Sunday, December 10, 2006

Turnover in the children's book publishing industry

The following question was posted anonymously in the comment section of my personal blog, but since it seemed more appropriate for this blog, I'm answering it here:

Eds, art directors, marketers, etc. move around a lot in the publishing biz. What is it like for you to be at a house for a while and to have people coming and going all the time? It seems as though inefficiency would be rampant. Do you find you have to get new folks up to speed often as you usher a ms through to publication? Why do you think people in the biz move around so much?

For the first three years I was at my house, I think only 2 or 3 people in all of the children's division left the company. Of course, at that time we were based in Boston, where publishing jobs were fewer and far between, so people tended to stay at their jobs forever. When the division was moved to NY 4 1/2 years ago, everything changed. First of all, we lost our entire Marketing and Publicity group, our entire Production Department, and all but one Designer. As I wrote about here, it was a tough transition period--and all of the turnover after that was a piece of cake--kinda. I think for me, it wasn't just the regular amount of turnover, but also the fact that we were growing. Boston's editorial department of ten people is now fourteen. Four designers have doubled into eight. The five-person marketing/publicity department is now nine. And yes, we've also had quite a bit of turnover, which I think is natural during transition periods. I got very used to seeing new faces in the office, and sadly, also saying goodbye.

I will say that sometimes as the one "left behind" it does make me wonder if I'm missing out by staying in the same place, or maybe missing the reason why people tend to leave all at once. I had a conversation with at least two other coworkers this year about whether we felt weird staying when everyone else was leaving, if it made us want to leave, too. And I also see people moving up more quickly than me, or people with less experience in higher positions in other companies. But then you remember how much you love your job, your coworkers who aren't leaving, the books you work on, and you know you're doing the right thing for you. As I think I may have mentioned in the past, I "follow my compass, not my clock." And if you look at the reasons why people left this year, out of the five people who left, only one left to go to the competition. One moved to France, one moved to Hawaii, one went back to school, and one moved to PA and is now a professor. Why would I leave my dream job?

I don't think inefficiency is rampant at all. In fact, just the opposite. The people who remain pick up the slack and are forced to work either more efficiently and/or longer hours than before to make up for being short-staffed, or taking time to train new employees. Sure, there are tough transition periods, and I can't say that some books didn't suffer due to staff changes. But everyone was committed to getting the books on our list published in the best possible way. And there are positives that come out of turnover, too: new staff brought a welcome fresh perspective to our company and made us even stronger, made the other employees more invigorated. As with anything, it's good to mix things up a bit every now and then so you don't get too set in your ways.

On the other hand, I think we have a nice balance of old and new. Three of us in editorial: me, one of our editorial directors, and our publisher, have been with the company since we were editorial assistants (I think over seven, ten, and fifteen years respectively), and we bring with us the knowledge of our backlist and how things used to be done, and how so much of our procedures are more streamlined and effective now.

I've certainly done my fair share of getting new staff trained and up-to-speed, but even new employees had much to contribute, and could perhaps take over more duties from me that they could dive into right way, such as manuscript reading for example, while I got them up to speed on other procedures and responsibilities.

And finally, why do I think people in the biz move around so much? Do they, really? I've never worked in any other industry aside from retail at B&N, and certainly there was more turnover there than in publishing. People move around in every industry for the same reasons--to get a higher position, more pay, change departments, change industries, get married, have kids, because of problems with their bosses or problems with their coworkers. I don't think people move around in children's book publishing more so than in other industries.

If in fact there IS more turnover in children's book publishing than in other industries, perhaps it can be attributed to the fact that so many of the staff are young and female. This has been discussed on several other blogs, and I posted my response to the issue here. I think women are perhaps more likely than men to move for their spouses who most likely make more money, or leave if they decide to start a family. The low pay is also a factor--people may be eager to either move up more quickly into higher-paying positions, and sometimes the only way to do that is to move companies.

Anyway, I know I may be naive and overly optimistic sometimes, but when I look at our staff today, I think we're probably the best, most stable we've ever had, and it seems to me that most everyone is really happy there doing what they do. Of course there will be changes in the future, but I hope we stay this way for a little while.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Alvina. This perspective isn't often heard.

I'm glad you're so content in your job. I love your line, "follow my compass, not my clock." There's some sage advice!

alvinaling said...

Thanks, I heard that saying in a talk that Avon CEO Andrea Jung gave--she said Ann Moore (Time Warner CEO) said it to her when she was making a difficult career choice, and I'm sure someone else said it to her. I know I've said it to many of my colleagues! It's on my bulletin board right now.

Agyw said...

I whined on my blog about that fear of aging too quickly to do the things I'm driven to do (okay and I have a few years on you). But I really like that saying and shall appropriate it anon. I have my dancing hammies with a Japanese proverb, Hammies because how can you take them too seriously, and one of my beloved crit groups (I'm blessed with two), we call ourselves the Hammies. The proverb, I lifted from the miraculous Cynthia Lord:We are fools whether we dance or not. We might as well dance.

Anonymous said...

As one of the new people, I can say I'm glad you're still around. You've been a really great role model and someone I feel comfortable coming to for advice (like tonight).

It's funny, cuz I wondered why so many people left in such a short amount of time as well but there was absolutely no reason I could see. And it's true that only one person left for a higher up position. I've been at other jobs where large groups of people left from discontentment or restlessness but obviously LB is a great place to be when the people who leave are sad to be going and are only leaving because they are hearing the call of another state/industry/etc.