Monday, September 16, 2013

Behind the Scenes with a Publishing Intern

Hey guys! It's Alex and today I'm going to talk a little about what us ~mysterious~ interns get up to. *cue flickering lights and spirit fingers*

Probably, if you've read posts on this blog or elsewhere, you're aware that a lot of people in publishing-- editors, agents, etc-- have interns to help them out. Internships are a great opportunity to break into the publishing industry if you're interested in becoming an editor or agent yourself, or an immersive introduction to queries and submissions. You get to help publishing professionals do cool stuff with books, read stuff years before it's published, as well as get a firsthand look at what trends are popping up. It's pretty neat!

I work as a remote intern-- meaning that I work from my laptop at home. There are other internships that take place in person in NYC, too (which sound wicked fun and also involve meeting publishing people face to face instead of over a keyboard).

So okay, what exactly does being an intern entail? 

Reading. (Haha, yes, you should've seen this one coming.) Whether you intern for an agent or a publisher, be prepared to buckle down and do a lot of reading. You'll also have to write up these things called reader reports, which I'll talk about a little later, after you've read. But reading is always going to be your number one task.

Depending on the type of internship, you might have access to a query inbox. When I was working with agent Mary Kole, one of my intern duties was to read incoming queries and sample pages and pick out which I'd be interested in reading more of. Seeing queries in large quantities really makes you aware of what works and what doesn't. When you have anywhere from ten to fifty queries to read through (and sometimes a couple hundred if you go on vacation or forget to check the inbox daily), your eyes glaze over fast.

This is why people critique each other's queries so much --and coincidentally, why we're happy to crit queries you guys send when we do SeCrits :) -- if you've worked for months or years on a story, you want your query to be so good that it makes an agent or editor or intern sit up straight and fire off an email asking for more.

If you want an idea of what the query inbox experience is like, I recommend checking out Query Shark. Read as many queries as you can in one sitting, then add in a smattering of LinkedIn invites, and several very random queries too strange to mention in a public arena without breaking an NDA, and you'll have a good idea. You can also check out WriteOnCon's crit forums for more ideas and also to get your query checked out, too.

Wait, what's an NDA?

NDA stands for Non-Disclosure Agreement, which is pretty standard when you start an internship. Basically, it means that as an intern I don't talk publicly about specifics in queries or submissions that I read (respecting the privacy of the author) or what the agent or editor I'm working with is doing. Signing the NDA is a promise of professionalism-- you agree to keep things on the dl until it's cool to talk about them.

Also, signing NDAs makes you feel like a complete and total badass. Like whoa, I get to know things other people aren't supposed to know? Bring it on.

So about those reader reports...

Reader reports' formats differ from internship to internship, but their overall goal is the same: condense your feelings on requested material (partials and fulls) into anything from a few paragraphs to a short essay. Reader reports aren't exactly like reviews; they're more a direct strengths-and-weaknesses digest with your estimate of how much work is ended on the agent/editor's part to make a submission publication-ready.

Keep in mind that the time that agents and editors invest in reading submissions is all pro bono (which is part of why they're awesome people). Sure, everyone is hoping to find an amazing author and rep/publish them, but this involves a lot of unpaid reading hours and the more time you work unpaid, the less time you have to clock in the hours that make rent happen. As an intern, you want to streamline the process for them as much as possible with your reports so that the person you're interning for can go directly to the submissions that are closest to being publication-ready.

Sometimes in an internship, you'll have to read something in a rush-- and this is super exciting and also really stressful, because it usually means that the agent or editor you're working with has been notified of another agent/editor's offer on the submission, and needs your intern input fast on whether or not they should make an offer/try to acquire it. The first time this happened to me, I pretty much spent an entire day reading in a Starbucks, chugging caffeinated drinks and subsisting on muffins until the report was done. It can be really fun but also really draining-- it's like you're on call to drop everything and dash into the manuscript fray.

To sum up, you will learn a ton about what makes a manuscript compelling by being an intern. You'll also learn a ton about what makes a manuscript compelling by just reading books and figuring out what you liked about them, what you didn't, what felt strong, and what you as a reader felt like the author glossed over. It's not necessary to get an internship to know what makes a great query letter or manuscript-- that's researching what queries are and a lot of revisions.

I personally like having an internship because it kicks my ass into learning new things about writing, both the art and the industry. I have to think about why I'm not connecting with a character, or what about a plot doesn't make sense if I want to make a convincing case to the editor I work for. If you're like me and maybe are looking for an immersion experience into publishing, give it a shot. If not, then being a beta reader or critique partner will show you many of the same writing strengths and weaknesses.

Have questions about being an intern and a writer? Ask me in the comments! :)

5 secret replies:

  1. I had no idea there were remote internships!! It's one of the reasons I never looked into it because I didn't want to live in the publishing Mecca. How do you have time to work on your own stuff?

    1. Yeah, remote internships are awesome! I live in Pittsburgh and I've had the opportunity to work both with people centered in NYC as well as all over the US. It's loads of fun! I found both of my internships through twitter, if you're interested in working remotely. Most are unpaid, though.

      My secret is basically to schedule everything: my morning and afternoon I spend in grad school and teaching, I read submissions over dinner, and then I write up reports and work on my own stuff during the evening. It's intense, but having the rhythm there helps. :)

  2. Hey! Great blog post..I am looking for remote literary internships. I only just heard about them and I'd really love to get one..I've googled them a fair bit and found some websites but do you know how to find them on Twitter?do you just follow lots of agents or is there a specific hashtag you entered to find them! Thanks!

  3. Great suggestions - BTW , people are looking for a NJ DoT MFA-1 , my business filled out and esigned a fillable document here MFA.1.

  4. Hi! Hi! I am an aspirant writer and while my ultimate dream is to become a published author someday (whether traditional or self-pub), I do also want to indulge myself in the publishing industry, reading stories, critique plots, and mostly to LEARN new things that can improve my story. My question seems pretty stupid, but, will starting out my author path as a publishing intern first worth it? I mean, I do hope it can evolve into me being absorbed by the company as an author when I get to write my masterpiece in the future.