Salaries in Book Publishing

Jun 16, 2020

The following article was originally published in The Bookseller. The discussions around #BookJobTransparency #PublishingPaidMe and low salaries are nothing new. The date has been left out so that you can guess how long ago this was written. 

Salaries. It one of my most frequent client questions.  What should I be paid? Am I being paid the right amount?  Isn’t pay in publishing poor (or insert relevant expletive here)?  And when I get into a discussion with CEOs or Directors, they tell me how they hate the Salary Survey.  I recall one Human Resources Manager telling me she hated my survey so much because as soon as the figures were released the CEO was on the phone wanting to know how the company compared.

It might be unrealistic to be talking about salaries when times are hard and jobs are scarce, but let’s face it; salaries in publishing have never been great.  But I wonder if bosses at the top know (or perhaps remember) what being chronically underpaid does to someone?  There was a time in one of my publishing jobs where I had seen my salary rise by £250 a year, yet my council tax had risen by £15 a month, my travel expenses by £8 a month and other general cost of living expenses had also risen.  Yet I was expected to carry on in my job, as motivated as I was previously, because these costs were ‘not in my employer’s control’ and because I wanted to remain in publishing.  By this time in my career I had been working for over 7 years and was still earning far less than the “national average wage”.    Are your publishing employees meant to be living on the breadline?

I had the privilege once of covering a temporary role outside of publishing, where I discovered the receptionists were paid £25,000 for working set hours.  I have friends with lesser qualifications doing manual jobs getting paid twice the salaries of some of the first class graduates employed as managers within book publishing.

There comes a time when you change companies and you have it in writing they will review your salary when you finish your probation period, and you’d signed on the dotted line as you’d been told it would be a substantial review. Yet a salary freeze is then put in place across the whole company, and that includes all reviews, and your probation review.

I can understand for the employees who sit clock watching all day, doing the 9 to 5, the minimum that is expected of them – well that is what they are paid for – but the majority of publishing employees have always given over and above the call of duty.

If the salaries got dramatically better as you rose the ranks then you wouldn’t feel you were suffering too much, but on today’s figures, you start your career on £17,300 and work your way up to your dream job.  After many years of working evenings and weekends, or taking work home, always having to do that little bit more to meet that deadline or to find out that extra bit to make you look good for the promotion ladder or your next appointment.  The average salary that is waiting for you at the end of the rainbow as a Commissioning Editor – £26,450.


It is about your overall quality of life
The thing about salary is that it isn’t only about money, it is about your overall quality of life.  It is about the things that you can or you can’t do.  The films that you can or can’t see when they are first released, the places or restaurants that you can or can’t eat at, the shops or clothes you wear.  The holidays that you take.  We all know about the moan that you’ll never be able to afford a mortgage on a publishing salary, but it isn’t only about that.  It might not seem much for one or two years or at the beginning of your career but after 5 or even 7 years it takes its toll.  It is the ‘dinner party syndrome’ of sitting down with your peers and hearing them talking about going to Paris last weekend, Rome next month, their summer or skiing holiday  and understanding that you work more hours than them, you probably work harder than them, but you take home less pay because you chose (or fell into) publishing.

I love publishing.  I have since the end of my first week at Andre Deutsch back in 1983.  But at times I am ashamed of some employers within the industry.  This might be through my careers work with clients or through my own personal experiences of how shabbily some publishers behave when it comes to salary. (The companies who renegade salary increments, on commission deals, or companies who do not help employees who fall genuinely ill – or even worse ‘forget’ to pay staff on time.) I am at times ashamed to say that I have worked for companies like that.  But for every bad employer there are many good ones, and for that I have faith.  I do hear of good stories of companies paying staff well, looking after them, introducing new schemes and benefits and being fair to students on work experience (don’t get me started on that!).  There is a claim that there is ‘not much money in publishing’ but I have been in this industry to know there is money within the industry, and that you don’t have to live on just the love of books to survive.

What would I do to change things?  The first thing I would do is ensure that every job advertisement had a salary or a salary band.  It might not do much to start with, but it would give you as a potential employee an idea of what you might be letting yourself in for.

May you all be doing a job you love and being paid the salary you so richly deserve.

Other comments on transparency of salaries can be found here