How To Prepare for a Publishing Job While Living Outside of New York City

Just like you might have to move to Detroit to design cars or Silicon Valley to work for major computer companies, you may end up having to move to New York City or Boston to track down book publishing jobs and internships with major publishing houses. You can find small or independent publishers, academic presses, and isolated imprints of New York-based houses sporadically throughout the country, but those positions can be competitive, or seldom are open for interviews due to lower turnover rates than you’ll find in NYC. That means before you can get a job with that small publisher in your hometown, it might make sense to apply for jobs where more are available before bringing your expertise back home.

So does that mean that after you graduate college, you should just move to New York and hope you can find a job? Maybe, but before you take such a big step unprepared, there are a lot of things you can do to improve your job chances before ever setting foot in New York City.

This post will cover various resume-building experiences you can attain at college, graduate school, or from the comfort of your own home, experiences that will broaden your publishing expertise and before applying for paid positions or even internships.

College/Personal Experience

Literary Magazines: Lit mags are a great place for any budding editor to get his or her start, especially because of the thousands across the U.S. many can be found on college campuses. Future editors need practice reading a lot of slush stories to train their literary eye for what is or isn’t considered “good enough” for publication—or, to put it bluntly, train yourself to say “NO” firmly in the face of mediocrity and only accept the best—in case you ever have to read unsolicited (“slush pile”) manuscripts and make recommendations to your superior. Future marketers and publicists, meanwhile, can receive training and experience in campus and community outreach when it comes to soliciting submission, selling your magazine, and organizing events.

More official literary magazines run by professional staff will give you a stronger entry on your resume, as well as opportunities for mentoring and informational interviews about next steps for your career. Student-run publications, meanwhile, allow ambitious students to garner early experience in leadership and management roles. Ultimately, this extracurricular showcases your passion for stories and writing to future internship coordinators and employers, so don’t pass up the chance if you’re still in college or if a professional mag is nearby.

College Newspapers: If you’re interested in working at a print/digital magazine or newspaper, this experience is a major asset that will open a lot of doors for you. Several positions ask for anywhere from 3-10 writing clips, so save your best articles for job applications, or polish them up and post them on a LinkedIn account. Acting as a student editor also shows that you can work in a fast-paced environment and have a record of meeting rigid deadlines. Even if you’re more interested in book publishing, you can still use this experience to trumpet your skills in copy-editing, personnel management, and working as part of a team or with superiors/underlings depending on your place within the organization.

Bookselling: Whether you track down a position with an independent bookstore (yes, they still exist) or work for a pittance at Barnes & Noble, you’ll have a vital new cornerstone to your resume. Take a couple of minutes to read this article of quotes from publishing executives who got their start as booksellers. Or check out this Tumblr post by a Hachette recruiter, who informs applicants that “one of the most valuable experiences you can have is to work at a bookstore.” To summarize, these positions may not pay that well in the short term, but will make you an immediate expert in customer service and ideally expose you to a network of authors and literary agents that come to promote books in your store. You will become acclimated to speaking about books and discover first-hand through conversations with customers which books are popular with different demographics. Acquisitions editors need to know their projected readers’ interests and wants before deciding which novels to purchase, and sales reps have to work with bookstores and booksellers regularly.

Freelancing: Try working for a professional copyediting site like oDesk or get a membership with the Copyeditors Freelance Association, as a way to sharpen your reading/writing/grammar skills. Or try something with less pressure, like offering to edit your friends’ papers or your creative writing classmates’ novels. It’s inevitable that you are going to have a semester where you couldn’t track down a job or internship, so use freelancing as a way to keep your skills sharp and possibly make some money on the side. Rest assured that freelancing is definitely something you can and should put on a resume, especially if you can build up a client base or get positive reviews for your work.

Make Your Own Publication: If you can’t find a literary magazine, journal, or newspaper that interests you at your school, then try making your own! A lot of colleges have student officers or associations that listen to proposals for new publications or projects and can grant funding for your dream project. There is no better way to show your healthy initiative, business acumen, and skills than to bring in a physical copy of something you helped to make and co-found or co-manage; even if it fails spectacularly, it’s still a great story to discuss. My Emerson classmates and I received funding from my school to create and print a lit mag this past spring, and in each interview since then the interviewer has always seemed impressed by this fact.

Technology/Skills to Learn

HTML/CSS: Publishers have fully embraced the eBook phenomenon, which means there are a lot of jobs out there for editors who know code well enough to turn their books into ePub and Mobi (Kindle) formats. At the same time, publishers are struggling to figure out issues like selling books directly to consumers to sidestep Amazon, which means anyone who knows how to work with websites will also find a home. So whether this means taking college classes in coding or hand-coding a personal website to show off on a business card or resume, you should find a way to acclimate yourself to this technology.

Adobe Creative Suite (InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver): If your college offers free downloads of Adobe, take advantage of the offer immediately or you’ll regret it (like I do…..). Most publishers rely heavily on the latest version of creative suite, and will expect you to be at least familiar, if not proficient, in it. And I’m not simply talking about jobs for designing print layouts or covers. I’ve used InDesign during an editorial internship and for a lit mag, Photoshop during multiple positions including my current eBook production internship, and Dreamweaver to design an eBook for a work sample. Try taking computer classes like the ones found on Lynda.com that focus on individual Adobe platforms.

Chicago Manual of Style (or AP for magazines): Sorry, everyone who grew up learning MLA or APA style, you need to scrub out your brains and get used to CMS. If you are at all interested in doing freelance copyediting or proofreading for a publisher, you need to be an expert with the CMS style guide. In lieu of a class on the subject, there are online tests available for you to practice your grammar and knowledge of the English language.

Microsoft Office: You might roll your eyes when you see this in a job description, but proficiency in using Word styles and Excel formulas can be an important way to prepare yourself for an entry-level job.

Informational Interviews and Learning About the Industry

Informational interviews are an excellent way to make contacts with people at a publishing house for which you’re interested in working, even if you are thousands of miles away from New York. They aren’t, however, a guaranteed way of getting a job or even being considered for one when a position opens, so you shouldn’t do them for that reason alone. Instead, find a way to get in contact with someone in a job you find intriguing and see if they’ll give you 20-30 minutes of their time. I’ll do a full blog post later that goes into greater detail about these interviews, but for now, suffice to say that they’re a great way of knowing what you’re getting into with the job and what you still need to learn or get better at before you try applying with your favorite publishing imprint.

Another thing to keep in mind is that editorial jobs are the most competitive of any publishing jobs by far. But if you study the book creation process, you’ll see that there are a lot of entry level positions—acquisitions, production, eBook production, development, domestic/international subsidiary rights, contracts, permissions, marketing, publicity—for you to explore. The more you know about this industry, the more likely you’ll find the job that is the best fit for you. This is more about the “objective” of your resume than your actual experience: would you be happy in more than one position, and do you want to make yourself qualified in several areas to become a multifaceted candidate with management potential, or put all of your effort into one area?

Graduate Publishing Programs

There aren’t too many publishing programs nationwide. The main programs that I’ve heard of: EmersonNYU and Pace University in New York, George Washington University in D.C., and Portland State University in Oregon. You could also include Columbia’s summer program on this list as a microcosm of what these graduate programs provide.

You absolutely don’t need an MA or MS to succeed in publishing, and plenty of people have succeeded without it. But during my time at my Emerson program, I had the chance to work for two different, award-winning literary magazines in Ploughshares (professional) and Redivider (student-run), I learned how to use all of the applications above and took coding and copyediting courses, and I was given an excuse (papers) to conduct informational interviews with writers, editors, and publishers of my choosing, both remotely and in person during a school-sponsored trip to NY to visit publishers like Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Penguin.

This post wasn’t meant to be one big advertisement for Emerson; rather, it should show you that the program simply facilitated what I could have been learning and experiencing on my own if I had known what I needed to do to get my dream job. You should choose whether you feel comfortable learning about publishing and technology on your own time, or whether you would rather attend a program that can teach you what you need and want to know.

Conclusion

Many people want to work in the book industry, and there are a lot of editorial opportunities out there for anyone to take advantage of. So it’s never too soon to start making yourself as well-rounded and unique a candidate as possible to distinguish yourself from the pack. This means making yourself technologically savvy, giving yourself a multitude of experiences with different publications to discuss during an interview, connecting with as many people as possible via interviews and social media (read: LinkedIn), and maybe joining a graduate or certification program that will officially sanction your publishing knowledge.

My next newbie-publishing posts will probably cover informational interviews, or maybe I’ll just throw out a giant list of links starting with Publisher’s Weekly of every website you should be reading to stay informed about the industry, something that is very important when it comes to interviewing for an entry-level position. And if I’ve missed some great ways to get editorial or publishing experience, feel free to throw them into the comments below.

Thanks for reading!

Preparing for a Publishing Internship Interview, and Follow-Up Questions You Should Ask Your Employer

Getting an actual interview with your dream publisher, or with any publisher, lit mag, newspaper, etc., is more than half the battle. Without fully knowing what the internship coordinator, editorial assistant, or HR rep looks for in a cover letter, getting a callback could be likened to winning the lottery—a lottery with decent odds, admittedly, but still leaving too much up to chance. Now, at the interview section of the process, you have much more control over making a good impression and feeling out what the interviewer wants from his or her intern.

In short, don’t let your upcoming interview stress you out. Most interviews follow a very similar, easy structure that this blog post will help you to prepare for:

  1. General questions about your publishing goals and background
  2. Questions about your traits, problem solving, attitude, and likes
  3. Logistical details and questions about start dates and dress codes that you should resist the urge to focus on;
  4. A Q&A period about your prospective position and publisher, a deceptively important opportunity to reveal things about yourself.

Interview formats

Interviews range in duration and style of questioning depending on the format of the interview. You may be questioned by the internship coordinator, the editorial/ production/ marketing assistants directly above you, an HR representative, or an assortment of each. See if you can discern from their emails—or directly ask if an in-person interview is preceded by a preliminary phone interview—the format of the interview and who will be questioning you, as this information can be extremely helpful in determining how to prepare for an interview.

For my seasonal (3 month) internship interviews, the number of interviewers ranged from 1-3, but the number didn’t matter. One person, usually your eventual supervisor, will take the lead on the majority of questions, while the remainder may have a question or two but generally aren’t as prepared or aware of your qualifications.

For a year-long salaried position I applied for, I ended up speaking with a dozen or so people in a three-round interview with editorial assistants, editorial department heads, and their HR representative. Fortunately, this interview was simply a longer, repetitious version of shorter interviews, with almost entirely the same questions coming up in each segment of the interview.

General Questions

Be ready for variations on the standard questions that come up in almost every interview:

i. Describe your interest in book publishing. Why are you interested in a career in editing?

ii. How have your past experiences/internships prepared you for this position? How are you qualified for this position?

iii. Why are you interested in this internship/working for publisher name here specifically?

iv. How are you a good fit for this position/company?

v. What do you hope to get out of this position?

The first two to three questions of an interview are usually these, so these questions will decide the first impression you make on the interviewer. I can’t help you in terms of avoiding nervousness and exuding confidence, but I can advise you on the content of your responses.

First, try to strike a balance between why they’re a good fit for you and why you’re a good fit for them. These questions naturally invite self-centered answers, but don’t spend too much time explaining how this internship will advance your career or why X publisher has always seemed so interesting (though this personal touch is still important). If the internship listing/webpage had a list of everyday tasks, describe how your work for them will supplement the skills you already have—a chance to praise yourself while showing your awareness of what the job entails and what you will and won’t need to learn on the job.

Similarly, if the internship is in the same field as past positions on your resume, explain how old experiences prepare you for this position while explaining how this position is somehow different or better for your career than past jobs. And most importantly, try to describe your general interest in the profession as well as your specific interest in the position. If you explain your interest in a career in editing or your love of the publishing industry, you show that the position is more than a line on your resume, which makes you a more attractive candidate.

Memorizing Anecdotes

You will then likely be asked two styles of questions: describe a situation at work that shows certain qualities or problem solving, and state certain accomplishments you are proud of. I lump these categories together because in either case you should have a selection of anecdotes ready to answer such questions as the following:

  1. What is your greatest strength/weakness? Don’t just state a quality for each. For your strength, give a short anecdote that exemplifies your strength. If you choose leadership, be sure you have something on your resume that actually tested your mettle. For your weakness, describe a moment where you realized you had a weakness in that area and how you are now working to fix that weakness, or are at least aware of it. They will appreciate the honest assessment, particularly if it is an area they specified on the job description like organization, multi-tasking, customer service, independence, or other common qualities you feel uncomfortable with.
  2. Describe a moment you dealt with a difficult supervisor/colleague/customer and how you solved the problem. This question has almost always come up for me, especially in editorial positions where my job is to email or speak with authors on a regular basis. Have an anecdote ready for each of these if possible, but be sure to focus more on your patience and graciousness rather than how much you hated your boss or hate annoying customers—unless the story is hilarious or absurd, in which case draw it out! It never hurts to show you have a sense of humor about these things, and your interviewer will likely empathize and have similar stories from their own time in your position. I’ve also had two different internships give me writing prompts asking me to respond to an angry customer to diffuse the situation, one as part of the application and one during the interview.
  3. Describe a time you worked as a team/led a team. You should hopefully have a good anecdote from a non-work source for this type of question, like participating with a literary magazine, community service group, school group project (that has to do with publishing, hopefully), or other examples.
  4. Describe a time that you had to multitask/prioritize; describe how you plan or organize your day. This question speaks for itself. Basically, your employer wants to know that you can handle the pressure of having multiple jobs to get done at once and that you know how to prioritize, both at work and in your everyday life.
  5. What are you most proud of/what is your greatest accomplishment? As I mentioned in my very first post about what not to say during an internship interview, be careful about what you would choose here, and have something prepared. It doesn’t necessarily have to pertain to publishing, though it certainly doesn’t hurt. For instance, if you describe how proud you were to have your name on the masthead of your college’s lit mag, you can use that to segue back into your passion for publishing. However, you can certainly use something else so long as it shows qualities that your employer will want in his or her intern.

Miscellaneous Questions

  • What are some of your favorite books/authors?
  • What blogs/newspapers/publishing websites do you read?
  • What do/did you study in school and how did it prepare you for this position?
  • What writing experience do you have?
  • What is your dream job/where do you want to be in five years?
  • Are there any others you’ve run into that I’ve missed? If so, feel free to post them in the comments and I’ll add them!

Questions to Ask Your Employer

For a good summary of the types of questions that impress interviewers, check out this thorough article by College Magazine. But to summarize, think hard about what you need to know during the interview phase. Some typical questions you might ask—what is the dress code, what will my average day consist of, when will I have your answer, can I take the internship for college credit—don’t tell the interviewer anything about you and bog things down. The interviewer may give you some of that information later anyway, and you can always figure out the office dress code and work culture on the job, or email about college credit or other logistics.

Instead, take the time to focus on the two people in the room, as well as the people that have been there before. Ask about how this will benefit your future career, specifically if this will prepare you for an entry-level position. As a follow-up, ask what other interns moved on to do, to see if they have found the kind of success you are looking for. Then feel free to shift the flow of the conversation toward the interviewer: how did they get involved in publishing/this publisher, and what is their specific job at the company? The above article notes that “interesting questions relating to background or questions showing that a candidate has researched and done his or her homework demonstrate passion and determination…[and]only a handful of people…[ask] personal questions.” Shining the spotlight on your future boss will show you the type or person you might work for, and allows them the chance to talk about themselves while giving you some breathing room as the interview winds down.

Conclusion

All of this information collected together may appear daunting, and there’s no way to predict every single question that a given editor will care to ask about. But that doesn’t matter as much as you simply coming into the interview with these key assets: a clear self-appraisal of what you want out of this internship and your future career, knowledge about the publisher and its books/authors, a series of personal stories that show your skills, experience, growth, and areas for improvement, and some questions that show your initiative and priorities.

I hope this was helpful for you! My next non-current events post will cover how to get relevant, non-internship publishing experiences outside of publishing hub cities like New York and Boston that you can use for those pesky anecdotal/situational questions.

Thanks for reading!

Deciding How Many Internships You Should Apply For (aka The Story of Goldilocks the Editor)

Once upon a time, there was a young editor named Goldilocks. She lived at the edge of the City with her family. One morning, while she was on her way back from school, Goldilocks wandered into Manhattan and found herself surrounded by huge skyscrapers leased by publishing houses. She was very frightened until she saw a friendly job board in the distance with a dozen internships up for grabs…

I’d continue, but you probably see where I’m going with this. Depending on where you live, you can find an incredible number of opportunities to get your foot in the door, provided you do your research. So how much effort does Goldilocks need to put in to ensure she gets her perfect job, without burning bridges with too many applications or leaving her days cold and empty for a semester? See what I did…sorry, I’ll stop now.

I’m here to help people formulate their strategy, if only by relying on the stories of my mistakes to give some important advice.

  1. Don’t ever assume that most of your applications will lead to a response,
  2. so plan ahead by estimating which publishers will take longest to respond (if at all),
  3. and then make a hierarchy of which internships you want the most, which you would turn others down for, and which you don’t really want to do.

To figure out your plan of attack, the first step is recognizing that not all publishers are created equal when it comes to responding to applicants. Publishers have two basic styles of attracting interns to apply for internships: post three hard deadlines for Spring, Summer, and Fall positions on a dedicated career page and wait for the applications to come pouring in, or use college career sites, job fairs, and specific website postings to announce an opening with a specific application window. I would argue that the likelihood of a publisher bringing you in for an interview is directly proportional to how much effort they took in getting you to apply.

If you respond to a recent listing, that usually means a staff member has dedicated herself to the task of intern wrangling and will respond within a week. I think that publishers feel obligated to give responses and interviews to those who were watchful and enthusiastic enough to respond quickly to a listing. If you have confidence in your interview skills, this is the only window of opportunity you’ll need, though keep in mind that not all interviews are created equal: I had one interview where it became immediately apparent by the interviewer’s indifferent attitude and the 15-minute duration of the meeting, including the questions I’d prepared, that someone had already won the position de facto. Overall, once you respond to a listing, you typically have three to four weeks until you’ll have a potential decision: one-to-seven days for an email acknowledging the application, about 1-2 weeks until the scheduled interview, and anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks for their decision.

Job listings are straightforward; hard thrice-a-year deadlines are a total crapshoot. More people apply to positions that one can find easily on a dedicated internship page, and the editor or HR rep in charge here is more likely to see applicants as a mass of annoying, unproven applicants than hard-working professionals. Moreover, take that attitude with Boston publishers and multiply it by a ten for paid positions, and by a hundred for New York publishers for their summer programs. Unless you apply well before the actual hard deadline with a cover letter that jumps out somehow among the hundreds of other applicants, you won’t even get a response—except perhaps a rejection email two months later, or an announcement on a Facebook careers page stating all positions have been filled.

The hard math: I’ve gotten interviews from 80% of job listings I’ve responded to with an above-average success rate, while <40% of the other category even responded, with half of those responses promising interviews.

Herein lies the dilemma. You have no way of knowing when or where internship listings will pop up, nor any idea when certain publishers will respond if at all. For my summer internship search one year, I applied for 10 internships in early March and got 2 responses in March, 2 in April, and 2 in May. My best example of the awful choices you’ll have to make: I literally received an email notification for my dream internship in the middle of my second interview for another position at X publisher, which would offer me the job two days later. I ended up losing both and going with a third from a later job listing. Another more pedestrian problem: coming off a fall internship with a great publisher, I applied to only 2 or 3 positions that spring with confidence that my updated resume guaranteed my success. That spring semester was incredibly boring.

Prepare yourself for this anguish in advance, because it’s part of the job description for interns-seeking-work. But you also have to be prepared to make hard choices before reaching the interview phase. If you’re offered an interview when you’re still waiting on the position you really want, consider turning down the interview. You will receive no strong assurances from your dream position in the time it takes to hear back from your safety pick, and publishers are much more understanding toward turning down an interview opportunity than turning down a position you convinced them you wanted a few days ago. So if you go into an interview, you have ostensibly decided that you are abandoning any other future offers you might receive.

 

Your plan of action:

Find the websites for the best publishing houses in your city and their corresponding internship pages, and write down the deadlines for the next internship period. Choose five that you’d want to work for, and of those five try to include at least two or three that allow you to apply for more than one department to avoid the cluster of editorial applicants. By my math, you’ll hopefully hear back from two, and that’s all you want to handle. You can certainly try applying to as many as you can find, but it may not be worth the effort. Consider making iCal or Reminder messages for a couple of weeks prior to the deadline so you have time to construct personalized cover letters for each.

Then start trolling every specialized job board you can find. Try Bookjobs for a huge listing of internships, half of which are up to date. For Bostonians, try Bookbuilders of Boston for a great list of jobs and internships that is regularly updated. Register yourself on publisher websites that send weekly updates on jobs with specific keywords like “intern” and “editorial,” such as Pearson or Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. And if you’re truly serious about publishing as a career, consider enrolling at a school with a specialized publishing program. Emerson College has regular job fairs that publishers frequently attend looking for interns, and other publishers often send listings to our media coordinator to distribute to students. These perks make your job of researching opportunities that much easier. I’m sure Columbia, NYU, Pace, Portland State, and other publishing programs offer similar opportunities.

As I stated above, apply to listed jobs with the knowledge that you’ll have an answer quickly, and that you have to accept the loss of other potential opportunities without any regrets. You’ll regret it much more if you turn something down only to find nothing else waiting for you.

There are ways of improving your odds, from better cover letters to better interview strategies, and I’ll be covering those in depth in upcoming posts. But a lot of it comes down to luck and hard numbers, and my estimates only go so far.

So good luck, and thanks for reading!

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!

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!