Scoring that Summer Internship
Well, January's nearly over, and you know what that means: time to start thinking about those summer internships. At LTWF, I was first introduced as the intern of the group, and two years later I can safely say that interning was one of the best decisions I've ever made. If you have the time and the means to do it, do.
But there's a lot to consider when looking for that perfect internship, be it summer, spring, fall or winter. If I wasn't such an anal organizer, I'd probably have had an aneurysm trying to figure everything out. So here's hoping I can save some of you from spontaneous combustion.
When I officially decided I wanted to get involved in publishing during my sophomore year of college, I knew I was going to need an internship on my resume if I wanted to stand out to my potential employers. Some people will tell you an internship isn’t necessary, but I don't really believe that. Let's say a job for an editorial assistant is posted on Random House's job board. Roughly three or four hundred people will apply. One person is going to get that position. One. And if you want to stand out amongst your competitors, you're going to want that internship on your resume. If you can finagle it, maybe even two or three (though not at the same time! Trust me, you'll go crazy). Like anything, you always want that extra edge that is going to make you more marketable. And that's why an internship is so important.
I began my hunt for summer internships during the winter of 2009. I stalked industry people on twitter, and haunted bookjobs.com for listings. I checked the job boards of the big six (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, Random House, and Simon & Schuster) every morning, as well as the job board on Publisher's Marketplace.
Random House no longer offers an internship program. They didn't in 2009 when I was looking, and their website says there will be none for 2012 either.
Penguin and Macmillan offer paid internships
In the end, I applied for a total of 51 internships and heard back from about eight or nine. You can expect silence from most of the places you apply to -- unless they're interested, most places will never get back to you. If you're applying to be an assistant at a literary agency, it's more likely that you'll get a response, but not even that's a guarantee. So be persistent and follow up with the places you're most interested in. Just don't be a creepy stalker who calls every day, sends an email every hour, and/or camps out in the Hachette lobby hoping to spot someone who looks vaguely editorial.
I should point out a few things you’ll want to consider before you accept a position:
1. Where are you going to live? 99% of internships don't offer housing, so you're going to have to find it on your own. I was lucky enough to stay with a friend for the summer, but if you’re going to be moving to a new city or state, and don’t know anyone, be aware of the costs. NYC and D.C. are not cheap places to live. Most big cities aren’t. Craigslist is a great resource, and while you'll undoubtedly come across a creeper or two, there are some nice people out there who are willing to rent out their rooms. Know your budget ahead of time so you don't wind up signing a lease on a place you can't afford. Ask about utilities, cable, internet, etc.
Helpful hint: If you’re looking for a summer internship in New York City, NYU rents out its dorms. They're a little pricey, but the location is great, and the area itself offers a lot to do.
Also consider the safety of the neighborhood you might be living in. Every city has bad areas, and no internship is worth risking your life over. (And trust me, there are definitely areas in New York, D.C., and Chicago you don't want to be anywhere near.) Do your research so you know where not to live. Housing costs are less for a reason, and people will lie to you in order to get their rent paid.
2. How are you going to pay for things? Most internships are not paid, though some will offer some kind of compensation (possibly travel costs) or stipend (usually given at the end). If it’s the case that you won’t be receiving a paycheck, are you going to be able to afford rent? Food? If you’re living in a big city, you’ll want to go exploring – will you have money for that? I made sure to take out extra loans for my spring semester, so I was able to use that over the summer months. Depending on how often you intern, and how much you have saved, you might want to consider getting a part-time job as well.
3. How are you going to get there, and how are you going to get around once you’re there? If you’re relocating to a city like NYC, D.C., Chicago, LA, or Boston, you may not want to bring your vehicle for the summer. Flying is usually the easiest way to get to wherever you’re going, and if you book your ticket well in advance, the price may not be too bad.
Sites like Cheapoair, Kayak, and Expedia can have some really great deals if you book far enough in advance. Also, if you find a great deal on one of those sites, check the price on the actual airline's site. Sometimes that's even cheaper.
But what to do for transportation once you get there? I can personally vouch for the D.C. metro; it’ll get you where you need to go, and is incredibly easy to navigate. New York also has a great subway system, with lines that extend into every borough. It can seem a little daunting at first, but you'll get the hang of things soon enough. All of the Big Six houses are easily accessible by train, and most agencies are too.
Keep in mind how much transportation costs. The MTA in NY offers a variety of metro cards, from unlimited to pay-as-you-go (the most expensive being $104 for an unlimited monthly). D.C.'s WMATA also offers a variety of cards, although none of them are unlimited. But prices for your trip will depend on the time of day and where you get on and off. Rushhour is always going to cost you more.
Also, consider how often public transportation runs. NYC is 24 hours, while D.C. is not. Other cities will have different schedules. So if you happen to miss the last train, know that cabs can be expensive, depending on the distance.
Any large city is going to have some kind of metro system you’ll be able to use, and be fairly reliable. But do your research and make sure the internship you're considering is one you'll actually be able to get to. In D.C. I had to take a bus and two trains. In New York I take two trains. It's all about location. If that literary agency that wants you is in the middle of nowhere, are you going to be able to get there?
4. Will you get college credit? A lot of colleges will help to insure that you receive credit for your internship. Make sure you ask about it ahead of time, if you’re interested. In most cases, you'll need to fill out the appropriate paperwork before your internship actually starts.
Something else to keep in mind while applying: there are a few internships that are for credit ONLY. Don't make the mistake of applying, only to have to turn down an offer later on.
5. What kind of things does this particular place represent? If you're applying for a job at a literary agency, check out their website. Look at the kind of projects they represent. If you hate reading non-fiction, don't apply for internships at a place where that's the bulk of what they do. If you hate romance, look for a place that maybe handles thrillers or mysteries. Beggars can't always be choosers, but if you hate what you're reading, you probably won't put forth nearly as much effort.
Then again, it never hurts to try new things. I didn't read a lot of non-fiction until I got my job, and now I read it all the time. So keep an open mind and see where it takes you.
After you've done all the necessary research, it's time to start applying. Don't be afraid to send out a mass quantity of applications -- you want as many options as possible. Like I said, I sent out 51. Most of the people I've talked to did the same thing, if not more. This isn't querying, where you want to send letters out in rounds. Most of the deadlines are going to be around the same time, so you can't afford to wait. And while it's not first-come-first-served, you're only going to look better if you send yours in early.
I found Excel to be incredibly helpful when trying to keep track of my applications. Set up a chart that contains all of the information you think you need (ie: date you sent the application, when you followed up, etc.), and be sure to update it anytime something changes.
Now that all is said and done, it's on to the fun part! Waiting. And waiting some more. Follow up with your first or second choice, and wait some more. Hopefully you'll get a few offers, and once that happens, you have to debate all of the things I listed above. Which one is going to be the best fit for you? Take your time before giving people an answer. Just don't take too long!
Also, if you were offered more than one position, it never hurts to send a thank you note to the people you wind up turning down. And paper is always more personal than an email.
For me, I eventually decided to take an internship in Washington D.C., and I can say with complete certainty that it was the best decision I've ever made. It also proved to be the best summer of my life. I loved the city I was in, loved the people I stayed with, and finally began to find my place in the publishing industry. I spent my days reading partial and full manuscripts, then writing reader reports. I helped keep up the agency’s blog, and did side projects for the two agents I worked under. I became a veritable sponge, and soaked up every available piece of information I could.
And that’s the thing, really. You’re going to get as much out of your internship as you want. If you’re not afraid to ask questions, you’ll learn a lot. I’ve found that people in this business are more than happy to impart information on us eager young hopefuls. After all, someday we’ll be in their shoes and will need to know what we’re doing. So be sure to take in absolutely everything. If you don't understand something, ask. I know it's a cliche, but there really is no stupid question. You want to know this industry inside and out, and you can't do that if you don't put forth the effort.
Now, some of you are probably wondering what, exactly, an intern does. I can’t speak for everyone, since each internship is different, but if you work for a literary agency, you’ll most likely be doing the following:
Reading queries. I didn’t do much of this, but there were a few occasions where I would go through our backlog of paper queries and assess them. Also, most of the partials we received were accompanied by the author’s original query letter, so you’ll still be seeing a lot of them, even if your main task isn’t going through an agent’s inbox.
Reading submissions. This will probably take up the majority of your time. And be aware that sometimes you’ll be taking things home to read. Not always, and probably not often, but there are occasions where you’ll be bringing work home.
Writing reader reports. With every submission you read, you’ll need to write a report. Usually these are between one and two pages (one for a partial, and two for a full). Basically, you summarize the plot, then give reasons why you would or wouldn’t request a manuscript. It’s not difficult, and it will teach you to objectively evaluate a piece of fiction (or non-fiction).
Side projects. Sometimes an agent will ask you to research something for them, find editors for a particular project, edit a manuscript, or something similar (or not).
General office stuff. Sometimes you might be answering the phone, photocopying, emailing clients, taking care of database things, mailing rejection letters, running errands, or any other general administrative things.
For those of you applying at major publishing houses, many of their programs require you to rotate through multiple departments so you learn, overall, how the company operates.
There’s another perk to being a writer who’s an intern: you’ll get to improve your own writing. No, the people you work for probably aren’t going to sit down and read your manuscript and offer extensive feedback, but if you spend your days reading other people’s work, you’ll learn. You’ll get to see some really spectacular writing, and some not so spectacular writing, but no matter what, you can learn from these other writers. If you see many authors making the same mistake, you’ll file it away as something you yourself don’t want to do. You’ll come across a writer who has an incredible voice; pay attention and take note as to why it’s so effective.
Internships also weed people out. I’ve known people who took an internship with an agency, only to realize they'd rather be an editor. Someone who was a publicity intern realized she wanted to be more involved in marketing. Other people realize they don't want to be a part of this industry at all. No matter what you decide, you’re going to learn something about yourself, and that information is going to be invaluable no matter what job you eventually wind up getting.
Welp, I think that just about covers it! But if you have any other questions, feel free to ask!
Also, in conjunction with today's theme, I'm giving away a query/synopsis/first fifteen pages critique. The contest is open to anyone, anywhere, as long as you've got the above things written (if you have two of the three, that's fine, too. We can adjust!) You can enter by filling out the form below, and we'll contact the winner a week from now!