These are twelve things I wish I had known before starting internships in book publishing.
First, a song. From my last post, you know I’m a Charli XCX fan. Hummed this to myself while walking to my summer internship just like a real, crazy New Yorker.
1) The big six houses are corporations meaning there is paperwork, mundane procedures, and it is a desk job! You will be a slave to the 9-5 and the printer.
2) The field is extremely competitive, but there isn’t a lot of money. This means that internships and connections are essential to getting jobs. Internships can be the devil in disguise because while they give a great leg-up and look good on a resume, they can be painful experiences. You might feel this pressure of being easily replaced by any other college kid in NY. This might cause you to take on more work or to stay extra hours. DON’T DO IT! Tell your employer your limits. If they want you, they will accommodate you. If they don’t, then you don’t want to work for them anyway.
3) Speaking of money, don’t expect to make a lot. Editorial Assistants usually starts with a salary of $30,000. In NY that is peanuts. Then, you work 3-5 years to get an Associate Editor job (still not a lot a money and you get the books no one else wants to work on). 3-5 more years and you might move to Senior Editor (still not a lot of money). 3-5 more years and if someone suddenly dies or finally retires you might be Executive Editor! You’ve made it! You can finally afford to live comfortably if you have no life outside of your books and no children.
4) A lot of time is spent behind a computer. At least in my experience in editorial departments, co-workers sat in their offices working silently at their desks. Communication was mostly over email (even across the room) and socialization only happened during meetings, which some of the employees dreaded. The upside of email is that more and more work is done remotely (from PJ’s on the couch).
5) Not all of employees feel obligated to help you learn. They won’t necessarily go out of their way to introduce themselves to you or ask you if you have any questions. This is especially true for large companies where the intern can feel invisible. It is up to you to be overly friendly and introduce yourself. Be sure to remember people’s names. People might even ignore you. Don’t assume that someone doesn’t want to talk to you because you are an intern. Book publishing especially is known for employing introverts, so they might not be rude, just shy. It is hard to be an extrovert as an intern because you are in an unfamiliar environment and don’t want to be disliked. Don’t worry about being obnoxious. In my experience, employers love interns who ask questions. Even if it seems obvious or stupid, ask it. It shows that you care and you want to learn. Distinguish yourself from the intern who is there to get in, get their college credit, and get out. Make it obvious that you want a career in that department.
6) The more questions you ask, the more you will learn. Obvious I know, but I didn’t ask enough questions during my first internship, so didn’t get a lot out of it.
Music Break! Also sang this to myself on my summer commute and random times throughout the day. This was my first summer being in an office, so it was fitting.
7) Keep in touch with your employer after the internship ends. I was able to return to a previous employer and write some book reviews for her. I got the internship I have now through her too. Other former employers kept telling me to stay in touch when I left. I’m not sure why, hopefully to give me a job (*fingers crossed*). Don’t just contact them for work either. When I got my most recent internship, I emailed them to let them know. They were all congratulatory so if nothing more it was a nice confidence boost for me.
8) Ask for a travel/lunch stipend during the interview. Some employers don’t even think to offer this or know what it is. They don’t know you need it unless you ask. If they say no, you didn’t really lose anything. Maybe it will be the deciding factor between two positions.
9) During your interview ASK QUESTIONS and research the company before you get there. Know what books they have out. It’s OK if you haven’t read them. Ask about their editorial process or even something you are hoping to learn during the internship.
10) Apply for internships EARLY. Publishing houses fill summer internship positions in January/February (sometimes earlier). They can probably do this because of all of the competition. I didn’t know this and almost missed out on a summer internship, but was saved because my professor knew somebody at a big house.
11) Apply for jobs LATE and make sure you live in New York. This is right from a human resources woman at a big house. They put jobs up for 2-3 DAYS and get hundreds of applications. They look in house first (why those internships are handy). Once a position is open it needs to be filled ASAP. You might be expected to start a week or two after your interview. They are not going to wait for you to move to NY so you should already be here.
12) Publishing is located in NY, except for Chronicle Books is in San Francisco, all of the big houses are here. I am hoping that this will change. Since it is so expensive to live in NY, I am hoping that editors will do more work over email and phone so location isn’t so important. I don’t want to live in the city because I don’t like it (more on that here) and I’m a country bumpkin.
Some country/hippie music to leave you with. Thanks for reading! Comment below! My next post will be on advice I received from people already in the industry.