I didn't set out to blog about gender in publishing. My goal last week was to spend a of couple hours researching the career mobility of acquisitions editors on LinkedIn to go along with a video I had already shot. The couple hours turned into a full week of reading through hundreds and hundreds of public profiles of editors, associate publishers and assorted vice presidents, and puzzling over the career paths of trade publishing professionals. Initially I tried relying on Google search techniques, adding and excluding keywords in hopes of getting some statistically significant results without having to read every profile, but that turned out to be a weak methodology. By the end of the week, I had an idea what it would feel like to be CEO of a large trade publisher and to read a stack of resumes for a senior position instead of employing a headhunter.
The initial goal of this study was to see if the publicly available information on LinkedIn would be useful in determining how long acquisitions editors remain in their jobs. This is critical information for unagented authors who are looking for a publisher and are going about it the right way - investing their efforts (and postage) in contacting editors with a stated interest in acquiring works in the author's field of endeavor. Authors do their homework by buying the latest edition of Writers Market or Jeff Herman's Guide, and searching for the names and contact preferences of appropriate editors. As often as these books are updated (go by the publication date, not the year on the cover), a large number of editors will have moved on by the time the author purchases the book. So I started by looking at the profiles of current acquisitions editors and senior acquisitions editors to see how long they had been at their jobs. For acquisitions editors, the median time (half shorter, half longer) in the current position was 1 year, 9 months, and for senior acquisitions editors, the time was 2 years and 4 months. The moral of the story is that authors should check LinkedIn or use Google search to try to determine if the editor for whom they are crafting a proposal is still in the same job before investing too much time.
Now a quick look at the data I gathered earlier in the week on the relative career mobility of women and men, before I realized that the methodology was too weak. The reason I'm giving these results is because the obvious gender inversion with seniority is what led me to invest several more days trying to increase the accuracy. Note that these percentages came from paging through Google results generated with the "site:linkedin.com parameter" and the job title. Gender was determined by first name, which means I had to exclude many unisex and foreign names. Also, just because the job title is included on the public profile doesn't mean the individual held that job, i.e., an intern with work experience as "assistant to the associate publisher" would have been counted with associate publisher, etc. Equally important, many of the same job titles are used in magazine publishing, radio, television, and advertising as well as trade book publishing.
Men 35% Women 65%
Men 41% Women 59%
Senior Acquisitions Editor
Men 49% Women 51%
Men 57% Women 43%
Men 61% Women 39%
Men 79% Women 21%
Now before anybody gets excited about these early returns, remember that the methodology was flawed. But it motivated me to take a closer look at a specific group, big trade employees (think Random House, HarperCollins, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, etc) with the job title "publisher" or "associate publisher" in their public profile. Rather than just counting the boys and girls in this group, I also counted the number of years from college graduation (100% claimed to have graduated from college) to when they first claimed a job with "publisher" in the title. The final group was limited to 61 senior trade publishing employees, as most listings had to be disqualified for reasons like incomplete job histories or omitting college graduation dates. Worse still, if somebody spent 15 years or a whole career at a company where they eventually became publisher without breaking down their progression of jobs, I couldn't use it. In retrospect, I wish I had retained a record of whether those omitting college graduation dates were more likely to be men or women.
After spending a few days reading all of the relevant public profiles on LinkedIn, I came to the conclusion that while men edged out women in senior positions, women reached senior positions a little faster than men. Given the small final sample size, both conclusions are probably in the error band, with men accounting for 56% of the publisher jobs (44% for women) but women first claiming the publisher job title after 15.96 years on average vs 17.32 years for men. As a side note, the 12 employees with graduate degrees, all Masters, reached the publisher job position in 13.33 years on average, so graduate degrees were a minor help to men, but not much use to women.
Some people manage to encapsulate their career history on LinkedIn, like one ex-acquisitions editor now working as a grade school teacher who I'll paraphrase: "In the morning I would read a children’s book and in the afternoon I'd negotiate with authors – it was a wonderful job until I got downsized." On the other hand, a former VP and Associate Publisher at a top trade who became a “reading specialist” at a grammar school after 30 plus years in the business is, I assume, happily retired. In some cases, you can see where the march of time and the Internet has changed the publishing landscape, as in the profile of an editor who moved on after 18 years in one job as an acquisitions editor for an encyclopedia.
On many profiles of these educated and highly experienced managers, self employment is clearly a euphemism for laid-off rather than a career choice. I wish I could have sat next to them on a plane ten years ago (thanks to a free upgrade to business class) and convinced them to start their own websites and publishing companies rather than working for corporate America. Of course if I had a time machine and could do it, would I really want to create all that competition? I was also struck by all the people who seemed to have a firm plan in mind for their direction in life before they even left college. How come all of the successful people I know in self publishing came to it after years of this and that?
Many editors enter the trade at higher levels, including one who made the jump from store clerk to senor acquisitions editor at a major trade – being underemployed to start helps. One of the longest job descriptions on LinkedIn was by an acquisitions editor (he included all the authors he was currently working with) who has been in the job just 2 months. In one case, a publisher I used in the study didn’t give her graduation date but was a member of the LinkedIn group for her class of 1984 college reunion – gottcha! Another publisher’s first job in publishing was “desktop publisher”, a related but no equivalent position.
In general, I didn't see much humility on display in profiles, some of the claims were pretty fantastical and would no doubt be hotly debated by fellow employees if LinkedIn had a reader comments option. I noticed that people stay at TV jobs. I didn’t make any calls to Random House or HarperCollins to confirm the claims on LinkedIn profiles, I took everybody at their word. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this study is that you can do it yourself. The information is public, all it takes is time. Analyzing the public profiles for different publishing jobs on LinkedIn might make a decent August assignment for your summer intern who is running out of things to do, now that everybody is off to the shore or mountains for a few weeks vacation, and it's too hot for the underlings left behind to drink coffee.
And finally, here's the video that cost me a week of reading virtual resumes: