Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Everything I Know About Being An Assistant Editor

After having several brave souls ask me about what it takes to get an assistant editor job at DC Comics -- and how to move up the ladder, etc, -- I figured I'd devote a short post to the topic. Originally, this post was going to be about getting an assistant editor job in general. But I think every company is different, and while some of what I write might apply to the different comic publishers across the board, I have no way of really knowing that.

On the other hand, much of what I write might apply to all jobs in general.

Official Versus Unofficial Methods Of Applying For The Job
I applied for my job at DC in an unofficial manner. I simply bought a stack of DC Comics, copied out the names of the editors, and sent them letters inquiring about employment. I used the address that was on the indicia. I was very honest in those letters: I was a marketing research specialist who really wanted to work in the comic book industry. Within three (count 'em three) days, I had four interviews set up.

This is a highly unofficial way of doing things. Another unofficial way is to use your connections & network, which is how I got my job at Acclaim Comics some years before. I am a big believer in thinking outside the box and using these unofficial methods.

However, this was the DC Comics of nearly ten years ago. They still accepted unsolicited submissions back then as well, and gave employer recommendations if you were moving on to a new job. Within a few years, they changed their policy to no longer accepting those submissions (though, I suppose, they do have Zuda if you want that outlet). And the current official policy is that one's individual bosses at the company are not allowed to give you personal recommendations; you can only get a "neutral" statement from the human resources department confirming that you worked there.

What I'm saying is, it would seem that now it might be easier to go through the official channels of finding the posted job online and sending your resume, etc. I don't know if there is that openness anymore that facilitates the unofficial approach. I think if you still have a good connection at DC, you might want to use it to possibly leverage a position there. But it's just a bit tougher. Or, if you have a super-de-duper connection, maybe not.

Where do you find these want ads for job openings at DC? I believe you go to the Time Warner website under "jobs." Every major company should have such a section on their websites.

Is Being An Assistant Editor Right For You?
Well, let's back up and say that, as far as I know, assistant editors at comic book companies do not get paid tons and tons of money. There still is that "I'm partially doing it for the love" factor. Some people from other fields such as marketing, finance, etc ask me about becoming an assistant editor. I say: probably not. Enter into the company as a marketing specialist, administrative assistant, etc, and, if you wish, make a lateral move into editorial at some point. That's what I did, and my salary was slightly higher because of it; I made a lateral move from the creative services department -- that paid more -- to editorial as an assistant.

It all depends what you *really* want to do, what your goals are. Really want to be a comic book editor when you grow up? Okay, then take the assistant editor job. But maybe you are only in it because you want to develop contacts for your eventual career shift into comic book writing or art. In that case, you might want to consider taking a job as an administrative assistant who works with the editorial department. Those jobs traditionally pay better -- and you get to meet editors. Or take a job in marketing or advertising or licensing and build that second skill.

And here is the thing about being an assistant editor at DC -- go look at the rate of promotions. Look at how many assistants have become associates and how many associates have become editors -- say, within a ten-year-span. Look at that data, and use that as part of your decision-making process. You should try to find such data out -- and this might involve a bit of research on your part -- for any job you take. Or at least ferret that information out when you have just gotten the job, to figure out what your chances are for upward mobility.

If you are an assistant editor and you are in that position past four years without promotion -- it is not an ideal situation. If you have been an assistant for three years and there is not even a hint that you might be promoted at some point of your career -- it's not an ideal situation. Unless -- you are happy being an assistant and that's enough for you. And if you are, and if, with occasional raises, you are happy with your income (and free comics), then that is ok and I respect that.

But when Acclaim Comics closed their NYC office and I was laid off, I can tell you that no traditional publishing house that I went to was impressed by my two-and-a-half years experience as an assistant editor at a comic book company. Some looked at the books that I worked on and thought they were "school projects" of some sort. Which is why I made a decision to develop skills in another field.

Diversify Your Skills
The best shot you have in "making it" in the comic book editing field is to diversify your skill set.

The best shot you have in the comic book field is to diversify your skill set.

Diversify your skill set.

Not just to get the better jobs, but to sustain you between jobs.

What Type Of Stuff Does An Assistant Editor Do?
* Copy
* Scan
* Answer phones
* Prepare and fill out forms
* Talk to freelancers
* Maintain schedules
* Proofread
* More copying
* Give notes
* More copying
* Write Previews copy
* More scanning
* Research
* Make balloon placements
* More @#&%&# scanning and copying
* Mailing
* Helping out at conventions

Now, when your boss trusts you have enough experience, he or she might give you a book to edit yourself. I think this is really the goal you want to aim at as an assistant editor. Can you handle a book by yourself? Can you get it in on time? Regardless of whether you get promoted at the company or end up going elsewhere, having those books under your belt is crucial.

"The Wall"
The best advice I can give you about being an assistant (or associate) comic book editor -- or about any sort of job, really -- is to learn to recognize The Wall.

The Wall is that point in your career at a firm where you realize that you will never get promoted any further.

Sometimes, your employer will make The Wall that is holding you back very clear to you. They might say, "you will never get past this point." You might get angry when being told this, but it is actually a mercy.

The worst type of situation is where you stick it out for years and years and you keep hearing the same bullshit -- "oh yes of course one day you will be promoted" -- and meanwhile you see people left and right of you with less tenure get ahead of you. That situation suuuuuuuuuucks.

Life is short. You are delivering for your job -- but is your job delivering for you?

And I will tell you right now -- if somebody with a ton less experience and tenure than you gets promoted ahead of you -- that is a massive red flag. Go start looking for another job.

On the other hand, sometimes your employer is not really looking for anything other than an assistant, and you fit the bill and you're great at it. And your employer really depends on you and doesn't want to lose you. Then decide if you want to stay at the company under that arrangement -- but ask for more money! Heck, executive assistants make a ton of money.

But remember -- if you spend ten years as an assistant at a comic book company, and then leave and apply for other jobs, the people looking at your resume will question why you never advanced.

How To "Make It"
1. Do good work
2. Don't cause no trouble
3. Be liked by important people

This is a universal. But it is not the only way.

How To Have A Fulfilling Career
1. Do good work
2. Follow your dreams
3. Write everything down, archive your emails, make To Do lists, and keep on track
4. Always maintain your self-respect

The Way The Assistant Editor Thing Should Work
Traditionally, being an assistant editor meant that you were "apprenticing" in a way for an eventual career as a full editor. That, among other things, ensured a sense of continuity in the editorial department. That is the way I think the assistant editor thing should work.

Assistant Editors: The Backbone Of A Company
Assistant editors are the backbone of a comic book company. They are in the trenches. They keep things moving. They deserve recognition and respect.

One More Thing
In the interview, you can say you're a fan and that you follow the books. But don't be a fanboy or a fangirl. Keep it professional. Do not say "gawrsh, I'd do ANYTHING to work in comix!" This will not help you in the salary negotiation.


  1. that last part is soooo true.

    i work at one of the biggest/best ad agencies in the world, and when i got offered the job (with like a DOUBLE in my last salary) i actually counter offered and got even more.

    and just got a raise and a promotion and its been 9 months at the place.

    sooo yeahhh... ive always wanted to work in comics, but it would be such a cut in pay/benefits not really sure it would be smart.

  2. Hey, long time reader, first time poster.

    The part that concerns me is that I have no idea what an assistant editor should be making, on average, salary-wise. I would love to get my foot in the comic industry, but right now I don't have any information in which to compare to my current salary. Is there a place I can find this information? I've tried to Google it, but I'm not sure how reliable the info I'm getting is.

  3. what if i pretended to see the connection between countdown and final crisis?

  4. Always wanted to work in comics. Still do... Trying to break into the industry as an artist.
    I believe some parts of your post (especially the "follow your dreams" and "be professional" parts) can be applied in my case, so thanks, Val.


    Do you have any SPECIFIC pointers for ARTISTS (especially what NOT to do)?
    Yes, I know I already asked this here, in one of your "open forum" posts and I REALLY don't want to annoy you, but it WOULD be nice to get some pointers from someone who actually WORKS with comic artists.

    The only reason I am asking is because I have respected your oppinion for a LONG time. ESPECIALLY when you talk about following your dreams and making it YOUR way.

    Thanks in advance.


  5. Anonymous6:16 PM

    I'm a big fan of the Bureau of Labor Statistics for any salary information.

    The BLS has this neat java tool to figure out what the competitive salary is, based on industry, level of responsibility, and geography.

    Very useful stuff.

  6. "what if i pretended to see the connection between countdown and final crisis?"

    Fast track!

  7. Thanks, greyman24! That helped tremendously!

  8. Anonymous8:58 AM

    This is a really good, informative read. I work for a small company in the UK who basically do reprints for the UK newsstand... a lot of the stuff listed here was very familiar!

  9. The Wall is no joke. A friend of mine was an assistant to a vice-president at DC. She was a very hard worker, took on her own projects, and had been promised promotions that never materialized. Finally, she was told that she was seen as a secretary, and nothing she did would change that.

    She took another job, and was soon a senior vice president at a major entertainment company. Sometimes, the way over a Wall is around.

  10. For a general clearinghouse of job postings, I look at . Marvel posts to Monster, DC has the Time/Warner site (which can be frustrating). The only drawback with Indeed is that some postings are duplicated, as they get cross-posted on various websites. Still, it's a good resource, and lists ALL jobs, from lowly coders to VPs.

    I follow the NY model... keep your day job, live off that. Use it to fund your passions on the nights and weekends.

    Network online and off. Make a ten-year plan. If you can start the plan in high school or college, even better. Take continuing education classes (once known as Night School). (You do know you can claim educational expenses as a tax deduction, don't you?) Never stop learning. Make mistakes, and remember, the only stupid mistake is one which you could have avoided by asking a stupid question.

    Oh, and do your homework. Know who the big names behind the scenes are. They are usually at conventions, but nobody recognizes them, and thus are usually available for a quick meet-and-greet. (Normal rules of ettiquette apply.) And hey... even if you don't recognize anyone, start a conversation with the person handing out posters or pins. They at least work at the company, and can give you some information and opinions. And that person may later get promoted, or change companies.

    Oh, and it helps to have a unique name... and/or unique opinions.

  11. Timely--I'm working to move from the trade book world (sales and marketing) into comics (sales and marketing), and so much of your advice seems to apply to positions other than assistant editor as well. Thanks for the reality check, the boost, and the insight!

  12. Feh. TW's hiring process is not to be recommended. I spent six months applying to pretty much every admin job available, and never heard back from anyone there at ALL, not even a "sorry, your salary range is too high" email. And that's WITH all the connections I have at DC.

    I was at the Wall with my last job for over five years. Now that I'm at a new job that I love and where there's actually room for advancement, I think I'm too old and tired to want to climb the corporate ladder. :)

    AEs do balloon placement? Why didn't I know that? I guess I assumed it was artist-directed.

  13. I've applied for an assistant editor job at Marvel, and a prepress assistant (what I am now) job at Dark Horse. Never heard back from either, probably because I live in England.

    They'll want to bother with all the Visa stuff to get me out there, right?