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.