When most UP students start to look for an internship, they focus on organizations nearby, or perhaps as far afield as downtown Portland. But senior English major Hannah Robinson moved all the way to New York City for her publishing internship last summer. Here’s her story, and some suggestions she offers for others seeking similar such positions.
As I hugged a mug of tea for moral support and pressed ‘send’ on thirty resumes last February, I had no idea that my dreams of a summer publishing internship were about to become a reality. The day I got an email inviting me to interview I literally jumped for joy, and four days later when HarperCollins Publishers officially offered me an internship I ran around for twenty minutes doing a victory dance. When June rolled around I packed my bags and got on a plane bound for New York City and ten phenomenal weeks as an editorial intern.
I spent the summer learning a new city and a new industry, making contacts and getting an insider perspective on what trade editorial is really like. For me, this internship was a sort of trial run; I knew I wanted to be an editor and this was the perfect opportunity to test out the responsibilities I would eventually be taking on. Warning: what everyone always says about publishing is true: it’s hard work and long hours for little (or in my case no) pay. But you know what else? When you love books the way most college students love hitting the snooze button then publishing is the place to be.
I could not be more thankful to the welcoming, intelligent and inspiring people at HarperCollins for their inspiring examples and for sharing their wisdom. I’m hoping to pay a little of that wisdom forward and share some tips with you all based on my own experience.
Whether you’re already spiffing up that resume or still just testing the waters, here are five things you can do to get a taste of the industry from right here on the Bluff and get the most out of your internship experience:
#1: Read omnivorously
And just when you thought you didn’t have another second left in the day, right? Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it), the best thing you can do if you want to be in publishing is read. Realistically, nobody has time to read every book on the market, but you can make the most of the books you do read. Seek out a variety of fiction and non-fiction, read contemporary books (sorry Ms. Austen), and don’t just read the genres you like. From day one of my internship I worked with not just with literary novels, but thrillers, women’s fiction, non-fiction on every topic from basketball to Jerusalem, and even some YA crossover. You learn fast, but I wished many times that I were better versed in something besides my favorite novels.
#2: Keep a book journal
You can do this however you like, the key is to make yourself critically evaluate the books you read on a regular basis. One of my main tasks as an intern was to evaluate submissions. For each manuscript I wrote a reader report for the editor, and you can do this for any book to get practice. What I learned over time is that the most important part of any review is the comparison titles. Basically, publishing thinks about books in terms of other books. Doing this allows editors to see how a book will be received, project how well it might sell, and ultimately plays a big role in whether a manuscript gets acquired or not. This is also why being well-read in a variety of genres is so useful! To get yourself started, pretend you’re talking to a friend and that you can only describe a book by referencing another author, title, or series. What would you say?
#3: Do your homework
Reading and evaluating books is critical, but knowing the finished product isn’t the whole story. The publishing industry is constantly changing and it pays to keep on top of stories like the Penguin/Random House merger or the DOJ case with Apple. There are fantastic websites out there, most of which will send
you daily updates so it’s easy to keep abreast of new happenings and important changes in the industry. Even if you only have time to scroll through the headlines, it’s worth a look. Some of my favorites are PublishingTrendsetter and GalleyCat, though PublishersWeekly and the NYT Book Review are gold standard for the latest buzz (and conveniently available through the UP Library).
#4: Be enthusiastic
This tip is especially important once you’ve started working. It’s so easy to get mired in doing a good job that you lose track of why you wanted the internship in the first place. It never hurts to remind yourself on a Wednesday morning when you just gave yourself another paper cut from the 68th envelope you’ve sealed already and it’s not even ten o’clock yet that a) you actually wanted to be there and more importantly b) why you wanted to be there. Mary Poppins is spot on about that spoonful of sugar, and if you can harness your enthusiasm, the experience is so much more rewarding.
Do you like something you’re doing? Say so! Did someone mention a manuscript in the weekly meeting that piqued your interest? Ask them if you could take a gander. I had more than my share of embarrassing nerd moments, but you know what? Some of my best conversations were direct results of those instances where I showed my genuine interest and passion.
#5: Find a mentor
I can tell you from personal experience that having a mentor is the single best thing you can do for yourself. As your office go-to your mentor answers those unceasing questions (mine patiently explained everything from the NYC area code to the nuts and bolts of acquiring a book), but they give you projects, walk you through new processes and can even act advocate for you with others in the company. How do you spot a potential mentor? Go with your gut. Picking someone who has time to talk to you and who has similar job responsibilities is a good place to start (read: don’t look too far up the ladder!), but if someone makes themselves available, is easy to talk to and obviously doesn’t mind talking to you, reach out to him.
What are your thoughts? What advice do you have from your own internship experiences? I’d love to hear your stories, questions, and thoughts so feel free to comment below or send me an email.
In the meantime, good luck and happy reading!