Seven Things I Learned at My Summer Internship

I just finished my first week back at school. It’s  a bittersweet feeling, because as excited as I am to be back it’s so so weird that my MFA program is already half over and that this is my last semester taking classes (next semester I’ll be working on my thesis). Before we get too far away from summer (I got my flu shot yesterday which makes me feel like the season is officially over) I thought I’d share a few things I learned from interning at a literary agency.

1.) Agents have way way way more to do that read queries and look for new writers to represent. I think when I’d pictured agents jobs before my internship I thought reading query letters would make up a huge portion of their day. Not so much. They have existing clients to work with! Contracts to negotiate and double, then triple, check! Subsidiary rights! Endless phone calls to take! Everyone seemed very excited about signing new clients, but their jobs consist of so much more. 

2.) A referral gets looked at much faster and much more seriously than slush. At first, I wondered if this was fair, but the referrals I saw were generally of a higher standard of writing than most of what I read in slush. In a way this makes sense. The writer who’s been referred has already made it’s way through one gatekeeper.

3.) Slush is actually as bad as most people say. An alarming number of people seem to do no research about how to write a query or the agent they are submitting too. Don’t send your adult thriller to a picture book agent! Don’t send something off without proofreading it! For goodness sake, don’t address your letter To Whom it may concern! It would literally take three seconds to look up the agent’s name and type it at the beginning of your letter.

4.) This means that good slush stands out like a sore thumb … in a good way though (oops, maybe that’s a mixed metaphor).

5.) Contracts and royalty statements can be incredibly confusing. I never knew how intricate either of these documents could be. There’s a lot more business to the book creation business than just writing a book. This extends beyond the documents. There are so many jobs in publishing that I never knew about. It really takes a village to create a book. There should be credits at the end of a book like at the movies. That’s how many people there are.

6.) Lots of people can write a picture book manuscript and send it in, but it is incredibly hard to write a really good picture book. Fitting character development and plot in under a thousand words is definitely no easy feat.

7.) Agents love books. They love talking about books. They bring what they are reading home with them basically every night. It is definitely not a job where your work stays at the office. But, for the most part, the people I worked with seemed okay with that. They truly felt called to this line of work, and that was really fun/inspiring to be around for a few months.

 Overall, it was a fantastic learning experience for someone who definitely wants to be a writer and, after this summer, might want to go into agenting or some other publishing related job as well. Now, onward with the semester! 

10 thoughts on “Seven Things I Learned at My Summer Internship

  1. Really valuable post, Alison! There are a lot of writers out here (me included) that aren’t aware of all the behind the scenes efforts, and this post brings that to light. So glad you are enjoying everything:)

  2. Thank you for this post, Alison. I hope you’ll enjoy your next semester. Believe it or not, I enjoyed writing my thesis.
    Loved your insider look. I used to read unsolicited manuscripts for a publisher. I can relate to your experience. I was amazed at how many people failed to do their homework, which was an automatic rejection. Of course, they would get mad and write a mean letter–still not a good way to get published.

    • I know. It seems amazing when there is so much information so easily available that people seem to ignore it. It takes so much effort to write a book … why not do a quick google search before sending it out? Still baffles me.

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