Recently, Jessica Faust and I were having a conversation about how difficult it is to really get into publishing. I heaved a pretty dramatic sigh and said: “I got lucky.”
She looked up from her computer and shook her head. “No, you worked for it.”
And thus, this blog post was born. Because she’s right.
I got to thinking of just how amazing it is that in 3-ish years, I went from Summer Intern, to Administrative Assistant, to Literary Assistant, now nearing his first year in the biz. This isn’t a ‘pat myself on the back’ post, but one that I hope is informational to former, current, and prospective interns in Publishing. I recognize that I’m extremely fortunate, and my career trajectory might be very rare, but I think there’s something to be said about it. So, here are my tips and rules for doing something like what I did:
- Make a(n) (personal) impression:
I get it. It’s nerve-wracking temporarily coming into an established company for such a short-term, but the only way to actually get the best out of your short ten weeks is to roll up your sleeves and get crackin’. ‘Making an impression’ isn’t the easiest thing to do. There’s no magic formula, or sometimes people don’t click, but I’d like to think I wasted no time trying when I interned.
My first day was one of our weekly meetings, and I tried to quickly get on with the agents. Kim and I cracked jokes during my first meeting (not much has changed), Beth kept following up with me to make sure I was following along, I nodded vigorously, I took notes on the agenda, and I offered my assistance on things, despite whether I had a clue where to start. I’d learn.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s natural to be intimidated or nervous. I was. Tremendously, actually. But if you don’t start to make an impression as quick as you can, I think you’re wasting time. Within a couple of ‘shifts’ in office, I was comfortable. I gained a footing in the industry basics and a relationship with each of the (then five) agents.
For more info on this, I love this article: https://www.fastcompany.com/3061508/lessons-in-making-a-good-first-impression-from-the-best-interns-ever
- Suck it up. (I mean this in a nice way…):
I went home my first day of interning sort of let down. (Now that BookEnds is stuck with me, I’ll admit it). I had this huge expectation that I’d walk in and be working on the next Great American Novel immediately and blow everyone away. But I shelved books. I thought my whole summer would be doing things like that. Am I a coffee-go-getter? (I was not. Not even once.)
My letdown quickly changed of course, but that’s because my first day was a valuable lesson. It’s not all glamorous, and everyone does the less-glamorous things at one point in their career. You start somewhere and you’re not too good to start at the bottom. I’m a firm believer that you take what’s thrown at you, do it as best as you can, and eventually, you get tossed some better stuff. (Now, I even obsess over the bookshelves a bit).
- Ask questions:
Again, you’re wasting time if you’re not asking questions. The more you ask, the more you learn. The more you learn, the better you can apply yourself, and thus the better your work. (Yeah, there are other factors that go into that, but for us, questions often equate to your eagerness, AND they only help you grow your understanding. Win, win.).
- Keep comin’ back:
I may have taken this rule too literal by actually coming back for a second internship session, but hey it worked. Fact is, not every company can grant you a second internship or job off the bat, but you can keep “comin’ back” so to speak. We have a former intern who visits whenever she’s home from school; we have one who drops a line via email every so often. Several interact with us on social media rather frequently, and we love it. You stay fresh in our mind that way, and this keeps you there when we see job listings or even need a new assistant ourselves. And this leads me to my last point, because when you’re ready to land a job:
- Don’t be afraid:
When I graduated from undergrad, I sat on my diploma for two weeks because I didn’t know where to start. While I was complaining, someone said, hey, why don’t you email BookEndsto which I replied: “nooooooo.” But:
I had no reasoning for not emailing the team, except that I was afraid.
I was nervous that emailing Jessica Faust to say “Hey! I got that really expensive piece of paper, and I’d love to come work for you” would lead to my imminent death or something. But eventually, I did it and asking JF if there was a place for me was the best thing I ever did. I guess what I mean here is: rejection happens, but you can’t not put yourself out there because you’re scared of it. If you’ve landed a publishing internship, you’ve been rejected by ten others, undoubtedly. It’s going to happen with jobs too.
Of course, each situation is different. You might not be in the position to email expressing your interest in a job at the company you interned. Logistically, there might not be a job. But you can email asking for help. When you’re ready, email your former supervisor to say you’re looking for a job and you hope they’ll keep you in mind should they see any listings.
We’re your in. And if you did all the other steps right, we’d be happy to help you go from intern to assistant.