How I Got the Best Publishing/Writing Internship Ever
The only internship I did (besides on in high school) was between my junior and senior years of college, the summer of 2011, but it was the best thing I ever did for my “career” and having worked there is still serving me today. Don’t let people tell you that English majors and other liberal arts majors will have no job prospects after college—that’s bullshit. We just have to make more of an effort to bolster our resumes with extracurriculars and real-world skills and internships.
In March of 2011 I applied for one internship at Penguin. Their internships are paid and I have a good family friend who works there who offered to put in a good word for me, so I thought that’d be a good idea. But because Penguin’s such a huge publisher and they’re one of the rare ones who pay their interns, obviously everyone in the world applies there. So despite my high-up-in-the-ranks family friend, I didn’t even get called for an interview.
So I decided to go at it from a different approach.
I didn’t apply for any more internships until April, when I was finished with my finals. I had people start asking me about internship applications in December (maybe they were applying for Spring?), but you definitely don’t need to apply that early—chances are, a lot of summer internships won’t even be listed that early. If you start now, you’ll be fine.
I’m pretty sure I literally googled “publishing internships”, and it was there that I stumbled across the Mecca website of publishing jobs and internships—bookjobs.com. I still go there to check out the jobs every once in a while, but obviously you fine folks will need the internship tab.
I scrolled through every listing and added the ones that would work for me (time frame and location wise) to a list. Then I drafted up a cover letter for the first one and highlighted the company name in orange, as well as any other fields that I might need to change in subsequent drafts—for example, some companies were more tech-centric, so I referenced skills like knowing basic HTML, InDesign, and Photoshop, and talked about Yeah Write. But some were more lit/reading related, so I talked more about being an English major, my creative writing classes, etc.
Then I sent that cover letter and my resume to all 19 internships on my list, editing the bits an orange to the specific listing as I went (and, of course, turning all the orange type to black before I hit “send”). All in all it took me a couple of hours. (For more on formatting emailed applications, see the link at the bottom of this post.)
Also, a little side note—I decided in the last minute to talk about Yeah Write in my cover letter and list it on my resume. I ended up getting asked to interview for 5 internships, but only went to 2, both of which I was offered based on the fact that I ran a popular writing blog. If you don’t have a writing blog, that’s okay—you can start one now! You know how to use Tumblr, you savvy blogger you. Put up samples of your writing, thoughts on the current publishing market, and anything else that you think can round you out and make you look like a knowledgable candidate.
By the way—don’t forget that there’s that whole business side of publishing that they don’t really teach you as an English major. Anything you can do to beef up your knowledge of current bestsellers and the state of the industry will help you sound much more legit in your interview. Subscribing to website newsletters like Publishing Trendsetter, Shelf Awareness and Publishers Weekly are really helpful.
The interviews were very casual, basically just a meet and greet and an explanation of what the position would be like. I can’t speak for every potential intern employer, but it didn’t feel like there was a very high expectation that I was supposed to be able to answer specific questions about the industry—or any super difficult questions, for that matter. I just talked a little about myself. But again, I can’t speak for every interview you’ll have, just the ones I did!
My internship wasn’t with a publisher; it was actually at a very small publishing consultancy made up of 3 women who had worked everywhere in the industry, and 2 girls a little older than me. It was great because the 3 women had a lot of knowledge to share with us and one would give us “school” when she had free time, and the girls were just a couple of years ahead of me in their careers, so they gave me a sense of what to expect. Being somewhere so small was also great because I was treated like a human and got to create content and share my own ideas. I know that a lot of you probably want to get your foot in the door at one of the Big 6 (or I guess it’s Big 5 now), but trust me, being somewhere where you’re treated well and where you can form relationships with people will serve you better. Honestly, I’m glad I didn’t get that internship at Penguin. One of the 3 women I worked for is friends with my current boss and that’s how I got the interview/job I have now.
A note on New York City: It is, after all, the center of the publishing world. But it is crazy expensive to live there (I graduated and have a full time job there now and I’m still commuting from CT because it’s so expensive to live there!). But I think NYU has cheap dorms that you can live in, and if you have a friend or relative who lives there or in a borough or even in Connecticut or New Jersey, hit them up!
For more information on writing cover letters and resumes, read this post.
Internship Applications: Some Excellent Guides
Hey! I was wondering what you know about journalism/writing/editing internships in America or elsewhere, because I was thinking it'd be good to give it a go, but I live in Australia and have little to no experience really. I want to get jobs as I study (I am starting a creative writing/journalism degree next year) and it would look amazing on my resume to say I did an overseas intership for a short amount of time. :) Anything you can suggest? Maybe someone you can refer me to? Thank you! Jess xx
Hey yeah, this is actually a great question! First off, I wrote this article for YW on how to get an internship last summer, that’ll DEF help you. But the best place I can lead you toward is Publishing Trendsetter, a website for young people who just started working in publishing, or hope to. They did this great series this summer (when I was interning with them) called How To Get A Job In Publishing, but all of their posts give advice about landing an internship, too. In one of them they talk about what I consider the best place to find internships, Bookjobs.com, which is where I found mine. All of these links should definitely help you! Good luck!
How To Get An Internship In Publishing
I was just asked this, more or less, by shoes-anne—and I thought that instead of just answering her ask, I’d write a whole post about it, since I’m sure a bunch of you are interested (especially given the response to the How to Get A Job in Publishing post that linked to my internship’s blog.
So here are my best tips*, based on my experience:
1. Live—or figure out how to live—near or in New York City
Of course you’ll be able to find publishing internships in other major cities, or even at small presses in more suburban towns. But New York City is where it’s at. Wanting to work in publishing and never living/working in New York would be like trying to be an actor and never living in LA. All of the Big 6—Random House, Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan—are in New York (not that you have to work at those houses, particularly, but their presence is important).
I’m lucky because I grew up in a suburb on NYC, so I can hop on the Metro North from my hometown and be at Grand Central in around an hour. Very few (if any) internships set their interns up with housing anymore, but I know that NYU will let interns live in their dorms in the summer for cheap.
2. If you’re in college, GO TO CAREER SERVICES
I’d never written a real resume before, let alone a cover letter, so I made an appointment at my career services office. I went up expecting to sit in a little office and have my resume looked over—but I was so wrong. The career services office was an entire floor in a building on campus, and by far the most beautiful offices I’d ever seen. They have walk-in resume reviews, conduct mock-interviews, have all kinds of seminars, and the counselors were awesome. They even showed me tons of places to find listing just for publishing internships. When I went in with a resume, the counselor then had me email her back and forth with resume edits until she gave me the go-ahead.
3. Draft up your cover letters and resume—and then apply to every internship possible
Back in… February? I started thinking about applying to internships. I have a family friend at Penguin, so I sent one application to them. But despite the family friend’s good word, I didn’t hear any words from Penguin. So then I sent out maybe… two more? that I found out about from my University Career Services website. And again, I heard nothing.
So one afternoon I just sat down and Googled “publishing internships” and came across bookjobs.com. There are a tooon of internships listed on there (again, mostly in NYC). So I went down the entire list and clicked on every single one and wrote down which ones would “fit”, based on their location, duration, when the deadline was, etc. When I was done I had a list of 16 internships—and I sent my cover letter and resume to all of them.
A little side-tip on that: since you usually paste your cover letter into the body of an email and attach your resume, I highlighted the parts of each that I would have to change for each application I sent (the company’s name and address, the skill sets they specifically asked for, etc). Then, right before I sent the email, I turned everything back to black.
And believe it or not… I applied to all 16 in one (long) afternoon.
That makes 19 internships total that I applied to. These days, that’s just what you have to do. Since I transferred to Carolina and because I’m doing Honors Fiction, I’m doing an extra year, so all my high school friends graduated from college this May, and even they—degrees in hand—are applying to internships. So you have to remember that you have competition not only from other students (and unless you’re in an Ivy, there will always be students from better schools), but from people who have a degree, or might even already have experience in the publishing field.
4. If your Tumblr is semi-popular and writing/book-related, put it on your resume
In the last minute I decided to put Yeah Write! on my resume, since a lot of the internship listings asked for help with blogs or web-related stuff. I included that I was the “founder and creator” (those are buzz words for resumes), a brief blurb describing the blog, and my approximate follower-count.
As it turned out, both of the internships I ended up “landing” (at Publishing Trendsetter and Figment) wanted me because they were interested in my blog. Go figure.
But I believe that our generation’s saving grace in this economy is that we understand social media and the blogosphere. Even the most connected industry vets can barely figure out how to block pop-ups, let alone create a Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/blog presence. But social media integration is essential to businesses now—and since we’ve been playing around with Facebook etc. since they’re beginnings (I first got a Facebook when I was 16), it’s like a first language to us (the technical term for this is “digital native”). So make sure to play up the fact that, for you, working with social media ain’t no thang.
5. Put everything on your resume
People will tell you different things about this, but I’m a big proponent of putting a lot of stuff on your resume, even if it’s not directly related to publishing. I included details like that I did study abroad in Germany and speak German (hey! turns out German is a great language to speak in the publishing world, since the Frankfurt Book Fair is the biggest in the world!), that I babysit and cater (showing that I’m responsible and know how to work/think on my feet), and that I’m in UNC’s Ski & Snowboard Club (hey, if the person reading is a skiier, they might like me a little better).
Plus, if you’re trying to get an internship, obviously you’re not going to have enough experience in that field to fill a resume.
If you want to see what my resume looked like, you can view it here.
*These are tips for people who are in college or older. But if you’re in high school and want a head start, I’d recommend emailing your local newspaper—or, even better, magazine—to see if they need summer help. At the end of my senior year in high school, we were given the oppurtunity to have the last month off if we did an internship. I emailed our local magazine downtown and they took me on, even though they’d already lined up 2 other kids (at the time I was about to leave for journalism school). But that kind of publishing experience is good too, and some of the skills I learned there (namely, SEO optimization) were beneficial when I was applying to resumes this spring.
A final note: these tips worked for me. I was offered 5 interviews, but after going to 2 and being offered both internships, I decided to turn down the other interviews (I’d really liked what I’d already seen at non-publisher internships, and my remaining interview offers were at small publishing houses). I’m working at one internship 3 days a week and doing “freelance” work remotely for another. Both are awesome!