Episode 56! An Anonymous Post about the Children's Industry and Aging

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Welcome to episode 56 of our kidlitwomen* podcast! Every week this podcast will feature an essay about an issue in the children's literature community (Monday) and a discussion about the essay (Wednesday). 

In this episode, we feature an anonymous essay, about the Children's Industry and Aging. This was posted last March HERE. You can also read it below. Please come back on Wed to hear a discussion about this essay.

Children’s literature is a business like any other. A company needs more profits than losses in order to survive. The money goes out to pay salespeople, marketers, designers, publishers, editors, artists and writers (and their agents) and the products these people create need to sell to keep the company afloat. I share the obvious here, I suppose, because I want to prove that the following ideas and suggestions are not mutually exclusive from the basic formula: money in = payroll + profit + more books.

In fact, I propose that if the book-making table is surrounded by a more diverse group of people, the product will be better and the sales will increase. I’d like to think that we are in the middle of a major diversity sea change. The #WNDB (We Need Diverse Books) movement has been the catalyst for grants, internships, and scholarships for people of color, book creators are talking about and taking pledges to include women and POC on panels, the #ownvoices hashtag is getting stronger every day. We have a long way to go, but the people in my circles are talking about positive solutions, and I don’t hear anyone (in my circles) denying that there’s a problem. 

What I have heard is stories about wonderful older female editors who have had successful careers but come in one day to find out they’ve been laid off. The assumption from those around them is that they cost too much to keep around. When they leave, they take their institutional knowledge with them. When they leave, they leave behind male publishers who continue to age in place. Since there was no place for these women to go up, they had to go out. 

I hear about people who would like to come back to work after having a family or change careers but find that the publishing industry values youth over experience. 

The show “Younger” plays with the issue of ageism as the main character, newly-divorced, after-40, single-mom Liza, fakes her age to get a job. The episodes show her trying to relate to her younger, hip boss and relating but trying to hide her shared experience from her older female marketing director. What she brings to the table is a maturity of purpose in her work. She brings a new point of view and fresh ideas that are a natural outgrowth of living. 

IRL, the editorial hierarchy, especially at the Big 5, is entrenched. One is generally required to start at the bottom as an Editorial Assistant. EA jobs pay very little in a city, New York, that is extremely expensive. EAs often room together in order to make their economic situation work. A situation that sounds super fun if you are 21-25 but looks less appealing as you approach 30, and becomes impossible when you have a family or are over 40. 

The internship is the entry point for many EA jobs and those are designed specifically for students. While some give a small stipend, most give college credit hours.

What can we do to combat ageism in kidlit publishing? 

Pay people more for the work they do. Creative work, work with children, and work done traditionally by women, has always been undervalued. These three job foci together create a trifecta of poor pay. 

Make internships available to those who are out of college. (I’m reminded of Robert De Niro as the Senior Intern in the movie “The Intern.”) These internship positions for postgrads might be remote, or they might be part-time to allow for other work. Some agencies are paving the way for these types of internships with remote first readers who get career support with weekly or monthly video meetings. They might come to the city occasionally to network during their internship. Technology such as ASANA can help to make workflow more effective for interns who don’t live in the city.

Value life experience. Whether the experience came from degrees, volunteer, or paid work, realize that many skills are transferable. A new worker who can hit the ground running and doesn’t need to be taught how to hold a job will streamline business and ultimately iincrease profits

Value institutional knowledge. If one 
was hired at 21 and could make it 20 years as an editor, she’d still only be in her 40s. I realize that not everyone can have an imprint and not everyone wants to be a publisher, but how can we reevaluate the hierarchy to create other forms of leadership to which people can aspire.

Just as we are starting (crazy to say that in 2018) to value racial and cultural diversity, the people who identify as other than cis and straight, people who have disabilities, we need to value older workers. The knowledge that comes from living, loving and working is worth a lot and deserves to be at the table. It’s just good business.

Read all the kidlitwomen* essays shared in March

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GRACE LIN