The Benefits of Interning With a Small Publisher or Literary Magazine

In an earlier post I described the types of internships that can supplement your editorial experience—production, digital, domestic and international subsidiary rights, permissions and contracts, and editorial at literary agencies. These experiences not only augment your resume, but also allow you to see other areas of publishing you might work in one day before returning to editorial work. However, these specialized internships aren’t available in many places outside of a few East Coast cities where book publishing is common. So if you’re limited to whatever kinds of editorial internships you can find, consider finding a student staff position or internship at a literary magazine or an internship with a local publishing house.

With larger publishers, departments are typically isolated from one another, both physically in the office and by design in organizational structure. Thus, these positions typically offer “brown bag lunches” where all the interns meet with staff from different departments to learn about the overall publishing process. Or your department supervisor arranges for you to have a brief one-on-one informational interview with an employee with another department. While these opportunities can be extremely helpful, your supervisor won’t ever give you any actual responsibilities outside of the department, because she herself has no access to that stage of the book-building process.

Working at a smaller publisher or literary magazine, however, may provide an opportunity for more interdepartmental responsibilities, and you should feel free to express your interest in such opportunities during an interview. Many supervisors may want you all to themselves, but so will their colleagues. Hierarchies and workflows have much more flexibility at these smaller companies, and employees often shoulder extra responsibilities and always accept assistance because of this fact. If you can find a publisher that truly relies on its interns to function on a daily basis, you are in for a more challenging and rewarding experience.

I lucked into such an opportunity my first semester at Emerson when I accepted an editorial internship at Ploughshares, a nationally acclaimed lit mag. I started out simply doing administrative work and some occasional editing, but was able to take on more responsibilities as the semester progressed, including doing edits for the Winter and Spring issues. Yet I also wanted to expand into production work, and convinced the Production Manager to give me a variety of tasks. By the end of the semester, despite having never worked in HTML or InDesign before, I had assisted in designing the print and digital layouts for the upcoming issue. Meanwhile, my fellow interns also took on non-editorial work, one of whom so impressed the Pshares staff with her graphic design skills that she ended up designing the covers for their novellas.

The best internships reward and encourage initiative, and provide an educational experience in areas you never knew you needed to know. If you aren’t in Boston, New York, or the handful of other cities with large book publishers, consider finding an editorial position where they welcome the kind of unfocused exploration I found. Then use the breadth you’ve attained to show your versatility in future interviews.

Thanks for reading!

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