The View from the (Highbrow) Bottom: The Life of the NYC Lit Assistant

In What's the Buzz by Helen Gregg

By Helen Gregg

I had to look up what Moscots were before I got very far in Kat Stoeffel’s much-forwarded article about “highbrow bottom-feeders,” or, New York publishing assistants.

Moscots, it turns out, are glasses, and, combined with a belted sweater dress, are the uniform of Ms. Stoeffel’s stereotype – an East-Coast-educated, hyper-literate, employer-idolizing, cliquish, either hardworking or pretty girl in her early twenties with at least the initial impression that she will one day be one of the city’s great literary tastemakers.

Much of Ms. Stoeffel’s glee is derived from having these assistants talk about their daily tasks, and then using as many synonyms and metaphors for ‘menial’ as she can fit into the two-page article. An old joke at the expense of a 22-year-old target.

The juxtaposition between a publishing assistant’s expensive English degree and their day-to-day tasks is readily apparent. Having read Ulysses is not required to fill out an expense report, being able to recite the prologue of the Canterbury Tales in Middle English doesn’t help make lunch reservations, and the unique voice praised by a creative writing teacher sophomore year never seems to shine through when addressing galleys.

What’s condescending is the combination of delusions of grandeur and the lack of any real-world skills Ms. Stoeffel attributes to all publishing assistants. She allows her interviewees to be in turns pretentious and clique-y (“in the editorial assistant’s mind, publicity assistants are stupider”) and then helpless and unprepared (“The things that are the hardest, or maybe scariest, for me are admin things, like phones, paperwork — especially tax forms!”).

We may be at the bottom, but we can still see that in publishing, like in any other career, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. Even without the Moscots, that much is clear.

Helen Gregg is the project coordinator at the German Book Office in New York and an indispensable part of the Publishing Perspectives team, whether they admit it or not.

About the Author

Helen Gregg