Posted by Liz Roos, Fiction Head for Issue 10.1
“You miss all the shots you don’t take,” is a bit of cliché, overused advice—but I wanted to begin this post with that advice because it is a phrase that I have repeated to myself again and again when sending an application to an internship, or an email to a professor, or a Google form to a writing contest. A key addition to that advice is, “If there’s no detriment, then why not?” If there’s no submission fee to submit that short story to that literary journal, then why not submit? The only cost is your free time—which is a precious commodity in itself. However, it has been my experience that the fifteen minutes it might take you to submit an application or send an email is worth the experiences and connections that might come out of that application or email.
During my time at SUNY Geneseo, I have been a remote literary agent intern, creative writing teaching assistant, remote editorial assistant intern, English honor society chairholder, writing tutor, student publishing assistant, and currently, for our wonderful Gandy Dancer, a head fiction editor. I have won three awards and an honorable mention for two short stories, a screenplay, and a creative nonfiction essay respectively. And after doing all of that I have learned a valuable lesson: the reality of it is, really, that passion, determination, and professionalism will get you a long way. Show the people you speak to that you care for your work.
That was a lot of ambiguous advice. Let’s get to the helpful stuff.
The goal of many people who look for opportunities is to beef up their résumés. That was my goal. To start with, many résumés are broken down by education, professional experience, and additional experience. Professional experience includes anything you’ve worked or interned for, and will almost always be extracurricular; like the literary agency internship that I speak about below. Additional experience includes anything you couldn’t be paid for, but contributed to, and can be semi-curricular. I have chosen my literary agency internship to talk about during this post, but what is important is that all of the experiences that I mentioned doing above are available to you as a student as well. While professional experience might be more interesting to your potential employer, all kinds of experience are important to have on you résumé.
I interned remotely with Dystel, Goderich & Bourret LLC, a literary agency based in New York City, from August to December, 2020. I was a sophomore, and first learned about the opportunity from a creative writing professor, Professor Kristen Gentry. I highly recommend developing close relationships with your professors; if it weren’t for my connection with Professor Gentry, I would have never learned of the internship. On August 1st, Professor Gentry sent me an email with a link about the application and the internship coordinator—a Geneseo alumni herself, Amy Bishop. The application process was rigorous; after sending in my résumé and cover letter, I was accepted into the next wave of the process and was assigned to read a 300-page manuscript and complete a reader’s report within a set time limit. I did, and sent in the report, and was finally offered the internship position, which I accepted—the only undergraduate out of a group of five.
I was able to do my internship with Dystel for academic credit; even though the internship was unpaid, I received three credits under the ENGL 395 title. If you are accepted into an unpaid internship as an undergrad, make sure to look up academic credit for your internship, especially if it takes place during a semester. During my time with Dystel, I was assigned rigorous work. This is to be expected of many publishing-related internships. Working from 10:00am to 5:00pm three days a week reading “slush piles” of 20+ query letters to narrow down what queries were good enough to send on to the agents, in addition to reading a 300-page manuscript every week and writing a reader’s report, was a lot of work on top of the courses I was already taking. It is here that passion and determination for what you do comes through; if you aren’t passionate about what you’re doing, it’s hard to do the work.
Hard work, but good work. I learned so much about the field I intended to enter after graduating from Geneseo. I spoke to literary agents who had connections with many large publishing houses, including Simon & Schuster and Penguin Random House. I received master classes on how the publishing industry worked, and what the literary agent’s role was within it. And, looking back on the experience now, it’s funny to think about how I thought applying to this internship was a pipe dream, and that I shouldn’t even bother. It’s also funny to think about how out-of-depth I felt while completing the internship—surrounded by professionalism, the only undergrad among five other more suitable graduate students. But my advice to you is keep on going. Submit that application. Send that email. You’re not out of your depth; you’re not going to lose anything.
At the bottom of this post I’ve included some links that have helped me find the opportunities that I’ve been able to add to my résumé, including a link to Dystel’s internship webpage. Best of luck!
Literary opportunities available to Geneseo students:
Literary opportunities available to all college students: