Preventing Burnout in Publishing

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Nov 10 2022

I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can help improve BookEnds for all the people I work with. These days a lot of that involves thinking about burn-out, quiet quitting, and all the other buzzwords we keep hearing. While obsessively thinking of how I can do better I came upon a thought about burn-out in publishing and what we’re doing wrong in this new world.

Publishing of Yore

When I was an editor and, frankly, when James was my in-office assistant, a lot of our learning was done through osmosis. Just by sitting in the presence of senior editors I heard conversations and negotiations and learned from them. I would pop into the office of a senior editor to ask a quick question or talk through an issue. Even better, sometimes they would stop by my desk to discuss a problem they were having or even get my feedback. And I learned a lot.

Not only could I listen in on conversations and ask my thoughts just because I was in the room, but a relationship was built by this constant contact that gave me safety and freedom when I had my own issues or questions.

Publishing Today

Today most of us are working remotely and miss out on those opportunities for osmosis learning. Junior agents and editors no longer sit outside offices with the ability to eavesdrop on conversations and phone calls. Let’s face it, eavesdropping is a prime learning opportunity. I can only imagine what James learned while sitting through all my phone calls.

I notice how this is hurting junior editors and presumably agents. There is often a hesitancy to how they answer my questions and also a lack of basic networking knowledge. No one is there to nudge them to reach out to a new agent or make connections. No one is encouraging them to schedule agent lunches or zoom calls. They haven’t witnessed their bosses handling situations in a way that gives them courage when facing their own.

This lack of learning and relationship-building is hurting us all. Not just the junior agents who are finding themselves isolated and burned-out, but the authors they are advocating for. Especially if they aren’t building those easy relationships with others in the publishing house—art directors, copywriters, contracts teams, etc.

We keep talking about burnout because of workload, but we aren’t also looking at the mental workload of trying to manage a career without a full support system and, frankly, the training to do so. The workload is intense, but it’s far harder when you don’t feel you have people to turn to who can teach you how to best manage it. It’s also more difficult when you don’t feel confident in knowing how to do things because you haven’t seen them done.

Suggestions for Change

Two years ago, at the height of the pandemic, I made a presentation to a rather large group of agents on what they needed to do to guide and lead their newly remote teams. I explained how BookEnds has weekly meetings on Zoom and that I meet one-on-one with every single person who works here every single month. That I make myself accessible at any time for questions, and how these face-to-face Zoom meetings are essential to building our relationships. I could tell who was paying attention and who wasn’t. I can tell now when I see how successful their junior agents are or are not. So many sat in that room and did not want to do the work I told them they had to do.

If we are going to support junior professionals we need to make changes to do so which means senior-level people need to build and change systems to give those junior people the same access they would have in-office. They need to be mentored and have regular face-to-face meetings. They need to be building relationships among the team on a broader basis and giving out information regularly on what their days look like.

I also think, unfortunately, some of the onus of this change does fall on the junior-level people who need to be expecting this. They need to be asking for mentorship and support and to get on a zoom call to work through questions.

We are in the middle of a changing world and that means we need to be making changes.

 

 

 

 

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