Life as a publishing intern: Part 1

So I’m procrastinating on my NaNoWriMo piece, and I was just thinking how I haven’t said a whole lot on here about my current experience as a nonprofit publishing intern, and this is maybe info that will be interesting/helpful to anyone who is really interested in the field.

When I started this blog, I was on the staff of our university’s undergraduate literary magazine. After much deliberation on other subjects, I had finally decided to pursue my degree in English (because it was the only thing I really like AND was really good at) even though I knew it might not lead me to the best paid jobs in the world. So I had joined the school lit mag as an attempt to see how I could connect my love of books with an actual career. On the magazine, I served as the head of development and finance. For anyone who does not live or work in nonprofit-land, “development” might be a broad and unknown term. Basically it translates to developing the press’ support with both individual giving and other kinds of fundraising so that the press has the ability to keep growing and publishing good work. Fundraising is a big part of development, but there are many different faucets to it that don’t include going house to house asking if people would like to buy some chocolate or wrapping paper.

Fundraising isn’t something one often thinks about when deciding to pursue a career in publishing. When you think of publishing, sometimes you think of publicity or marketing, but mostly you think about editing. The work of editor is an extremely fundamental part of the whole, but my time at the lit mag showed me that there is a lot more that has to get done besides editing. Someone has to design the cover, someone has to plan the launch party, someone has to distribute the product, someone has to run ads in the newspaper. If you’re nonprofit, someone has to apply for grants, and send out letters, and plan events. Someone has to deal with the printer, and do the taxes, and turn in expense sheets. There is a lot of diversity in the the realm of publishing that you don’t necessarily know about until you get there.

When our finished product came in (which for us was about 1700 magazines the size of a chapbook), I had this overwhelming sense that this was what I wanted. There is nothing quite like opening a brand new book out of the box, opening the inside cover and seeing your name in it, and knowing that you helped make it. Even if you didn’t design the pages or write the stories. So after I graduated from college, I started pursuing some internships in the Minneapolis area.

Something to know about the publishing industry before you look for internships: everyone thinks you have to go to New York. This really isn’t the case. Any large city will have publishing options if you get creative. Maybe Random House doesn’t have an office down the street from you, but have you looked into children’s publishers? Newspapers? Journals? Online? Nonprofit? How about your local university press? There are many options for those of us who don’t live in the Big Apple and maybe don’t really plan to. (Not that there’s anything wrong with NY-but I am a Minnesota girl).

So after about 9 months of applying to places and getting turned down, I finally scored an internship with a nice nonprofit publisher in Minneapolis this September. My first piece of advice to anyone trying to get an internship in publishing relates to my first point: don’t automatically go for editing. If you are set on editing, by all means, apply for these positions. But keep in mind that there are other departments in every publishing house. Some of these may be less competitive than strictly editorial internships, and usually have some different skill sets that they are looking for. And besides, you might end up liking another type of work better.

I am a development intern, and I help the development department with their day-to-day operations, as well as with some special events and projects. I do very intern-y type work like using the copier, but I also help with the planning and running of a variety of events, from private author readings to large public events. I help maintain our press’ contact database, I research funding opportunities, and I send out a lot of letters. I also get to meet a lot of interesting people, and I have the chance to talk about my favorite books and why I like them.

Oh yeah, and I get to meet authors. (Not that I’m bragging, or anything.)

So feel free to ask me any questions about my experience so far, and I will continue to update as my internship progresses. In the mean time, I have a lot of NaNo to catch up on. Yikes.


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