Non-editorial Internships That All Would-be Editors Should Have on Their Resume

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.

Internships:

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!

5 Things You Should Never Say at an Editorial Internship Interview

If you’re reading this blog, you probably have already decided that you want to become an editor, and you have your own reasons for this ridiculous life decision. So as a fellow editor who basically stumbled into the profession out of a love of books before truly learning about the profession, here are some things you really shouldn’t say at an interview if you don’t want to look like an amateur (note, most of these statements are things I’ve said myself in the past, so any mocking tone is mainly directed inward):

1. Interviewer: Why did you decide to interview for the position/become an editor?

“I grew up reading books and just loved them so much that—”

Let me stop you there. First off, no one in their right mind would become an editor if they didn’t love books. Out of all publishing jobs out there, the editorial assistant is the most competitive (I don’t have statistics for this, but word of mouth from several publishing professionals I’ve met has made this abundantly clear) and does not pay that well. So saying you love books lets them know you will fit in with the rest socially, but it doesn’t show your qualifications or set you apart from other interviewees. More importantly, a lot of positions don’t actually have you doing much reading. You won’t convince them that you deserve a position involving editing, administrative work, and so forth through your love of reading.

If you are interviewing for a genre imprint of a house or a specialized publisher, it does make sense to praise their backlist titles or author list—describe how much you rely on cookbooks every day before interviewing with Harvard Common Press, or describe your love of N.K. Jemisen and Mira Grant before going after a job with Orbit. But that only explains why you want to work for them, not why you want to be an editor in general. The distinction is important, and you’ll want to cover both topics if you can.

2. Why do you want to intern at this YA romance/poetry/cookbook imprint?

“Well, I don’t really know anything about YA romance, but I want to work here because HarperCollins is such a great publisher…”

Even if an internship doesn’t have you working with actual content, editors will prefer someone who will bring enthusiasm for the subject matter. To get through the most tedious chores like compiling Excel spreadsheets and updating Filemaker databases, you need patience and enthusiasm for your work—the idea that this work will help generate books you would enjoy reading yourself. While you definitely shouldn’t outright lie about loving literary nonfiction or romance, you might consider not applying in the first place if an editor will sense your apathy or lack of respect for the genre.

3. What’s your goal for this internship?

“A job.”

Internships are a great opportunity to make contacts, gather editorial experience,  build your resume, and potentially explore other departments besides editorial. And some publishers like Pearson do sometimes have their interns directly transition into editorial assistant positions. But most publishing houses see an internship as a quid pro quo rather than recruitment: interns get academic credit and experience, the house gets free labor from a smart college student. Being a good intern for three months does not entitle you to an automatic position, and this response may convince them that you aren’t willing to put in time on menial tasks, or that you might even be overqualified for the position.

4. What is your greatest accomplishment to date?

“I had a story published in X literary magazine”

I gave this response while interviewing for a literary magazine internship, and while I ended up getting the position I knew even then this was the wrong answer. Marketing and social media interns do more actual writing than editorial interns, who often focus on administrative/clerical/customer service duties. Your accomplishment doesn’t have to be editorial, but it should show qualities that the job listing specifies, such as leadership, organization, time management, etc. Plus, not all publications are created equal. Unless your story was published in a mag like Ploughshares or Tin House, editors at a literary magazine will look down on your accomplishment more than most.

5. Describe a moment when you were a leader/overcame an obstacle/etc.

“Is it all right if it has nothing to do with editorial work?”

Don’t be self-conscious about describing your work as an English tutor, B&N bookseller, or McDonalds cashier when it comes to describing your best qualities. Jump straight into the best example that shows you in a good light regardless of the circumstances, and have a few anecdotes, preferably funny or memorable ones, that show you to be a strong, professional person. I spent too much time being self-conscious about my lack of editorial experience when I applied for my first one, and asking this question merely called attention to that fact.

 

Hopefully this will help awkward people like me to avoid the common pitfalls in this type of interview. I can do another post about typical interview questions or how to prepare before an interview if anyone finds this to be helpful.

Thanks for reading!

Why I Made This Blog

About a year ago, I moved to Boston to participate in Emerson College’s graduate program for Publishing & Writing in order to become an editor. I loved books. I had been an editor for my school’s lit mag. I had a couple of editorial internships. I figured I already had what it took to throw myself into the industry, and that the program would make the relocation easier and give me a great network to jump-start my career.

A year later, I can’t help cringing at my naivete.

That’s not to say that the experience hasn’t been incredibly illuminating and instructive. But after surrounding myself with fellow budding editors, producers, marketers, publicists, coders, and writers, all of whom are trying to cram themselves into an insular, competitive industry, I find myself wishing I knew years ago what I knew now about the industry I have chosen. This blog is an ongoing summary of what I wish I had known about publishing and the kind of things you need to know to get a job/internship in this field.

If you are self-aware enough to see yourself in my past self, you’ll find some posts here that will hopefully be helpful. I’ll be covering:

  • How to find publishing internships; prepare for and ace interviews
  • How to prepare for an editorial job, and what kind of publishing jobs are out there.
  • What you should be reading to get a job (read: Publisher’s Weekly)
  • How to network, and why it matters
  • The benefits of a graduate publishing program like Emerson, Columbia, or NYU
  • What current publishing news means to job-seekers (so, mainly talking about Amazon

I’ll also probably be talking about genre books I love and other miscellaneous topics, simply because I’m scatterbrained like that. I hope that my spewing of random information will be as helpful for others as it is cathartic for me. If anyone happens to read my new blog and thinks I’m not just some blowhard, feel free to shoot me a message about a publishing topic you’re interested in and I’ll see if I have anything constructive to say.

Thanks for reading!