Her clog-clad foot bounces rhythmically as she tells her friend about the book she’s just started working on. ‘The spelling and the grammar are terrible,’ she says. ‘Totally cringe-worthy. But the content’s good. It’s fiction, but it’s not, you know … Because it feels true.’
Her friend does a tilted head nod. Oh, she knows. She gets it.
‘But I’m pretty sure I hate my job. Last week my managing editor circled a word I’d hyphenated and wrote, in red pen, ‘I wouldn’t have done that.’ I mean, what the fuck.’
Her friend tells her she’s lucky – she’s being paid.
‘Well, I couldn’t’ve done another unpaid internship,’ she replies. ‘I can’t live at home forever. And I have a post-graduate degree. Shouldn’t that be enough to get paid work?’
Her foot bounces so quickly now that her clog might fly off.
Her friend says there are very few jobs around, so actually, if anything, she’s very lucky.
‘To be an editorial assistant, working three days a week? I could earn more money picking fruit.’ She shoves her glasses back up her nose.
Her friend, clearly tiring of the conversation, suggests she quit. After all, she does still live with her parents.
‘But you’re right! There’s nothing else out there!’ she says. ‘Did I tell you I sat the Lonely Planet editing test about a year ago? There were, like, sixty other people there. Sixty. I think they hired two of them! I mean, who were they? And what are the others doing?’
Her friend says she had no idea.
‘There’s nothing creative about the publishing industry,’ she says finally. ‘That’s what I’ve learned. It’s just red pen and who you know.’
She’s frustrated and angry and she probably has a right to be. As an editor working in the publishing industry, her income is unlikely to exceed 45k before she turns 25. And she will be lucky if it ever exceeds 50k. Throughout her career she’s likely to attend countless meetings about a desired pay increase and will always be told the same thing: the line of people who want your job goes around the block, so back to your desk or get on your bike. And if not that, she’ll be reminded she works in publishing – there is no more money to give. Back at her desk, she will resent the fact she resents the receptionist for earning more than she does.
I sat behind this young woman at the Emerging Writers’ Festival Launch at the Wheeler Centre in May. The room was abuzz and there wasn’t a spare seat. Except, that is, for the seat beside me. Had they sussed me out? Did they know I don’t believe in unpaid internships? That I was listening into their conversations and frantically typing them into my iPhone? That I, somewhere in my blackened heart, felt sorry for us all? Those who believed there’s a prosperous career in publishing.
There are fifteen universities offering postgraduate editing courses in Australia. Even more offer editing classes at undergraduate level. And if tertiary education and years of experience still aren’t enough to get you a job – which is highly likely – then the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd) offers accreditation. The exam, which has been offered since 2008, is recommended for editors with more than three years’ experience and tests competence, not excellence. And it costs non–IPEd members a whopping $725 – not much less than most editors’ weekly wage.
But tertiary education, years (sometimes decades) of experience and accreditation, still won’t see you rollin’ in it – or necessarily employed at all.
The Book Industry Award 2010, which is administered by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA), sets the minimum weekly wage for a trainee book editor at $756 a week, or $39,312 per annum. This soars to $803.80 a week after completing a six-month probation period. For the most senior editor, the minimum weekly wage is $1168.20 per week, or $60,746.40 per annum. Now, that all sounds kind of reasonable until you try to convince an employer you should be paid as a senior editor.
But don’t worry, on the upside – if you can call it that – most book editors won’t earn enough to have to pay back their HECS-HELP debt, no matter how low Mr Abbott pushes the repayment threshold.
Meanwhile, the MEAA’s 2011–12 National Freelance Rate for book editors and proof readers is listed at $215 per hour, or $911 per day.
And now take a big breath in, because this is when we laugh: HA HA HA!
I felt for this woman sitting in front of me, grappling with the situation in which she finds herself, because I’ve been there. She can see her future and is doubting her career path before it has barely begun. I certainly wouldn’t dissuade her from reconsidering her options.
But there’s one thing she has got wrong, or still doesn’t realise: it’s not just red pen and who you know – it’s also constantly wondering, in a female-dominated industry, whether you’d be paid more if you were a man.