Peons rejoice!

The book business gives its infamously low-paid assistants a raise.


Craig Offman
May 24, 2000 12:00PM (UTC)

The plummy days of publishing may have gone the way of the two-martini
lunch, but one hallowed literary tradition remains: the underpaid assistant.

At least it used to.

Random House Inc., the parent company of Random House, Doubleday and
Knopf, among other houses, recently announced that it would boost starting
salaries for editorial assistants from $25,000 to $30,000, effective July 1,
just in time to buy a bus ticket to their wealthier friends' summer shares.

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In what may be an industry-wide revolution, other houses appear to be
following.

Last week, Penguin Putnam raised its entry-level pay -- from $22,000 to
$25,000. "We're not high rollers now," says one Penguin assistant, "but
every little bit helps."

Simon & Schuster may also give a boost to its booty call. "We're looking at
what we can do to stay competitive," allows corporate spokesman Adam
Rothberg. Holtzbrink -- the corporate parent of St. Martin's Press, Henry Holt
and Co. and Farrar, Straus & Giroux -- confirmed that it too is considering an
increase.

Lindy Hess, director of the Radcliffe Publishing Course -- the six-week boot camp best known for
transforming a hopeful crop of lit majors into coffee-fetchers every August --
is relieved by the trend. "It's a great thing for the industry," she says, adding
that -- competition permitting -- entry pay could rise "to $25[,000] or
$27,000."

Hess believes there has been a "dramatic" shift in the entry-level market this
past year. She suggests the publishing wage hike is a much-belated reaction
to those irritating dot-com dollars -- a phenomenon corroborated by several
assistants. "I have five friends who left publishing for dot-coms," says Chris
Min, who works in Doubleday's editorial department. "They're getting paid in
the 40s."

In a city where the average studio rents for $1,463 a month, the $5,000
raise (about $3,700 after taxes) may not make a significant difference. "It will
probably help pay for groceries. I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel as it
is," says Angela Wu, an assistant at Nan A.
Talese/Doubleday.
"It'll help people not to feel so abused and overworked."

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Random House Inc., which is owned by Bertelsmann AG, announced its
wage largess via company-wide e-mail. Several staffers report that the
reception to the news -- which many had already read about in that week's
issue of Publishers Weekly -- was more relief than elation: "It wasn't like,
look, you're going to be rich," says one Random House assistant. "It was
more like, it's about time."


Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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