Getting A Remote Publishing Internship

Update: 3/29/14

So, let’s talk publishing internships.

At the original time of posting this, I’d just had the incredible good luck of landing an internship with a fantastic literary agent (an internship that is still ongoing, even today), and I’d gotten a couple questions about how exactly I did that. And, to put it simply, this is how:

Luck.

Lots and lots of luck. So before I say anything more, remember that. Luck, not ability, is the overriding huge factor in landing your first internship, because you have to be at least loosely “qualified” to work for an agent or editor, but without having interned before, you, like most others applying, don’t really have qualifications (besides little things here and there). It’s through that paradox that your fate is going to inevitably revolve around luck. However, there are some things you can do to become more experienced and therefore stand a better chance, which I’ll get to in a moment.

But first, like with all of my info posts, I’m going to quickly gloss over the basics.

So, there are two major kinds of publishing internships: remote internships and in-person internships (both of which are typically unpaid, but there are exceptions). Since landing an in-person internship requires that you to live close to the agency or publisher you are applying to (and since New York City is the hub of publishing, you all but have to live in that general area), I’m going to focus this post on remote internships, which is what I have, because I’m sure very few of us live within driving distance of an agency or publisher. Remote internships, for those who don’t know, are internships done online from your home, regardless of whether you live anywhere near the agency.

(However, if you do live really close to an agency or publisher and are interested in applying for an in-person internship, summer internships are generally the way to go. Just go to that agency’s or publisher’s website sometime during the late winter/early spring, search a bit, and you should find information on how to apply for the summer session. If not, send them a quick email, and they’ll give you the details. Here is a good starting post with information on in-person internships.)

Unfortunately, finding remote internships is not quite as easy as the above, because remote internships rarely follow the intern-for- three-months-then-the-agency-gets-new-interns pattern that in-person internships tend to. Therefore, since remote internships tend to last longer, a) there are fewer spaces available and b) those spaces often pop up at random times, so you have to be on the lookout.

But before we get into all of the how to “be on the lookout” stuff, you’re probably wondering: “John, WTH, what is the point of a publishing internship? Why should I want one, anyway?”

Internships are by no means required, or something I’d suggest to writers en mass. After all, from a writing standpoint, they aren’t essential to your path to publication, and they definitely aren’t something you should force yourself to do just because you think it will help. Instead, simply, internships are for those who are interested in learning more about the inner workings of the publishing industry. Some people who look for internships want to actually work in publishing as agents, editors, publicists, or something along those lines one day, but others merely want to know more, and have a strong interest in getting a glimpse at publishing from the other side of the desk.

If only this were true (from jesshaines.com)

What you actually do for your internship depends on the agency or publisher, but it will usually range anywhere from reading requested material for agents or editors and sending in a reader’s report which details your thoughts on the manuscript and any pros/cons you noticed, to reading and responding to queries, to managing social media accounts, to reading a client’s manuscript and coming up with either potential marketing tactics (if it’s at a publisher) or pitch lists (if it’s at an agency (a pitch list is a list of imprints that you feel an agent should pitch a book to, based off of that imprint’s interests, recent acquires, etc.)). And there is plenty more that you might do, but that gives you the gist of. Publishing internships are a good amount of busy work, yes, but they are also incredibly rewarding, and they teach you a lot about the industry, book publishing, and your own writing. (After all, seeing what works and what doesn’t in other people’s work gives you an eye for improving your own. However, it doesn’t help your own writing enough that I’d suggest someone pursue an internship unless he or she is genuinely interested in learning about the publishing industry.) Not only that, but they are the first step for your resume if you’re interested in going into publishing one day.

Internships can also vary in time commitment. Some require a certain amount of time put in a week; others, like mine, are much more open-ended, but you are still expected to do as much as you can each week. Usually it will specify which of the two in the internship description, but if not, I think it’s safe to assume the latter.

Okay, but how do you find remote internships in the first place?

This. This is the question. Honestly, it’s a lot of looking in the right place at the right time (luck), and like the rest of publishing, a lot of waiting. As I mentioned above, remote publishing internships pop up randomly and intermittently and tend to only take applications for short periods of time, so you really have to be on the lookout.

Agents and smaller publishers are the ones who typically offer remote internships (the larger, NYC-based publishers tend to require you to work there in person), and a growing number of them post their calls for interns on Twitter, so I suggest you start there. Pretty much, follow as many agents or small-press editors as you can find (here is a great list of agents to follow), and skim through their feeds every so often to see if they post a call for interns. However, keep in mind that these calls don’t happen often, so you’ll usually have to be at least semi-active on Twitter to see one (either by yourself or have it retweeted onto your feed). (Or, if you’re feeling especially daring, you can search “publishing intern” or “intern + [your genre]” on Twitter and see if any legit agents or small presses have a call out for interns.) I found my internship through Twitter, but I fit into that category of tending to be pretty active on the site.

If you aren’t a Twitter person, I suggest regularly checking sites like bookjobs.com to see if they’ve posted about a remote internship opening, possibly setting up Google alerts for calls for remote interns, and so on. Also, and perhaps most easily, regularly check the social media/blogs of agents and small presses that put out calls for interns semi-often (I suggest Entangled Publishing, Spencer Hill Press, possibly Musa Publishing, and their editors to start, as well as  The Bent Agency and Folio Literary, the latter of whom actually lets you apply at almost any time throughout the year), and hopefully it won’t take long before you see an opening. I’ll also try my best to post about remote internship opportunities I find in a sidebar on this blog, or on my social media (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr), but you definitely should not rely just on me.

So I found an opening. How do I apply? 

Remember how I mentioned the having experience/needing experience paradox above? This is where that, and the luck factor, sort of plays in. Because, yeah, you do have to prove to the agent or editor that you have at least some sort of idea of what you’re getting into when you apply (they aren’t going to let people completely unfamiliar with books and publishing respond to their requested manuscripts, after all), and to do that I have a few suggestions:

- Publisher’s Lunch. Publisher’s Lunch is completely free, and is the perfect thing to read and learn from if you’re interested in getting a publishing internship. PL sends you a daily email with (brief) news about the industry, some recent acquisitions, and so on, and it’s the perfect way to keep you updated on everything.

- Publisher’s Weekly. In that same vein, Publisher’s Weekly posts tons of free content about what’s going on in the industry, opinion pieces on various recent happenings, book reviews, roundups of acquisitions, and so on. Both it and PL are great for keeping you updated, and for building up a foundation of publishing knowledge that will be ready to be built upon in an internship. (But hopefully, it will be interesting and relevant to you too. Don’t just subscribe because you think it’ll help!) Then mention to the agent or editor that you frequently read both.

Goodreads. If you follow a lot of Goodreads reviewers in the category/genre you’re interested in and make a habit of clicking on all of the books they’re talking about, it will help a ton with your knowledge of what’s selling in the publishing world. It will also expand your repertoire of the books that are currently out there, and if you pay attention to what publisher/imprint publishes what, it’ll help a lot if you have to write a pitch list (mentioned above). Plus, it’ll find you some awesome books to read.

Goodreeeeeeeads!

Know your genre/category. This is building on stalking Goodreads books, but it’s still completely essential. You have to make sure you have a good handle on your genre, what’s selling (Amazon rankings and total number of Goodreads adds can be a good indicator), but also, you should have an opinion on a wide array of books in that genre. So if you’re applying to an agent who specializes in YA and MG, consider mentioning that you love X or Z YA books and (briefly) why, because it helps the agent get an idea of whether or not your tastes line up. And also, the “why” part can give them a slight insight into how you dissect a book, and whether it matches up with their methods. Because even if this won’t always work in your favor, it’s important that you have similar tastes to the person you intern for.

Possibly writing/book-related credentials. Have you volunteered at your library? Mention it. Do you review books on your blog? Mention it. Do you have a short story published in an online magazine? Mention it. No, it’s not a huge deal if you don’t have any of these looser “credentials,” but if you do, it definitely can’t hurt to mention, either.

But beyond just knowing what you’re doing, you also want to show the agent that publishing is something you’re passionate about, and that you will work hard for them, and that you are very professional (your email is the first test–so no “Yo [first name],” unfortunately), because all of that matters to them. But in the end, yes, it’s a lot of luck. I hate to say that, but it’s true. You just have to keep applying and eventually you’ll get your break.

Now, I’m not an expert on formal resumes, so if the agent or editor specifically requests one, I suggest utilizing Google to find out more (this looks like a good start). The places I applied to only wanted a less-formal outline of credentials in an email, so I’m not going to be very helpful. :)

Other things to keep in mind:

1. Not all internships are open to high school students. As I know most of you reading this are teens, please keep this in mind. A fairly large number of internships require that you be at least two years into a college education to even apply, which makes it especially difficult for us high school students. However, there are also many places that allow interns of all ages (Spencer Hill Press, Entangled Publishing, etc.) If the call for interns doesn’t specify, it’s safe to just apply and see. (Do mention your age somewhere for this reason; I just don’t suggest flaunting it.)

2. Be wary of unhelpful internships. There are tons of small presses and agencies out there. TONS. And, unfortunately, not all of them will help you grow as much as you’d like. After all, the whole point of an internship is not to say, “oh, look, I’m an intern!” but to learn, to gain experience, to work for an industry professional who knows what he or she is doing. (And also, an internship at a publisher or agency no one has ever heard of won’t help your resume.) Therefore, you should background check every agent or editor you apply to. If it’s an agent, ask yourself: do they work for an agency with a track record? Have they sold any books to well-respected publishers in the past? Have they worked at other agencies or publishers, or is this their first time in the industry? (If it’s the latter, which usually is the case when they don’t list experience besides an English degree, I’d suggest staying away.) If it’s an editor, what’s the quality of the books they put out? Do they have professional book covers, strong editing, etc.? Also, what kinds of agents have sold to them? How long has the editor worked in the industry, and what credentials do they have? Those questions will help you weed out the well-meaning-but-inexperienced agents and editors offering internships.

And, of course: