Getting by in the big city
You're probably thinking -- I thought this was a story about the Strand Bookstore. And it is, don't worry. (I'm getting there.)
You see, that first job -- working as an editorial assistant for a women's health magazine called Prevention -- paid me a salary that's currently below the new minimum wage in NYC. For my first 10 months here, I really learned how to stretch my limits making $14 an hour and forfeiting more than half of my take-home earnings to rent alone. On a weekly basis, I'd make decisions like: "Is it better to spend my money on a new bottle of shampoo or to refill my birth control prescription?"
I'll be honest: It wasn't a great time to work in magazines. The publication went through two rounds of layoffs during the time that I worked there. It was so bad that, around the holidays, when we walked into the mailroom and saw we all had the same cards in our mailboxes, we immediately assumed that they had finally decided to shut down the magazine entirely. (They turned out to be holiday cards.)
But the interesting thing about layoffs is that it can give the ones who remain more chances to explore new areas of the business. And everyone was stretched. So I started pinch hitting in different areas -- helping the communications team out on events, project managing the editorial process for certain special interest issues, and (my favorite part of all) helping the books editor review new publications.
Each month, I'd read through the list of upcoming new releases and order galleys from publishers all over the city. Sometimes I'd choose books that might relate directly to our editorial objectives. Other times, I'd just request books that I wanted to read myself. I started getting 3-8 new books delivered to me each week. If anything, it also proved to be a nice way to entertain myself without needing to buy books myself.
At some point, a colleague walked by and asked, "What are you going to do with all of those books once you're done with them?"
I shrugged. "I don't know. Leave them here, I guess."
He pointed to my shelf. "But you're running out of space. Want a tip?""Sure.""The Strand bookstore in Union Square does buy-backs. They don't pay as much for galleys but any regular books and titles that you have can earn you a few bucks each. They pay in cash.""Is that allowed?" I asked.
He shrugged. "You think anyone here is going to miss them?"
That weekend, I loaded up my classic NYC shopping cart full of books and hopped on the R train from Astoria to the Strand Bookstore in Union Square. I must have had 3o or 40 books piled up. Some of them, as he pointed out, earned me 50 cents or less. But for others, they would offer me $3 or $5 each. In the end, I received about $55 in cash for that first stash of books. Not bad, I thought. That's nearly 4 hours of work at my hourly rate.
In the end, I probably made a half-dozen trips to the Strand over my time at Prevention, selling back a few dozen books each time. That petty cash would become my weekend spending money. Maybe I'd treat myself to ramen in the East Village or a fancy cocktail in midtown. Or finally refill my stock of shampoo at home. What a time to be alive. I was 24 years old and surviving in a way that only New Yorkers learn how to do.