Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How to Get an Internship in Publishing: Become a Master Networker

Mention the word “networking” in a room of college juniors and seniors and you’re likely to be met by at least a few groans, a shudder of disgust, and a palpable sense of unease. At the beginning of any job search, that word seems to conjure the horrifying image of a room full of students in business casual wear, pretending to be interested in each other and trying to stuff their homemade business cards into as many clammy hands as possible.

But, Writer Friends, there’s good news! That’s not what networking is. Good networking is just like making friends. No matter what field you’re in, success is often all about the partnerships you’ve formed and the people you can rely on to give you a boost. And your best advocates will always be your friends, so the biggest favor you can do for yourself at the beginning of a job search is to get out there and make some. Read on to learn how!

At the start of your search, you might find it most useful to start networking on a one-on-one basis. If there’s a small publishing company or literary agency in your area (Google it and you might be pleasantly surprised), find contact information for someone who works there and express an interest in learning about what they do. Often small publishers are willing to make time for a student, and though they're probably very busy, they’re likely not to get as many of these requests as the big presses do.

But what if you want to get your foot in one of those big doors, but don't know anybody? Guess again; chances are you know more people than you think. If you live near New York, almost anyone you know might have a friend or relative in publishing. Make sure those around you know of your interest in the field, and let them know you’d like to meet more people in the industry. Wherever you live, if your school has a creative writing program (or even just a class), the instructor is probably a published author—meaning she has an editor, a publicist, and a whole house that stands behind her work. If you’ve already had a class with that professor and dazzled her with your work, great! Politely ask her if she thinks any of her contacts would be interested in an informational interview. If you haven’t had a course with her, ask if she has time to meet informally and tell you more about her career; your next informational interview could be with her publisher. And if your professors aren't published yet, don't despair! They may at least have MFA's, which means they've had some opportunities to network with bigwigs and might still be able to recommend you.

Most people feel a sense of loyalty to their alma maters, so another good place to look for contacts is among your college’s alumni/alumnae. See if your college’s career center keeps a list of graduates and where they’re working. Contact the people who work at publishing companies, large or small, and ask if they have any advice on how to go from your school to a career in publishing. The plus side of talking to an alum is that you immediately have something in common—and your contact knows you got the same great education that he did, so he already has faith in your abilities!

You should be professional about these informational interviews (prepare questions ahead of time, dress nicely, etc.), but still look at them as chances to make friends. The people who genuinely enjoy talking to you are the ones most likely to keep in touch—so relax, tell a joke, and be yourself. Have fun. Remember that you’re both drawn to this industry because you love books—surely you know how to have a good conversation about that! You may hit it off more immediately with some people than with others, and that’s okay. Be genuinely grateful to everyone who shares their time with you, and try to keep in touch with all of them—but keep in touch especially with those people with whom you feel you really clicked.

Are you ready to start networking on a larger scale? Go to book-related events by yourself and be ready to introduce yourself to people. Talk to the attendees, the people running booths and, if you can do so without holding up a line, the presenters. Ask them about what they do and how they got started, and modestly mention your own experience and interests. If you have a particularly good conversation with someone, let them know you’d like to continue it over email or a cup of coffee, and exchange cards.

Then look beyond the book event and realize that everything is a networking opportunity. Your librarian? He knows people. Your local bookseller? She knows people. Your blog or twitter stream's followers? The barista at your favorite coffee shop (ahem, ahem)? You never know! Make a habit of being friendly, personable, and interested in everyone you meet. It makes for a happy life, for one thing, and you never know where you’ll make friends who might be willing and able to help you in the future.

Don’t ignore the other people who are just starting out, either. Right now you might not be able to offer each other a lot in the way of connections—and, awkwardly enough, you might feel like you’re competing for the same opportunities—but these people are your future colleagues. When they get the position they want, they’ll be happy to keep an eye out for a space for you and put in a good word. And when you do get hired alongside them, it will feel good to know you’ve already got a friend at your level in the company!

Once you’ve made friends in the industry, don’t be afraid to ask them for a little help—including a recommendation of a friend or colleague of theirs you could talk to as well, the chance to be their intern, or their endorsement for a larger, company-wide internship program. Most people will be more than willing to help you out. After all, especially in an industry like publishing, we all got here with someone else’s help—most of us are eager to pay it forward!

Networking has become my favorite part of searching for a new job or internship. The friends I’ve made in the industry have opened doors for me and, more importantly, made the publishing world warm and welcoming. When you look at good networking as making new friends, I trust you’ll feel the same way—and I also have faith that you’ll have a great internship experience and a bright career.

What’s your networking success story? Do you have any advice of your own to share? Leave it in comments! Or, do you have any questions? Do you want me to expand on any of this in another post? You know what to do!


  1. Rachel, back in the mists of time (the late 1970s), I did exactly what you suggest about contacting small firms. My internship then was with a newspaper, because the undergraduate degree that I was then earning was in journalism, but the principle is the same as for publishing. (I eventually ended up in book and journal publishing, and I've been in that industry for 27 years now.) Would-be interns can work with small publishers, news organizations, or small firms in related industries to create an internship, even if these firms have not worked with interns before. I chose that route because I admired the newspaper, because I believed (correctly) that I'd get more chances to write and edit as part of a small staff than as part of a gigantic one, and because the newspaper's office was at the perfect location on my commute between my parents' home and the university I was attending and thus wouldn't make my commuting schedule any crazier than it already was. I got so much out of that internship, including good clips, great experience, and helpful industry contacts and recommendations.

  2. Good post, Rachel! I know when I was looking for jobs, I went to job fairs, even those not specific to publishing. Every company is usually in need of writers or publications people, and chances are you might not have as much competition - I went to a science and tech fair and introduced myself as someone looking to get into science publishing. Although I didn't get a job offer there, I made contacts and wound up getting a call about a job which I referred to a good friend of mine, who in turn got the position. It really is about getting out there and making friends. And going through the job search process with your college friends is not only great for your morale, but it's a big support network - we all look out for each other.

  3. Very good advise for all types of employment, Be your own champion and dont be afraid to go meet new people at events. I work in recruiting and am always telling people they need to be a go getter, a job isn't going to fall into your lap. Also if someone gives you their business card dont hesitate to follow up with a linkedIn connection or a brief email stating how much you enjoyed meeting them.