By Chanel Cleeton @ChanelCleeton
Literary internships are a great way for writers to learn more about the publishing industry. They allow you to ‘peek behind the curtain,’ gaining valuable insights on what agents and editors look for in a manuscript. Interning with a literary agency heavily influenced my development as a writer.
Literary internships provide an opportunity to read query letters and submissions. They allow you to gain an agent or editor’s perspective, distinct from your perspective as a writer. There’s a rhythm to it. You’ll begin to notice common issues in query letters— mistakes you may make in your own query but were unaware of.
Additionally, many literary agents give interns an opportunity to work on pitch letters. A pitch letter, or submission letter, is similar to a query letter, but literary agents submit them to editors when they pitch clients’ work. Writing pitch letters on a regular basis allows you to hone your ability to synthesize a manuscript and entice someone else to read it. This experience makes your query letter much stronger and since some agents prefer that their clients work on their own pitches, it’s great practice for writing your own.
Reading submissions is another valuable experience to be gleaned through a literary internship. Before my internship, I didn’t understand how five or ten sample pages were enough for a literary agent or editor to evaluate a manuscript. They are. I was surprised to discover I could often tell in a page or two whether or not I wanted to see more.
You view manuscripts differently on the other side of the page. You’ll begin to see common trends. You’ll notice problems in the execution or find yourself being pulled out of the story. But then one will grab you— and you’ll understand the feeling a literary agent gets when they fall in love with a project and decide to offer representation.
Literary internships also hone your editorial skills. Interns often write submission reports. These reports sharpen your editorial eye as you analyze a manuscript, fleshing out its weaknesses, praising its strengths. Some interns also edit client manuscripts. Doing so will help you understand how an editor will view your manuscript. Before you know it, you’ll use these skills in your own writing and you’ll begin reading your work with an editorial eye, identifying weak spots and taking your writing to another level.
Gaining a commercial perspective is another advantage of a literary internship. Working for a literary agent or editor requires an appreciation for both craft and commercial viability. You’ll learn what types of manuscripts agents and editors are looking for and what segments of the market are heavily saturated. It’s a useful way to gain a better understanding of the literary market.
Many literary internships are located in New York. These are often formal programs tailored towards college and graduate students. Many of these programs have weekly sessions to educate interns on different facets of publishing. They also provide a chance for interns to work alongside editors and agents, learning from their expertise and networking within the publishing community.
Remote literary internships offer a great, flexible option if you can’t move to New York. Many of these internships are geared towards “slush pile readers”— interns reading literary submissions. Some include augmented duties, like writing pitch letters and making editorial suggestions. Remote internships usually require about ten hours a week, usually at your own pace, but that may vary depending on the internship. I was in law school and working when I did my internship, so the flexibility helped a lot. Remote internships are often looking for passionate readers so don’t be intimidated if you lack “formal” experience.
Twitter is a great place to start looking for an internship. Many agents and editors tweet when they’re looking for interns. They’ll often mention any specific requirements associated with the internship— for example, if they’re looking for YA readers— and provide application details. Other internships are structured around the school year and require applications months in advance. Literary agency and publisher websites are helpful places to find internship opportunities. Bookjobs.com is another great site.
Ultimately, literary internships are wonderful tools for writers to learn more about their craft and the publishing industry. Competition may be fierce for some, but don’t be discouraged! Much like querying, it only takes one ‘yes’ to help you realize your publishing dreams. Good luck!
Have you ever considered doing a literary internship?
Chanel Cleeton writes New Adult contemporary romances and Young Adult thrillers. Her New Adult debut, I SEE LONDON, will be released by Harlequin (HQN) on February 1, 2014, followed by a sequel, LONDON FALLING, later in the year. An avid reader and hopeless romantic, Chanel is happiest curled up with a book. She has a weakness for handbags, puppy cuddles, and her fighter pilot husband. Chanel loves to travel and is currently living an adventure in South Korea. Chanel loves talking with readers and writers and can be found on her own website, Twitter, and Facebook.