Friday, March 2, 2012

How to Get--and Keep--an Internship

Please welcome back Dianna L. Gunn, who wrote a piece on the importance of internships for writers last month. 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.

Last month, I visited Robert and all of you to discuss why every writer should consider doing an internship with a publishing company. Today, I'm going to tell you how to get that internship—and how to keep it.

Book Publishing vs. Magazine Publishing
First, you have to find the internship. Start by deciding whether you'd rather intern with an actual book publisher or with a magazine. If you're a novelist, don't limit yourself to book publishers. A magazine can teach you just as much, and it might inspire you to write some of your own short fiction. Limiting yourself will only hurt you in the end.

What are the advantages of working with a book publisher versus a magazine? Quite frankly, I've done both in one internship, so I couldn't tell you. As far as I'm concerned, they're pretty equal. Magazine editors and book editors are like peas in a pod; either way, you still benefit from the connections. You're still reading slush and listening to everything the head editor says. While writing a novel and writing a short story are two different things, they use similar skills. Publishing books is different from publishing a magazine, but they still use similar skills. Your decision should be based on which you think would be most fun, not which one you think will be most useful.

Find the Right Environment
Which brings me to my next point. You want to make sure that the company you intern with is one you'll actually enjoy working for. Otherwise, everything you've learned will be overshadowed by the fact that you dislike your environment. Learning just to learn and not because you want to doesn't work—think about how many people remember how to do long division after high school.

So how do you find a company you like? Well, start by looking at the ones you're already familiar with. Have you bought several books from the company and enjoyed them? Have you always wanted to submit to the magazine? Well then, odds are, you'll enjoy working for them. Look for an employment page or even an internship page—most publishers qualify it as employment, but some have separate sections just for internships. Find out if they're looking for an intern and if they are, what kind of intern they're looking for.

Even in the publishing industry, there are lots of types of internships.

Here are some of the internships we have at Musa right now:
  • Submissions Reader
  • Line Edits Intern
  • Marketing Intern
  • Design Intern
As a writer, you'll probably get the most out of reading submissions or helping with line edits. It's probably where you'll be able to contribute the most, too. Be specific about what kind of internship you're looking for in your e-mail, but be open to suggestions. I originally e-mailed Musa asking to intern for Penumbra, our speculative fiction eMagazine.

When I got an e-mail back asking if I would like to read for Musa instead, I said I'd love to. I ended up working on Penumbra anyway, and I got to read some great novel-length manuscripts. Don't be afraid to do something a little different than what you signed up for—but don't feel bad about saying no if they're asking you to do something you won't enjoy.

What if none of the publishers or magazines you like are looking for interns?
Well then it's time to look at new publishers. Use a site like Duotrope's Digest to find a magazine or publisher who works in your genre.

When looking at interning with a publisher you've never heard of before, dig deeper into their website. Read the about us page, the mission statement, the history, the staff page. Make sure you like what they stand for before you send out your e-mail. Also make sure you know the name of the person you're sending the e-mail to, and that you use it—sometimes it's the small things that make you stand out like the rest.

Don't forget to mention who you are when applying for an internship. You don't have to tell them about your wife's toe jam or what you ate for breakfast. Just tell them your name, how long you've been writing, what kind of stuff you write, mention any writing or editing jobs you've done and link to your website. All they need to know is that you're serious about becoming an intern, and what you ate for breakfast won't tell them that.

Your e-mail should look something like this:

Dear [Editor],

My name is Dianna L. Gunn and I would like to become an intern for [Publisher]. I am a young fantasy writer and blogger, blogging on my own website, I have worked as a youth blogger for Now Hear This ( If there is any possibility of me becoming a submission reader, please get back to me as soon as possible.



That's all you need. Most publishers don't expect you to be a genius with 10 years of experience in the publishing industry if you're applying to be an intern. They just want to know that you're legitimately interested in the publishing industry and that you're dedicated enough to the industry to work hard for them. My e-mail to Musa looked a lot like that. Unless the publisher you want to work for has a specific application process, send them an e-mail like the one above and hope they choose you over all the other applicants. And don't be fooled by the fact that people hate working for free—there are still always lots of applicants for internships.

How do you keep your internship?
That's the easy part.

All you have to do to keep your internship is, well, whatever they ask you to do. Politely. That's it. Do everything they ask, do it well, and be polite. If they joke around like family in the office, join in, but slowly. If they don't, don't make stupid jokes. Volunteer to do extra things every now and again and you'll earn brownie points, but really, it's all about following orders and being nice to the people you work with and for.

Most importantly, have fun. If it stops being fun, tell them you want out. Your happiness is more important than anything an internship can teach you.


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