so many of us in the literary blogosphere are writers. but there are many out there who aspire to take on a different role in publishing.
if you’ve ever dreamed about being an agent (the power! the pleasure of reading and getting paid for it!) or if you’ve ever just wondered what the heck is happening on the other end of that query… then oh boy, do i have a treat for you today!
one thing i’ve gathered about getting a job in the publishing industry is that it often – i’d venture to say MOST often – begins with an internship. but believe it or not – it’s NOT EASY to get a job with long hours and no pay!
fortunately, if any of you ever apply for an internship, you’ll be armed with information – thanks to Gemma Cooper! Gem is fresh off an internship with FinePrint and Nancy Coffey literary agencies, and she graciously agreed to answer some pressing questions about what it takes to land – and then ROCK – a literary internship!
and Gem is offering more than her insight today. she’s providing the prize for my first-ever BLOG CONTEST! (but more on that later.)
so let’s put Gem in the hot seat and jump right in!
EJ - What was the application process like for your internship? How stiff was the competition?
GEM - From talking to a friend of mine who is a literary assistant, I found a great resource for internships - www.bookjobs.com. I’d been to the Backspace Writers Conference in November last year, and some of the people that impressed me the most worked at FP/NC (Joanna, Janet, Steph, Colleen). So, imagine my excitement when I saw they had a summer internship! For the initial contact, I had to write a cover letter talking a bit about myself and why I wanted to be an intern at a literary agency. Also, I sent my resume. This was a joint internship program to work at FinePrint Literary Agency and Nancy Coffey Media and Literary Representation and they had around 100 applicants. From these applicants, they interviewed 40. For the interview, we had to bring a short reader report on something we had read recently and be prepared to talk books (which is of course one of my favorite things to talk about!) I picked ‘Before I Fall’ from Lauren Oliver for my report, which was a great choice as agent Suzie Townsend had just read it. Reader reports are a HUGE part of an intern’s job, so they were checking that we could write a short synopsis and convey the strengths and weakness of a story concisely. I was lucky enough to be one of 6 that got the internship for the summer. (I love my fellow interns *waves*)
EJ - Walk us through the typical week of an intern for FP/NC.
GEM - A typical week means reading. Lots and lots of reading. We are the second eyes on client manuscripts, submissions, and queries. We also write reader reports for all the manuscripts we read. I used to be horrible at writing short synopses (when I think back years ago to my own poor attempts at queries... oh dear) but the more you practice the better you get.
EJ - What did you learn about the publishing biz that you never would have known without your internship?
GEM - I would never have known just how much everyone works! Having been on the writing side of publishing first, I always thought I was the only person slaving away until the early hours of the morning. But no, agents work long hours and even as an intern I would be reading very late - but that's okay, because I love books and I loved this internship. Which brings me to something else I learnt from spending time with agents - publishing is not just their job, it’s a big part of their lives. Agents are all genuine book lovers (who will even go to midnight book parties for books they don’t rep). And this is important because, if an agent signs you, you want them to have a breadth of knowledge of what’s going on in the industry.
EJ - Interns work for free, and from what I’ve heard – for the first few years at least, so do agents! What else should people consider before jumping into a career in publishing?
GEM - Well, you mentioned the main one – books need to be something you love, because initially you do have to get by on love of the job alone! I would also suggest that people research the different sides of publishing to see where their skills would be most suited – agenting, editing, film/foreign rights, marketing, sales – there are so many facets to publishing that you could rush into the wrong area just because you love books and not consider which area is the right fit. Also, you do need to realize that unlike some jobs, publishing is not 9-5.
EJ - I’ll bet one perk of interning is getting a sneak peek at some highly anticipated books – and some great stories we haven’t even heard of yet. Go ahead – make us jealous.
GEM - I have been very lucky to be interning just before the release of Personal Demons (Sept 14th) and The Duff (Sept 7th). It’s a very fun time at both agencies! I remember coming into the office one morning and seeing Suzie’s excitement when the first ARC’s of Personal Demons arrived. And last week I got to hold a hardback of The Duff – seriously the most beautiful thing you will put on your bookshelf this year. It’s so great to hold the finished books and see the culmination of all that hard work from so many people.
Talking about The Duff, I was super excited to meet Kody Keplinger during my internship. The first day she came in I only managed a ‘hi’ – instead of what I wanted to say which was, ‘I’ve been stalking your blog since I saw you on AW and I can’t wait to read The Duff, but I haven’t found a convenient time to ask Joanna to read the ARC yet, so I just keep staring at it every time I’m in the office.’ Fortunately for me, Kody came in a few more times after this and I reined in the crazy. She talked about her path from query to agent to book deal and was happy to answer any questions - so helpful to hear all about the different stages. And I was lucky enough to read The Duff in July and gush over her/it when she visited for the last time.
My other big highlight was reading some fabulous unpublished manuscripts – I have three that easily landed in my top 20 YA books of all time, and one that would make top 5! I love picturing the day when manuscripts I’ve read and worked on this summer eventually turn up as ‘real books’ in the office. I mean, how lucky am I that I can read these years ahead of their pub date?
EJ - What was the hardest part of the internship?
GEM - I found that when I was reading 3 or 4 MS’s a week, my reading for fun had to take a backseat. Sometimes I was desperate to read but my eyes would just not allow me to focus. I did however find a way round this by buying some audio books to read on the packed subways and while cleaning the apartment. I’ve never tried audio books before, but I really enjoyed them.
EJ - You’ve witnessed agents in action, rejecting fulls or making offers. From what you’ve seen, what makes them say “I want it” – writing? Concept? Hook? Marketability?
GEM - It’s a mixture of all of these, plus an amazing voice. A fantastic hook with a flat one-dimensional character isn’t going to work, and neither is a vivid main character in a boring story. However, I wouldn’t get hung up on all these things to start off with - just write the best book you can. Write a book for you, rather than worrying about the afterwards.
thank you TONS for your insight, Gem!
i hear the scratching of pens on paper and fingers on keyboards, as people add Personal Demons and The Duff to their “to be read” piles. i know they’re both on mine.
whether you’re looking to break into the business or just looking to learn more about the agenting side of the biz, i hope this interview was helpful. there was definitely a lot i didn’t know myself.
NOW – here’s a chance to get even more of Gem’s expert insight!
interns are a second set of eyes for agents on everything from queries to manuscripts. so how would you like the chance to have an experienced intern give you feedback on YOUR query? Gem has generously offered to give a query critique to one lucky winner! (and let me tell you – Gem is my beta, so i can say from experience – you want her input. It’s invaluable!)
To enter, just leave a comment on this post.
for bonus entries, let me know in the comments if you:
- follow this blog (+1)
- tweet or blog a link back to this post (+1)
the contest closes at 8pm Central Time Wednesday. the winner will be determined by a random drawing and will be announced this Thursday, September 9th.
thanks again to Gem for taking the time to give us a peek behind the curtain at the magic that is interning/agenting. if you have any additional questions for Gem, go ahead and ask in the comments. she'll be back by to answer any pressing Qs i didn't think of.
Good Luck in the contest!