Agency Lessons: What exactly is a literary intern

I recently had a great conversation with +John Ward about what exactly it is that I do as a literary intern. So I'm going to answer that question. But before I forget, you should check out the community John runs over on Google+. Seriously awesome folks and a daily post by John that always gets my brain thinking.

Now, back to the intern thing. First, let me state for the record that I don't know what other interns do at other agencies and this is only my experience. That said, I have to imagine that a lot of interns do some of the same stuff. So, if you have no idea what a literary intern does, this should give you a good idea. Here are the five main things I do as a literary intern.


1. Query Box
At the agency I'm at, all queries go to a single email instead of to each agent individually. As an intern, I go through the box and send the queries to the agent it is addressed to. If it is a genre that agent doesn't rep (it happens) then I send it to a different agent. I am filtering for queries that don't have all the items we request (like sample page and a synopsis). Just so you know, I send them back and give the author a mulligan. I also filter for queries that just aren't going to work. I was a little nervous about the idea of holding someone's literary career in my untrained hands. So, I never reject without getting another agent's opinion first. There, now we both feel better.

2. Manuscripts
Since I love to read, this is one of my favorite tasks. Agents have lots of manuscripts to read and considering the average one takes six hours to read, there just aren't enough hours in the day. When I get a manuscript, I read until I want to stop. So, if this was a book I got from the library and I lost interest around pg. 20 I would return the book unfinished. Same deal here, only I also provide a detailed write-up of why I stopped reading. This is one of those things where you need to know the components of a good story. I can't just say "It didn't work". I need to say the pacing was off, or the characters were dry, or any other reason (usually more than one) for why I didn't want to read anymore. The inverse is also true. When I like a manuscript I still need to say why.

3. Research
There is so much information on Publisher's Marketplace. Seriously, that place can suck me in like Facebook. I spend a lot of time on the site researching new publishers and finding out who is making deals for what kind of books and for what territories. This is where some keen organizational skills come in.

4. Social Media
Part of my title is also PR Specialist. This sounds so fancy. What it means is that I post things to Twitter and FB, answer questions and help our authors promote their new releases. It's not fancy, but marketing gets me all kinds of jazzed up in the mornings so I really like it.

5. List Maker
I probably have at least a dozen running lists of things that I am gathering at any given time. A list of book bloggers for a certain genre, contacts for press releases, new sub-right agents who are making deals in Greece. You get the picture. This is not glamorous and if I'm being honest, it's a huge time suck. That said, it is all crucial information that agents need to do their jobs. Because it's constantly changing someone has to constantly keep up with it.

Those are the biggies sprinkled in with lots of other fun stuff that keeps me constantly learning more about the amazing book business. If you are interested in learning more about the business side of how books end up on the shelves, I would definitely recommend an internship. It's a lot of work, but so is anything else worth doing. :)

If you have other questions about being an intern, leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer them.