Monday, January 14, 2013

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.

Source


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.

28 comments:

  1. Wow. That sounds like a fulltime job!

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    1. Honestly, I'm not sure I would be able to do it all if I was still working a full-time job.

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  2. So if you do a "write up" of the ms, do you ever forward this information to the writer? It could be very helpful to the writer, and if you're doing the work anyhow it would be really nice to share.

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    1. I don't personally, but I know the agents pass this information along. It's actually one of the things that drew me to this agency. Every rejection (even for a query) get a personal response with at least one suggestion for improvement. It takes a lot more time, but it makes a world of difference.

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    2. That is truly awesome! I would love to work with this agency!

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    3. We are looking for readers. :)
      http://www.corvisieroagency.com/Opportunities.html

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  3. You guys work so hard, you are the somewhat unsung heroes, so we should all sing your praises. here we go... ahem!

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    1. Honestly, I consider myself super lucky. It is a lot of work, but with so few internship positions out there I don't take the opportunity for granted.

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  4. Being an intern sounds really cool. I bet you are learning a lot!

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  5. A wonderfully informative article! Thanks for taking the time to tell us what you do, Sarah.

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  6. Good job, Sarah! So glad that you take the time to really respond to a writer's manuscript. And I'm glad John Ward gave you a shout-out in the writers' community!

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    1. John runs such a great community. I'm always finding interesting stuff over there. :)

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  7. Thanks for sharing what you do. I love reading things like this.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by. I try to post something I've learned in my internship every Monday.

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  8. Hi Sarah:
    I heard an item on NPR last Spring about internships- how they're expanding in business, and being utilized as unpaid staff. My assumption is that your position is similar. I also understand that unpaid internships are pretty much the only way a grad is able to get their foot in the door in publishing- is that correct?

    Is there any assurance for you to have a paid job at the end of your internship? And if not, is there any formal training provided to you in addition to your On The Job experiences?

    Your blog is great- thanks for the look behind the reception desk!

    Desmond

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    1. Desmond,
      You are correct. I think internships are replacing what used to be called an apprenticeship. Yes, I work for free, but in exchange I am learning the skills I need in order to someday become an agent. And yes, in addition to my "experiences" I am getting more formal training in all the behind the scenes stuff.

      My position doesn't come with any guarantees (no internship does), however, the agency I am with offers a career path if that is what I want and if I can show an ability to perform during the internship.

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  9. Thanks for this post Sarah! I actually just accpeted an internship with Sara Crowe of Harvey Klinger, most of my work is going to be reading YA and MG manuscripts so I'm super excited to begin work!

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    1. Patrice, that sounds great. I am sure you are going to learn tons! Congrats!

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  10. Thanks for writing up this detailed list of what you do. I had no idea about this, and it's very helpful to know. I've often wondered if interns read partials/fulls and suggest what's good and what's not to the agent. It's a bit hard to imagine an intern who likes Contemp or Romance liking an ms that's High Fantasy or Horror. It must be hard to read a genre that you don't like even if the agency accepts it.
    Great post Sarah! :-)

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    1. I don't have much that I can say I don't like (maybe horror), just genres that aren't my favorite. Also, the agents always ask if I am okay to read a certain ms. It doesn't do anyone any favors for me to read something that I know I won't be a fan of.

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  11. Sounds like a great internship to have.
    RE: "This is where some keen organizational skills come in." I wonder if you would share how you stay organized while doing this. Being organized is an area I am . . . well, let's just say I'm working on it. Ha! Thanks!

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    1. Great idea, Linda. I have a few methods that would take more room than I have in a comment box. Maybe a topic for another post. :)

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  12. Sarah, thanks for such a great post. Does your work as an intern take up all your time, or do you have a separate day job? It's astounding you do all that and it's unpaid. I'm sure writers submitting to the agency and the agents you work with really appreciate your commitment!

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    1. Elissa, I'm lucky enough to stay home with my kids. While that feels like a full time job, I don't have to go to a 9-5 office job. :)

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