Friday, February 17, 2012

How Writers Can Benefit From a Publishing Internship

My career at F+W Media (then F&W Publishing) began as an unpaid intern during the middle of my senior year at the University of Cincinnati. I was basically forced to get a 10-week internship to earn my Professional Writing certificate. In my case, it was the best thing that ever happened to my career. I ended up working my dream job as the editor of Writer's Market and have been on the front lines of watching the publishing industry convert into the media industry.

As a result, I'm pleased that Dianna L. Gunn proposed writing up two posts on internships (the other is due out in the beginning of March) for the Not Bob blog. If you're not familiar with her already, Gunn is a young writer, student, blogger, and intern. She writes primarily fantasy--both short and long--and she blogs in the hopes of helping other writers along the same journey on her site, She can usually be found hiding somewhere in the west end of Toronto with a big mug of chocolate milk and an endless list of intern duties.

Dianna L. Gunn on a bridge. Photo credit: Alex Kennedy.

After reading the title of this post, you might be wondering what an intern is. Interns—at least in most creative fields of work—are the unpaid grunts who make coffee for the creative geniuses, give them occasional feedback on their ideas, photocopy their scripts and generally do their dirty work. Rather than getting paid, they offer all these services for the ability to work with said creative geniuses and to get their foot in the door of a competitive industry.

You might, of course, be thinking that all these intern folks are crazy. After all, why would anybody want to run around making someone else's coffee and photocopies for free?

Well, I've been an intern for Musa Publishing since late September, and I've been working on our eMagazine Penumbra since late October. Of course, I'd love to get paid, but I've found interning with Musa to be one of the most educational experiences of my young lifetime and, quite frankly, to be a lot of fun. It's all online so I don't make anyone's coffee—probably a good thing because I don't drink it and I imagine if I made it it would taste awful—and I've learned so much.

What are some of the great things I've learned or experienced since I became an intern for Musa?
First off, I've learned a lot about how publishing works. A lot of the things I've encountered—long speeches in our e-mail group about respecting editors, for example—are things I kind of knew in theory but am now directly learning from the wonderful Musa staff. When I was just starting out, I read a couple of submitted novels. I learned that they really aren't lying when they talk about those beautiful stories just riddled with basic errors or about the stories that sound too much like everything else on the market.

Since I've been working specifically on Penumbra, I've learned a lot about what it takes to make a magazine run. I've had the privilege to read many amazing stories in our final rounds of publication, and I've seen first hand what it takes to get into a speculative fiction magazine—because no matter how different our magazine is from the norm, I assure you that our Editorial Director, Celina, demands excellence in everything we do.

Almost more important than the things I've actually learned are the friends I've made and relationships I've formed. Since joining up with Musa, I've had the opportunity to meet and interview over a dozen great authors, most of them on my blog and a couple for Penumbra itself. I've had a lot of fun interviewing them and I've made a few friends along the way. One of Musa's authors has even offered to read and give me an opinion on the next draft of my Novel of a Thousand Drafts.

The Musa team is really something special. My internship is based solely online, but I still feel like these people are my family. It's been great working with and getting to know our ED, our marketing director, and all the other interns.

So why should writers consider internships in the publishing industry?
Because it's a learning experience. Because you can make great friends who love the same things you do. Most importantly, because an internship is a great way to start or build your writing career—after all, a writer can never know too much about the publishing industry or have too many friends in it.


If you think you have a great blog post idea, click here to learn how to get the conversation started. I'm sure if you think it's important, I may too.


Connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Plus, sign up for free e-mail updates from this blog in the top right-hand corner of the page.


Check out previous Not Bob posts for writers:


Dianna L. Gunn said...

Thanks so much for having me Robert, it's been a pleasure.

Sharon Ledwith said...

Hey, Dianna, great post! I'm a Musa author with the YA imprint Euterpe. Looks like we're almost neighbours, as I live about 3 hours north from you in Huntsville! Small world! I learnt alot about the publishing world through volunteering for, then participating in the Muskoka Novel Marathon. Wonderful experience!

Cordelia Dinsmore said...

Thanks for sharing, Dianna. I'm with you on the no drinking/no making coffee front! I'm happy to know you are learning so much and loving your work with Musa. As a soon-to-be-released Euterpe author, it's great to know when people are satisfied and happy with their jobs. Best of luck finishing your internship so you can proceed to bigger things.

Dianna L. Gunn said...

Sharon--Thanks a bunch and nice to meet somebody not too far away from me--now if only I can find a writer on my side of the border who can help me with my taxes someday ;)

Cordelia--Thanks for coming to see me. Glad to know I'm not the only one who doesn't like coffee. And I hope you're enjoying being a Euturpe author at least as much as I'm enjoying being a Musa intern.

Patricia said...

Hi Dianna! Nice writing and I can see you really enjoy working with the Musa staff. It's so bizarre to think of having a job that's sort of "virtual". You know people but you may never meet them in the flesh. But, hey, that means, as you said, that you don't have to bring people coffee and make copies of documents! I'm glad you're with the Musa crew. They are all, including you, very appreciated by all of us.

Helen Hardt said...

Great to meet you, Dianna. I'm glad your experience with Musa has been positive!

Helen, a Musa author :)

Karen Kennedy Samoranos said...

Dianna - Thank you for writing on the importance of making connections in the publishing industry. Interning can be a first step for many professionals, whether it be in publishing, theater, or education. I'm happy that Musa is utilizing your talents, instead of making you the "coffee gofer". As for the taxes, I have to hire a CPA to write our 20 pages or so of the yearly federal and state nightmare. Maybe you could intern in a Canadian CPA's office...

Cheryl Rhodes said...

Nice post Dianna. I'm sure you'll find lots of publishing opportunities in your future in Toronto! I'm from the west coast - near Vancouver - and I also had a big glass of chocolate milk this morning. No coffee for me either! Good luck!

AlohaKarina said...

I have a question, and perhaps you can't answer it, but someone else can...

I did most of my professional writing years ago, during college (I worked for a newspaper). However, I then went into teaching, and haven't worked for a professional writing group in about 25 years.

I know that internships are for students, but my B.A. days are well behind me. What can I do, if anything, to get the same kind of experience, now that I'm turning back toward writing, particularly as the game has changed immeasurably since 1986?

Thanks so much!
Karina in Maine