Ten Things I Learned at My Penguin Books Internship

Grace Fisher

Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

by Grace Fisher ’15

After applying multiple times to Penguin Random House for the summer of 2013 and having no success, I was ecstatic when I was given the opportunity to be an editorial intern for the Penguin division this past summer. During my 10 weeks at their office in lower Manhattan, I learned more about the publishing world and the corporate world in general than I ever thought possible. Here are just a few examples:

1. Everyone admires persistence and perseverance. I’ll admit I was a little embarrassed to be applying to Penguin after interviewing with the company three times the year before and never receiving an offer. The fact that I came back, though, was part of why I was hired the second time around. I also had studied abroad and had more experience under my belt.

2. Reading extremely fast is arguably the most needed skill in book publishing. In Monday editorial meetings, editors would talk about the three potential books they read over the weekend. During my 10 weeks there, I read and reported on 20 manuscripts. I wasn’t a particularly fast reader when I started, but I definitely became one, simply to keep up.

3. Battles to acquire a book can become vicious. I watched my usually very composed boss lose her cool when she lost a manuscript she loved to another major publishing house. They’re certainly passionate about their literature.

4. Almost everyone who works there thought they would be going into editorial. Once they realized that no matter where you work in the company you still get to read great books, they let themselves branch into areas like marketing and sales.

5. Choosing the cover for a book can often be the hardest part of the entire publishing process. Not only do the art directors create up to 60 different options, it is often the biggest point of contention between an author and their editors.

6. There are many, many people who think they have written a bestseller, and because of that, the editors at Penguin have to be pretty harsh. I worked for two different imprints: a new and fairly small one which specialized in fun, beach reads, and a much older and more established one that published primarily history and nonfiction. The smaller imprint thoroughly read everything that it received and wrote personalized rejection letters to everyone, in order to maintain good relationships for the future. The older imprint immediately rejected anyone who didn’t have an agent, without even looking at their submission.

7. Being a 21-year-old who is in tune with social media is actually a great thing. My supervisors valued my insight into the most productive ways to approach Facebook, and they gave me full control of the company’s Twitter and Instagram accounts. Knowing how to use those social-media outlets well is an impressive tool.

8. Becoming friendly with your coworkers (mine were mostly editorial assistants), especially the ones in the surrounding cubicles, is imperative. They are the ones who will show you the ropes, at times even more so than your supervisor. And leaving a great impression with everyone at the office, not just the people you report to, is a great way to help secure a job in the future.

9. Not only did I learn the fundamentals of book publishing, but I also learned the basic structure of corporate offices. I learned who gets a cubicle and who gets an office with a view. I learned that bringing coffee to a meeting is acceptable and encouraged, but bringing food is not. I feel as though I can enter any office environment and know the gist of how it functions.

10. I learned that book publishing is not necessarily my postgraduate path. I found myself craving a more fast-paced environment, and it was frustrating to see my supervisors struggle to get promoted, despite their years of experience and fantastic book projects. I’m still so happy to have done this internship, though, so that I could discover that about myself, as well as network with some incredible people, and of course, get my hands on some amazing books.

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Published November 11, 2014