their company completely. However, being ghosted by companies is the second-most frustrating situation when workers look for jobs (30%).

      80% of people received a counteroffer from their employer when they resigned but still decided to leave.

      55% of employees had a job lined up before they resigned. Of those, a surprising 53% reported a salary decrease, compared to 42% who reported an increase.

      Respondents reported an average pay cut of $8,000 in their new role, but many would accept a greater pay reduction. Employees who quit but are still looking for jobs would accept an average pay cut of $23,000.

      Workers who changed jobs during the Great Resignation were 47% more likely to be very satisfied in their new job compared to their old one.

      56% of respondents expressed some regret about resigning, but if given the option, 58% wouldn’t return to their old jobs or wouldn’t return without major improvements.

      A majority (56%) of workers who quit without a job lined up didn’t regret it.

      Among workers who resigned during the Great Resignation, 35% still do not have jobs, and 50% of those have been unemployed for six months or more.

      44% of people who changed jobs in the past year have considered resigning again in the next six months.

      —-

      “Toxic culture” seems to have become a catch-all phrase.
      Currently waiting for the companion “toxic employee” or “entitled employee” to gain currency.

      Three trends to watch are inflation, the inflow of cheap exploitable labor from the open border, and the expected wave of ukrainian refugees, especially the motivated educated ones.

  5. My hypothesis is that there are lots of people who want these jobs, and the publishers think lots of them can do the job. That means the employers doesn’t have to pay more.

    There is an odd notion among some that they should be paid well for what they want to do. Others want to do what pays well, and develop the necessary skills. It’s a choice.

  6. This is not new. A quarter of a century ago, I was in-house at a non-NYC specialty nonfiction publisher (and knew a lot of people at TDA though other connections). It was the same complaints then about managerial technophobia, etc. — both at my own employer (workflow and file preparation were still optimized for Quark and WordStar even though the typesetting end of things had gone to PageMaker four years previously and the company had shifted to Word before that) and elsewhere. “Technical competence” is a moving target; getting promoted beyond “administrative responsibilities” doesn’t mean you can stop learning.* Ever. (Even if I still refuse to use touch screens and default to using the number-pad navigation keys instead of reaching for a mouse buried under a pile of actual paper.) Unless, that is, you’re still mired in 1980s management practices… which, admittedly, would be a yuuuuuuuuuge advance for commercial publishing.

    * Side note: Nobody ever actually gets beyond administrative responsibilities; indeed, the very best leaders remain fully immersed in them, just with perhaps a little more delegation of the changing of photocopier toner fluid while they worry more about paperwork flow than about paperclip flow. (Which is, yet again, giving away my age.)

    • I think the point in this situation re: admin was should she have gone up to an editor position she wanted, she’d still do other editors’ admin rather than just her own. At least, that’s what I inferred from it and have seen in practice with that kind of verbiage.

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