Saturday, October 2, 2010

Internship: One Month In

I’ve now been at my internship at FinePrint Literary Management
/Nancy Coffey Literary and Media Representation for just about a month.  I love it and I feel like I’m learning so much.  Can anyone ask for more from an internship?

Because most people I’ve talked to don’t know how a literary agency plays into the lengthy process of getting a book published, I just want to run through it quickly:

Step #1: Author Writes A Book

Step #2: Author Writes A Query Letter to an Agent at a Literary Agency Asking the Agent to Represent Them

Step #3: Agent (or Intern, in the beginning) Reads the Query Letter/ Partial Manuscript. There Are Four Options:

Option #1: The Query Letter/Manuscript is Plain Old Bad.  Reject.

Option #2: The Agent the Author Wrote to Isn’t Accepting New Clients or That Genre/ Type of Book the Author Wrote Isn’t Selling Well In Today’s Market.  Reject.

Option #3: The Query Letter/Partial Manuscript is Intriguing.  Request Full Manuscript.  Potential Offer of Representation to Follow.

Option #4: Wow! The Query Letter/Partial Manuscript is Great.  Request Full Manuscript and then Agent Wants to Represent Author.

If Option #3 or #4 Happens:

Step #4: Agent Works with Author to Edit Manuscript.

Step #5: Agent Pitches Manuscript to Publishing Houses.

Step #6: Manuscript Sells.  Everyone Celebrates!

Step #7: Manuscript Now In the Hands of a Publishing House.  (Then, for the
Following Year+: Editor Works with Author and Agent to Edit Manuscript.  Editor Works with Sales/Marketing/Etc. to Pitch Manuscript to Entire Company and Sell it to Bookstores/Libraries/Etc. Editor Works with Design/Art Department to Create Cover.  And more….I covered quite a bit of this at my first internship, at Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

Step #8: Manuscript, now a Book, Makes it to Bookstores.  Everyone Celebrates Again!

There you have it.  Eight simple steps to getting a book published.  Piece of cake, right?

At FP-NC I’ve been dealing mostly with Steps #3 and #4.   Every day when I get to work there will be a pile of queries waiting to be read.  Most of them fall into Options #1 or #2: REJECT.  The writing, even for the query letter, needs to be fantastic and hook a reader immediately.  Most aspiring writers could benefit from a look at QueryShark, by FP’s own Janet Reid.   There have been a few manuscripts in the pile of many that have fallen into Option #3 for me.   With the full manuscript in hand, I was eager for it to turn into an offer of representation.  No luck for that author: REJECT.  I have yet to personally see an Option #4.  They’re a rare species.  But I’m on the lookout!  I was, however, able to sit in on a meeting where one of the agents signed a new client.  This client’s work is fantastic- I’m very excited!

The larger part of my day (and often, night) deals with Step #4.  I help the agent I’m working for that particular week read and edit a large pile of manuscripts. Some belong to potential clients, some to first time clients, some to long time clients with a new manuscript.  But the process is the same: they all need editing, and lots of it.  Reading an average of one full manuscript a day, I’ll settle into the far-too-comfy-for-my-own-good armchair or red couch and I begin reading, taking detailed notes along the way to turn into a reader’s report.

If it’s a good manuscript, I’ll still have an average of five pages of comments and suggestions for improvement.  Language can always be tighter, characters always more relatable, world building always more vivid.  Whether authors make these changes or not is another story, but the agents know what they’re talking about, and they’re teaching their faithful interns to do the same.

If it’s a bad manuscript and doesn’t belong to a client, that’s normally the end of the road.  REJECT.  Once if it’s client’s, however, the agent has to work with the author to make the manuscript better.  I couldn’t believe it at first- no rejections (at least, from the agent) anymore!

So, good or bad, I’m writing up a lengthy reader’s report detailing all the changes the author should make to their work.  I’ll pass this report on to the agent I’m working for, and she’ll add her own opinion/comments, and then forward it to the author.  Time for revisions.

A huge part of agent’s job is Step #5: Pitching the Manuscript to a Publishing House.  Just last week I was lucky enough to listen in on one of the agents working hard to sell a manuscript she is so passionate about.  Per my request, she sat down with me and another intern and explained how she selected the eight or so editors to focus on based on her relationships with the editors, the editors’ interests and what type of books the imprint or company tends to publish.  That little chat was so eye opening.  There is A LOT to know!   The agents at FP-NC, however, are fantastic and, of course, know their stuff.  The office ended up with a Step #6: Celebration on that one the following week!

Celebrating a big sale or the debut of a novel is also a big part of literary agency life (Celebrating does make it twice on Steps-to-Publishing-A-Book!).   Although I sadly couldn’t attend, there was a launch party for Kody Kepliner’s debut novel, The DUFF, during my first week of the internship.  And I may have secretly been jumping up and down when she visited the office the week later to rehash all the launch’s excitement.  The perks of being an intern!

Phew! That was long! But that’s the life of an intern (and really anyone who works in publishing.  Hours are L-O-N-G!).  But, as anyone in the industry will tell you: IT IS SO WORTH IT.  You get to read books and make great books available to the masses.  FOR YOUR JOB! I’ve read great projects, ones that I know will absolutely be books in the future.  (Oh, how I wish I could tell you about them…but I had to sign a confidentiality agreement…but you’ll read those books soon in stores.  Promise.)

And not just the job, it’s the people, too.  Where else can you find such like-minded people?  People who get excited as much as you do about a manuscript or a newly released YA novel or a debut author.  Case in point: during my very first lunch while I was interning at Bloomsbury the three assistant/associate editors were saying that they needed to read Twilight.  Now I had just read Stephanie Meyer’s book, but NO they couldn’t be talking about the YA novel, now could they? These were intelligent, mature women, after all.  So, shy intern that I was, I kept my mouth shut.  But there was no need, I soon learned.  It was the YA novel they were talking about.  Of course, why wouldn’t it have been? They were children’s book editors.  I was a children’s book intern.  You read children’s books for work, to stay up with trends, but also because you love them.  In how many other jobs is your work reading the same thing as your pleasure reading and you have the colleagues to talk about it with?

This is why I’m willing to do a second unpaid internship in the hopes of it leading to a full time job.  Because I need that publishing job.  Not for the money, although that is a big plus (even though publishing pays infamously low), but because I LOVE books.  I love reading them, writing them, and I want to make great new ones available to read and help everyone to feel the same way I do.  I always want to be surrounded by books.

There I go again.  I started talking about the daily grind of an unpaid intern and ending up preaching about why I’m a Book Lover.   But it’s all related.  And so worth it.


  1. Laurel - thanks for spelling it out for us. I doubt even most writers have any idea how much work you do. I'll always remember the advice "be nice to the intern." In many cases, you're the first gatekeeper :-) Thanks for all your hard work!!

  2. Thanks! And glad the post was helpful!

  3. GREAT explanation of the work you do!
    As the saying goes, if you are doing something you love, it doesn't really feel like work :)