By Ashley Oerman and Shaye DiPasquale
Chances are you aren’t expecting your editorial career to make bank. But you probably expect to at least be able to pay your rent. Well, hate to say that the math doesn’t work out so great. The current median income for an editorial assistant in New York City is $38,835 a year, according to Glassdoor.com. And many companies pay temp or freelance EAs anywhere from $15 (NYC minimum wage) to $20 an hour ($2400-$3200/month). Yet the average rent for a one bedroom apartment is $2,970 a month, according to Zumper.com. That doesn’t leave you much wiggle room for um, food, utilities, cell service, and beer.
Alas, it seems that part of the secret sauce of making it in media is to have a side hustle. We hate to say it’s a rite of passage but the reality is so many successful editors and media execs today had to work two jobs when they were first starting out. Here are some of their stories.
“I worked at a live blues bar in Greenwich Village every Friday and Saturday night to make extra cash. Fridays were rough, rushing from the office to get to the bar in time. But luckily, I lived right around the corner, so the commute was as good as it gets—and the atmosphere at the bar was even better! I’m pretty much a bourbon and blues connoisseur now, too, so that’s an added little perk from my cocktail waitressing days.” —Maryn Liles, who worked as a junior editor at Town & Country, SHAPE, and Parents while at her side hustle; she is now a freelance writer
“I worked nights at Spring Street Books. Part of my job was to stand on a stool at the end of the aisles and make sure no one stole anything. My favorite memory is the night Spike Lee and John Malkovich came in—not together. ‘John!’ said Spike. ‘Spike!’ said John.” — Jody Rohlena, then an assistant editor at New Woman, now a senior editor at Reader’s Digest.
“I ghostwrote a bunch of porn in the voice of the naked ladies of Petite magazine (focused on girls who just happened to turn 18 ten seconds before the photo shoot) and Leg Action magazine (focused on legs and feet). I’d write about whatever it is they were doing in the photos, like changing out of their cheerleader outfit or whatever, but the problem was I didn’t get to see the images ahead of time. My editor’s last name was Weiner (I swear I’m not making that up.) He had a crazy strong Noo Yawk accent and would call me and DESCRIBE THE PHOTOS TO ME OVER THE PHONE, like “so you’re washin’ dishes, right? and yuh keep splashin’ yawhself and you’re gettin’ all wet, you’re just friggin’ drenched ovah here, so yuh have tuh take off those wet clothes, ya hear what I’m sayin’?” And I’d be like, sure, you got it.” — Meirav Devash, freelance writer about her side hustle starting out at Alloy.com
“I crocheted children’s hats for an NY designer who sold them to boutiques. Basically, I was her factory…I made $4.50 for small ones, $5.50 for mediums, and $6.50 for larger sizes. I whipped them out everywhere I went, before I went to sleep, as I woke up and could do it with an arm wrapped around a subway pole (so I wouldn’t fall down) and a bag of yarn propped up between my feet. I used to love to crochet, but after that I’d automatically start making a hat if I picked up a hook.” — Sharlene Breakey, content consultant at Breakey-Fine Creative about her side hustle when she was working at the View magazine.
“While I was an EA at CosmoGIRL! (R.I.P.), I was a professional wing woman, which means I was paid to help men meet women at bars. (This was before all the mobile dating apps came out.) The company I worked for would tell me when and where and who, and then I’d go and be Random Joe’s platonic friend whose sole mission was to help him break the ice and converse with women. (Yes, seriously!) Being in the guy’s shoes like that led to a truly authentic learning experience…and I started to get hit on everywhere I went. So I took my unique experience and successfully pitched and wrote a freelance dating article for Cosmopolitan. This piece got me on their radar and eventually led to me making the jump from EA to Associate Editor.” — Christie Griffin, Web Manager, Sesame Workshop
“I worked at a paint-your-own pottery studio, often painting baby hands (and butts sometimes) into fish or trees or footballs. I also dressed up as an elf for the day Santa came to the store and we had to handprint hundreds of kids for ornaments and Christmas gifts.”— Kimberly Holland, then an EA at Health magazine, now senior editor at Allrecipes.com.
“At one point I had three jobs. When I first moved to the city I had an entry level editor position at a website and it paid $1,600 a month. I would do that from nine to five every day and then at night I would babysit until midnight two to three nights a week. And then on weekends I would work at a retail store. I did that for maybe three months and then I ended up quitting [my retail job] and stuck with babysitting. When I went on to my second [editorial] job I kept babysitting. Now that I’m at my third job as an assistant editor, I stopped babysitting.” –Leah Rocketto, then an assistant editor at POPSUGAR, now Senior Digital Editor at Women’s Day
“When I moved to NYC I was making $28,000 a year, and I blew through my savings and my paycheck wasn’t enough to pay rent and live comfortably. I realized I needed another job so I walked around my neighborhood and stopped in anywhere to see if they would hire me. I couldn’t work in NYC restaurants because they were open too late. So my options were ice cream or cupcakes. When I first started at the ice cream place it was challenging because as the new person I felt like I had to work whenever they needed me. But once I got settled-in they were more flexible with my schedule. I didn’t realize how much stress it was causing until I found a new [publishing] job that paid enough that I didn’t have to work a second job.” –Dani Martinson, then freelance web producer at Details.com, now Social Media Specialist & Copywriter, Fashion to Figure at New York & Company
“When I first broke into editorial, I was a “permalancer” making $20 an hour. Not a bad pay rate, but with NYC expenses chomping at the bit, I needed to make a little more to feel secure. Through a former intern supervisor, I connected with an editor who needed man-on-the-street reporters one weekend a month. This involved me approaching random (attractive) dudes in NYC’s Union Square, harassing about their sex and love lives, convincing them to run their pics in the magazine and then transcribing their quotes. It was a challenge for me, since talking to strangers was so not my M.O. but looking back, I do appreciate the challenge to my personality! I did this for about a year and a half, until the mag started taking a different approach to the feature.” – Ariana Finlayson, then a freelance writer for Hearst, now VP, Digital at Marina Maher Communications
“I was a coat check girl at a fancy midtown steakhouse. It was hard work, physically (I ran up and down stairs all night, in heels, natch). It was mostly older men in the legal and financial world on expense accounts coming in, and they were on the lecherous side. And my mag boss was kind of horrified that I had to work that job on the side. But I met a lot of really fun people and have some good stories (Jon Bon Jovi doesn’t tip). It was a good side gig.” – Danielle Raymond Neff, then an associate editor at Parenting Magazine, now Director of Creative Copy & Content, Victoria’s Secret Beauty & PINK Beauty
“When I was working at American Baby I barely made enough money to afford my regular breakfast of Lender bagels. (How sad to live in NYC and eat frozen bagels?!) So I took on an evening shift job at the Barnes & Noble in Union Square. I was hired because I had an ‘expertise’ in magazines, given that I worked at one in my day job. My only responsibility? To put the mags back in their proper space on the rack after customers would flip through them at the cafe. Now if I go to a place that offers free reading material, I always put it back myself.” — Chandra Turner, founder & CEO, Ed2010
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Shaye DiPasquale is a freelance writer, social media manager and content creator. She recently graduated from Elizabethtown College, where she studied Mass Communications and Women & Gender Studies. Her writing has appeared on Her Campus, HelloFlo, Her Culture, Substream Magazine, The Owl, NJMOM and more. She is also the founder of createHER Collective, a community for young changemakers and creators to collaborate on initiatives through creative exchange. Check out more of her work at shayedipasquale.com!