Life of a (Rookie) Editor: Love and Job Security

Yesterday it was announced that Tokyopop was laying off senior editor Lillian Diaz-Przybyl, editor Troy Lewter and editor Asako Suzuki.

My heart sunk.

These weren’t just any old layoffs for me; Lillian had been my mentor as an intern. She was an invaluable resource for me, even when I went from intern to freelance. She gave me criticism to help me develop my skills, she helped me translate things I couldn’t translate, she loved the blog posts I wrote for the weekly newsletter, she discussed manga reader trends and Ai Morinaga with me. Without her, I couldn’t have learned how to be a manga editor.

Lillian was the most experienced editor left at Tokyopop. (And let me tell you, there weren’t too many full-time editors left by the time I started there.) It is hard to wrap my mind around why she was let go. It makes no sense to me, no matter what context I put it in, whether it be that Tokyopop is hurting financially again or that the company’s focus may be shifting away from book publishing.

Either way, Lillian is a treasure trove of information and passion for manga. It’s not that the remaining editorial staff and freelancers can’t do a stellar job themselves, but Lillian’s shoes will be hard to fill. I’ll literally be trying to do that as I took on three titles she used to edit before I knew she was being laid off. (Gakuen Alice, Clean-Freak: Fully Equipped and Maid Sama!) But it’ll be hard because there’s nothing more useful than years of know-how and experience and Lillian has way more of that than I do. (And fluency in Japanese!)

I cannot describe in words how Lillian’s departure affects me. The news made me cry yesterday morning and I only began to feel better until my boyfriend got home and I had something else to focus on.

But as many friends have reminded me, jobs in the entertainment industries don’t exactly have a lot of security. I could probably count the number of people I know who haven’t been laid off in recent times on my two hands.

It still doesn’t help me understand why Lillian was let  go. It’s not that I could pick and choose who should have taken her place in these layoffs. Troy being laid off makes little sense to me as well  since he handled a lot of the licensed manga, what’s going to happen with all that? (He also had an epic Doctor Who figurine collection on his desk.) Asako was hired not too long ago, so in a sense I can see why she’s gone, but why hire someone when you know your budget can’t support it? (I would have loved to learned from Asako’s experience too. I was excited to be working with her.) That doesn’t leave a lot of people to lay off without severely crippling the publishing side of the company.

I’m not going to say bad things about the company here, mostly because I do love Tokyopop. I love the people I work with and, although I don’t have much interaction with some of the higher-ups, they’ve always been kind to me. Stu Levy was the one who found my tweet two years ago and pointed me in the right direction. I got my internship because of him. Without that internship, I wouldn’t have gotten my career as a manga editor started. Someone had to approve hiring me as a freelancer a year ago and my recent pay raise. I’m grateful to those people, although I’m not sure who did what there. I’m also sad whenever someone bashes Tokyopop for something untrue or just because it’s easy. They don’t see all the people who try so hard to please fans on a regular basis. That’s what the people in editorial try to do every day.

I’m not bitter about working for them. I might be underpaid (all freelancers are, really, it’s not a Tokyopop-only thing), but no one’s treated me badly at Tokyopop.

I just don’t understand why Lillian and the other editors are gone.

Please, instead of leaving comments hating on Tokyopop or any of the company’s execs (because you’re really just making things awkward for me there), why don’t you open up to the credits page a Tokyopop manga you enjoyed that published in the last six years. If Lillian, Troy or Asako’s names are in there, give thanks for their hard work. If there’s anything a manga editor doesn’t feel enough of, it’s praise and love for their job in bringing manga to print.

It’s back to work for me now.

About Daniella Orihuela-Gruber

Daniella is a freelance manga editor and blogger. She likes collecting out of print manga and playing with her puppy. Yes, someone got her a puppy already.
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15 Responses to Life of a (Rookie) Editor: Love and Job Security

  1. Terri says:

    I hear that.

    Although I never knew anyone in TP myself, I do know the industry rather well. (I too am a freelancer, only I Letter.) It is easy to get mad and say mean things about the company when layoffs are happening, but the fact remains that most people who worked or still work for TokyoPop love their jobs, and the negativity is doing them no good.

    I can understand how someone would be upset over losing their position. I dealt with that during my first job. I was still thankful to my employer for teaching me everything I needed to know even if he was the one booting me out the door.

    It is like you said, the Entertainment Industry does not offer stability career-wise. You can work for a company for ten years and still get a pink slip. However, chances are the partnerships and Contacts you have made throughout those ten years will be your source for new employment– so it is better not to burn any bridges. Some of those bridges may lead to something even better.

    • DaniellaOG says:

      Who do you letter for, if you don’t mind me asking? I know one other freelance letterer, she was the one who inspired me to try out interning at a manga company.

      It makes me sad to see people bashing TP when no one realizes that the company doesn’t just consist of it’s most public face. Most of the fans don’t realize that and so they only see the bad things and don’t realize we haven’t forgotten about their favorite series! (The company probably just hasn’t regained the funds to continue move forward with publishing the next volume.)

      Yeah, losing jobs is upsetting no matter how you put it. I feel for everyone who gets laid off, but it was especially hard for me to lose my mentor. Well, obviously she’s still around in general, but I wouldn’t go to her for translation advice and such now. It feels like a pretty bad business decision too. There’s nothing I can think of, except perhaps her salary became more than the company wanted to pay, that would do the company any good by getting rid of her. She brought wealth to the company in other ways.

      As for bashing the company myself… Well, it’s only been a year since I started out freelancing, a little more if you count my internships. I’m beginning to find success, but I’m still at a point where that success is fresh. It would be extremely hypocritical of me to turn my back to the company and snarl about people that have treated me fairly well. Perhaps if they give me the ax too at some point in the future, I’ll feel the need to be mean, but fact of the matter is: I’ve had a good experience so far! They’ve certainly given me a foothold in an industry I enjoy working in when most of my friends are struggling to find a better job than barista. I can’t help but be grateful.

  2. Oliver says:

    I know Lillian edited a couple Shojo I read and works on the BLU line, and Asako edited The Secret Notes of Lady Kanoko (which could have used better spelling and grammar of which high quality can be found in any of Lillian’s books). I exchanged a few e-mails with Lillian talking about the industry, and I was always surprised a T-pop editor would want to talk to a common fan like me AND in a timely manner! This news shocked me, I swear, because Lillian was the liaison with the fans, and had T-pop’s back 100%. I can’t speak to it being a different issue, though, I don’t know if she was using company funds for morning starbucks and lunches, who knows? The board of an affordable housing corporation in my city just got busted for buying chocolates, lunches, and spending millions on other crap with the money that was needed to fix dicrepid apartments.

    I think fans should halt judgment on T-pop because we probably don’t know the full story. You never know what goes on behind closed doors, just sayin’.

    • DaniellaOG says:

      Lillian is just a nice person and knew what she was talking about in terms of Tokyopop and the manga she published. She was very good with fans because she’s just had so much time to learn how to talk with them. Besides, sometimes it can be a lot of fun to talk to fans who love your stuff.

      I don’t think Lillian was using company funds to have lunches with anyone other than fellow company people. She took me, other interns and editors out to lunch on special occasions. (Birthdays, first days, etc.) Nothing inappropriate, especially considering how other employees did the same. And we aren’t talking about elaborate lunches at the ritziest places in town, just normal $8-$10 a person meals every once in awhile. We definitely aren’t talking millions or even thousands. I don’t think that’s grounds for firing her either. If they wanted her to stop doing those it would be just as easy to tell her and the other employees they weren’t allowed to do it anymore.

      Anyway, we don’t understand the full story at all. That’s pretty much why I keep saying I don’t understand. We don’t have the context. (Especially since production doesn’t seem to be decreasing, which would also save some money if TP’s coffers were empty.)
      I really hope Stu does an interview with Publisher’s Weekly soon, not that I think it’s going to change anyone’s minds or stop them from hating the company. I just don’t think the company has the good reputation to do that right now, sadly. ._.

  3. Hi there, I couldn’t help but notice how nice your blog post was about TP. I also interned there, recruited to assist in the production on the show I think a lot of people are blaming as a huge cash waste and a major factor in the loss in staff. I also got to spend some time with Lillian and the others like Cindy and Troy (I rode the train with Cindy! haha) and they were some of the best people I’ve ever met, funny, smart, witty, and a love for manga. Even though I wasn’t an editorial intern, I knew right off the bat Lillian was such a cool person, she even helped us with making some commercials (that are only available on YouTube).

    I don’t want to blab, but to put your heart at ease, I’m sure Lillian will do fine because I’ve heard talk about her friends in high places (you don’t become an editor of a company for 6 years and not know the other companies) and I’m sure someone like Yen or Kodansha will eat her right up :-)

    • DaniellaOG says:

      Goodness me, I hope so! Although that means she’ll be on the East Coast, where I’ll rarely get to see her.

      To be honest, I’m really not worried about Lillian being unable to find another job. I know her chances are great in that respect. What I’m really mourning is the loss of my mentor in a place where I can easily speak to her and ask for advice (without being a pain in the butt and bothering her because outside of a work environment that gets awkward) and how Tokyopop is going to suffer without her. It really is going to suffer, no question. I’m scared to see what’s going to happen to the company. ;_;

      She’s a lovely person and I am going to miss hearing her infectious laughter in the office.

  4. Oh yeah, I remember, even though I wasn’t in the editorial department, I got to write the back covers to some of the manga. I beamed when Lillian said job well done :-D

    • DaniellaOG says:

      ^_^ Yeah, editorial has always been good about letting non-editorial interns work on manga production stuff. Since most are fans of manga, it really makes the internship worthwhile to have a part in production.

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  8. daniel udo says:

    I’m an English major but i was thinking about trying to be a manga editor. The only problem is i have no idea how to go about this. Help? I know this has nothing to do with your blog, sorry i just don’t know what to do.

    • Hi Daniel! If you look through my blog archives I have a few posts that mention interning in the manga industry, which I think is the best way to become a manga editor straight out of college. Otherwise, you’d have to become a book editor first and then get hired by a manga publisher.

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