Monday, June 8, 2009

Starting Out as an Intern

Here I am—a twenty-year-old English major with a fragile dream of making it in the publishing world—who now finds herself in a position to dispense advice to readers most likely much wiser than herself. So rather than try to impress with some profound insight on the publishing industry, I will start with what I know: The Intern.

Every partial or full which comes into Elaine’s office is first reviewed by at least two interns. While we certainly don’t have the final say in acquiring or rejecting submissions, our evaluations, along with Naomi’s input, help Elaine determine which of them is the most promising. If you’ve submitted your material for consideration at this agency, you may wonder, and rightly so, what qualifies us interns to form judgments on your work.

So who are we, exactly? For one thing, we are all lovers of books. We have to be; otherwise we would probably never venture into this chronically unstable industry where it can take years to make one’s way up the totem pole only to find oneself the unemployed victim of another merger.

So we have probably all devoured books since we learned to read. As we’ve grown up, we have developed our own literary tastes, drifting from Nancy Drew mysteries to The Hobbit to Ian McEwan or Jodi Picoult. We’ve learned what it is that makes us connect with characters, driving us to keep reading until two in the morning to learn what happens to them. As students, we’ve delved into Faulkner and Joyce, written papers on Arthurian literature, and learned to recognize what sets great books apart from the rest, despite radical differences in story and form.

Now, for the first time, we have the opportunity to start putting what we have learned into practice.

I’m lucky, then, to be able to spend the majority of my day doing what I love—reading. But here there is no curling up on the sofa, propping a book open with one hand and sipping hot cocoa with the other (actually, that is not quite true; our interns’ office contains a plush sofa which I often monopolize). We plow through page after page, chapter after chapter, taking notes and then typing up reader reports. You might argue that this method disadvantages the writers we are reviewing. After all, it’s easy to get a little jaded after reading the fourth consecutive political thriller in which the President is abducted by aliens (okay, haven’t come across that one yet).

But despite this I think there is a genuine advantage to the method as well. By its very nature, the process of reading such large quantities at a time accentuates the strengths and weaknesses of the writing itself. Stories which lack originality or sharp prose fade unmemorably into the day’s piles of material, while writing that is fresh and compelling will instantly stand out as such. In other words, the cream rises to the top of the bucket.

We interns may not be the most experienced, but we know what to look for in a book, and we’re desperately eager to discover the treasure hiding in the slush pile. So to any writers out there with material waiting on an intern’s desk, take heart! You’re in good hands.


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