Each editorial internship usually offers different experiences and job tasks than the next, and it’s important to highlight these differences on a resume. Each internship coordinator or HR representative will look for different things on their prospective employees’ resumes, but rest assured that a bunch of editorial internships does not do anything to make you stand out from those who have a breadth of experience. But don’t worry, because there are a myriad of opportunities available to prepare you for a publishing job and to show your preparedness in your CV. Here’s a sample of those experiences and how they can supplement your expertise as an editor.
One of the things you quickly learn in a publishing masters program is that the type of editorial jobs out there are likely very different than what most people expect. Most people (myself included a couple of years ago) see editing as working on a manuscript with an author on its themes, characters, writing style, and so forth; that’s called developmental editing, and there aren’t that many developmental editor positions out there. In fact, a lot of the developmental editing is done by literary agents trying to spruce up clients’ manuscripts before pitching them to publishers. Similarly, the technical side of editing focused on grammar, spelling, typos, consistency, and so forth—copyediting—is typically outsourced to freelancers, and only major publishers would ever hire an in-house copyeditor to a salaried job.
So what jobs are out there? Acquisitions, production, digital, subsidiary rights, and contracts. These are the areas where you should aim to supplement your resume.
Production Intern: In a good production department program, you work in applications like InDesign, QuarkXPress, Photoshop, Acrobat, and/or Illustrator to design book print layouts, book jackets, advertisements, and so on. Some internships train you on the job, while others expect you to have at least a rudimentary understanding of each before you start. In essence, it’s a graphic design internship that also teaches you about the relationship between publisher, printer, and vendor.
Why editors need this internship: The production editor is a job that you should seriously consider, because a lot of publishers care more about production than editorial development. An editor from MIT Press (where I’m currently an intern) came to my class once and mentioned that more than half of the editors on staff were production interns. The only editors who work with actual content are older editors who have always done developmental work in the past and are allowed to continue. Other publishers may have a different dynamic, but keep in mind that a lot of publishers may care as much about your knowledge of print publishing applications as your discerning editorial eye.
Literary Agency Internship: A lot of duties at a lit agency will seem similar to an editorial intern: reading unsolicited “slush” manuscripts and sending form responses, corresponding with authors, writing blog posts, administrative office work, and occasionally editing pieces or providing editorial feedback. So your editorial internship qualifies you for this position without much effort, and you add breadth to your resume despite having similar duties.
What editors get out of a non-publishing job: Literary agencies give you more experience in acquiring manuscripts and working with authors than many actual editorial internships do. As you progress into a lit agency job, you may be given more responsibility in choosing manuscripts to develop for your agency, and if you find just one gem-sized needle in the haystack that ends up being a published, successful book, you’ll acquire major credibility and an excellent anecdote for interviews about a major accomplishment or what you bring to the house. Plus, you may decide that working for a lit agency may be more up your alley than a publishing job, as you get to do more actual editing at an agency and book royalties can be potentially more lucrative than a standard editorial salary.
Digital/Ebook Internships: These internships are sometimes harder to find, and to qualify for. You work with HTML and XML documents to create .mobi (Amazon Kindle) and .epub (all other E-readers) ebook files; create bookmarked PDFs in Adobe Acrobat to send to reviewers and vendors; and prepare the books’ metadata for online curation and the publisher’s digital archive. If any of that sounds like gibberish, start doing some research, because every editor should learn about ebook production at some point.
Why? Ebooks make a steady 30% of all profits for publishers; ebooks are sold without the exorbidant print, shipping, and warehouse costs for physical books, and publishers do not correspondingly raise the author royalties for ebooks, leading to huge profit margins (see this Slate article for why this policy is a mistake that Amazon is exploiting). So, essentially, publishers want their ebooks to look really good, and they need good coders. To get a production assistant job at a major publishing house, you should know the print design apps like InDesign listed above, and you should know HTML and XML. But these positions are much less competitive than editorial positions; moreover, publishers are more likely to hire a current employee who moves laterally from production to editorial than someone outside the company. Meanwhile, for smaller publishers and literary magazines, editors who can also make changes to an ebook in a pinch are attractive employees, as editorial and production work can sometimes blur together with smaller staffs.
Subsidiary Rights Internships: Subsidiary rights are lucrative contracts for publishers, who sell rights to other specialized or foreign publishers for international language editions, reprints, audiobooks, movies and TV shows, large print editions, etc. Interns in this field learn about the technical side of publishing, from contracts to intellectual property and piracy to permissions.
Why this internship too? Don’t I have enough breadth yet? Not quite. Internships like subsidiary rights, permissions, and contracts truly give you the kind of technical knowledge that shows your sincere interest in publishing, not just reading and writing. Knowing how the business works gives you real-world know-how that an interviewer will respect. And as mentioned above, if you have trouble finding an editorial job after you graduate, find a job in any of these fields instead before moving laterally into editorial work. Plus, acquisitions editors have to negotiate contracts with literary agents on a regular basis; every editorial assistant must learn the ins and outs of a standard author contract, as well as which subsidiary rights would be profitable for any one book, before they can be trusted to negotiate for and acquire an author’s manuscript.
You will learn about all of these different areas eventually in the publishing industry, and internships don’t fully prepare you for an actual editorial or production job. But they signal your seriousness and initiative to future employers. More importantly, they allow you to see if there is a specialized aspect of publishing that you enjoy more than simple editorial work. So consider these internships as an important first step, and a chance to avoid uncertainty and missed opportunities. A future post will cover the kind of projects you should be doing in school to supplement your internships on a resume.
Thanks for reading!