Did the perilous pandemic end the publishing party?
From Publisher’s Weekly:
One thing the pandemic has proved is that though working from home allows employees greater flexibility, it’s also deeply isolating. And it arguably makes it harder for publishing—a business that, to some extent, made up for its low-paying salaries with events, parties, and a feeling of participation in the literary world—to attract new talent.
“The shitty job with shitty pay has always been there,” said one literary agent. “But the perks were the free books, the famous authors wandering the halls, the camaraderie, the stupid parties—even the free lunches and the doggie bags for dinner. None of that is happening.”
As an editor at a Big Five house put it, “Publishing is sort of a dues-paying industry. It’s not intentional, like frat hazing, but you do have to pay your dues. Over time you move up, but it’s a grind and it can take a big toll. The social aspect, though, is what makes it bearable.”
What the “social aspect” looks like in publishing moving forward is an open question. Numerous sources said they think it’s unlikely publishers will foot the bill for as many events as they did in pre-pandemic times. If anything, the past two-plus years proved something that publishers have been quietly assuming for some time: many of the events they regularly spend money on—media lunches, book launches, lavish parties at the now shuttered trade show BookExpo America—don’t have enough of an impact on sales to justify the costs.
It’s pointless to ask anyone in this business if the industry used to be more fun than it is now—publishing folk have likely been discussing the industry’s downward spiral since shortly after Gutenberg got his press running—but it’s hard not to notice the contrast between how industry veterans describe their time as assistants and what today’s assistants are saying. The veterans overwhelmingly offered happy memories of starting out, noting that they were having too much fun to worry about the low pay and heavy reading load.
One senior editor at a big house, who spoke fondly of the heady days of publishing in the early ’90s, said he does sometimes worry for the younger generation, “who don’t go out for drinks after work.” Then again, he countered, “it’s hard to tell what’s the pandemic and what’s me being old.”