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?
* Answer phones
* Prepare and fill out forms
* Talk to freelancers
* Maintain schedules
* More copying
* Give notes
* More copying
* Write Previews copy
* More scanning
* Make balloon placements
* More @#&%&# scanning and copying
* 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 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.