Thursday, September 30, 2010

No, all interns aren't idiots, in fact most of them are anything but.

 From the morning mailbag, in response to a running discussion on Twitter about an intern who  tweets about queries she's reading for her employer.

I'm sorry to unload on you but amongst us aspiring writers this whole intern thing has us feeling really low. We know they exist but we liked it when they were quietly behind closed doors doing their jobs. Now we have them tweeting like twits, blogging, and ladies like me are seriously pulling back. I'll take my chances nailing an agent at a conference or something.
I wonder now what the point of querying is, agents may never see it. Interns see them first, and they are tactless. Are all interns made of this same douch-baggy quality? The more I see online, I am believing, yes.

Don't believe it. Not for a minute.  Most interns I've worked with want nothing more than to learn everything they can and find a job they love.

Acceptance into our intern program at FinePrint is highly competitive.  Suzie Townsend and Meredith Barnes (along with Joanna Volpe and Sara Kendall at the Nancy Coffey Literary Agency) regularly receive more than a hundred applications for each intern class.  They winnow the list down to the best candidates who are then asked to write reading reports and answer questions. From that group, only five or six are chosen.

As a rule our interns are smart,  eager to learn, and a whole lot of fun. I tease them about being bright eyed and bushy tailed but they are balm to my grumpy soul (do NOT ever tell them, ok?)

Many are not kids at all; they have disparate backgrounds and professional experience.  Several have had careers in other fields, or jobs in other branches of publishing.

And yes you want them to read your queries.

Why?  They aren't jaded. They have more time.  They'll read 50 pages when I would have stopped at one.  One of the things it's hardest to teach them is "stop reading when it doesn't grab you." They are so eager to find good stuff they come early, stay late, and work on days they are not scheduled.

One thing I admire and respect about our interns is they know they don't know a lot yet.  It's why they are there: to learn. They pay attention.  When someone (me) says something, they pay attention.  They soak up information and ask questions.

When I saw the anonymous tweeter doing queries,  I was confident none of our interns were likely suspects.  I was confident becuase they read queries here in the office, right under our pointy little noses.  I was confident because they respect our agency's stringent rules and expectations of confidentiality.  I was confident because our interns understand their job isn't teaching writers how to query, or about what sells.  Their job is to learn.  And they do it with a grace and enthusiasm that gives me hope for the future of this industry that I love more than I should.

So, don't put our interns in with one bad apple.  They're a whole lot better than that. And that is pretty
clear even to the people who don't work here in the office.


ryan field said...

As far as the youth factor goes, I love working with young copy editors. They are fresh, with excellent approaches, and they often add touches I'd probably miss. And they are always so eager to work longer hours to get it right.

Josin L. McQuein said...

Bleh. I think people who complain about Interns reading in place of agents are (usually) looking for one more reason to put in their "if this hadn't happened, I'd have an agent" pile.

Friends don't let friends dis. interns.

For anyone who harbors ill will against the godsends, hie the hence to Stephenie Meyer's site and read the story of how Twilight got picked up. An agent tossed it out; an intern saved it from the trash pile, couldn't put it down, and presented it again.

Interns don't kill books. Bad writers kill books.

Interns also don't kill careers. Whingers do.

Buck up. Suck it up. Take your pick of the cliched "back on the horse" advice, and be happy ANYONE that close to an agent is reading your submission. An intern is a heckuva lot closer than you at your computer at home.

Gary Corby said...

The interns at FPLM all sit at a round table in the common area, with piles of ms in front of them. When I visited last year, they didn't even say boo whenever I walked past; they were all too busy reading, heads down, turning a page every minute or so. They had the concentrated air of people sitting an exam.

I was lucky enough to talk to them one afternoon, since they'd read my book, and it was one of the most fun parts of my NY visit. (I also poisoned them with Vegemite; I'm having trouble living that down). I was slightly stunned when I discovered they're doing all this work for free.

I can't imagine any of the interns would talk out of school because they're all incredibly bright, and they know they have a lot to learn. Which they are doing very, very quickly.

Unknown said...

Are all interns bad, no. But this particular bad apple set a really bad example. Leaving a bad taste in many aspiring writers mouths. Mine included.

It's great to know how much agents value their interns and how closely they work together. When I click send I will be more confident in who is reading it. Confident that they reflect the agency and why I queried them.

Many aspiring writers don't understand the agent/intern dynamic. I thank Janet for clearing the air.

We hopeful scribes can sleep better tonight and feel better when clicking send.

Alex said...

How silly to think that way.

The way I see it an intern will be looking much harder and more optimistically at a query than an agent. If an agent finds that diamond in the rough good for them it's part of their job they've done it before they'll do it again, but it doesn't make them it's only a part of their job and they won't break their backs to find it.

If an intern finds the diamond by jingo they've got a nose for this don't they. Say keep that up kid and you'll be on the top in no time see!

The intern has far more incentive to dig a little and get dirty than the agent. That's why the pile is called slush. It'll get you a bit muddy.

So to these complaining writers I will quote The Rock in saying. "Know your role....and shut you're mouth."

Happy Thursday Everyone!

Phoebe North said...

Wow, Josin, that's tactless.

I grade for a standardized test company. If I wanted to, I could tweet anonymous advice to test takers based on the terrible essays I read. It'd probably garner plenty of hits and create quite a platform for myself. I don't, because I would get canned--and for good reason. There are professional standards that say that people submitting their work have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Hell, it's just good manners to treat any of this sort of correspondence as private. And when it comes down to it, there's something that just seems predatory and bullyish about this behavior, no matter how well-intentioned. Holding up someone for ridicule like this, even with the excuse that you're educating authors, is really ugly. I mean, this isn't queryshark. None of the authors consented to it.

(Before you tell me that I'm whining, I keep submitting regardless. But I still feel this just isn't right.)

Anyway, Janet, I deeply appreciate your commitment to ensuring the privacy of the writers who submit to you.

Phoebe North said...

My apologies, Josin; I misread--I thought you were talking about "dising" interns who publicly bash queries. On second-read, I see that wasn't the case, and I agree that most interns do a great job.

Still, I understand how people would feel hurt and confused when they realize that emails they never realized could be public suddenly become public.

A. S. Boudreau said...

It was interesting that you mentioned that intern today on twitter when I blogged about it myself on my own blog.

I have to agree with you wholeheartedly!

This intern doing this is only ONE intern, and one has to wonder if her boss is even aware of what she's doing and if they did would she be doing it very long?

Jennifer Welborn said...

I saw the twitter feed that prompted this post. I have to be honest, that feed made me angry and scared me shitless.

I am an aspiring writer. I'm working on my first novel. I'm 330pages in and I've worked hard on this. The thought of an agent looking at it and dismissing it is disheartening, but the thought of my manuscript being ridiculed (particularly in this manner) made me feel a bit sick to my stomach.

I'm glad you blogged about this. It makes me feel a little better about sending my own manuscript out.

Ava Quinn said...

"Don't point your gun at him. He's an unpaid intern." Bill Murray as Steve Zissou in Life Aquatic

Thanks for this glimpse into the office and view of the work your interns do. I thought this was the case with most interns who read through the slush pile. Thanks for confirming my theory (conspiracy or otherwise).

JJ said...

I have found many of this intern's comments helpful. For example, an 'excess of gerundive phrases' came up, and I googled it to check what it meant, then went through my own MS to see if I had that (nope *whew*).

Perhaps it's not the best platform for it (twitter is oh so public), and maybe some people find it offensive, but for someone seriously looking at ways to pull their own work apart (and, let's face it, many of us don't know how) this kind of info is both hard to find and invaluable. Even if it's not part of this interns 'job description' I will gladly read anything that could give me the insight to find problems in my own MS.

Heather said...

I have no problem with an intern reading my MS or query when I submit it to an agent. I know they're there, and I know they will read it well because that's what they're there for. A lot of very successful agents started out as interns. Like the post shows, agent interns work hard and advocate for the things they love.

But I do have a problem with professional, private email correspondences being discussed on a public forum. Even if there is no name associated with it, it's still incredibly thoughtless, and often details are given about the book which could allow someone to glean who submitted the query. In no other profession would this be acceptable behavior, no matter how noble the intent. It's one thing on Query Shark, where submitters know exactly what they're getting into. But it's something else entirely when the writer is emailing an agency directly and privately.

Julie Hedlund said...


Thank you for blogging about this. I would never assume that all interns would behave the way this one person is behaving. In fact, I fully believe this person is in the tiny minority. Unfortunately, her behavior reflects poorly on the industry because if some people believe this is what happens across many agencies, perception becomes reality to an extent.

I've thought about blogging about it myself for a while, and have always held off. Young people starting out in their careers (especially in positions of power) can make mistakes and should be given the opportunity to correct them.

What bothers me the most about this person is that s/he is hiding behind an alias and doesn't provide the name of the company s/he works for. That, IMHO, is both bullying and cowardice. If you are willing to say something online to thousands of people, you should put your own name on it - period.

While I am completely unwilling to cast aspersions on all literary agencies (that would be both unnecessary and ridiculous), I would like to know which one this intern works for, because if they are aware that this is happening and not doing anything about it, I would prefer to take my business elsewhere. Or I would like to see that agency take action to discontinue the behavior. Either way, we can't know if the person hides his/her personal identity and that of the company.

To me, the issue is not whether the commentary is helpful (sometimes it is), it's the fact that private correspondence is being made public without the sender's consent. If I had ever intentionally done such a thing in my previous job, even on a much smaller scale, I would have been fired - end of story. We aspiring writers may be hungry for information on how to draft/improve our queries, but we shouldn't expect to get that information on the backs of the brave folks sending their work in for (private) consideration.

There are many great agents out there (Janet included), who provide the same information but in generalities. They give their names when they give advice, and they don't scapegoat people. Furthermore, whole books have been written about how to write a good query. Let's turn to the above-board sources, shall we?

Whew! I feel better now... :-)

Anonymous said...

...hate to play Devil's Advocate but if you're sending a query to the SHARK well, honey, a minnow ain't gonna do - sharkwoman is who she is cuz, aside from decent marketing branding skills, she's demonstrated to YOU, how to get your fabuloso product do you really want a minnion reading your masterpiece? Maybe the minnow is a tadpole in disguise but I'd bank on the shark...just my opinion...

Amanda C. said...

Thank you for this excellent post! I have to agree whole-heartedly.

First, as you stated, things like queryfest cast all interns in a bad light.

Second, they could discourage aspriring writers from querying.

Third, and possibly most important, it's a violation of the privacy of a business correspondance.

I would also like to add that it isn't really all that *helpful.* So many people are saying that these query critique snippets are invaluable for their own self-editing. But I'd like to argue that there are plenty of other more professional, more *thorough* resources out there.

First of all, having a partner (or two or many) critique your query before sending it out can help to catch all of the "excesses of gerundive phrases" and the like. But also, there are books and websites out there that are geared towards giving aspiring writers tips and information for editing of their MS's and queries. Why not ask the professionals? Why rely on the 140 character snippets of one unpaid intern?

I just don't get it...

Kim D. Baldwin said...

Right on!

Good interns are worth their weight in gold and more!

Amber J. Gardner said...


Thanks so much for the blog post. I have just two questions.

How do I apply to be an intern at FinePrint? And what are the qualifications needed?

Every time I read an agent's blog I keep thinking how amazing it would be to work for them and get an inside view of that aspect of the publishing world...

It looks like so much fun!

Lydia Sharp said...

It amazes me how easily aspiring authors conclude that the online behavior individuals in a certain group is indicative of the behavior of everyone in that group, even if most in that group do not have an online presence. First agents, now the interns. When are these naysayers going to learn that the internet does not represent the opinions and actions of all individuals? Ironically, the writers who are vocal about such things are making those of us who know better look bad, for the very same reason.

Blankets are for beds, not statements.

And if you're going to complain about something, don't use the terms "us writers" and "we liked it when..." as if we've all come to a unanimous decision about the topic beforehand. Own your own opinion, please. Speak for yourself and no one else.

Unknown said...

Wow, I was going to say some things, but Lydia just said all of them, and perfectly. Co-signed!

Susan Adrian said...

NEVER diss the godsends.

By that I don't mean just interns (any interns)--but also administrative assistants, receptionists, sales clerks...

I've made it a rule to treat everyone professionally. They deserve that much from me. (Especially unpaid interns!)

I've had lots of experience with the godsends at FinePrint, and believe me, you WANT them reading your stuff.

JD Horn said...

But it isn't just a case of interns tweeting snidely. After reading several tweets from one agent, I pulled back a query I had made to her. I would not want to be involved with the kind of person who relished meanness for meanness’ sake.

And then there is the world of Slushpilehell.

OK, granted the queries that he/she posts range from the heart-breakingly clueless to the maniacally egotistical, but still it adds to the atmosphere of cynicism that engenders rogue interns. I can understand a need to vent after wading through hundreds of queries, but maybe this venting should not be done in such a public fashion? Insult comedy is the easiest comedy in the world, and it doesn’t mend or enlighten a single soul. Internet crassness is the cheapest and easiest way to obtain fame these days, albeit (hopefully and deservedly) fleeting.

LA Juice said...

Well, I'm new to commenting on Ms. Reid's blog, but I thought it time to chime- as an unknown, unpublished memoir writer who had a really positive experience with an "intern".

I sent my query to a prominent New York agent in a well known firm. Like someone who might represent the likes of the late Hunter Thompson or Ms. Kathy Griffin. My query raised their interest and they asked for pages. I knew from the get go that it was the assistant/intern/screener who made the requests.

Within days of getting my pages, she asked for the full manuscript. This was a Thursday. I sent it via email. By Monday she had read and responded to me, passing on the project. However, She was incredibly kind about it all. She said it needed heavy editing and that my query had likely been premature. She also gave me some other polite advice that has been incredibly helpful as I work through my process. Finally She asked that if I write anything else, I send another query.

Sure there are jerks out there, but the moral of this story? There are also great people who care about the business. If you truly believe in your work- you gotta learn to deal with the deucebags- Or as I like to tell myself when I don;t want to go running at 5 AM: "Suck it up and stop whining."

~Sia McKye~ said...

Janet, I really appreciate your thoughts and kudos for interns. I have a friend or two who do this sort of work and I'm amazed at the work they do and no, they don't EVER break confidentiality. They're professionals.

As one who read submissions (not anymore) for a small publisher, omg, it's work. I might read beyond the first few pages, but I have a great appreciation from the experience for agents and interns.

Jude said...

:D I love our interns at LDA too.

lotusgirl said...

A wonderful defense of the intern. I feel for all those who do their best and get discredited because of someone like this.

Jess said...

I've gone back and forth on this SO many times. Some agents are completely general - "I don't rep X, pass", "writing didn't grab me, pass" and I don't really have a problem with that. But commentary is a slippery slope.

A couple weeks ago I was asked to read for an agent, though, and suddenly my mind is made up. I could NEVER tweet that stuff; the thought makes me squirm that I'm breaking trust. So where I've supported these feeds in the past - even this particular one, before she got mean - I'm going to stop reading them altogether.

As I said on Alex Bracken's blog: queries get too much hype anyway, a good one won't make a bad manuscript any more palatable.

Angela Perry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phoebe North said...

This post skirts the underlying issue: writers are upset because Amie's scrutiny is exactly the type of attention their query receives when they submit to an agency who employs interns. It's not that she tweets, it's that she tweets.

No, actually, we're upset that she tweets. I'd be just as upset if an agent was using private correspondence in the same way (and have been, in the past). Does anyone really care that interns filter emails for agents? As a querying writer, I sure don't--so long as those interns act professionally in their jobs.

Angela Perry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phoebe North said...

Angela, it looks to me like the writers are upset by the behavior they see displayed by interns ("We know they exist but we liked it when they were quietly behind closed doors doing their jobs" and "Interns see them first, and they are tactless" [my emphasis]), not their mere existence.

Anyway, your feeling about the #queries or #pubtip hashtags are not universal. I, for one, felt deeply appreciative when Mandy Hubbard, for example, decided to no longer tweet about specific queries. I thought her blog post on the subject was great, and apt: "In other words, I have respect for you and your work. Period. And that comes into question if I "poke fun" at queries, even if it is "all in good fun" or done in what I had thought was a constrcutive, helpful way."

The fact that an intern was doing so was perhaps more unprofessional because of the power dynamics and specifics at play (they're not emails addressed to her in the first place, etc.) but not hugely so. I really hope the entire practice fades away.

J.M. Kelley said...

Thanks for this post, Janet. Most of the point/counterpoint has been played out in the comments above, so I won't rehash what's already been said and done.

As I've read over the hash-tag, the thought I keep returning to over and over again is what if I submitted to that agency and found the skeletons of my story being discussed on Twitter without my consent? And in such a callous way? I've found myself blushing on behalf of the authors who did not realize they would be subjected to a public display.

I find it so cruel. I feel so awful for anyone who may have recognized their own work hung out to dry for a voyeuristic audience.

Anonymous said...

Janet, I am confused. I really want to hear your take on why this is a bad thing. I don't have a firm opinion yet, but I have been following the mini-scandal via Twitter. This intern is anonymous. She is not posting anything from a query that might identify the manuscript. (at least I haven't seen anything like a character name or title) She isn't being overtly vituperative. (or so I have gathered from reading her tweets) Can you explain to me what the issue is? I am not being snarky. This is an honest desire to understand.

Unknown said...

I'm not sure if it's the same intern I'm thinking of, but she's does an awesome job explaining why a query works and why it doesn't. And if it weren't for the interns, we might be waiting a year before we get a request or a rejection.

And to me, these individual's are brave. I've critted queries on numerous site. I hate it as much as writing queries. For the most part, I don't get part the first paragraph. I couldn't imagine going through 100 of similar ones. I'd rather go to the dentist and have him drill holes in my teeth.

Julie Weathers said...

I posted on this today since a moron thought to put me in my place last night. Sorry, wannabe writer with five friends who love your story, it isn't an intern's freedom of speech we're talking about.

After Internamie told Janet Reid she posts under a "pen name" and no one knows who she works for, I replied, "Actually, I know who you work for, it's not that hard to find."

She sent me a private message, "Shhhh, I don't want to lose my job."

I think her heart was in the right place and she thought she was helping, but if she knew she could lose her job with the twitter critiques of queries, that put it in another category. Not only did she not have permission from the author to discuss their queries on a public platform, she also knew it was against agency guidelines.

One of the godsends read FAR RIDER and her comments were invaluable. I have no problem with interns, but I do have a problem with employees who violate the confidence of the employer and their clients.

Of course, when I mentioned there was a betrayal of trust publicly, supporters of Internamie accused me of ass kissing agents who don't even know I exist in order to curry favor with them.


Laurel Symonds said...

From one of your very own FP-NC interns, here are my thoughts:

I never ever would tweet about queries!