Dearest Miss Snark, our lady of the brazen wit,

Once upon a time ago, when I got it through to my dad that I was serious about this writing thing, he said, "You should apprentice with a literary agent." I looked at him like he was utterly mad--no one apprentices anymore. What is this, the Middle Ages?

Now I'm in college and I see that we just use a different word for it: Interning. And dear old Dad's idea sounds better and better as the Real World starts making 'Hello, I'm here and waiting for you' noises.

These internships do exist. I've Googled and searched my college's listings and they are out there. Unfortunately, Google and college listings are notorious for finding some less than desirable results. Is there a resource for finding legit agents willing to have an unpaid slave for the semester?

What skills would a literary agent most likely be looking for in an intern? What skills should I cultivate? (Aside, of course, from the ability to wade through the slush pile without getting a million paper cuts.)

Would the agent or company I intern with be able to represent me, or would that be a conflict of interest? I know better than to whack them upside the head with my proposal the moment I land the job, but when would it be appropriate to bring it up? Would I have to wait to formerly show something until I'd finished working there? Does this even happen at ALL? If it is, should I also be trying to find an agent in the same field on which I write?

Even if I didn't get an agent via interning, the contacts and experience would no doubt be invaluable. As is your advice. I now await your verdict. Is daddy right, or was my initial "You are NUTS, man!" closer to the truth?

There are ads for interns on Publishers Marketplace, so that's the first place to check. I know several of my colleagues have interns who are students in the publishing program at NYU and Pace, so if you're at those schools, they've probably got a list of agencies looking for people.

What skills are we looking for? Same as in an assistant. Reliability, punctuality, an ability to take and execute directions without screwing up too much.

My interns don't read the slush pile. They xerox, file, update data bases, and other things that actually teach them something about the industry. I do know other places do things differently.

The fact you are a writer will come up at some point of course. Don't ask to have anyone read your work. Ever. If they offer, great. Don't expect them to. Don't be hurt if they don't. Chances are, right now, at the start of your career, you'll need to make a lot of mistakes in your writing before you hit your stride. I don't want to talk to people I've rejected, let alone sit next to them for three months from 9-5.

Interning is a good way to suck up knowledge. It's not a fast track to finding representation.


Anonymous said...

IMO, Interning/work experience at agents and publishers is for wannabe agents and editors, not wannabe writers.

For those who genuinely want a fulltime job/career in those areas, the competition is tough enough already to get those intern spots. Add people who are hoping to get representation rather than knowledge, and the competition gets that much harder.

Paula said...

I give the snarkling credit for thinking through this potential ave to securing an agent. But Miss Snark's advice rings sensible (as usual).

An internship should revolve around gaining knowledge - a sort of insider's track that those not interning will lack when they're thrust into the real world.

The knowledge you'll gain about the publishing industry will serve you well when you finally reach the submissions stage. It may not secure you an agent or make you a better writer. But you'll get a great insiders peek at how things works.

Take it from a typical neurotic writer who obsesses over every step in the pub process - that peek will help you sleep better at night when your mss is making the circuit.

Anonymous said...

I assume the writer meant "formally", not "formerly"?

I've seen these two words confused a lot lately. Strange.

You Don't Know Me said...

Check out Craigslist for internships, too, under the writing gigs and writing jobs posts.
I agree with the other poster that interning at an agency won't get your book published. You will learn a lot about the industry, but you'll be on the wrong end of the stick. The agent you'd work for is looking for clients on the internet, in slush, and in print, not in your backpack. If you want to make a career out of publishing, such as it is, do the internship. If you want to be a better writer, spend your summer writing and submitting--to agents and journals and the like. Get a paying gig and sock that money away for when you'll need it later. And as a writer, you inevitably will.

Jude Calvert-Toulmin said...

All good advice, imo.

> Interning is a good way to suck up knowledge. It's not a fast track to finding representation.

It's interesting, this idea that there are short cuts to getting published. Having witnessed the way things work in the music industry, I am certain it is the same in the world of publishing.

If you want to be a writer, then write, and keep writing. If you are talented and you put yourself out there, eventually your work will get published.

The music industry is awash with people who think they've got talent and want to "make it big". The ones who make it are the ones whose work shines, and who work bloody hard. It's not rocket science.

Anonymous said...

Also, I wanted to say that I didn't mean you can't intern while wanting to be a writer - of course you can. If you want a career in agenting/publishing *and* to write, go for it.

I worked in publishing for a couple of years as an editorial assistant and learned loads (I read thousands of slush submissions - published only four of them).

But I wouldn't have done it *only* to improve my chances of my own work reaching publication.

Anonymous said...

Dear aspiring intern:

Working in the industry is valuable for aspiring writers. I've worked for a major NY publisher for 12 years (on the design/production side), and I wanted to be a writer long before I got here.

BUT. It is not a way to make contacts of the "gee, will you look at my book" variety. Aggression in that regard is frowned upon. We all (yes, even we design managers who have nothing to do with choosing the books) get hit pitched to by so many random strangers that we practically fear telling people what we do for a living. (Which is not to say you don't make valuable connections. But working people just as a connection is wrong, wrong, wrong, and we can all sniff that out easily.)

You don't need to work here to learn all you need to know about how to get published. My list of writer friends is huge, and none of them work in the industry (except as writers). I signed with my agent only a few months ago.

If you want to work in publishing, do it because you love books and want to help get them into the world. It's too low-paying and grotty an industry to do it for any other reason. (The free books are a nice perk for about five years, and then you get over the compulsion to lug them home.)

Your dad is not crazy. But interning isn't the only answer, either.

(By the way, entry-level jobs--not internships, but actual jobs--at publishing companies are easy to come by if you are personable, willing to work hard, and demonstrate a capacity to learn. They are a bit harder to get on the editorial side, but if you want to be a writer, I wouldn't recommend the editorial side, anyway. I know a few editors who write, but it's a very hard balance, and usually once the writing career gets moving, they get out of editing.)

HawkOwl said...

"No one apprentices anymore?" Excuse me? People with real jobs apprentice. For years. Then they take exams to become journeymen. Of course most of them work in blue collar jobs such as welder, crane operator, carpenter, boilermaker, mechanic, millwright, plumber, or electrician, so the average college student with literary ambitions wouldn't know anything about it.