What Do Editorial Interns Do, Anyway?

The second in a series of posts about being an editorial intern at Knopf/Random House Canada. My aim is to provide publishing tips to emerging writers through an insider's view of the industry.

My third day as an intern at Knopf/Random Canada involved a toast to David Mitchell. My lovely fellow intern, Robin, came to my cubicle to ask me to join her. I soon found myself in the boardroom with a mimosa in hand, face-to-face with a famous, charming, humble, and very handsome author.

Every day wasn’t quite so glamorous. I spent many hours creating an index for a hockey book. There was a database full of praise to maintain daily—glowing quotations culled from reviews—old manuscripts to archive, galleys to bind, umpteen printers’ blues to check, making sure no egregious errors had been introduced into the pages. I hope it doesn’t sound too Pollyanna-ish to say that I loved it all.

The main task of an editorial intern is to read. Knopf/Random Canada doesn’t accept unsolicited submissions, so most of the manuscripts that came in were sent by agents. I did read and respond to a few unsolicited queries that arrived during my tenure. But, although interns attend to the slush pile, I wouldn’t recommend going this route if you’re hoping to publish with a large press. The rumours are true: in most cases, you need to find an agent.

Agented submissions were circulated electronically to the editorial team, including the interns, with a request for volunteers to read and report back on them. Most submissions are read and carefully considered by several people in the office.

Submissions were logged and discussed at editorial meetings. Knopf Canada and Random House of Canada work together as one editorial group. If rejected by a Knopf or Random House editor, you can’t simply approach another: the decision has been made on behalf of the whole team. (Random House imprints, including Doubleday and McClelland and Stewart, have separate editorial teams and should be approached separately.) Again, the benefit of having an agent is that she will have a sense of editors’ tastes and will know whom to pitch.

Matthew Sibiga, Random House of Canada’s busy and charismatic sales director, once advised me: “As an editor, remember that you are always selling something to someone.” He meant that editors must work with the sales and marketing departments in-house to get everyone excited about the book they wish to acquire. I’m repeating his words here because I think it’s also sound advice for writers: we need to be able to champion our own work. I’ll be offering suggestions on how to do this in my next few posts.

And if you’re interested in learning more about how to be a successful intern and land a job in publishing, Kate Icely, my colleague at Knopf/Random Canada, has written this excellent series of posts for the Editors’ Association of Canada.

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