Category Archives: internship

>Competing Internships

>Like any intern worth her second-hand briefcase, I applied to several internships simultaneously for the upcoming semester. While most inquiries yielded no reply at all, two valuable opportunities arose. Grateful for something that work with my schedule and teach me things I didn’t already know, I accepted the first position that came my way, completely forgetting that I had inquired elsewhere and hadn’t heard back. Sure enough, a week or so after I had accepted the internship a literary agency in New Jersey had offered me, Princeton University Press got in touch to invite me for an interview. I knew that if I interviewed, I probably would have had the position. Although the word “Princeton” anywhere on my resume would have been a boost, I declined to interview with them.

Friends told me I was crazy, family told me I should dump that literary agency and hop on the ivy-league bus. But I have a conscience. And the literary agency that offered the internship seems like a great opportunity. Although they specialize mostly in romance, a genre I don’t expect to work with in my career (I’m most knowledgable about literary and mainstream fiction) I have a feeling my time at the agency will be worth my while. I wanted to get a glimpse of the industry from an agent’s point-of-view and that’s exactly what I’ll get.

If I had had the choice, I would have taken Princeton because of their “brand name”. But things happen for a reason and I expect to learn something valuable about at the agency I might not have at Princeton University Press. Would the agency have collapsed without the help of this intern? Um, no. They would have found someone else, perhaps someone better, even. But when a person commits to something, they shouldn’t go back on their word. It’s unprofessional.

My advice to all of you? When you’ve applied for several opportunities, upon an offer, get in touch with the other companies (before you accept) to let them know you’ve gotten an offer and give it a week. If there’s still no response, accept the offer. This way, you’re allowing yourself the choice (if it’s available) of more than one experience, while also being professional. And don’t worry! The other company won’t mind your taking the time to “think about it” for a week or so. Next time, I’ll take my own advice!

>Interview Questions

>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.

>Slave Labor

>So, I just landed an internship at a literary agency in New Jersey. It’s not a paid internship, and by the way those are few and far between, not to mention highly coveted and competitive in the cut-throat tradition. Many, if not most or even all, companies in the publishing arena offer to work with your college or university to get you at least three credits for the internship, which is near enough to getting paid. But those three credits, at least at my own school, Pace University, are assigned an actual course number, which means I can’t take the credit for an internship more than once without taking the same course twice. Even if I did want to take it twice, one instance of it on my transcript would cancel out the other so what’s the point?

My point? I’m a slave. Literally. Not only will I be working for free and not getting any college credit, but I’ll be driving something like sixty miles there and back twice a week in order to perform my slave tasks. Am I a masochist? Not really. My own worst enemy? Depends on whom you ask. In order to make it in publishing – and by this I don’t just mean get a job – really make it, you have to become a mule for a few years, suck it up and take your crap years.

Publishing courses like those at New York University and Columbia boast that very high percentages of students get jobs after completion. This is because they thrust the students, who have been groomed and educated within inches of their lives (we’re talking day, night and weekend classes at Columbia) in front of the people who hire entry-level publishing candidates. Sounds great right? Sounds like a done-deal? It is if you work hard enough – but in order to be allowed to pay the $5,000 – $7000 to work hard enough, you have to work hard.

So that’s why the slave labor. The key is to like it. Without pay or college credit, the only benefit I can gain from this situation is to soak up as much information and experience as possible, and to enjoy myself in the process. Beyond that, it’s another set of brownie points on my resume and another reference in my pocket. That’s not to say, however, that I don’t actually enjoy interning. I do! Just sitting idly in the office and listening to the industry jargon and news is worth its weight in gold. Something said and remembered now can become small talk in your next interview, securing your next internship and therefore your next line of Excellent Resume. Is it a game? Yeah, a little. But, really, what isn’t?

>Inadequacy

>11/13/08

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!

>The Reader Report

>10/31/08

I was given my first big project this week. One of the senior editors asked me to read an unpublished manuscript and tell him what I thought. Of course, I had no idea how the format for such a thing should be, so I wrote down this, like, running commentary covering all my thoughts about the manuscript. It was pages and pages long by the time I finished the first two or three chapters and I emailed it to the senior editor. When he didn’t get back to me gushing with admiration and pride at what a good job I did, I began to worry. When he finally returned my email, he wasn’t very happy about the job I did. Evidently, there is an exact formula for writing what is called a reader’s report. It goes like this:

1 or 2 sentence sales handle. What is this and who is it for?
1 or 2 sentence overall description. What happens, briefly?
2 or 3 paragraph plot description.
2 or 3 paragraph analysis. Strengths? Weaknesses?
Most importantly – is it publishable?

Had the editor told me this to begin with, I would have saved myself so much time and worry. I think he wanted to see what I would do with his request. He was probably not surprised by the outcome. I had no idea what he wanted, and I probably should have said as much instead of attempting to wing it and imress him. Anyway, so I had to read all 534 pages of this awful monstrosity written by a psychopathic lawyer from Texas. I kept thinking, Why me? What did I do to deserve this? As I wrote my short synopsis of each chapter, I fantasized about printing out the manuscript – all of it – slamming it down on the editor’s desk and shouting, “You read it!” with a defiant hair toss. But no. I do have some control. I took my satisfaction from letting the editor know how incredibly offended I was by this manuscript. And I was offended. The pages contained more cheesy, trashy sex than I’m comfortable thinking about, more mean, gasp-provoking racial epithets than I’ve ever heard, and more stereotypical, chauvinistic images of women with large, perky breasts who just love to constantly have sex. One of the characters is named for her breasts. I’m not joking. It was absolutely the most dirty, offensive, trashy piece of fiction I have ever read. I had my husband read part of it. I chose him because he watches plenty of late night shows on television and funny videos on the Internet – the more irreverent it is, the more uproariously he guffaws. He was disgusted and he, in a very docile and traumatized voice, asked me never to mention it again. Then he hung his head and slunk out of the room. So now I couldn’t even discuss my work day, which consists entirely of me sitting at my desk with an expression of aghast horror on my face, reading this smut, with my husband. Wonderful.

>First Tasks in Publishing

>10/23/08

Evidently, I have proven to TF that my skill set exceeds that of a chimp, because this week I have taken a siesta from the deliciously mundane and tedious book-like tasks that used to be my only purpose here. The reader might think I’m speaking in oxymorons, but truly, I love the mundane work of this industry: photo-copying, emailing, mailing, logging submissions, filing, etc. These tasks are those that take little skill, so they allow my already-overworked brain to relax. Brain vacation, you might say.
But I’ve been allowed, beginning this week, to take on more important tasks. Now, the editors and assistants are commandeering me for “projects”. These projects are fascinating to me, the dork who finds such things fascinating, because I’ve been imagining for a long time now what my day-to-day experience in the publishing world will be like. For me to finally see the day-to-day workings here is comparable to one of those people who read Star actually seeing one. Giddy hysteria. I try to remain calm.
Shawna, Zach’s editorial assistant, started it all with a request to conduct some investigative work on a potential author. Basically, I just googled the author’s name, absorbed all of the information and spit it back out at Shawna in an email. She said thanks and that was that.
Apparently my skills as a private eye pleased her, because yesterday, Zach approached me with not one, but three projects. Sitting in his cushy office overlooking one of Rockefeller Center’s rooftop gardens, Zach asked me about my goals, how I landed myself at TF, blah, blah, blah. The first project was to find out information about Sig Hansen and his brothers, who are ship captains on the enormously popular reality TV show, Deadliest Catch. There was an awful lot of information and I made certain he got as much as I could give – even MySpace friend-counts. The second project was much like the first, with a different person, someone uninteresting and not famous.
Finishing those two jobs, Michelle, another senior editor approached with a new project. Maybe Zach told her I did a good job, maybe it was just a coincidence. I like to stay hopeful, though. Michelle is editing a baby-name book, which, by its very nature, has few selling points aside from the actual count of baby names. Expectant mothers will choose the book with the most names so they don’t miss the perfect name. Makes sense. Unfortunately, the book is almost finished and no one bothered to count the names. This is what I’m here for – the crappy task net. Anyway, Michelle took pity on me and suggested that instead of hand-counting all of the names in this three-hundred-page book, I could simply take a sample of pages, say 30, count all the names and multiply that by 10. Then, she would conservatively make an estimate. Smart lady. Unfortunately, I have this ridiculous tendency to open my mouth when it belongs wired shut – in the shape of nice, compliant smile. But since I’m a complete fool, I suggested back to Michelle that, since she had a count of all the base names (not variations, which are many), we could count the variations of each base name in a sample and average it. Then, we could multiply that average number by the number of base names. She looked very confused and after attempting to seriously consider my idiocy, she said very diplomatically and gracefully, “Well, let’s give this a try. If it’s not working and you feel there’s a better way, I would love to hear it.” At least then I had the sense to shut up. Her way was much easier anyway.
To make up for acting so crazy, I placed my results as neatly and comprehensively in an Excel spreadsheet, totaled it into subtotals and a grand total and emailed it to her with a smiley face. She thanked me both in person and in an email. Yay!
It went downhill from there, however. As his third project, Zach asked me to “take a look at a manuscript.” I didn’t really know what that meant and I didn’t want to ask, so I decided to wing it. I read the first three chapters of the manuscript, which were absolutely awful, and wrote down all my thoughts. Then, I emailed them to Zach. He has yet to get back to me. But, now that I’m reading further into the manuscript, I realize that some of my initial thoughts are set to rest by further information. Next time, I’ll wait until I’ve read the whole thing. Maybe that’s what the problem was. Or maybe he just wanted a simple, “I like it” or “I hate it” instead of three typed pages of the intern’s inexperienced, jumbled thoughts on a manuscript. I guess we shall see. At the moment , I’m completing yet another of Zach’s projects. I’m trying to log into BookScan and can’t. Fabulous. Now I have to show him how incompetent I can be and email him this problem. More next week.

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