Every kid who secretly dreams of making it as a writer but doesn’t think it’s really possible should get to know Lilit Marcus. Lilit (pronounced Li-leet) is a 27-year-old self-made writer from North Carolina who came to New York to, in her words, put her only marketable skills to use and become a writer. Now she is celebrating the release of her first book, Save the Assistants. The book is based on the extremely successful, often funny, and always-helpful blog she co-founded of the same name. Lilit’s book and blog (already featured in big publications such as Marie Claire) are a treasure trove of advice and tips for both men and women who are dealing with everything from trying to find a job to having the boss from hell.
Why did a young Lilit decide to move to New York City?
What else was I going to do? [laughs] I think when I was a little kid there was this notion that when you grew up, being a writer was something you did on the side, like if you got a copy writing job or something. There wasn’t this notion that there were enough publications and enough outlets and enough money out there that you could really make a living doing that. So as much I love where I’m from, I sort of knew that I had to come here if that was what I really wanted to do.
I’m assuming then that you always wanted to be a writer?
Yeah, I’ve never been good at anything else. [laughs] I can’t drive, I can’t cook, I can’t fix things, I am really bad with kids; I’m really fortunate that I get people to pay me to do what I want to do. Both of my parents are hearing impaired so when I was a little kid we used sign language at home. My parents wanted me to learn to read and write as soon as possible. They started me really young because that was such an important method of communication for them. We were always sending letters to people. They wanted me to be able to do that since it was a good way for them to communicate. I found out that I had a really bad memory so I just started writing everything down so I remember what happened and what was said so that if I needed to tell my parents about it later I could.
When you moved to NYC what was the first thing you did?
I sort of hit the ground running, started looking for anybody that would hire me. My parents weren’t helping me financially so I had to go ahead and get the ball rolling. Where I grew up, once you graduate from college, you’re not going to become the executive of a company or anything, but you’re not going to have to start as an assistant. I had friends that were already account managers at companies so not high up on the ladder, but above entry level. That was sort of the notion that I had of the kinds of jobs that I should be apply for. I didn’t know anyone here so I didn’t have anyone to sit me down and explain that here in New York, you can have a Ph.D and you’re still going to have to be somebody’s assistant. I spent eight months looking for work before I found my assistant job.
How long were you an assistant?
I was a receptionist first and then an assistant for about a year. I then made a lateral move and became the executive assistant to the editor-in-chief of a website. That job was great and I was there for about another year until I was promoted to being an editorial assistant and then assistant editor so altogether I was at beliefnet.com for about two and a half years. So I started as the editor-in-chief’s assistant and I left with a really great set of bylines and a lot of work that I was really happy with.
Was it that experience that led you to Save the Assistants?
Yeah, a lot of people think, “Oh, you had a shitty first job and that’s why you started Save the Assistants.” That’s how the idea started but I didn’t actually launch the site until after I started at my next assistant job because I realized, “Hey, I’m doing all the same work, I’m still answering their phones, organizing their calendars, I’m still fetching coffee, yet I don’t hate my life. I’m learning things and my boss is encouraging me and teaching me.” Things can be different!
Your website has gained an incredible following. What do you envision for the future?
I would like to stage a day without assistants where every assistant from every company all walk out at the same time, then I want to call every single office in the world and wait for bosses to learn how to pick up their own phones. [laughs] It would only work if all the assistants at a company were gone, if a couple walked out for the day to make a statement the other assistants would just get fucked and have to do the rest of the work. But I would love to organize a mass assistant walkout to force people to recognize how much assistants do every day. I think if not for assistants, America would not be running.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
I would need more of a following in order to do that. I know that I have strong readerships in certain cities but I would want it to be a much bigger thing. Ideally I’d love a partner, whether it was an organization or a product and that way they could sort of utilize their PR outreach but I think it would be great even if it was just New York.