by Tess Tabak
A lot of people say that you can’t make a good living as an English major. The facts are very cold and hard: Most publishing houses are in New York City. Entry level publishing jobs pay very, very little, and New York City is very, very expensive.
When I graduated from college, I resolved to go into publishing, no matter how poorly paid it was. I would show the world that I really could make it work as an English major.
I can do this, I thought, in the naïveté of my youth. I can realize my dream of living in Brooklyn and being boho-poor like in Girls but still not actually so poor that I have to live on the street like a pigeon.
A few months later I found myself at an interview for a small-but-respectable publishing house. I was eager, filled with bright, bushy-tailed enthusiasm. We got to salary negotiations. They said a number, and I agreed. That number was really low, but still way better than scrounging around at McDonald’s or something. I didn’t know how, but I would find a way to live within that budget.
They offered me the job. On the spot! I was so excited.
Well, imagine my surprise when, upon receiving my first paycheck from my prestigious entry-level publishing job, I realized that I was earning exactly enough money after taxes to be making negative $100 a month on my current rate of spending, and that was only if I really scrimped. Looking through my bills, I soon realized that I had to pick between paying rent and eating.
So I did what any sane person would do. I thought about my living expenses, and what I could eliminate. My apartment would have to go, I decided. I gave my landlord notice, said goodbye to the comfort of enclosed rooms, and prepared to become homeless. The city is my apartment now, I thought. I am living the dream.
The first night out, I wandered the streets after work in search of someplace to sit out the night. Luckily the city is full of 24/7 diners. I walked into one in Midtown that offered free wifi – score! I settled in at a table with an outlet.
The waitress smiled at me and said, “What’ll you have, sweetheart?”
I smiled back. “This is my new home now.”
Her face squinched up. “Excuse me?”
“Nothing,” I said. “I’ll take a coffee, please.”
Once I set up, I realized how perfect this was. The diner had everything I needed to survive: heat, coffee, Internet. This was an amazing way to live in New York without going broke. All you have to do to stay in the diner is order about one cup of coffee an hour. At $1.50 per cup, and 8 hours per night, that comes to roughly $360 per month. A veritable bargain in New York. It’s way nicer than an apartment, too: no roommates, no landlord, no cleaning up after yourself.
Another option for writers in my situation: for a measly $142 a month, you can get 24/7 access to the Writer’s Room in Manhattan, group office space for writers. And they have cozy couches upon which to lay your weary head.
Now that I had a place to sleep, all that I needed was a place to shower to refresh and get that non-homeless look. I did some research, and Boom Gym in Midtown Manhattan is definitely the way to go, with membership starting at $20 a month. That includes showers. Totally do-able.
Um, can you say “Who needs an apartment?” again? I certainly don’t! I hope that I’ve inspired all the young people out there and shown them that they too can survive an entry level publishing job in Manhattan.