What an Internship in a Publishing House Is Really Like (and How to Get One)
Jodie gives you a look behind the scenes and shares some valuable tips.
This year I spent four weeks as a publishing intern at an independent digital publishing house in London. This was my first internship, and the first time I’d properly worked in an office environment; I was a little nervous, but excited all the same.
If I’m honest, beforehand, I didn’t really know much at all about publishing. I knew some of the different departments needed for a publishing business to work – marketing, editorial, rights etc – but I didn’t know how they worked and interacted with one another.
Equally, I wasn’t really aware of how different the scale and processes would be between a big international, print publishing house (Penguin, Faber & Faber, Macmillan etc) and a smaller, independent digital publishing house.
What I did know was that I was intrigued by publishing. To me, there was something exciting about that stage of a book’s life, caught between the final draft and the first review. When asked in my interview whether there was a particular area I was interested in learning about, I said that I was interested in editorial but, for the most part, I really wanted to work on a diverse range of tasks. That way, I could learn what I was better at and/or more interested in.
Here’s a quick rundown of what I learnt and some of the things I got up to.
Writing blurb ‘pitches’/ blurb copy. To help promote their books and offers, the company regularly sent out newsletters and publicised themselves through other book sites such as Bargain Booksy and BookBub. This is where I came in. Instead of sending full blurbs out for each book, they needed quick, boiled-down versions – around 50 to 60 words for each. I had to find out about each book and create ‘pitches’ quickly so the newsletter or advert could be sent out at the best time. It was good exercise in copywriting and being more economical with my words. In fact, this is a good writing exercise full stop; perhaps something to try if you need to ‘warm up’ before getting into a longer task.
Contacting fans on goodreads.com. To help generate reviews and hype around a new book, I contacted fans of the genre or of similar authors, and offered a free unpublished manuscript version in exchange for a fair review afterwards.
Formatting manuscripts. After a book has been proofread and edited, it must be formatted ready for publication so each of the books published by the company look the same. For example, they should have the same font for all the chapter headings and the contents page should be separate from the title page etc. Consistency, both throughout the manuscript and across the company, was king.
Intern lunches. I was lucky enough to intern with a company that paid for intern lunches on Fridays – yay! This meant myself and the other one-month intern went with two members of staff for somewhere local to have lunch. This was a great opportunity to ask any questions about tasks or publishing in general.
Researching dates and putting them into a database. Also to help with marketing, collecting dates was another important task for book promotion. As many of their books were autobiographies and historical fiction, they used anniversaries to help publicise books via Twitter and newsletters.
Reading manuscripts and writing reports. A publishing team doesn’t feasibly have enough time to read every submission beginning to end to see whether it’s worth pursuing. One of the jobs I did was reading the first 70-100 pages (or the whole thing if I had time) to get a feel of a book, and then follow up with a report. I had to summarise what I’d read, pick out it’s good and bad points, flag any potential issues (PC etc), and then ultimately state whether or not it should be pursued. This helped get me thinking about books within the wider frame of a market.
A dull job or two. Every internship (and, by extension, every job) will always have some tasks that are less exciting but, that are, fundamentally, a part of what keep things ticking over. For me, these were reorganising folders in dropbox so author contracts could be stored simply, and adding series information to some published books.
Uploading books to KDP. KDP stands for Kindle Direct Publishing and is the last step before a book goes live on Amazon. It’s really important to make sure that the book is priced correctly in all the territories it’s being sold in and the blurb is formatted and coded right. I think it was a good experience for me to be involved in all steps of the publishing process.
Cover design. To create a good cover, I had to first read through a manuscript and gain a feel of what it was about and the tone it used. Then I had to find a relevant photo and create a compelling tagline before sending it to the designer. If the author wanted to change anything I had to contact the designer again.
Proofreading and editing a manuscript. This wasn’t something the company usually allowed interns to do as they mainly outsourced these tasks to freelance editors and proofreaders. However, as they were pleased with my previous work and I’d expressed an interest in editorial tasks, they asked me if I’d like to try editing an entire manuscript. The one I was given was a republication of an older book, first published in the 50s. I had to make sure there were no grammatical or stylistic errors, correct any inconsistencies with the content, and make sure it followed the firm’s style guide. I’m really glad I got to do this task as it was a good experience and I can now say I’ve had this experience. The book has since been published on Amazon with my edits intact. Nerdy perhaps, but I’m pretty proud of that.
Ultimately, I’m really glad I go to do this and I’m disappointed that it wasn’t longer. Compared to how I was at the interview stage I feel way more confident going forward looking for jobs/other internships. I’m glad I have, on top of my degree, some practical experience to evidence my passion and interest when it comes to books and writing.
If you’re thinking about an internship in publishing, then here are a couple of things to consider:
- Before you apply anywhere make sure you’re clear on exactly what you’re looking to get out of an internship.
- There’s a big difference between interning with a bigger publishing firm compared to a smaller independent one. For starters, at a larger scale company you may only have the option to work with one or two departments. This is good if you’re set on doing marketing for example, but if you’re less sure then gaining a boarder feel of publishing from a smaller company may work better for you.
- Publishing houses (annoyingly) don’t typically advertise internships so your best bet is to check their websites and/or contact them directly.
- As internships can be popular don’t leave it too late to apply; if you’re thinking about a summer internship then perhaps start looking soon.
- Like publishing houses themselves, no two internships will be the same so bear this in mind as you search. An internship at a magazine or newspaper publishers will be massively different to a company that mainly publishes art books. Equally, a month-long marketing internship will offer something completely different to a three-month editorial internship.
- If you’re struggling to find a time to commit to in the summer or simply don’t want to wait until then, try searching for remote/ virtual internships. These, again, come in all shapes and sizes but may provide the experience you need to get into others later.
by Jodie R Reed