Thursday, April 30, 2015

Erika Chase's Favorite Reading Spot

Like the saying goes, if you want the best seat in  the house, remove the cat. Keesha shares my feelings that this is a comfort chair, one where you can sink down and in, relax and spend some time. Of course, nothing's better than sharing that time with a cat and a book. Always good to have a TBR pile!

--Erika Chase

Erika Chase writes the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. The fifth in the series, LAW AND AUTHOR, is due out Sept. 1, 2015, and finds the book club members helping one of their own whose granddaughter is accused of murder. How did reading mysteries turn into solving them!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Author Branding through Pinterest

Authors, like all other business owners, are constantly looking for new ways to use social media, find readers and, eventually, sell books.

I was recently reading a Fast Company article in which they discussed branding through Pinterest and it made me think of authors and some of the things you could be doing to build your brand through a social networking site like Pinterest.

A number of my own clients have helped expand their brand not by talking about their books, but by talking about the things their books have that make them stand out. A group of mystery writers, for example, got together and formed the Mystery Lovers' Kitchen blog where they share recipes and cooking tips. Another group of mystery writers formed The Nose for Trouble Facebook group for fans of pet related mysteries. Both of these are unique ways to take your book's hook and sell the book based on interests your readers might have, beyond the book's genre.

I'm on Pinterest primarily as a way to store all of the great things I see online. My latest pins have been motivational sayings, logo designs and shoes, because everyone loves shoes. If you're an active Pinner is there something you could do with your pins to help build a brand for yourself? What about design tips from your interior designing character? Food tips from the chef in your book or a wedding board from the character who dreams of some day finding Mr. Right? 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that when building a brand on social media the trick is to find a way to go viral. I don't think you're going to do that simply by talking about your book. You might however go viral by creating something that links to your book and help potential readers find you in a completely different way.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Saying No to Exclusives

Years ago, I mean back when I was a baby agent, I sat on a conference panel with about three other agents. During the panel the question of exclusives came up. Since this has always been a (odd) passion of mine I spoke up to say how wrong I felt exclusives were. Another agent disagreed.

She spoke up and said that she always asked for an exclusive. Her reasoning was that it was a waste of time not to because if a "bigger" agent offered, writers were going to go with the bigger agent and she wasted her time. First, I was shocked that she didn't believe in herself enough to think authors would benefit from being with her and second, I was shocked that she actually justified locking authors in without any options.

So we argued. And it wasn't pretty, but I bet it was fun for the conference attendees.

Agents still ask for exclusives and authors still need to respond to that. My advice on saying no to an exclusive is you kind of don't.

When an agent asks for an exclusive I would still send the material and simply say in my letter, "I'm afraid I can't offer an exclusive since I have queries/requested material out elsewhere. However, I will gladly keep you informed should another agent come forward with an offer."

Simple and straightforward and my guess is that the agent will read your material anyway.


Monday, April 27, 2015

How Exclusives Harm Authors

Last week I wrote a blog post about exclusives and I received a lot of great comments and questions. Rather than answer in the comments I decided to use the opportunity to write another blog post, or a few blog posts. That way anyone with the same questions can see the answers and I have filled yet another day (or days) on the blog :)

For those who might not know, an exclusive is when an agent asks for you to submit material exclusively to her. That means you stop querying other agents and if you do get a request on a query that is already out you must wait to either hear from the agent with the exclusive before sending to other agents, or wait until the exclusive time period is up.

Why is this a problem?

1. We all know how long agents can take with submissions. It's not because they want to take forever, it's because other things come up. Contracts must be negotiated or reviewed, an author's manuscript needs to be read or edited, or lunches with editors must be lunched. All of these things mean the submission pile grows and before long said agent (ahem) looks at her list and realizes she has requested material from as far back as February 1 (sorry about that).

2. Giving an exclusive, even with a strict time period, means that you've already committed to this agent. You've said, "yes I want you to read my work and if you like it and offer representation I'll sign with you because I have no other options." This is the part about exclusives that tweaks me the most.

When you commit to an agent you are hiring someone to work with you. Repeat this: YOU are HIRING someone to work WITH you. Would you ever agree to have a landscaping company give you a quote only if you give them an exclusive on that? Meaning you can't ask any other landscaping company to give you a quote. I hope not. And that's just to have someone cut your lawn.

By offering an exclusive you are giving someone the opportunity to manage your career, your dream career, without the chance to interview the right person for the job. And that's a big mistake.

One more analogy. You're a business owner. You have a vision for your business and you need to bring on a partner to help make things happen. You find about 10 people you'd like to interview for the job, but one of them tells you she wants an exclusive interview, which means that you eliminate the other 9 people without even having the chance to talk to them.

Would you do it? Because I've just described exactly what an exclusive is.

Later this week I'll discuss how to handle an offer in more detail. As for Exclusives:

Just Don't Do It.


Friday, April 24, 2015

Why You Should Resist Giving Agents Exclusives

I can't even begin to think about the number of times I've written on this subject. One search of exclusives on the blog will probably bring up a ton of posts. And yet, I still get emails like this:

I'm sorry for bothering you, but I wanted to check in with you on the status of my romance novel, SECOND CHANCES. I first submitted the book eight weeks ago and I'd like to know if I should continue to wait or start querying other agents. Thanks again for this opportunity. 


Why, oh why are you waiting for me to respond before querying? I never, ever, ever asked for an exclusive and I don't think I've ever asked for an exclusive. There are very few agents who will ask for an exclusive these days and if they do, ignore it and send your queries out anyway.

Your search for an agent is about finding the best partner for your career. Waiting months for a response from one person at a time is never going to help you kick that career off the ground. So query and submit widely, talk to as many agents as possible and choose the one who is the absolute best fit for your work.


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Query Critique: Fade to the Edge

I agree that the material in this email can be posted and critiqued on the BookEnds Literary Agency blog. I give permission for it to be archived for the life of the blog. 

Dear Query Queen:
Tracy Allen wakes to find DJ, her seven-year-old son, missing. With a custody hearing just days away, this could be her soon-to-be ex’s way of show how unfit a mother she really is.**this sentence feels awkward to me. Would it be cleaner to say her soon-be-be ex's way of showing that she is an unfit mother? An awkward sentence like this can completely ruin it for the reader. My thought is that if the first sentence is this awkward, what does the manuscript look like? Another concern: if the ex took the kid wouldn't he be the one who would look bad? I'm unclear about how this works which is a red flag for the plotting. But when the police locate DJ’s suitcase and the clothing inside covered with blood**this also feels awkward. I get what you're trying to say, but it doesn't read clearly, she knows this is more than a mere “get even” scheme. And once Tracy realizes she’s the mains**yet another typo suspect, she is determined to locate DJ, whatever it takes. But how can you save the one person who relies on you most when those closest to you are the ones you should trust the least?**I think this is generally a good hook overall, although nothing special, but I guess I haven't seen in the previous paragraphs who is closest to her that she trusts the least. If you're going to make a statement like this at any time you need to make sure you show it before making the statement.

I am writing in the hope you will be interested in reading my completed suspense book, Fade to the Edge. It is approximately 73,000 words in length.  

My current releases are as follows: 
  1. My award winning inspirational romantic suspense, Breathless (first place Royal Palm Literary Award), and it sequels, Catch Your Breath (Third Place in the Heart of Excellence Contest), both published with Pelican Book Group in 2012; Also the third in the series One Last Breath, self-published December 2014;
  2. Suspense short The Visitor, self-published September 2014;
  3. Game of Hearts, a humorous novella published with Astraea Press, released in March 2012;
  4. A humorous mystery, Knight & Day published by Write Words, Inc. in 2013; and
  5. Beautiful Imperfection, inspirational romantic suspense, was published through Pelican Book Group on September 29, 2013. It was also the winner of Best Inspirational Cover for 2013 in the “Show Me Your Covers Contest.”  
I was the President of Florida Sisters in Crime from January 2010 – December 2011, and am currently the Public Relations Director for Ancient City Romance Authors. I am co-chairing the September 2015 Ancient City Romance Conference. I have spoken at several writers’ events including the 2014 Florida Writers Association Conference.

I am also a Florida Certified Paralegal and work for an estate planning attorney in Jacksonville, Florida.  

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to hearing from you.  

Sincerely yours,

Writing Clean Fiction with an Edge!

I'm always intrigued by missing child suspense novels. I'm afraid though that I probably would not request this. Setting aside the problem with the awkward sentences and errors, this just didn't feel special to me. A boy is missing and his bloody suitcase is found. That doesn't make the book stand out for me. What makes this book special? What makes it different from any other book about a mom trying to find her child?

Does the case link to an old case from her childhood? Is there a clue left behind that links to a past she's been running from? Is her ex a big muckity-muck in town and not really the boy's father? In other words...what's your hook?

The biggest mistake this makes is that it's bland. It's a common mistake, but one that equals rejection.

As for other parts of the query. I'm fine with your list of current releases, but I do feel like they are lacking information. I'm not sure they need to be a bulleted list as much as a paragraph with the publisher's name in parenthesis after.

your final paragraph about yourself is fine. You can probably skip the sentence about being a paralegal. It just isn't necessary.

I hope this helps. By focusing more on your hook I thin you'd have a strong query. If you have focused on your hook you might want to go back and rework the book itself to make it bigger.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Shout-Out to Beth Campbell

It's administrative assistant week and I want to take a moment to send a shout-out to Beth Campbell. Not only is Beth the assistant for the entire BookEnds team, but she is also actively building her own list and has had some wonderful successes. In fact, just this month we celebrated three sales for Beth.

I'm not going overboard on Administrative Assistant Day for Beth. She can blame my old boss for this. I was "raised" in publishing to believe that I wasn't an assistant to be honored on this day. I was a fledgling editor who was learning my trade and growing in my profession. Instead of handing over flowers on Administrative Assistant Day, my boss celebrated my successes as an editor any time I had them.

So while I want Beth to know how much I appreciate all the work she does as an assistant, I want to use this day/week to let all of you know what a great new agent Beth is becoming. She's actively building a list in urban fantasy, science fiction, YA, suspense, romantic suspense and mystery and if you're writing in her areas of expertise I think you'd be a smart writer and query her. And fast, before she's too busy to add anyone else.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

I Might Be Getting Soft in My Old Age

I've been thinking about writing this post for a few weeks and was finally pushed into it when this comment was left on a six-year-old blog post:

Gourgandise said...
I understand that agents are swamped by queries but really, if I knew that my future agent was getting annoyed by tiny little things like an e-mail attachment or the "it's not addressed to me personally", sorry but red flag, this agent 1)has an ego that I won't be able to deal with 2) sounds rather lazy and opted for comfort a long time ago. So I'll be glad to be sent to the recycling bin actually, nobody will have wasted the time of the other. If I have to go on a business adventure with somebody I might as well pick a lovely person. I'm sorry, you might be lovely in real life, but you sure don't sound like it in this post. (Before somebody says anything, English is not my first language and I don't write in English. I was just passing by, checking what happens on the other side of the fence.)

The power of the blog. Where a post never goes away and you'll be skewered for something you wrote when you were, frankly, a different person.

This particular comment was left on the post I Stop Reading When.

As I'm reading queries these days I'm sort of amazed at how much I'll forgive. Am I getting soft? Am I getting old? or do I just care less about the minute details of life? I'm not sure there's a precise answer, but I am sure that I've become far more forgiving when it comes to queries.

These days I reply to almost everything. I reply to queries that you send to the wrong address, I reply to queries that are addressed to me, Kim, Jessica, Beth and every other agent and even their mothers. I reply when there are clear typos and I even reply when it's not really a query at all, but something that simply says, "read my book." I've established a system that makes it a lot easier for me to reply to all of these things and sometimes it's just as easy to hit delete.

Of course, just because I'm getting soft doesn't mean everyone else (or anyone else) is. I'm pretty sure The Shark will never soften on us and that's ok, a good thing even. We all need to be held to higher standards and pushed to be the best we can be. Query and submission guidelines should be part of that push.

You should also know that while I'm getting soft and answering all of you rule breakers, it doesn't mean you're getting the answer you want. Most of them are rejections.


Monday, April 20, 2015

The Perfect Agent by Colin Smith

I asked permission to repost this from the comments on my Your Dream Agent post. I thought it was so much fun that everyone should have a chance to read it.

Thank you for sharing!

The Perfect Agent

Wanted an agent for one adorable writer! :)

If you want this choice position
Have a cheery disposition
Fair critiques, no snark!
Play nice, don't bark.

You must be kind, and it helps to be witty
Tell me I'm great when I'm feeling s**ty
Read my novel, say it rocks
Say it's rad and it knocks off socks

Never be quiet too long
Never say I'm right when I am wrong
Love my writing more than I do
And never lie so I won't fire you

If you are diligent with submissions
I will never fail to send revisions
I can send you chocolates to make you smile
You can send me checks every once in a while

Hurry agent!
I say with

Writer, Colin Smith. :)

For those who don't get the reference.:

Friday, April 17, 2015

Celebrating Jenn McKinlay & Sofie Kelly

It's Friday and we're ending the week by celebrating two hardworking and well-deserving authors.

Congratulations Jenn McKinlay and Sofie Kelly for their appearance on this week's New York Times  bestseller list!

Sk Öl


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Reading for Pleasure

I hate that term. It implies that the reading I do for work, reading my client's work, is not pleasurable, which is not the case. If reading my client's work wasn't pleasurable they never would have become my clients in the first place. That being said, Reading for Pleasure, is what I do when I don't have to think about the book at all. I'm never going to have to edit it, think about what an editor might say, or worry about reviewers. I can just mindlessly read.

Having just returned from Spring Break, I was thrilled at how much Pleasure Reading I got in. I mean thrilled. I'm constantly asked if I still enjoy reading for pleasure and the answer is always a resounding yes. It's so rare I have the time to just sit and read that I appreciate every moment I get when I get it.

During this trip I read 4.5 books (my iPad died during the 5th so I'm working to get that one finished too). 

Here's a taste of my Spring Break, in the order it all happened.

This book isn't yet published and was passed on by a colleague. I was surprised and thrilled that she thought of me and couldn't wait to get to it. It's always fun when someone just sends you something because they think you'll enjoy it. I think fans of Gone Girl will really like this psychological suspense.

This is a book I picked up at BEA last year. Yes, I'm very slow to get to my books. This is a suspense set in Ireland with all the elements I love in a good mystery/suspense, a dark and damaged hero/cop protagonist, a grizzly murder and strong female characters. I've never read Stuart Neville before, but I would again.

Another book I first discovered at BEA, but since I didn't get the galley for it I bought it for my Nook. This one is YA, but a mystery/suspense YA. It had a great plot: Girl lost in the wilderness with murderer/kidnapper. Who wouldn't love that kind of story?

The Fifth Wave was a huge hit in our office. I think we all read it in a day and couldn't wait for #2. As far as I was concerned Rick Yancey delivered again. My only suggestion is that if you haven't yet started this series wait until they are all out. I found this book difficult to follow since I waited a year between books.

A great recommendation from Shelley Coriell. I'm not sure if this is officially categorized as YA or adult, but I think it could go either way. This is the book I haven't yet finished, but am planning to do so asap. I'm really enjoying it. It's the kind of book that keeps you on the edge of the seat.

It's rare that I'm ever going to be able to share a list this big again, but I will try to keep you updated on my reading more frequently.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tax Day

Is there such a thing as Happy Tax Day?

My taxes are done and I'm happy about that. I'm never happy about taxes, but I'm always happy they're done. I know however that a lot of you are scrambling today to finish up those taxes. How do I know? Because I can guarantee we're going to receive a number of panicked and angry phone calls from people who didn't receive a 1099. You know, the tax paperwork we sent out mid-January.

Today is a good day to remind all authors to update your agent with any name change, change of address or other change you might have made with the IRS well before April 15. Even if you haven't heard from your agent in years, if you still have a book that's actively selling, you need to keep her updated with your address. You never know when a royalty check might one in or a contract amendment might show up.

I hope your tax day is fruitful or, at the very least, not painful.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Errors are What Create Perfection

None of us is perfect. We hear this all the time and of course it's true. I make mistakes on a regular basis. Some of them are small, like adding orange juice instead of milk to my coffee. Some of them very public, like writing a blog post that was rightly misinterpreted. Some of them are simple to fix like turning my shirt right side out, some of them not so simple like applying the wrong paint to my walls.

In the end though, imperfections are what make the world perfect. If we were all perfect life would be boring and we would be boring and, frankly, I don't think anyone expects us to be perfect, anyone but us of course.

The same goes for your book and your submission. Every submission I've ever read and every book I've ever read has errors. There are typos, printers errors, grammar mistakes or even the occasional page that was put in upside down. It happens. Shit happens. Let it go.

When you're submitting your work, or once your work has gone through all the various editing rounds at a publisher, it's time to let it go. You've gone through it with a fine-tooth comb. Your beta readers, critique group, editors and agents have all gone through it. And you know what? There are still going to be mistakes. It's only the rare reader who will call those mistakes out. You know, the one who thinks she's perfect. Don't worry about her.

Embrace your faults and move on to write a better book. Because, shit happens.


Friday, April 10, 2015

Lorrie Thomson's Cozy Reading Corner (or her husband's)

During the summer, my husband, Bill, loves to read while floating in our pool, but I’ve always been too worried. What if a precious page gets wet? Worse, what if the entire book slips from my hands? I think I’ve found a solution!

Nearing the end of What’s Left Behind, Abby Stone journeys through swamplands and darkness to Seawall Beach, a pristine stretch of Maine coast with glowing white sands and raging surf, and a virtual hill she’s yet to summit. There, she dares to finally let loose and face her greatest fear.

Nothing’s cozier than reading that scene while relaxing on Maine’s Seawall Beach in July. (Pictured: author’s husband, Bill.)

--Lorrie Thomson
Learn more about Lorrie on her Website. Connect with Lorrie on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Reading Edits without Making it Personal

Looking back on my younger self I would say one of my most cringe-worthy character flaws was my struggle inability to admit I was wrong. I'd like to think this isn't uncommon in the young, that part of growing up is learning that its okay to be wrong, but I also suspect I had a pretty bad case of "the rights."

I find sometimes that the biggest struggle authors (some not all) have with revisions isn't that they necessarily disagree with the editor, but that revisions somehow make them feel like they were wrong or somehow failed.

There's never an easy answer to how to handle feelings or insecurities. Let's face it, when you're feeling anxious someone telling you to not worry makes you want to beat her, it doesn't make you calmer.

My best advice in a situation like this is always to try to step back and evaluate what you're feeling and why you're resistant to something. It's also to remember what I'm telling you. Revisions are never, ever, ever about you. No editor, or agent, reads revisions and thinks of the author. What they think about is the book, the characters and the market.

When editing I'm usually so wrapped up in the book and what can be done to take it from shiny to glowing that I rarely think of the author's feelings (still a character flaw of mine). I just want to make this the absolute best book I've ever read and it is my job to help you make that happen. Key word, "help."


Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Your Dream Agent

In almost every interview I do I'm asked what my dream client is like. I'm sure I've answered this different throughout the years, but ultimately I think my dream client is someone who knows that writing can be a hobby, but publishing is a business and is willing to take on the challenge of being a business partner with me.

Oh, and there are a lot of other things to:

1. A good communicator, someone who is willing to tell me about her concerns before they become major problems.

2. Someone who is open to revisions, edits and guidance, but not necessarily willing to just do something because someone suggests it.

And while I think it's interesting to read about an agent's dream client, I think what's far more important is what is your dream agent? Before heading out to search for agents and meet with agents I think authors need to have their own list.

Do you want someone who is good at hand holding in those times when you might need your hand held?

Do you need someone who is willing to work with you and do edits?

Are you looking for someone who might also be a friend?

Do you see your agent as a business partner or a worker?

There are a ton of agents out there and there is definitely someone for you, but I think knowing what you're looking for in an agent is helpful when the time comes and you actually have a choice.

So I'm curious. What are you looking for?


Tuesday, April 07, 2015

The Rise and Fall of a Partnership

In my post about Co-Authoring Agreements I had briefly mentioned that when starting BookEnds, Jacky Sach and I had a business plan and a Partnership Agreement. One reader asked the following question:
If it's not too personal/painful I think it would be fascinating to read a blogpost about how Bookends was founded and eventually your original partnership dissolved. I think that's a behind-the-scenes story I've never heard an agent tell before. 

It's not too personal or painful at all and I have written about it in various stages before. In fact, I thought I did an entire blog post when Jacky left, but upon searching maybe I didn't.

Jacky and I met and became friends while working at Berkley Publishing and stayed friends after I left Berkley to pursue a new opportunity at Macmillan, working on The Complete Idiot's Guide series.

At first I loved the freedom I had at Macmillan to come up with new book ideas, search out the perfect authors and execute the project. After awhile however, the job started to feel repetitious and there were a lot of changes happening at Macmillan (sales to other companies, etc) that made me think I wanted something different. For whatever reason, on a subway ride back home, I came up with the idea that I wanted to start my own business, that I could do exactly what I was doing for Macmillan, but on my own. I asked Jacky to join me and she was intrigued. So the two of us jumped in, probably rather impulsively.

BookEnds was officially formed in 1999 (just a few months after that subway ride). We sought business advice from other agents and from various free business advice groups. Originally we started as packagers. Our idea was to create the projects in house and find authors to write the books. We enjoyed what we were doing, but struggled to really find our place or establish our vision. Ultimately, I think that while we knew what we wanted to do, we chose a path we weren't entirely comfortable with. So after a couple of years, and lots of soul-searching, we switched our business model from packaging to a literary agency. And for 10 years we did some truly amazing things together.

Jacky and I worked extremely well together. We were the perfect yin and yang. I'm not saying we never disagreed, because we definitely disagreed and we got mad at each other and we, sort of, argued, but at the base of everything we had built we were friends and it was really important for us to maintain that friendship.

In 2009 Jacky started to pursue some other interests. She went back to school and made the decision that it was time for her to leave BookEnds and do something different. It was sad, but I knew it was the right thing for her and, in some ways, the right thing for me. I had some ideas about growing BookEnds that didn't necessarily align with her vision so it was time for me to stand alone, or with a different team.

After agreeing to and signing all the final paperwork that goes with buying out a business partner, Jacky and I went our separate ways, in business, but not in life. We still remain very good friends, talk regularly, meet for lunch and keep each other updated on our lives.

I couldn't have started BookEnds without Jacky and I wouldn't have wanted to. I think we taught each other a lot about taking risks, slowing down, thinking things through, facing our fears and following our dreams.


Monday, April 06, 2015

Query Critiques by the Query Queen

I debated doing this. It's a lot of work and I wasn't sure I really wanted to jump into the critique pool. But I'm running out of things to talk about and I have received requests.

So here goes. I'm offering to critique query letters. I will do so on this blog so if you're submitting be prepared for some brutal critique. I will be honest and I will be brutally honest and I can not promise how other readers will respond (although usually they are kind).

Here are the guidelines:

1. Address query to the Query Queen (not to be confused with the Shark)

2. Send only those queries you would send to agents when actually querying editors. 
No rough drafts allowed. 

3. Review the query guidelines on our website so you know exactly what your query should contain. 

4. The email subject should say, "Query Critique"

5. Include this phrase at the top of your letter, "I agree that the material in this email can be posted and critiqued on the BookEnds Literary Agency blog. I give permission for it to be archived for the life of the blog."

6. Submitting your query is no guarantee it will be used and I will not notify you if I do decide to use it. I would suggest you subscribe to the blog if you want to ensure you don't miss your critique.

7. Subscribe to the blog anyway. A critique on your query will be beneficial, but we learn more from reading what is said about other queries, and critiquing them ourselves, then we ever will from our own.

8. Query critiques can be sent to

Good luck!


Friday, April 03, 2015

A Mid-Afternoon Boost

Do you get that afternoon slump? Around 3:00 my energy just wanes. Sometimes I'm hungry, sometimes I'm thirsty, but mostly I'm just tired.

I'm always looking for ways to get out of that slump and recently I've come across Bulletproof Coffee. Have you tried this? I haven't yet, but you can be sure I'm going to.

Bulletproof Coffee (courtesy of the Pioneer Woman)

  • 12 ounces, hot, strong coffee (I make mine in the aeropress)
  • 1 Tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 Tablespoon cold, unsalted butter 

Now here's the part that makes it extra delicious and something I've never heard before. Add all the ingredients to a blender and mix it up until it's rich and creamy.

What do you do for your slump (if you get one)? 


Thursday, April 02, 2015

Let's Talk About Interns

Lately I've been obsessed with the Simon and Schuster Internship Lawsuit. The whole thing really bums me out.

For those who don't know about these suits (S&S is the most recent in a long line), I'll attempt a very quick recap. For the past few years a number of media and entertainment companies have faced lawsuits for unfair labor practices for interns who were paid less than minimum wage. Basically, they worked for free and the work they were doing was not necessarily a learning experience, but work that should have been done by people hired at minimum wage. Work like filing, faxing, and photocopying.

Let me start by saying that I get the reason for these suits. It's important that we don't allow businesses and companies to use the term "intern" as a guise for free labor. The problem is what defines a learning experience and what did the interns get out of the job in the long run. I'm not entirely sure that's easy to answer, just like I don't think you can say that every college grad finished with a learning experience. Everyone might have finished with a diploma, but while some feel like they are prepared for the business world, others might feel they are really only prepared to tap the perfect keg.

I came out of a long line of internships and credit each with teaching me different things and helping me on my road to figuring out what it was I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. I don't remember ever being paid for an internship and I do know that the work I was doing was, in retrospect, free labor. But labor that added immensely to my resume and to giving me contacts that I still have to this day. Labor that also helped me develop a sense of what working in a professional environment required, how to make and maintain important connections and, yes, how to file.

In a perfect world every company hiring interns would pay them, but in a perfect world every company hiring interns would have the money to pay them. The truth is that if many smaller companies (and I'm not necessarily addressing those impacted by the suits) had the money to hire interns they would probably hire more staff instead, leaving students looking to amp up their resume for a summer out in the cold.

BookEnds has hired more than one of our former interns, we've helped others find jobs and proudly watched them build their own careers. We've stayed in touch with many. And, sadly, now we need to seriously reconsider our internship program. While we do think of it as a learning experience, and try to make it one, what we've learned the most is that some of our interns will do everything in their power to learn and others won't. It's as simple as that.

I've loved having interns and I loved being an intern, but lawsuits like this make me and many other small business owners skittish. Especially since its still unclear what defines a learning experience.


Wednesday, April 01, 2015