Wednesday, June 02, 2010

How the Intern Reads Your Proposal

Hi everybody! I’m the intern, Lauren. I’ve been working for Jessica, Kim, and their assistant, Katelynn, for about four months now. I do administrative tasks in exchange for being allowed to hang out with real publishing people. I don’t get paid—in dollars, anyway. I get paid in experience. As my internship comes to a close, it’s a nice wrap-up to guest-blog for Jessica!


How the Intern Reads your Proposal

When I started interning, I was so excited to read actual proposals from real writers. I mean, now I was really in the business. Sort of. But I couldn’t help but wonder what those authors would think if they knew the first person to read their “baby” was an intern with no college degree (yet). Would they be angry? Disappointed? Probably.

The thing is, after writing forty reader reports these past few months, and receiving feedback on those reports from Jessica and Kim, I realize that the situation is different than I thought it was. First, the intern isn’t a person who knows nothing of literature. She applied for this unpaid position because she loves books and is probably three or even four years into her English degree. No person in her right mind would happily rearrange an agent’s bookshelves and do her filing for free unless she was in love with the publishing business.

I’ve come to know that authors are actually at a bit of an advantage if the intern reads their proposal first. You see, most successful literary agents have been in the business for quite some time. They’ve seen heaps of ideas and pages upon pages of writing from all types of authors. They continue to receive a slew of queries and proposals daily. Their goal, when reading proposals, is to find a good reason to reject, because they know, from all that experience, that the gems in the pile are few and far between.

But the intern is new in the business. All she knows of publishing is that glittery afterglow. Think J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyers. Stephen King. The intern, to align her own experience with her starry-eyed preconceived notions, desperately wants each proposal to be the next big thing. And she wants to be the first to have read it. This rarely happens, as I’m rapidly learning.

The intern also reads the slush pile—the notorious pile of unsolicited queries and proposals. All that reading makes it impossible for the intern to read for pleasure (who has time?), so she sees a great deal of writing that is inadequate and sub-par. When something even marginally resembles the work of a professional author, she’s going to sing its praises. Her face is going to light up with glee. It’s the best she’s seen in a long time!

When the agent gets around to reading the proposal the intern liked so much, she can’t help but read it with the intern’s thoughts—the intern’s selling points—in the back of her mind. So, if your work has anything good about it—anything at all—the intern, whether she’s aware of it or not—is actually shopping it to the agent.

So fear not, fellow slush-pile dwellers! You’re in good, optimistic hands.

Lauren is a senior at Pace University, where she is working on an English degree. The BookEnds internship is the second one she has completed. She began her first internship at Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone/Fireside imprint in the spring of 2009 and, in September 2010, will be starting her third internship at Hannacroix Creek Books. Lauren has been the editor-in-chief of a student literary magazine, news and features editor of her school newspaper. She volunteers as a freelance editor. She blogs at www.slushpiletales.blogspot.com.

51 comments:

Josin L. McQuein said...

It amazes me when people get huffy over the "revelation" that interns read slush for agents. They act like they're getting some kind of brush-off. To me, it only makes sense.

In most situations, there's a screening process so the higher-ups don't have to deal with people who aren't serious or equipped to handle a job. You don't interview with the boss first, you go through HR. You don't get to sing for a record producer on Day 1, you audition for people further down the line. Why shouldn't agents have someone to help them streamline their reading lists, too?

Miel Abeille said...

Lauren,

Thank you for the bird's eye view of the publishing world!

Best of luck in your career!

wry wryter said...

Lauren,

Both of my daughters have interned,(not in your field) during their college careers. They found their experiences fulfilling,(no comments regarding slave labor here) and very valuable on resumes.

Personnally I feel very comfortable knowing that someone like you may have been the first to read my writing...my daughters are often my first readers as well.

I always value what they say.

So, good luck at school, write a killer report regarding these last four months and now...do your laundry and clean your room.

Kimber An said...

Thank you, Lauren!

Since my Queryland novel is Young Adult, I consider interns reading it first to be a huge advantage because they're still close to the target audience. My request for pages record on this novel so far seems to support that theory.

Too bad BookEnds isn't accepting YA. Oh, well, they still got an educational blog and I never miss reading a day of it.

Laurel said...

Thanks for the insight, Lauren. Good points. Good luck in your career pursuits!

Fawn Neun said...

We have college students as intern readers at The Battered Suitcase - I LOVE you guys!

And yes - interns are more open and optimistic than someone who's been reading slush for ages.

Good luck!

Caitie said...

Great post Lauren! I just finished an internship at a literary agency (so sad it is over!) and agree with you 100%. There were many things that I absolutely loved and convinced the people I was working for to request a partial or a full. They even said it was sometimes something they wouldn't have requested, but ended up really liking.

Interns (and assistants) are GREAT for writers. Agents really look for a reason to reject, interns are searching for the great idea and, I know that a lot of the times, looking for a reason to say yes. I loved getting to read a partial, or even a full.

I hope you loved your internship even half as much as I loved mine!

JoAnn said...

Thank you, Lauren. That was very enlightening. Best wishes on your career.

Buffy Andrews said...

Enjoyed your post, Lauren. So insightful and honest. Don't ever give up on your goals. It's obvious you are passionate about what you are doing. Learn all you can. You're getting great experience that you simply can't put a price tag on. So you go girl! Keep reading and maybe, just maybe, you'll find the gem you are looking for. And, well, if you don't, you've learned and had a hell of a time along the way. (Smiles) Blessings, Buffy

Anonymous said...

Lauren, thanks so much for the "insider's" scoop! You sound so optomistic and energetic, you'll make a wonderful agent or editor someday if you so choose.

Oh, and BTW. LOVE the hat! I have one just like it. ;-) You wear it well.

Thanks again!

P.S. for Kimber An 8:42~

Book Ends does take YA now. Kim will be the one to sub to, once she starts taking queries again. Good luck!

Nancy Naigle said...

Best wishes Lauren.

Nancy Naigle
Love stories from the crossroad of small town and suspense.
www.NancyNaigle.com

Kate Douglas said...

What a great post, Lauren--though the image of you rearranging Jessica's bookshelves is almost painful...I love the idea of someone with your attitude and enthusiasm reading from the slush pile. Best of luck to you in school and beyond--one of these days I expect to see you taking pitches at conferences!

Sangu said...

That was a great post, Lauren! I've never understood why a writer would get ticked off by an intern reading their queries/proposals first (surely a reader is a reader, whether or not he/she has had years of experience in the business), and I'm so glad you pointed out all the advantages of an intern getting to a writer's work first!

Amy said...

Thanks for reminding me how much I miss our intern. I work for a non-profit, so the board doesn't actually budget us in help. So there is nothing better than having a little free help, even if it's only for a semester.
As I'm sure everyone in your office told you, iterns are invaluable (at least to cheap office, lol).
I really need to call that Liaison and see about getting setup for another one. :)
Good Luck!

Connie said...

Thanks for the post, Lauren! It's great to know that someone's rooting for us.

Donna Cummings said...

I really enjoyed this. It's always wonderful to hear from people who love the industry, and your enthusiasm really shines through. I hope you find lots of bestsellers in your future endeavors. :)

Kristi said...

Just wanted to say how much I loved reading this...I'm off to visit Lauren's blog now! Great insight!

Redleg said...

Good luck. You should have some INCREDIBLE proposals coming your way yesterday around midnight.

April said...

Thanks for the fresh perspective! You've given me a little bit of hope that maybe my query will catch the eyes of an optimistic intern like you! :)

Kristin Laughtin said...

Love this post, because I don't think anyone can argue with it. You make a really good point about being still new to the business but loving books anyway, so anything remotely good jumps out to your not-yet-jaded eyes. (And I think I can totally understand that even from things like Nathan Bransford's query-reading contests...I'll read a few and think "Well, this one's alright, I would talk to this author if I were an agent!" only to find out that he wouldn't ask for partials of any of them. I would only do so because I've read far fewer and haven't gotten as discerning yet.)

Marsha Sigman said...

You totally had me with the hat.

Great post!

Joseph L. Selby said...

Thank you, Lauren. That was an incredibly encouraging post.

Francis said...

I was dead sure this was a picture of Sarah Jessica Parker. The resemblance is UNCANNY!

I've always wondered how agents and interns organize their lives... all that reading, it must be exhausting at times.

Lots of cupcakes?

Watery Tart said...

Lauren, I think you've got a FABULOUS point. I also suspect (though this couldn't possibly be true of Jessica) you are less jaded by 'what sells' and more likely to spot 'just a darned good tale' even if it doesn't fall neatly into a box.

Best of luck to you with your next internship and your future!

Stephanie said...

Thanks for sharing! I guess I never really gave any thought to how I feel about an intern reading my material first. I knew that's how it generally worked though. I guess it doesn't bother me. If it's meant to be, my submission will find it's way to the agent!

Allison Knight said...

Lauren,

Good Luck in your chosen career. Years ago, as I worked toward a teaching degree, I had the opportunity to intern (we called it student teaching then) with a great lady who taught me things not in a text book. Nothing like hands-on experience under the guiding hand of an expert.

NatalieCottrell said...

Awesome post! Very encouraging to writers everywhere. Best of luck on your studies and career!

Lisa_Gibson said...

Thanks for the insight. Best of luck on your studies and your career.

Lauren Moriarty said...

Everybody -

Thanks so much for all of your encouragement! This was my favorite internship so far. I think rather than clouding or weathering my enthusiasm, the ladies at Bookends did an excellent job of amping it up!

ps. I'll have to dig that hat out again...

Lauren

Alli said...

I loved this post. It put a whole different spin on this for me. Lauren, good luck in whatever you end up doing!

JENNIFER said...

I am in complete disagreement: I am disappointed. Does that mean that I don't think Lauren is a lovely, competent and literate young woman? No, it doesn't. And yet, it is almost comical, with all the other humiliations writers face, that this is the case. I like to think, after suffering over a manuscript, that the person who is reading and judging it, is bringing to bear the full weight of their professional experience, and is noting those paintstaking details of plot, character construction, and is nodding their head in approval, or disapproval, visibly twitching at its inconsistencies or digressions. When you submit, you are presenting an example of your life's work, hoping that it is recognized for its complexity, wit and style as much as adhering to proper narrative form--only to learn that a college student is judging it? If you were an aspiring Alain Ducasse and you had spent years at a culinary academy, and had even made banquets for esteemed members of the village, only to present your pi├Ęce de resistance to a sous-chef who was still chopping soup greens--wouldn't you sniff just un petit peu with indignation?

If that doesn't actually disappoint you a little, even though it may, alternately, give your work the chance of being screened by a bright young thing, then you are either blithely lying to yourself or are completely inured against any disappointment, and there can be many in this industry. So put on a happy face. That's all you can do.

That said, now that Lauren is leaving who is reading the partials?

Vatche said...

It's cool to know what goes on behind the scenes when a person is trying to publish. Thanks for the cool insight! Write on, Lauren!

P.S. I'm following your blog now! :)

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for your great post Lauren. I found it fascinating to learn more about how the slush pile works. Good luck with your career. It sounds like you've gotten a lot of experience in publishing.

Dell Smith said...

Great post. Nice insider view of the publishing biz.

magolla said...

Wonderful post, Lauren! Good luck in your endeavors!

Anonymous said...

This makes me think that a want to be writer could learn alot from reading the slush pile at an agency for a few months. You see what cuts it and waht doesn't.

When you get your next intern, can you have this person post regularly on your blog about her experience? The last one was pretty interesting.

Greg Wilhelm said...

Hmm. I recently sent in a query to BookEnds. It was my second one ever. At the time, I foolishly believed I knew enough to send one in. However, after my third rejection I decided that I should probably learn a little more about them before I try again. That was a couple of weeks ago and after what I've learned so far, I feel totally embarrassed every time I look at that garbage that I inflicted upon those poor unsuspecting agents. And now I find out that it's possible that my horrible letter may have been seen by an unsuspecting intern! If you're the who had to see my query letter, let me just say how sorry I am that you had to read that ridiculous piece of trash. Hopefully you'll get the chance to see one of my better ones in the future. Once again ... Sorry Lauren.-GW

Greg Wilhelm said...

Uh ... that should read -"If you're the -one- who had to see my query letter,". Sorry. -GW

Megan Frazer said...

I totally related to this post. I was an intern for a film producer in college and always felt a little guilty that I was the one making these decisions. I think you're right, though, that the intern is probably the most receptive audience.

As for my track record, I rejected Pollock, but thought that Basquiat would make an awesome movie.

Janet Johnson said...

I would be very happy if an intern read my stuff. Great explanation and good luck with school and your next interniship. :)

rita said...

Thanks for your views. It is good to know what goes on at in the agency.
Best of luck

KC Frantzen said...

Lauren,

Thank you for a great explanation. That makes complete sense and is an example of God's Grace yet again.

Time is one precious commodity. Agents have good reasons for interns. (This is a business after all.) Win/win for agent and intern, and for writers! We squander a lot of time as we slog up the learning curve, all so we can, one day, truly become authors.

Knowing that we might have an extra chance along the way is encouraging!

Much success to you!

Anonymous said...

I love your attitude and it does help to know! Very best wishes as you go forward! The printed word matters now more than ever, I think.

Cat B

tastesbetterwithfriends said...

Hi Lauren,
you're definitely off to a great start, because you get it! Especially nowadays, everyone starts as an intern, showing they're capable and motivated and able to handle whatever their boss wants of them. I began as an intern with an NHL team and that turned into a full-time job before I hopped over to Vancouver to work for the Olympics.
Best of luck!

Julie Musil said...

Such fun reading about this from the other side of the table. Thanks!

Janet Trumble said...

I had two interns fall in love with my manuscript and pitch it to the agent in charge. Ultimately, said agent passed, but bless those two for loving my characters! It gave me the umph I needed to carry on. Since then I've found an agent and ms. is currently being considered by 5 publishing houses. So exciting!

Nise Tucker said...

This post was amazing!!!!

And Inspiring for me!!! Recently I have started researching the publishing industry. Because I was so unsure of what I wanted to do with myself after highschool I started my college career as a business admin. major.

I had no Idea what I wanted to do in business or if I wanted to do business at all but I figured that it was something I was good at and it would be a comfortable life.

I never even considered that my joy of reading and writing translated into any career at all, until I came across a blog by an inspiring author.

Following her blog led me through the authors journey and then it lead me to the agents, then to much much more.

I have been diligently researching literary agents and publishing houses but today was the first time I'd actually read anything about the intern, and it got me curious. Going to your blog I saw just how I would be able to get into the publishing world and learn even more.

Any way, sorry for rambling and great POST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Arwen Bird said...

Thanks for that account :) How did you get an internship in the first place? I've been trying but no-one has responded to my emails. I've finished my Eng/Am Lit and creative writing degree with a first.. and I have other experience. Why won't anyone get back to me? :(

AEB

Anonymous said...

You can find lots of internships and jobs in publishing at bookjobs.com

Arwen Bird said...

but I'm english - these are all american jobs? Any advice for england?

An Intern Discovered Eminem. said...

Nope. I've never heard someone complain about interns before. It wouldn't make sense because an INTERN is the one who discovered rapper Eminem, not Dr. Dre. Eminem said he left his demo with an intern & the intern went crazy over it and convinced Dr. Dre to listen. I read that in an Eminem interview for Vanity Fair magazine. Also, an ASSITANT is the one who requested TWILIGHT after reading it. And also, Harry Potter was published because of the publisher's 8 year old kid who asked her dad for more of the manuscript. I'm tempted to address my queries to the interns instead of agents because they're much, much nicer people (as you can tell from the attitude in the 1st comment) in general, whether they asks for partials or not.