Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Interning at a lit agency (or anywhere in publishing)

I've been an aspiring novelist since i was 5 and I discovered a true love of reading other authors when I was 8. I've secretly wanted to be an editor ever since I learned that was a job, but didn't quite know how to make that happen. I live in a suburb of Los Angeles and I know there has to be some sort of publishing world out here, but I find it overwhelming trying to find good information on the internet and I was hoping you could steer me in the right direction.

One of the reasons I never pursued editing/publishing is because I know that I don't have all of the qualifications that most places are looking for, even for entry level positions. I was agoraphobic from the ages of 17-27, and then I worked as a cashier for 7 years and then my mom died and I quit everything, but not before getting my AA from the local community college.

I currently work at a comedy club. I started as an intern about 3 years ago, and have worked my way up to Booker of the smaller, developmental room of the club. Some of my duties include scheduling talent for 13 shows a week, training interns to run shows, hosting and running auditions twice a week, teaching an emcee workshop, and figuring out how to promote the shows so that audiences will come out and see them.

I'm not technically qualified for the job I have now, but that doesn't stop me from doing it. The problem is that every time I get promoted, I can't help but feel that there is someone out there who would a) be more suited for it and b) appreciate it more. I love comedy and I love the owners of the club, but I feel that the energy that I pour into my job is flowing in the wrong direction. I really want to be a part of the publishing industry. Not being qualified for the job I have now has given me the spark of confidence to pursue something in the field I really want to be a part of but I am a little lost, so any direction you could give me would be very much appreciated.

What exactly do you think we're looking for in an intern?

I read this list of what you've accomplished and the only reason I didn't ask you in for an interview is cause you live in LA.

(Most publishing internships are in NYC, cause most of publishing is in NYC)

Fuck this qualification nonsense you're using to doubt yourself.

What you've DONE is what impresses me. You've exhibited initiative, courage and organization skills. That's EXACTLY what we look for.

Here's what you do: write a polite letter asking for an informational interview to every company associated with publishing that you can find. Explain that you are looking to make a career change, and you're eager to learn about the industry so you can apply for jobs.

A lot of people will ignore you (they are idiots); a few will say sure come on in. Go with a list of questions. Don't be afraid of sounding stupid. Ask, take notes. Expect to get about no more than 20-30 minutes. At the close of the interview ask if they have suggestions for you. FOLLOW THOSE even the ones you think are beyond your grasp.

Write a nice thank you note after you leave. (On paper, with an envelope and stamp.)

Expect to spend some time learning. Don't think of this as being stalled. Think of this as filling your gas tank for the road trip ahead.

If you move to New York, get in touch. Yes, I'm dead serious here.


Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Opie, there are literary agents with offices in California. QueryTracker or AgentQuery can help you find them.

Also, certain agents do have telecommuting internships. If an agent is actively looking for interns (either in-house or distance), they tend to mention it on their blog or Twitter.

The publishing industry is not like the accounting industry, where one has to have formal university qualifications and then get certified by the ruling board. Much of the publishing industry goes the traditional apprenticeship route. Sure, you can get a degree in editing or publishing or even in writing, but it's experience that gets you where you're going. You looking for an internship is you going about things the right way.

Amy Schaefer said...

Opie, your enthusiasm comes shining through in your question. Best of luck to you!

DLM said...

The people who doubt their qualifications the most seem almost always to be the people who are best at what they DO.

I've learned, if nobody's telling you you can't do something - that's all the qualification you need. Do what you can, not what you're told. Clearly, this is something OP has intuited.


Mona Zarka said...

OP, you encourage me. We're rooting for you!

kathy joyce said...

I've interviewed many job candidates. Your enthusiasm and drive will trump everything else, as long as your confidence matches. I love Janet's suggestions. I'd add two more, focused on amping your confidence. First, get a copy of Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way," and work through the 12-week workshop. You'll see how much you have to offer. Second, check out the Taproot Foundation, which matches professionals with non-profits needing help. I'm sure you'll find a project with aspects of publishing. Do it. The experience will help, but showing yourself you can do it will be invaluable. How exciting! Good luck!

Donnaeve said...

Well, I was certainly impressed, and then confounded by OP's thoughts of not being qualified.

You've done a lot to move forward in your life despite obstacles. If publishing is where you want to work, who's to say you can't make that happen too?

Only YOU can say it, really.

Nobody can stop you if that's what you really want, except you.

Now, you just need to get out of your way.

kathy joyce said...

Oh, one more thing...that business about "secretly" wanting to be an editor...flush it! You want to be an editor. Period. Talk about it, tell people, own it! You'll be amazed at what comes your way, just by putting it out there. I don't know who wrote this originally, but I believe it: The universe conspires to make your dreams come true.

DLM said...

kathy, I wondered about that "secretly" too. Yep.

Now, then. How many of us are qualified authors ... ?


Colin Smith said...

Hmmm... don't get me started on the push for spending squads of time and money and going into mortgage-type debt and wasting four years of your life to get a degree you don't need...

Opie: As Heidi said, there are lit agents in California. BUT, there are more literary agencies in a few square blocks of Manhattan than just about anywhere else in the world. If you're able (e.g., single, in good health, and with Elise's daughter's adventurous spirit), I strongly suggest you consider relocating to NYC. It's a different culture (even from CA), but as Janet says, that's where publishing is. And while you can do much over the phone and the internet, from my observation a lot of the "inner workings" of publishing happens in face-to-face meetings: at lunch, at conferences (many of which are in NYC--e.g., the upcoming Writer's Digest Conference), in chance encounters at the local bodega, etc.

By the way, if you weren't already aware, part of Janet's duties at New Leaf is nurturing agents, so you should take her offer into VERY SERIOUS consideration. Remember, the people who founded New Leaf started out as Janet's minions.

I assume you are also aware that most publishing internships are unpaid, so be prepared to find work, or a rich benefactor. :)

All the best to you!!! :D

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

OP you sound amazingly qualified! You know experience and ability count, right? The best of luck to you!

kathy joyce, we just got The Artist's Way at the library but I haven't had a chance to look at it yet. 12 weeks, though? That's longer than our checkout period + renewals...I'll have to hope nobody else catches on!

E.M. Goldsmith said...

OP, one of Janet’s rules for writer’s is also a rule for life, BE BRAVE. There are a couple of decent agencies in California or at least there are subsidiary agencies for some of the bigger agencies that might help you get your foot in the door if you don’t want to relocate to New York. I found a half dozen by simply going to and searching for agency by location. Publishers are a different matter but I suspect there are at least a few that are either located out of Los Angeles or have locations in Los Angeles.

Ideally, I suppose moving to New York would be best. I can’t believe the opportunities my daughter has unleashed in the short three months she has lived there. She has an internship with an art studio where she works on website and does all sorts of grunt work in exchange for art lessons from a master. She has always had a passion for art. She is getting steady work as a production assistant in film – which apparently involves driving a van all over Manhattan to deliver food and equipment to various sets. She is doing graphic work on websites for various artists, directors, and producers.

She had no experience in any of these things when she moved to New York. She only had the vaguest idea of what she wanted to do – just that it would be in media arts and if she could incorporate her art, all the better.

She makes her rent money tending bar. It is unbelievable the contacts and experience she is getting by simply putting herself out there. She also thought about publishing, and she still might. I have told her that publishing uses graphic and web design as much as any industry. I’m actually sending my daughter this blog entry because she keeps telling me she isn’t smart enough to be in publishing. That might be my fault. I might have made Janet sound like an omniscient near god-like being. My poor daughter probably thinks all folks in publishing are like that. Oops. Anyhow, OP, you got this. Good luck.

Steve Forti said...

"Filling your gas tank for the road trip ahead." I gotta say, I LOVE that analogy.

MA Hudson said...

Informational interview - I like the sound of that. You'd probably inform them of your qualifications simply by the type of questions you ask.
Good luck OP, and yeah, move to New York if you can!

Susan said...

This is motivational as hell--both OP's grit and Janet's response. Thanks to you both--I needed that this morning. Self-doubt will crush the best of intentions and the purest of dreams if we let it. But that's just the point... The only one who can really say you can't do something is you.

OP, you clearly have the resolve to turn lemons into lemonade. Now put that determination towards your dreams and see how far you can fly.

"The best thing someone can do is tell me I can't do something. Thanks for the coal. I'll light the fire."

Lisa Bodenheim said...

What an inspiring OP, Queen, and comments. Made my day!

Colin Smith said...

Hmmm... didn't Meredith Barnes start out working for/with/in-the-orbit-of Janet? If I recall correctly, she later became a literary agent in her own right, and then went to work for Soho Press.

Just saying... Janet's offer... ;)

AJ Blythe said...

OP, best of luck to you. As others are saying, you've demonstrated drive, initiative, organisational skills, reliability... the list goes on. I'm sure you won't have any problems finding that internship, although, as has been said, there are more opportunities in NYC.

Moving a long way can be daunting, but maybe you can temporarily move for the duration of an internship?

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

OP... You've been an aspiring novelist since you were five? When I was five, the only thing I aspired to was finishing my dinner so I could have a bowl of ice cream.

You've gotten the best of the best advice from Janet and the other Reefers. I'll simply offer my sincerest belief in your determination to make your dreams a reality. An exciting journey awaits.

Love this: "...filling your gas tank for the road trip ahead."

Theresa said...


Great, great mid-week post. So inspirational!

Claire Bobrow said...

OP: that was some great advice from Janet. Whew, I'm still fanning myself from the flames of encouragement! Now take that confidence booster and run with it. If you want to come north, we have Chronicle Books up here in San Francisco. Who knows? Maybe they're looking for an intern. Good luck!

RosannaM said...

Opie, push through the fear. Life is always on the other side of fear.

Write those letters.

I am excited for you. You have big dreams that you can reach as soon as you turn them into goals.

kathy joyce said...

My copy is 20+ years old; maybe it's changed a bit. Although meant for individuals, it's a great book for a library-sponsored group, people work at home and check in for progress and encouragement once a week. Also, it has many one-time activities great for groups.

Megan V said...

OP, if you're really interested in an internship in publishing, here's the publisher's marketplace job board Internships are posted also posted
here at bookjobs. Both are good resources. I wish you the best of luck.

Stephen Parrish said...

I love Janet's response. In a former life I reviewed thousands of applications and interviewed hundreds of applicants. Employers ultimately hire who they like and want; qualifications will get you in the door, but after that it's all "Do we like you" and "Will you fit well in our organization."

Jessica said...

OP! I'm cheering for you! I want to be an editor too! I know it can be really hard but I know you can do it.

I know a lot of people are telling you to move to NYC, but I know that may not be feasible. Have you tried remote internships? I have one with a small publishing company and I love it. I feel like I understand publishing so much more (mainly, I'm much more sympathetic to the waiting) and I've been learning so much about editing and the company. Plus I've built a team of interns who love and respect my work. I highly recommend it! The company I work for just had an intern quit so there may be an opening. Just let me know if you'd like me to put you in touch with my boss :) Good luck!! Someone will see your passion and drive and won't be able to resist hiring you!

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Just jumped on, at work,no time to read comments.

OP, pack your bags and head east.
Life isn't about talent, education or even luck, IT'S ABOUT CHOICE.
You have a choice to leap of stay struck, LEAP baby, leap.
Good luck and say hi to the Queen.

Lennon Faris said...

Ooh, I can understand the 'secretly' part. A possibility so seemingly unattainable (and so close to your heart) might *poof* into non-existence, if you say it out loud. If you keep it secret, no one will ever know to shoot it down.

But, yeah, I agree with the others. If you keep it a secret, it never has a chance.

Best of luck, OP! I sense a long road ahead of you but based on what you've done so far, I think you can do it.

Beth Carpenter said...

OP, I'm in awe of your courage. As an introvert, the idea of asking for interviews would be like jumping off a cliff into a river for me, and I've never been agoraphobic. You've shown in your current job you can do the organization and work well with people. Go for it. And be sure to keep us informed about the journey.

Steve Stubbs said...

What a kind response.

OP is qualified for the job she is doing because she is getting promoted. Getting promoted is about having good people skills. People with technical skills used to be two for a nickel. Now they are a dime a dozen. Managers consider them temps at best. People with people skills are in demand everywhere.

I won't mention names, but the type of self doubt she describes plagues some of the most amazingly talented people you can imagine. It is impossible to describe the process in 100 words, but it is possible to beat that using REBT.

Since people skills are her strong suit she will want to capitalize on that by working directly with people and not telecommute. The screenwriting business is in LA, so if she is interested in story telling she could work for a screen agent, write screenplays or teleplays, work for a movie company, etc., without leaving the area. She is already working in show business and has established herself as a pro. It is many times more lucrative than writing books nobody reads. People who do not have the social skills get age discriminated out the door in showbiz sometime after thirty, but with her people skills, she may have a good shot.

The only qualification anyone needs to write fiction is the ability to use the index finger of one hand to punch keys on a laptop. OP will have to decide what sort of writer she wants to be. Most writers are playwrights. They don't write plays, but they do play at being writers. Maybe I should spell that "playwrite." There is nothing wrong with that, but don't quit your day job if that is what you want. Smoking pot in a garret with a beret on your head does not pay the rent. Even if you have a 12" cigarette holder. And people will get wise eventually.

If you want to be an earning writer, be prepared for a long learning curve. You have to think in terms of pleasing readers (most writers aim to please only themselves) and that starts with the editor. Your people orientation will naturally guide you there. You have to think in terms of high concept. A series of novels starting with HO HUM PART ONE and continuing to HO HUM PART TWO and so forth through twelve sequels will be a great learning experience but probably not a wallet stuffer.

I don't have an up to date list, but one trick is to study DEBUT NOVELS that became smash runaway bestsellers. A few titles from the dim dark past are THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG, and ABSOLUTE POWER. That last one is very high concept. It got turned into a great movie starring Gene Hackman, Clint Eastwood, and Ed Harris. Write a bestseller right out of the gate. Why screw around?

BJ Muntain said...

There are literary agents in Los Angeles, in California, and peppered around the US, usually in larger cities. Check your local listings.

You don't say what kind of editor. To intern as an acquisitions editor for a publisher, find local publishers. I'm sure there are some in LA, too.

If you want to edit books, there are online courses you can take to get accredited. Check out the ACES, and the online courses they offer towards a certificate in editing. They also have a mentorship program. It's not a cheap organization, but it's a professional organization.

As for qualifications: bull paddies. Yes, there are some jobs that require extensive schooling and accreditation, but that's because they require a LOT of specific knowledge, like medicine, law, engineering, etc. I got a job in communications for a non-profit not because of qualifications, but on the strengths of my past experience - technical or sales writing, mostly. It helped that I'd been on the boards of a couple other non-profits, too. My formal education? A BA in Anthropology and parts of degrees in English and Computer Science. PARTS of degrees. Beyond that, it was my talent that got me the job, that had the organization turn my term position into permanent, and that might have given me a promotion to a management position if I'd been able to stay.

Talent, enthusiasm, and perseverance are what get you most jobs. And you can make sure your past experiences are seen as benefits for the job you're looking for. Up-play them in any application or interview process, just the way Janet has. Because she's perfectly right. So MANY things are transferable between positions, jobs, and even careers.

You can do this, OP. You've got the will. You've got DA POWER! Good luck!

Deb said...

One of many reasons I love reading your blog posts every day. You don't mince words and you tell it like it is. Most importantly, you offer realistic hope and ways to achieve a dream. Or a goal. Or both. Thank you for all that YOU do!

roadkills-r-us said...

List your qualifications, write your best cover letters, and go for it[1]. I've spent a lot of time on both sides of the interview desk; anyone who won't consider what you have to offer probably isn't anyone you want to work for. (I have walked out out way through an interview when the interviewer got rude.)
I have hired quite a few people who didn't have all checkbox qualifications, with a very high success rate. They tend to be people who are self-starters and self-learners who can dive into something new and own it. Then again I don't have a degree, and am self-taught in many areas. I've re-invented my career several times around new technology. Other than universities and high level research labs (which require advanced degrees) I have seldom not gotten an offer I wanted.
As for feeling qualified, I struggled with that for years, even when I was recognized as an expert in certain areas. It's far more common than you might think. It's a stupid, lying voice. Learn to laugh at it and it will likely go away.

[1] Or just interview with Janet and move to NYC. 8^)

Karen McCoy said...

Good luck, Opie! There's a lot of great resources here (and it sounds like a very good opportunity in NYC). If you're interested in freelance editing, there's also the EFA:

Rio said...

In my office (architecture), we always come up with a wish list of candidate qualifications when we're thinking of hiring. Then we throw that list out straightaway when the right person walks into an interview. Skills can be taught. Experience will come with time. But resilience, creativity, self-motivation and the willingness to learn, those are built into who a person is. OP, you might be more qualified than you realize.

julieweathers said...

I'm babysitting today so behind on everything. However, I did want to make note today is the first day of registration for Surrey International Writers Conference. It is 20% sold out in the first 16 minutes. I'm sure it will slow down, but if you're thinking about it you might not want to put it off too long. Jack Whyte's master class sold out in five minutes.

OP, go for it. You have already demonstrated an outstanding work ethic.

John Davis Frain said...

What a terrific post. Both ends of it. And I know I'm not the only one who smiled at this:

"Fuck this qualification nonsense you're using to doubt yourself."

Or this!

"Think of this as filling your gas tank for the road trip ahead."

I'm motivated. Fire up your engine, OP, you've got a LOT to offer. (But not ALOT to offer, which is okay.)

Cheryl said...

Julie Weathers, I was one of those first 20%.

I can't wait, it sounds so amazing.

Julie Weathers said...


Awesome. I got in the first rush and got in the Jack Whyte master class and a blue pencil with Diana. I'll try to snag another blue pencil with CC as he is so good on battle scenes.

The full passes are 50% gone now. It's astounding to watch.

We'll have to figure out a way to meet up.

Dena Pawling said...

We are hiring for a legal assistant at our office. Today we chose the person we will offer the position. She has no legal experience and minimal computer experience, both of which are "required" to do the job. Her work experience is mostly retail [McDonald's, 24 Hour Fitness], with periodic promotions to supervisory positions. She is very personable and professional, has good phone presence, and most of all, is very customer-service oriented. She can be trained on the legal and computer stuff. The most important quality she has, which is not really something that can be "trained", is her personality and genuine desire to interact with our clients, to let them know they are important and their concerns are heard and addressed.

At my previous employer, he hired baristas from Starbucks and hostesses from restaurants, for the same reason.

You appear to be more than qualified in the attributes that smart employers are looking for.

Good luck.

Joseph Snoe said...

There are some of us who always feel others are more deserving or qualified, no matter how much education we have. On the other hand, I’ve come across so many people who don’t care if they’re qualified or not and got the position while I took myself out of the running without applying.

There are also some of us who use that insecurity to excel given the responsibility. One of my deans once told me I succeed because I’m afraid to fail. I don’t want to believe it but it’s probably true.

Joseph Snoe said...

You've gotten me thinking back. My first job out of college was as an inventory counter. The company needed an Area Accountant for the West Coast.

The minimum qualification for the position required an Accounting degree,but they needed someone who could solve their inventory problem. I was not an accounting major, but I could solve their inventory problem.

The need for someone to solve the inventory problem trumped the accounting degree requirement.

I got the promotion. (Had nice office too, 14th floor of the Tishman Westwood Building overlooking the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean.)

I was required to attend UCLA at night for accounting, which led to my becoming a CPA. Life's funny that way.

Cheryl said...

Julie, I don't know if you're still following these comments, but yes, absolutely we should try to meet up. As long as we don't spend the whole time talking horses.