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