Monday, March 28, 2011

What Do You Wish for as a Writer?

Hello, Writer Friends and Soon-to-Be Interns! I'm still planning a fabulous end to my series on how to get an internship in publishing, and I hope to have an action-packed post of epic proportions for you next week. Stay tuned!

Due to some unforeseen circumstances, though, I found myself not tying up the finale this weekend; instead, I had some down time to enjoy. Since the sun has finally decided to show its face again (even if the warmth is lagging behind), I took a long walk around my neighborhood. And just as I was returning, pink-cheeked from the wind and glowing from having discovered new pockets of magic in my much-loved city, I discovered this:

It's a tree of wishes! I don't know if it started as a school project, an inspired activity to pull our (sometimes tumultous) neighborhood closer together, or some bright-eyed artist's special little piece of whimsy, but it once again reminded me of why I feel so at home here.

And on the tree, I found this:

"I wish for everyone to feel loved even in their darkest hour. Hugs to you!"

And this:

"I wish my mother will get her life together so we can live a better live."

And all three of these:

"I wish the Republicans would shut the f*ck up."
"I wish the Democrats would shut the hell up."
"I wish we could have serious conversations about serious issues rather than resorting to political name-calling—Your political party shouldn't be rooted for like your favorite sports team!"

And finally, I saw a wish I know I'd like to echo:

"more trees of wishes"

What do you wish for?

Monday, March 21, 2011

How to Get an Internship in Publishing: Want to Know More?

Thanks for reading this month's series of tips on finding an internship in publishing. I'm cooking up something special to close out the series—so stay tuned for that!

Over the past few weeks, we've discussed how to network your way to a position in the book industry (and not feel like you'd rather have your teeth yanked out), and some of you shared some great networking success stories. We talked about how to write a cover letter that catches an employer's attention. And, so you can better target your cover letter, your resume, and your overall search, we talked about the pros and cons of interning for different types of publishers.

There are some great resources on the web that can also help you with your search. For career advice from some wonderful editors and industry professionals, try these links:
Now, if you've read all that and you're still hungry for more, I'll be happy to answer questions or offer more specific advice. Please leave your questions in comments; I'll do my best to answer every one of them!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How to Get an Internship in Publishing: Know What You Want

Now that you know a little bit about finding and applying to internships, let’s talk about the types of internships you might want. While it might seem counter-intuitive to narrow your options at all when they're in such short supply, I do believe very strongly that you should define what you are looking for before you begin your internship search.

When I was first searching for internships and jobs, I thought that my chances of success would improve based on the sheer volume of applications I submitted, so I applied for literally everything that was available. I would research each company before applying and I put time and care into each of my cover letters, but none of that was an adequate substitute for the in-depth knowledge one gains by watching a company or seriously exploring a specific role through books, blogs and informational interviews. I rarely got a response to any of those early applications—even for roles I was drooling over. But once I limited myself to applying only for those jobs which I really, really wanted (in companies that I had known, admired, and even dreamt of working for) it was like night and day. Suddenly I was getting responses to almost every application I sent in.

Professionals know that, the more invested someone is in their job, the better they are at it. Thus, they’re eager to hear from candidates who they can tell are excited about the company as much as the role. So some solid advice for internship searching (and for life!) is know what you want.

First, you should of course think about what types of books interest you; what do you like to read, and why? What books do you often recommend to others? Will you publish for children or adults? Do you like a specific genre enough to want to specialize in that? Beyond that, you might want to consider the type of company you want to intern for. There are benefits and drawbacks to each:

Positions in trade publishing (the industry that produces books read for pleasure, whether fiction or nonfiction) are extremely attractive to most starry-eyed interns-to-be. The plus side is that they offer the chance to work with books you’d pick up in your own free time, so they can be a lot of fun. And, if this is the sort of thing that interests you, they are the most glamorous positions in publishing, since they offer access to well-known writers and maybe even the chance to work on The Next Big Thing. The down side is that, because the perks are so great, these positions are in high demand, extremely competitive, and often unpaid.

Internships in academic (textbook or academic journal) publishing can often be easier to come by and, especially if you have a great deal of knowledge in a particular subject area, are often very rewarding. Because the textbook industry is suffering the effects of the recession to a slightly lesser degree than the rest of the industry, these internships may be more likely to lead to full-time employment. On top of that, I’ve found that the people who work in textbooks are almost invariably down-to-earth, relaxed, and incredibly fun to be around. Because there’s less fame and glory to be had in academic publishing than in trade, you’re not likely to have many run-ins with prima donnas. The down side? Well, if you don’t like reading your college textbooks for school, you might not like it now either. And, because the textbook industry relies heavily on subject matter experts to write and edit books, you’re less likely to get hands-on experience actually molding the text.

Again, the big companies—whether the Big Four (Random House, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan) or one of the other large and established houses out there (Scholastic, McGraw-Hill, Disney Publishing, Chronicle Books, Little Brown, etc.)—often offer the most glamorous internships. The benefits of working for one of these companies can be great; many have established summer internship programs which, whether they pay or not, may offer seminars and talks in order to teach you about the industry, and will allow you to be surrounded by peers. Chances are that a lot of your favorite authors publish with the big houses, so you’re more likely to have a squee-worthy moment of author connection. And there’s no denying that having a big name on your resume can open doors for you later on. However, the drawback to an established internship program and a large company is that the type of work available to interns can often be administrative, with the really hands-on tasks falling to their own departments.

Small or mid-sized
On the other hand, a small or mid-sized, independent publishing company like W.W. Norton, Candlewick, or Bancroft Press (where I got my start) often allows and even encourages its interns to wear a number of hats. Because there is always a ton of work to get done and few people to do it, they are typically happy to get interns involved in many of the types of tasks they’d be expected to perform as industry professionals. Though they may not have large, established programs, small presses offer close mentorship and the chance to truly help shape a manuscript. The down side is that, while the actual experience may even be more meaningful than what some large houses offer, it could be more difficult to convey that to potential employers; without the name recognition, you will have to put extra care into your resume and cover letter in order to convey the value of your experience. And, unfortunately, a lot of small presses aren’t in a position to hire their interns full-time, and may not offer the connections that larger presses do.

Specialized or indie presses
Companies specializing in a certain type of books—like Lee & Low, which publishes multicultural children’s books, or Seal Press, which focuses on progressive books written by women—love to take on interns who share their interests. If you have a particularly strong set of values or a very focused interest in one genre, it might be worth your while to look for a press that shares those tastes. Often these companies are small and independently operated, so the benefits are largely those listed above, plus the added value of working for a cause in which you believe. However, specializing too much, too early can sometimes be a drawback; be careful not to limit your options for moving up in your career. Your internship at All-Robot-Space-Ponies-All-the-Time BooksTM may not offer you too many transferable skills unless you plan to spend the rest of your life working with books about animatronic animals. Which there may not be such a big market for. Just saying.

Of course, there are countless other types of internships available. Working for a literary agency can offer close access to authors and connections at a variety of publishing houses; however, it may only lead to part-time employment and it's not a field for the under-confident or faint of heart. Assisting an author can be great if you connect well with your mentor—and it may even be particularly good for an aspiring writer if you can learn from each other’s processes—but it offers relatively few connections or chances for advancement. Some cities outside the hub of the publishing world are home to a myriad of companies providing developmental editorial and marketing services; these can be great companies to work for and may prepare you for a variety of jobs, but are likely to force you to specialize early.

Whatever you choose to look for—or even if you pursue some combination of these options—it’s helpful to seriously consider your skills and preferences before really digging into your job search. Once you have an idea of what type of internship would be a good fit for you, get moving on that internet research, compile a list of target companies, and start reaching out to them. Good luck!

What have your internship experiences been? What types of companies have you most (or least) enjoyed working for? If you're looking for your first internship now, what do you think you'll prefer? Let me know in comments!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How to Get an Internship in Publishing: Write a Strong Cover Letter

Thank you so much for all of the positive responses to last week’s post on networking to find an internship in publishing, and especially for sharing your success stories! The great thing about networking is that once you start building a network, it seems to take on a life of its own; you can almost step back and see your friends group growing exponentially—and with it, your internship opportunities.

But nevertheless, there are still going to be places you want to intern despite not having a foot in the door already—internship programs that get your heart racing but seem totally out of your reach. The thought of an HR representative thumbing through a waist-high stack of applications with no reason to settle on yours is always nerve-wracking. But you can stand out from the bunch, even in a cold application. The key is to write an engaging cover letter that makes the reader want to learn more about you.

There are plenty of resources on the web that do a good job of explaining business letter format, the topics your letter should address, and the basic layout of a good cover letter, so I’m not going to try to expand on that here. And I am most certainly not an expert in the field; by all means, make use of your school’s career development office and friends and relatives who work in human resources for some more great cover letter advice. However, after writing close to a hundred cover letters for job and internship applications and keeping track of which types of letters have most often earned me a call back, I’ve learned a few tricks that can help your cover letter make it to the top of that stack of applications.

More than anything else, the best insight I can share on cover-letter writing is this: a good cover letter is just like a good commercial.

When you write to potential employers, you are trying to sell your most important commodity: your skills. Like the marketers behind any advertisement, you’re trying to hook your audience, to remain in their minds, and ultimately to inspire them to take action. To do that, pick up a few lessons from good advertising:

Shine early. The fact that you're required to introduce yourself and the position you're applying for in the first paragraph of your cover letter is no reason to bore your reader! Did the Old Spice man start his commercial by saying, “My name is Isaiah Mustafa and I want to sell you deodorant”? No—just imagine how lame television would be if every commercial started with a bland statement of intent!

I expect reading job applications can often be like watching a block of commercials that all begin the same way. Just think how quickly you’ll be able to grab your reader’s attention if, after reading the same lackluster introduction (e.g. “My name is Rachel Stark, and I am writing to apply for an editorial internship in your company”) a hundred times over, she encounters yours and finds the first sentence refreshingly different.

Offer a solution to a problem. So how should you start your cover letter? I formed one of my favorite strategies after attending a job search seminar given by the Director of Human Resources at Scholastic. He suggested finding out what problem a company faces, and explaining in your cover letter how you can help them solve it. I love this as a way to start a cover letter because it immediately highlights both your extraordinary skills and your knowledge of the company. Here’s an example:
As an editor dedicated to breaking new ground in the digital era, you must be looking for an Editorial Intern who is creative enough to make good editorial calls, but also tech-savvy enough to help you explore the opportunities of digital media. As an experienced reader, an avid social networker, and an amateur programmer, I can offer you exactly that.
But that approach is really only one among many that will work well! You can make a huge impact just by using dynamic, active language and varying your sentence structure. Interestingly, in this article published by Esquire, the author points out that the least conventional cover letter he submitted during his job search earned him the most responses. Think hard about how to best advertise yourself, and about what your audience is likely to respond to. Be humble, but convey your strengths with certainty—if you are confident right off the bat about what you have to offer, your reader will be as well.

Connect to your audience. This goes hand-in-hand with the tip above: in your cover letter, you want to convey an understanding of your reader’s needs and interests. Show that you are passionate and excited not just about the position, but also about the company. If you know the name of the person to whom you would be reporting and can read his or her blog posts, interviews, or Publishers Weekly profile to get a sense of his or her interests and viewpoints, even better!

At the very least, you should convey an understanding of what the role entails, of the company’s corporate environment, and of the industry as a whole. There’s a big difference between a big publishing company with a thumb in every pie like Random House and a small company with a defined mission like Lee & Low (we'll talk about some of them next week); these companies want to know that you are excited not just about interning, but specifically about interning with them. Let them know that you share a common mission, that you admire them, or even that you know how to make them smile, and you’ve gone a long way towards showing what a good fit you are for the company.

Tell a story. Don’t worry about cramming every one of your relevant skills and experiences into a single page; that’s what your resume is for! Instead, use the cover letter as a platform to tell a great story about your skills in action. If you’ve had an internship or relevant work experience before, try to tell a good story from your most recent experience. If not, never fear! Your leadership in clubs, societies, and part-time jobs is just as valid. Describe a problem or a need that you identified, explain the solution you came up with, and give a concise picture of the role you played in executing your strategy. Finally, explain the overall impact your solution had. For example:
In my third month at my current position, I volunteered to help lead a new, company-wide marketing initiative. I brainstormed ways to identify possible customers, streamlined the communication about leads, and promoted our books through reviews and advertising. The initiative’s success enabled the company to exceed its revenue goals despite the recession, and my experience will allow me to recreate that success in your company’s marketing department.
If your strongest story exhibits the skills you’ll be using as an intern but doesn’t directly relate to one of the internship's typical duties, feel free to spell out what you learned from the experience, and what it allows you to contribute to an internship position. Remember that in publishing we are all storytellers, and we connect most immediately with those who can tell a compelling story.

Those are just a few ideas to get you started. These are by no means hard and fast rules, and I encourage you to experiment and see what works for you. But if you put these ideas into action and get results, let us know! Or, if you disagree or have some other strategies to share, leave us a note! Finally, If you’ve taken a stab at networking in the last week, I hope you’ll let us know how it went in comments as well.

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!