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Ask PubCrawl: How to Land an Internship
Last month I answered some questions about how to break into the publishing industry via publishing programs. Since then I've received a few more questions about publishing, specifically about internships and freelance opportunities. As always, you can always listen to our podcast episodes, email us, or send us an ask through Tumblr if you have any publishing/writing related questions, and we may answer them in the future!
As an aspiring Author-Illustrator of a current assortment of Children's books, the thought of volunteering as an intern sounds intriguing as well as inspiring. With that, I am in need of guidance, especially as I wish to freelance and electronically commute/work/communicate from California. With your experience, could you kindly provide suggestions and the best way to dive in?
Many literary agencies do offer remote internships/reading assistant positions. If you follow them on social media, you can often find calls for readers (like those here at the Bent Agency). In addition, you can find calls for interns at places like Bookjobs.com, Mediabistro, or Publishers Marketplace. A reader position is not necessarily the same as an internship though. For the most part, reader positions are a second pair of eyes for an agent. You will read requested manuscripts from the slush pile, write up readers reports, and give your opinion on the work. An intern is often on site, assisting with administrative work, attending meetings, and occasionally being more hands-on with agenting duties, such as drawing up submissions lists.
You say you are based in California, and there are quite a few literary agencies based on the West Coast: Sandra Dijkstra, Margret McBride, as well as West Coast branches of East Coast literary agencies. You can see if internships are available at these places, or at the very least, a possibility of a reader position. Literary agencies, unlike the Big 5, can operate nearly anywhere. PubCrawl alumna Mandy Hubbard's agency ECLA is based in Seattle, Nelson Literary and KT Literary are based in Colorado (although I believe Kate Testerman got her start at Janklow and Nesbit in NYC), and the agents of Fuse Literary are based all throughout the United States. Note: These are unpaid. Almost all publishing internships are unpaid.
I will be completely honest: your proximity to New York City does matter for internships at the Big 5. Your ability to live or commute into the city will factor into whether or not you will be hired as all those internships are on site. There are editors who work outside the city and telecommute, but these are generally proven editors who have been with an imprint for a long time and have an established track record of acquiring successful books. Most people in remote editorial positions got their start in New York before moving away; it's exceedingly rare for an editor to begin work as a telecommuter.
From an anon on Tumblr:
I'm a rising junior in college. My goal is to go into children's publishing. I applied for summer internships at the Big Five, some smaller pubs, and a bunch of literary agencies, all with no luck. Can you shed any light on what it is publishers look for in interns? Are they mostly hiring relatives of their employees or is it age or location related? How exactly does someone get one of those coveted publishing internships? Thank you!
Persistence! Persistence is key when applying for publishing jobs and internships. (Any job, really.) Publishing is an extremely competitive industry, and HR departments are generally flooded with applications from qualified people. Just because you don't immediately get a callback or an interview doesn't mean that you aren't qualified. As with nearly anything job-hunting related (and believe, I've been there), finding a position is a combination of qualifications, persistence, and timing.
Connections do help, yes, but they help in every industry, I'm afraid. Think about it this way, if you're looking for someone to help you paint your house, you're going to ask around to see if your friends can refer you a person. It's not that publishers hire relatives of employees so much as they're going to look for vetted candidates first. But there are plenty of people in publishing who had no connections, cold-called, and got their jobs. Making connections can also come in less obvious ways: on social media (if I recognize your name from Twitter, then I liable to look closer at your application), by making friends with other writers (I got my first publishing internship through a writing group), by running a book blog, etc. You don't have to be famous, but name recognition will always get someone look closer.
Also, in publishing's case, I do believe your cover letter matters as much as, if not more than, your CV. In the absence of any direct or tangential connections, your cover letter is the best place for your "voice" to come through. Publishers and agents are not necessarily looking for the best academic qualifications; they're looking for someone who has their pulse on the market. Someone who has read widely in their favorite genre/category is someone who understands the readership of said genre/category, and by extension, someone who understands the market. This is infinitely more attractive than someone who has read every work in the English canon of literature. Your cover letter is the place to express your love of children's literature, and to prove you know more than just the big names (John Green, Stephanie Meyer, Veronica Roth, et al). The more specific you are about why and what you love about kidlit, the better.
In the meantime, I would suggest beefing up your resume with other job experiences, even if they aren't directly publishing related. Publicity, social media, marketing, and sales are all part of publishing, and many other companies have these departments as well. Finding a web communications internship at an advertising firm may not be directly related to publishing, but the skills you'll learn at these sorts of jobs can be transferred to publishing: writing copy, pitching products, public relations, etc. My first couple of internships during my college years were at PR firms.
Hope this helped! If you have any more publishing-related questions, don't be afraid to hit us up!