What Are We Going To Do About the Gender Salary Divide?

By Carmen Comment

10 years ago, the pseudonymous Morgan Cast revealed the sad, sad truth about publishing salaries: there isn’t a lot of money to go around. “While editors with their own imprints command six-figure salaries, editorial assistants start in the $18,000 range,” wrote Cast in the October 31, 1997 article for Salon. “If they stick with it, they might be promoted — after five or so years — to an associate editor’s job, which pays a whopping $28,000 to $34,000.” The news delivered by the then-3 year publishing veteran only got grimmer as the piece went on, culminating in what a Crown editor evidently “satisified” with the job put it. “I’ve given in to the notion that I love what I’m doing and I’ll never get paid what I’m worth in this industry.”

Cast’s piece back then had Publishers Weekly‘s salary survey as its statistical backbone, and with this year’s results just out, it’s helpful to look at data going back a few years.

Back in 2004, Jim Milliot‘s article about the survey reported that “one general trend that has dominated the survey since its inception—the most lucrative jobs in publishing are in the management side at the largest companies.” Indeed, that is still true today: as an example, editorial personnel in the high-priced Mid-Atlantic region earn an average of $51,000, while management averages a much more respectable $140,000.

In 2005, Milliot noted a drastic drop in morale within the industry. Just ten years earlier, more than 75% of publishing employees reported that they were satisfied with their jobs; in 2005 that figure is barely more than 50%. This year brings more specific results thanks to a larger statistical pool, showing that 56% of editorial employees reported they were somewhat satisfied or not at all satisfied, while managers, on the other hand, were the most satisfied with their positions, and only 48% complained about low salaries.

All of these problems, existing as long as they have, require some degree of energy to fix but might not be seen as urgent. The gender gap, however, is a different story, and using the excuse that more men go into management – which is far more lucrative than editorial – isn’t enough to explain it away. Total compensation averaged $99,442 for men and $63,747 for women in 2006, a substantial gap that has far-reaching consequences. If the majority of editors – who are female – are not adequately compensated for their time, which involves editing books outside of office hours and working many more hours than they are supposed to be compensated for, how is this supposed to encourage the industry as a whole to flourish? How ironic that the people who are supposed to be a book’s earliest and most passionate champions are relegated to the lowest rung on the totem pole, monetarily speaking.

So what can we do? The easiest fix, of course, is boosting the editorial assistant salaries to something moderately livable. Yes, it’s become de rigeur to expect that highly educated, upper middle class white women can afford to live on a meager salary because they are getting extra compensation from family financial help, but that overly broad stereotype only goes so far and ought to be shattered. Besides, if extra compensation means hanging onto talent who can then grow up and climb the ladder to stay champions, instead of switching over into more lucrative careers (or head for the hills of graduate study) then all of us – executives, managers, editors, sales reps, booksellers and oh yeah, authors – benefit.