By Sammy Bina
Since everyone here knows me as the intern of the bunch, I thought it was high time I actually talked about it. Some of you are probably considering becoming an intern, and for those of you who are, I’d like to let you in on a little secret: It’s 110% worth it.
When I decided I wanted to get into publishing during my second 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 that it’s nice to see. And maybe, since I’ve never been on the hiring side of things, this is true. That being said, an internship – in any aspect of publishing – is going to be nothing but beneficial to you and those wanting to hire you.
I began my hunt for summer internships during winter of 2009. I stalked twitter and bookjobs.com for listings. I haunted the job boards of Random House (who sadly no longer offers an internship program), Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Penguin (which is paid, for those who are interested), and numerous others. In the end, I applied for a total of 51 internships and heard back from about eight or nine. I considered taking one out in California, one in New Jersey, one in NYC, and one in Washington D.C. I should point out a few things you’ll want to consider before you accept a position:
1. Where are you going to live? From what I found, none of the internships I applied for offered housing, which meant I’d have to find it on my own. I was lucky enough to stay with a friend for the summer, but if you’re going to be moving to a new 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. A helpful hint: If you’re looking for an internship in NYC, NYU rents out its dorms during the summer months.
2. How are you going to pay for things? Most internships are not paid, though some will offer some kind of compensation or stipend. 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, you might want to consider getting a parttime 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 as soon as you accept your position, the prices may not be too bad.
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. I’ve only used the NYC subway system once or twice, so I can’t say much for that. But if you look at the map online, you’ll see that there’s a line that will get you anywhere you need to go. Any large city is probably going to have some kind of metro system you’ll be able to use, and be fairly reliable.
However, there comes a problem when you accept a position at a place not located in a major city. Small towns where a literary agency may be located are not going to be easy to get to unless you live in the area and can drive yourself. So definitely take into consideration how you’re going to get to your job once you have it.
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.
Ultimately, I wound up in Washington D.C. for the summer, and I can say with complete certainty that it was the best summer of my life. I loved the city I was in, loved the people I stayed with, and was finally beginning to find my place in the publishing industry. I spent my days reading partials 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.
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. I can’t even begin to describe the amount of knowledge I picked up this summer.
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, evaluate a client’s work, 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.
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. Without question. A lot of different styles and genres pass through a literary agent’s hands, and by association, yours as well. 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. Vanessa said something similar in her article about learning from bad books, and the same principle applies here.
An internship in this industry is really going to weed people out. I’ve known people who took an internship with an agency or publishing house, only to realize they wanted to do something else. Or someone who was a publicity intern who, in the course of her internship, realized she wanted to be more involved in marketing. Me, I went into this experience set on becoming an editor. Now I know that I’d rather be a literary agent. No matter what, you’re going to learn something about yourself, and that information is going to be invaluable.
But you want to know the best part of being an intern? You’ll get cupcakes.
Sammy Bina is a fifth year college senior with a BA in Creative Writing. She is currently querying THE AGE OF NEVER GROWING OLD, an adult dystopian romance, and simultaneously working on two YA projects. She is an intern with the Elaine P. English Literary Agency, and can be found on twitter, or at her blog.