A summer ago, I did not expect to be sitting in my sixth story NYC apartment, listening to taxi drivers stand on their horns and across-the-street café/bar noise float in my window. Nor did I expect to be interning at a literary agency twenty minutes away from my new home. Thanks to a year of planning, fretting, good counsel, networking like crazy, working on resumes, and hating cover letters with just about every fiber of my being, I’m writing this blog post in my apartment after a full day at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.
If you’re thinking about applying for a publishing or literary agency internship, here are a few tips and tricks:
- Network the ever-loving goodness out of everyone you know. Aka talk about it a lot. I actually got introduced to literary agency work by mentioning to a Geneseo alum that I was thinking about doing an internship in NYC over the summer and she in turn, introduced me to one of her friends who worked as a literary assistant. Talking is also how I got my apartment—a friend of a friend needed a subletter and I got my apartment all but handed to me in December. You’d be surprised at the amount of people who want to help or who have something to offer!
- Talk to your professors. Some of them may have been around the publishing block a few times or have connections in publishing. One of my professors handed me a Writer’s Guide to Literary Agents and I went through the 600+ page book to find agents in NYC that represented more than 50 clients (assuming larger agencies would need interns). Another professor formerly worked at Penguin and was able to offer help with writing samples.
- Find someone in your college who really knows resumes. (And by “someone” I don’t mean a roommate or best friend or tutor, as wonderful as those people are.) I suspect that someone will be living in your Career Center or Internship Program Director’s office. (For Geneseo students, our Career Center is located in Erwin Hall and everyone should go sign up for an appointment with Rob diCarlo, who was of immense help with all things networking, cover letters, and resume polishing.) You want your resume to look as professional and polished as possible.
- Even more importantly: get really comfortable writing cover letters. (And get someone to look at that too.) You will write a lot of them. I sent out seventeen applications, heard back from three, and received positive answers from two. I spent most of my spring break in various cafes in Burlington, VT grouching over cover letters and perusing literary agency websites to see if they took interns.
- Do your research. Find out what your publishing house or literary agency of interest represents or specializes in. Use that knowledge to hook them—what can you specifically bring to their company? Double-check and triple-check everything—typos are just embarrassing. Find something that will make yourself stand out—one literary agency I applied to told me they got 700 applications, narrowed it down to 40 or 50 for interviews, and took about 10. You want to be one of those 10.
- Write thank you notes. Always write a thank you note. (It’s another way to stand out.)
Once you’ve got the internship? Well: congratulations!! A few things to keep in mind, based off my experiences so far:
- Do not expect to get paid. It is a rare literary internship that pays you. (Granted, the big five—Hachette, Penguin Random House, MacMillan, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster—can afford to pay you. But don’t expect that.)
- Do not expect to be hobnobbing with bigwig authors and signing book deals. Also do not expect to be important.
- Do not expect most of what you read to be good. 9/10 of it will be terrifyingly bad. And you will still feel guilty sending rejection letters (our intern joke at Dystel is that we’re the “dream destroyers”).
- Do expect to read. A lot. Until your eyes feel like they’re going to cross and you can’t believe some of the mind-blowingly weird things people think is acceptable to send as a serious submission. (My favorite is someone using the word “body-holes” in their manuscript.)
- Do expect to become very comfortable with the copier/scanner machine. The files agencies keep are ridiculous (and they have to be). File cabinets on file cabinets on file cabinets.
- Do expect to wear many hats: administrative work, like copying, filing, scanning, answering phones, running the mail, etc., reading through the slush pile, writing reports for agents, keeping track of online sales and author positions on charts, etc.
- Do expect to revel in the fact that you’re spending 24 hours a week in rooms full of books. And that you get to read potential books—1/10 of which are maybe actually really good—all day.
To all you hopefuls: good luck with applications! It’s a process, but a very rewarding one. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com with any comments or questions.
Amy Elizabeth Bishop is a senior at SUNY Geneseo, majoring in Creative Writing. She is a current intern at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management and will be student editor for the GREAT Day Journal for the third year in a row. At school, one can most often find her on the upstairs floor of Welles Hall, behind her official-looking desk in Doty Hall, or in bed, asleep. Her poetry can be found in Gandy Dancer and is forthcoming in The Susquehanna Review. She lives in Cooperstown, NY with her parents and two fat cats.