The Most Insane ‘Younger’ Plotlines: An NYC Publishing Pro Debunks the Myths
A 40-year-old mother masquerading as a childless 26-year-old editorial assistant manages to work her way up the corporate ladder until she's named head of a prestigious New York City publishing house's latest and most promising imprint.
Setup for a literary-related punchline?
Nope, just a basic synopsis of TV Land's smash hit Younger, which stars Sutton Foster and Hilary Duff and premiered to critical acclaim in March 2015. Since then, the show has followed the fantasy life of Liza Miller, a shy mother with a college-aged daughter who decides the only way she can reclaim a former life in publishing is to lie about her age and pretend she's an eager 20-something rat-racer. All the while, she's got to hide her secret from the world around her, which amounts to more trouble than any ink stain or printer jam could drum up.
And More generally, Younger, the fifth season of which premieres on June 5, is an exaggerated, candy-coated account of the life of a publishing pro: the parties are gilded and champagne-soaked, the cross-house competition is cutthroat and there are more than a few trysts that manifest along dimly lit archive shelves. And sure, it's TV, but how close to reality is the whole production?
We asked our pal Shawn, who works at one of New York City's premiere publishing houses, to sort through some of Younger's more unlikely plot lines and separate fact from fiction. He's never seen the show, so his opinion is totally objective — check out what he had to say below.
What’s the likelihood of someone taking over an imprint, especially when she’s in her 20s (or pretending to be) or previously an assistant?
Uhm…is this a serious thing that happens in Younger? I’ve never seen the show, but this sounds ludicrous. Running your own imprint is super prestigious. You have to put in the time and work — and have a best-selling book or two under your editorial belt — to get to the point where someone even considers handing you that job.
Can a publisher really be blackmailed by an author into a book deal?
This seems unlikely. At least, I hope it doesn’t happen.
Would a publisher release a book that potentially disparages one of its own managers?
I can’t see a publishing house even buying a book that discredits one of its managers. It’s not good optics.
Are book retreats really a drunken, glamorous affair?
I’ve never heard of that happening, and have never been on a book retreat. But is it bad to say that I hope they are glamorous and drunken affairs? That sounds like fun.
Is everyone in publishing super hot?
Are all publishing folks supposed to be like models or something? Should I be flattered by that assumption? Do I need to start watching this show for the eye candy? In my experience, we publishing people are all pretty much normal looking. Same kind of people you’d find in any office in New York.
Would someone be offered a $10,000 deal for an adult coloring book, especially when he had no previous experience in writing or publishing?
$10K for a coloring book? That sounds like a steal! At least, it would have been two years ago when adult coloring books were selling millions of copies a year.
How easy is it to form an independent publishing company?
Not. Easy. At. All. It’s difficult to publish books. You’d have to hire editors and publicists and sales people and marketers and cover artists and on and on. Then, if you were able to hire an entire staff, you’d have to find agents and authors who would want to take a risk and sign with a fledgling company. I mean, it definitely happens. There are new independent publishing houses that have opened. But it wouldn’t be easy. It’d take a lot of work.
Are gimmicky books about memes and YouTubers really bankrolling more critically acclaimed work?
Yes. And no. It really depends. It’s no secret that the profits from blockbuster books help publishers take risks acquiring less-commercial books. But usually these are like thrillers from long-established, best-selling authors. Or a series that has a massive following. It could be from a YouTube/meme book, though. There are a lot more of those out there these days. But even those kinds of books don’t always sell well. A ton of YouTube followers doesn’t always translate to book sales.
How frequently does something from the slush pile get put into print?
In my experience, this happens rarely. Mostly because the slush pile doesn’t really exist anymore. It used to be that authors could query publishers directly, but that practice has kind of died. Most publishers only except agented manuscripts. So you’d have to make it out of the agent’s slush pile first.
Is poaching authors commonplace? How cutthroat does it get between houses?
It’s not really that commonplace for a major author to change publishers. And when they do, it may happen because their long-time editor has moved and they decide to follow their editor over. Of course, there’s always the exception. But in general, I’d say it’s not a cutthroat business in that sense.
Do people within a publishing house ever ghostwrite their own authors’ works?
I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t heard a rumor or two about an editor or assistant finishing up the last few chapters of a book that was on deadline.
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