Blame Low Wages For The Sad Young Literary Men

Willing Davidson on The New Yorker book blog is blaming poor salaries for all the crappy coming-of-age memoirs in the market:

What does this have to do with what we read? Tiny salaries in the low ranks of publishing are miserable for the young workers, but they’re probably worse for literature (You can insert “movies” for “literature,” if that’s the prism through which you want to read this.) It’s a truism of the industry that most of these jobs are held by people who can afford them—people with some parental support and no student loans. Often they’ve had unpaid internships, that most pernicious example of class privilege. Their superiors are the same people, ten years later. They—we!—are smart, cultured people with good intentions, but it’s easy to see how this narrow range could lead to a blinkered view of literature.

So, if you’re sick of coming-of-age novels about comfortable young men, a little solidarity with the lowly assistants might help.

Much as I enjoy an opportunity to blame corporate values for any and all ills of modern civilization, this doesn't make sense. True, this kind of wage structure probably does lead to a lack of
diversity (although better wages alone wouldn't do a heck of a lot to
change that), but it still leaves a lot of questions.

How is it that salaries that support individuals with enough supplemental income to live on them lead to a "blinkered view of literature"? Don't the "good intentions" of rich kids in publishing extend to reading good books? Wasn't that why daddy paid them to get that Ivy League education? Or is exploring worlds outside of your social circle only something poor folk can do?

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Well, I think my initial response to Davidson would be: When have salaries ever been good in publishing (unless you’re in upper-lever administration)? I’m unsure exactly why this is breaking news when the overall (and ongoing) deplorable entry-level salary situation in book publishing has already been noted by such folks as Jason Epstein in his book _Book Business_.

I was offered an entry-level editorial position in New York after college, and had to turn it down. Without parents to supplement, with New York costs and moving costs, and with college loans, it was just impossible. By sheer luck, I got one of the scarce trade publishing positions in Boston not long after.
Corporate structures allow for better entry-level wages in every other industry, including other areas of publishing. They keep the bottom-feeder wage around as a type of industry hazing. It’s certainly not breaking news and there’s nothing to Davidson’s connection, but I do think this practice weakens the publishing industry by eliminating a portion of the better candidates automatically.


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