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A couple guest posts by our interns on what they’ve learned so far

A Little More Than Nothing About Publishing by Francis Adams

Today, when Mike asked me if I’d like to write something for the blog, I looked at him blankly, then said, “Sure!”, knowing full well that I had no idea what I was going to write about. After kicking around a few ideas, he suggested that I might talk about a few things I’ve learned about publishing since taking on this internship. After thinking about this for some time, I must say (in the spirit of Socrates) that the only thing I know for sure about publishing is that I know only a little more than nothing about publishing.

But upon further (and only somewhat more serious) reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that the clearest glimpses I’ve gained into the world of publishing have come in the moments when I am doing the exact opposite of what I am supposed to be doing, or even what is socially acceptable! Let me explain. The truth is, I often find my attention drifting from the narrative of my n’th slush sample of the day, or the reader’s report I am writing, and zeroing in on the things going on around me—whether it be a phone conversation, a quick (or not-so-quick) glance at my fellow colleagues’ monitors (I hope that’s vague enough), or even, in the more extreme cases, overhearing someone interview for a job, or listening in on a meeting. When you’re new to a job, you tend to try to hold as much as possible to the conventional wisdom that tells you to always be focused and attentive to completing the task at hand, or on figuring out what new tasks need doing—in short, don’t slack off–but I have found that it is in the idlest of moments, when I let my focus drift momentarily from the task at hand, that I actually learn the most.

So when I try to pinpoint one thing, one overarching theme if you will, that these little diversions have alerted me to, I am forced to conclude, simply, that communication is paramount in this business. I say I am forced to conclude this only because nearly every glance to a monitor displays either an open email or twitter page, and nearly every phone conversation—especially if it is with an author—seems to be directed towards clarifying some misconception or making sure he or she knows what works, what doesn’t, and, overall what is marketable about the work.

I’d be interested to know if anyone else has experienced this irony—the realization that one has actually learned more by doing the opposite of what one is supposed to be doing, or even what is socially acceptable? If so, maybe it’s worth writing about …

 

The Ingredients of Book Publishing by Amy Hendricks

Before applying to internships, I knew I wanted to get into publishing somehow. Being able to work with books is a dream for any passionate reader, and I was eager to see what it would be like. I never realized just how many people are involved in the production of one book! From what I’ve gathered in the office, there’s the query to be read, calls to be made, publishers to shop around to, emails sent, financial negotiations, contracts to be signed, covers to design, and so so so much more. I’m not sure what I imagined before seeing it in action, but the most important ingredient in the recipe for a book seems to be a supportive team of ambitious agents.

One week in September I was able to help Lauren with the packaging and shipping of some boxes. This day of work entailed unpacking foreign copies of books and sorting then sending them to authors. It was a good day of work, and as someone with a bit of wanderlust it was interesting to see the different covers and titles of the same book throughout different countries. Lauren taught me how to decipher their country codes and send the books on their way, and I spent my commute home imagining the variety of languages these stories would be told in.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned interning here is that there are so many good ideas out there! Reading queries and helping agents look over potential manuscripts has been an exciting part of this internship, and I am endlessly amazed by the wide range of stories which come into the office. The volume of queries is another thing I didn’t quite grasp the enormity of until I was sent an email with several attached at once. It has been so exciting to read some of these stories, and even if they don’t make the cut it is an honor to read something that has been worked on lovingly by someone.

Something I’ve learned, which pertains less to books and more to what it’s like working in an office, is that baked goods don’t last a long time in the kitchen here. I’ve been able to try out a few new recipes (like today’s White Chocolate Pumpkin Snickerdoodles) on everyone, and am happy to say I never need to cart leftovers home on the train!

3 Responses to A couple guest posts by our interns on what they’ve learned so far

  1. Lynn says:

    Amy, it’s great to know there are interns like yourself who understand and appreciate the work that a writer has put into their manuscript and query. When you say that it’s “…an honor to read something that has been worked on lovingly by someone.” I feel you comprehend and respect the time and effort involved. Stay that way and I think you’ll go very far in the publishing field. I truly hope so!

    Francis, I was a little disconcerted by your post and I’ve hesitated responding to it. When you say that your attention drifts from the “n’th slush sample” so you can listen to people’s phone conversations or glance at a colleague’s monitor, I think it does a disservice to writers. What you hold in your hand or read on a screen is someone’s dream. The number of hours, months, and years that have gone into those words were chosen with care. All a writer can hope for in return is that their query/manuscript falls into the hands of someone who realizes and respects that endeavor.

    (As I have stated, I’ve hesitated commenting here and I don’t mean to be harsh, but I felt it was necessary to say. All the best to both of you.)

    • sharon says:

      Hi Lynn,
      Thanks so much, as always, for the thoughtful feedback!

      Part of our responsibility as agents is finding authors we’re excited to work with, yes, so we don’t take it lightly that authors are entrusting us with the fruits of their hard work. The slush pile is important to everyone in this agency – in fact, at this semester’s intern lunch we spent a good deal of time talking about our favorite projects that came via the slush pile! But that’s also just the first tiny step in making an author’s dream come true. We have to make sure we’re doing a skilled and conscientious job of representing our authors, which includes the kind of stuff that Francis was referring to: editorial guidance, marketing support, communication communication communication.

      And it’s important to us to offer these examples to our interns they prepare for their own careers in publishing, whether they go on to be DGLM agents themselves (like Michael and Jim, who both got their start as slush-pile reading interns here), to be editors who buy from us, sales reps who sell our clients’ books, or publicists who run our clients’ marketing campaigns. So when Francis and his colleagues look up from their reading, maybe their attention wavers from the dream they have in front of them in that moment, but they’re picking up the skills they’ll need to make another dream come true down the road. Does that make you feel any better about the experiences shared in this post?

      -Sharon

      • Lynn says:

        Sharon, thank you for taking the time to comment. I do realize an agent’s job consist of much, much more than the slush pile and I know, from the countless number of queries an agency receives, the gems found there are few and far between. I suppose our job is to make our ms so compelling that once an agent or intern begins to read, nothing distracts them from the story at hand. (Back to the grind and thanks again.)

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