Category Archives: intern
>I hate interviews. There’s something about being scrutinized like a bug specimen that makes me a little nervous. Go figure. I find myself giggling unnaturally, saying stupid things that don’t make sense and – oh, God – stuttering. My worst flaw in an interview is my horrible tendency to answer questions on a delay. If it is a telephone interview, the interviewer will inevitably say something like, “Is this a good time?” and I’ll just sit there for, like, an entire ten seconds and then say something ridiculous as a failed attempt at humor: “Yeah, this is a great time. I’m just driving.” Marvelous. Irresponsibility makes for a great first impression.
Interviewers, at some time or another during the interview, will ask if you have any questions. On my first job interview, I confidently lifted my chin and said, “No, I think I have all the information I need. Thanks!” Crash and burn. This response is the absolute worst to this question. The interviewer wants to know that you are interested enough in the position to ask questions. Any question will do. And, really, did I know everything about the position? Anyone who thinks they know so much about a position that they haven’t a single question to ask, is either way overqualified for the position or way too cocky to be given the job.
So this time around, when my interviewer asked very sweetly (she was really nice), “Do you have any questions?” I knew I had to come up with something. But I had forgotten to prepare a question and all my safeties had already been answered! So, pacing in front of my bookshelves during this phone interview, I hastily asked,” Can you recommend any reading I can do for background material before I start the internship?” I shut my eyes tightly and waited for the proof in the interviewer’s tone of voice that I had asked a stupid question. It came. She stiffly said, “No, I don’t think there’s anything that–” and then she paused. I opened one eye – was there hope that this question wasn’t so stupid after all? Yes! As she rattled off different blogs, websites, books and magazines I could consult, I opened the other eye and ran to my desk for a pen and paper. She kept going! There is so much information out there about publishing and this girl seemed to have all of it catalogued in her head! When she finally took a breath, she said, “Wow, that was a really great question. I’ve never heard that one before.” Grin from ear to ear on this end.
Note: some of the sources she mentioned were Publisher’s Weekly, Publisher’s Marketplace, Twitter, her company’s website and blog and Romantic Times Book Reviews, which have all turned out to be beyond informative.
I can’t say that I feel completely comfortable here at Touchstone/Fireside. I’m surrounded by wonderfully intelligent people which is a welcome respite from my usual days surrounded by immature students giggling about boobs and pot. For a while, I couldn’t quite put my finger on the source of my discomfort, but this week, I’ve finally realized it: I’m inadequate. All of the people I work for here are infinitely smarter, more diplomatic and more accomplished than I am. They use words that I don’t understand, like “writerly” (according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, the definition of this is of, relating to, or typical of a writer. Now that seems really obvious.) and they are all so darn graceful. I often feel like I’m working with a bunch of Jackie Os! But despite how stupid and childish and clumsy and awkward they make me feel, they are all so wonderful. They are each a personification of a quality I wish to have. The editor-in-chief is power and influence, Danielle is intelligence, Michelle is grace, Lauren is style, Shawna is friendliness and tact, Zach is this accomplished coolness (if there exists such a word), Alex is composed competence. My problem, of course, is that I see these people not for what they are, but for what I am not. This must stop. I’m sure that these people have insecurities and shortcomings they have filed down along the way. I imagine them at home. I see Michelle crying hopelessly on her sofa, watching Sleepless in Seattle while eating ice cream in her pajamas. I see Zach standing in front of his fridge eating lo mein out of the carton with his fingers. Not because he’s a slob, but because he’s a guy. I see the EIC, the mega-editor, gardening on her hands and knees. I see Danielle in a very ungraceful fit of giggles while shopping with her friends. I see them all in situations that do not involve books and intelligence. Does it help? No. I’m still the one who didn’t go to Wesleyan or Columbia or wherever. I’m still the one who turns red anytime someone speaks to me. I’m still the one who knows nothing.
Where, you ask, do these feelings come from? Zach read my reader’s report on that awfully offensive manuscript with the trashy sex and unbelieveably cheesy dialog. In the email to which I attached my report, I told Zach that I found the entire manuscript incredibly offensive. I also wrote that despite my scant knowledge of the legal intricacies of book publishing, I didn’t think it was legal to publish something that offensive to that many groups of people. That was seven days ago, exactly. Today, Zach called me in to Michelle’s office to talk about my report. Nervously, I stepped into the office and had a seat. Michelle sort of sat and watched while Zach very diplomatically attacked what I had to say about the manuscript. Zach said if I was offended by what I was reading, I should not have read it. I told him it was my first project and I didn’t want to be a complainer. He then proceeded to say that before I deem something “illegal to publish” I should check my facts. The first ammendment is the foundation of journalism and publishing. Of course, he’s right. I was once the news and features editor of my school newspaper. Why hadn’t I considered this most basic of publishing tenets? Now, I feel incredibly stupid. Now, I can’t believe that I actually thought something would be illegal to publish. I wanted to jump out the window into Michelle’s beautiful and well-earned view. What an idiot!
Then, he told me that many published books contain profanity and are offensive to different races and different types of people. He had brought books along with him to show me. One was a joke book that was full of racial humor and profanity. Another was a book about lesbians. I wanted to tell Zach and Michelle where I was coming from, but I thought it would probably be in poor taste to argue with two senior editors. I still feel sort of bummed out, though, so I’ll just tell my argument here.
To me, the offensive manuscript was unacceptable because it wasn’t very obviously supposed to be offensive. The book Zach showed me, and other humor books of its kind are not offensive exactly because their covers and titles say to the reader, “Hey! Looky here! I’m a book that’s going to say offensive things in order to be funny!” The offensive manuscript’s title, as an example of how it’s not supposed to be funny, refers to one part of the book in which the children of the main character learn about decorator crabs and how they use pieces of their environment to cover up their sameness. The title is a metaphor for human behavior. That’s not funny. The book was about one man’s journey from uncaring attorney to avenger of social injustice. Also not funny. The profanity and offensiveness that peppered the manuscript, and probably amounted to at least half of the book, was out of place and therefore offensive. To exemplify my point here, let’s use a non-book-related example. If someone said “fuck” in a show like South Park, which is designed to be offensive, I can’t say I would be offended by it. In fact, I love South Park and own eight seasons of it. However, if I went to court for a parking ticket and the judge said “fuck” during the proceedings, I would absolutely be offended and confused, just like I felt while reading that MS. Damn! Why couldn’t I find those words? Where were they when I was stupidly nodding my head and mm-hmming while Zach looked down his nose at me and forced Michelle to watch?
Of course, later on, when my embarassment has cooled, it will occur to me that this experience is valuable. Next time I write a report – and Zach said he would send some my way – I will keep these things in mind and write a smarter, more educated and informed report.
Of course, my learning experience here – what Zach was trying to teach me – is that an editor can’t worry about his own personal feelings when reading a manuscript. He can’t let that sway his decision to publish the book because ultimately it doesn’t matter if he thinks its entertaining or stimulating or whatever. What matters in the end is whether or not it will sell. That’s why Zach brought the other books with him into Michelle’s office. Because he wanted to say that profane and offensive books absolutely do sell – to a certain audience. An editor, I’ve learned from this experience (thanks, Zach!) has to be completely objective, just like he would be on jury duty. If you’re part of the jury on a case in which someone is accused of rape, and you’re a rape victim, it is not appropriate for you to be on the jury and you most certainly will not be allowed.
Although this experience was embarrassing for me, I have to say I would not have it any other way because I’ve learned more in those five minutes than I have learned during my entire college career. And I hope all of you don’t make this mistake!
My first official day of work at Simon and Schuster’s Touchstone/Fireside imprint began in the waiting room of the HR department. A fellow intern, Adriel, and I exchanged small talk and some pretty scant industry knowledge while we perused through catalogs and waited for the human resources coordinator to arrive. It was 9:05 AM, and both Adriel and I were itching to start our careers in book publishing, his in marketing, mine in editorial.
Orientation sounded more like an auction than an introduction to an industry and a company. I must have heard over twenty different policies, related to just as many different topics, in maybe eight to ten minutes. It was in written form in front of me, but I tried to follow what the coordinator was saying anyway. Internships at the Big Ten of the book publishing world (McGraw Hill, Random House, Harcourt, Holtzbrinck, Scholastic, Pearson, Houghton Mifflin, Harper Collins, John Wiley and Simon and Schuster, as of 2001) don’t necessarily come along easily, and I wanted to have all the tools and resources to make it worth my while.
S&S has a business casual dress code, which can be ambiguous without clarification. For men, it’s easy: wear a suit. You can’t go wrong. Khakis and a dress shirt work too, though. For women, it’s a minefield. You can’t go wrong with a dress shirt and slacks or skirt, but I’ve seen so many different variations on the people at S&S that it’s difficult to articulate an actual policy. For example, a skirt is almost inarguably dressy. But what if it’s denim? Dress code flexibility appears to come with seniority. To be certain I wasn’t violating an unwritten political rules, I usually wore dress pants and button-down, collared shirt. However, I did commit my share of dress-code transgressions. I wore open-toed shoes, once. They were very dressy and quite conservative, saving for the toes. Everyone stared at my feet all day. I became so self-conscious that I made an effort to stay behind my desk all day. While I suspect their staring was a subconscious awareness (two of these things are not like the other ones!) my paranoid and overworked mind kept screaming that they were doing it deliberately to punish me for violating the dress code. Yikes. But I digress.
I was pleased, half-an-hour after orientation, to be seated at my new desk, in my little corner of S&S. I was even more pleased to learn the desk was dedicated to me, the intern (or “slave” if you prefer). I had a name plate (okay, so it was a paper one) just like all the real employees. I took a picture with my BlackBerry and hoped no one would notice. I had voicemail, which I promptly set up, making sure I sounded like I really worked at S&S. I also had an email address – and email messages! One was from Irene in IT, informing me that my ID to Rockefeller Center was ready for pick up. Already, I was important enough to have email.
I was astounded. I was relatively new to the city and did not know that 1230 Avenue of the Americas was the address to one of the Rockefeller Center buildings until I opened that email. In fact, I hadn’t even recognized the buildings on sight, or noticed the advertisements for Top of the Rock. When I’d visited S&S the first couple of times, I had been too busy gazing longingly at the Random House skyscraper, which is in the opposite direction, but essentially right across the street. So, Simon and Schuster had a great view of the back of my head. As if it cared. Like every other publishing industry hopeful, I had read that feature in BookNews about Random House being the best possible workplace in book publishing. And it hadn’t been retired to the back of my mind with all the information I acquire from reading so much.
When I returned from picking up my ID for the Rock (already I’ve picked up the lingo. Does that make me a progressive, or a dork?) I was very pleasantly greeted by every single person I work with. It was as if they all waited until I officially had an ID. Each person, from the lowly assistants to the publisher of Touchstone/Fireside himself, told me they were happy to have me, asked what school I attended, commented on Pace and wished me luck. I was impressed by this show of kindness by nearly all of the people for whom I’d be working two days a week. It suddenly seemed very unimportant that I was working for nothing, when I had the joy of working with these kind and sparkly-eyed literati!
Until they returned to their desks and promptly proceeded to ignore me. Had I done something wrong? I’ve always been a bit shy and introverted. Perhaps I’d been overwhelmed by all the attention and didn’t smile when I should’ve, or nod at the right moments when editor so-and-so recanted her own internship experience. Had I somehow committed a social faux-pas, miraculously insulting all my coworkers at once and thereby ruining my career in book publishing before it had even begun? To salvage my career and popularity in the business, I began to grin toothily at each passerby. The result, each time, was a polite, tight-lipped smile and quickly diverted eyes. Eventually, they stopped making eye contact. Fabulous. They probably thought I was Pace University’s class idiot come to pester them…or worse, someone with poor social skills! [enter maniacal, blood-curdling scream].
Oh, stop it! I scolded, giving myself the equivalent of the cinematic slap-across-the-crazy-girl’s-face. They think you’re weird, because you are being weird. You’re trying too hard. No one else is running the I-can-impress-the-world marathon, so why are you? Just chill out, for goodness’ sake. Stop the constant worrying and trying to impress these people with your knowledge. Besides, do you really have that much knowledge? I resolved to focus on my work and be myself…not a blithering, grinning idiot. That’s right, work. The stuff I’m here to do. Now, if only I could figure out where they kept the work. My co-workers were all typing away with intelligent and well-read expressions on their faces, or chatting on the phone with literary agents. Oh, how I longed for their jobs.
And then, after working pretty hard to become a sophomore in college, I was sitting just outside the door to a senior editor’s office and listening to her business. It was a wonderful experience to be able to learn from what she said in her conversations, even if it is technically eavesdropping. For example, I now know that in a galley (a pre-print of a book used for final editing before it goes to the press) the table of contents might not necessarily match up with the actual page numbers in the book. I know that a series page goes in the front matter of a book along with the title and copyright pages. I know that if some book only sells 10,000 copies it could be considered a loss. I also know that it is extremely rare for a proposal or manuscript to make it all the way to publication if its point of entry is a publishing house’s Slush Pile which is a pile of submissions from people who think they can write but don’t have an agent. Generally, if they can’t get an agent, they can’t write. And no one, to an agent’s dismay, can be taught to write.
>Because I didn’t know they existed at the time, I completed my first telephone interview without first having consulted any of countless resources on interview etiquette and procedures. At the time, I felt perfectly confident, having once worked in an office environment. (I worked for a small office supply company in high school) Wasn’t that enough? Apparently not, because I completely bombed that first telephone interview with Simon and Schuster’s HR department. When the interviewer asked me, “Why do you want to work for Simon and Schuster?” which is a very common interview question, I didn’t know what to say. Um, because you’re a huge publishing house in New York and I know it will look good on my resume? I didn’t say that, of course. I wasn’t that naive. I think I told her it was because Stephen King was one of my favorite authors, which isn’t the worst answer and not really the best either. I’m sure S&S doesn’t appreciate being summed up by the name of only one of their authors. Now that I’ve completed and internship in this industry, I have a firmer handle on what this interviewer was trying to ask. They like it when you know about the industry and the company to which you’re applying. Peruse the Internet for news reports and recent acquirements (books taken on).
The only experience on my resume at that time was my college literary magazine work. I expected her to ask questions about what kind of work I had done on the magazine, so I had my answers rehearsed and at the ready. But she threw me for a loop when she asked, “What would the advisor of the literary magazine have to say about you?” Um. I told her he would say he couldn’t have done it without me, which is true since I created that magazine, but this answer sounds way overconfident. Instead, I should have discussed specific qualities that were necessary in order to complete the work involved with the literary magazine. This would show the interviewer that I’ve put thought into that question, instead of providing a sweeping overgeneralization that sounds awfully contrived. A great resource for interview techniques and sample questions is “Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview?” by Ellen Gordon Reeves, who is the resume expert at the Columbia Publishing Course.
After months had passed and I heard whether I had nailed the opportunity or not, I sent a thank you note to the HR (human resources) representative who’d interviewed me. She got back to me right away to tell me they still had a position, and would I like to come in for my second interview? Since I had read up on interviews and how to behave during one, I felt totally confident in the second interview, which was in person, and I did get the internship!