It’s been a hot minute since my last blog post! Although I wish I had a better excuse for not posting in a year (welp), the truth is that life has just been hectic and blogging had to take a backseat between my final year of university, personal writing projects, and other things.
One of those things was the two-week internship with a London literary agency that I was lucky enough to land in January. It was an invaluable experience and, though it was short, I learned so much from my time there. So, I thought I’d share five of the most important things I learned as a publishing intern!
Agents are people too!
It should go without saying, but I think a lot of people have this preconception of agents as scary monsters who only exist to crush your dreams, and that is NOT true. Agents are people too! The agents I worked with were some of the loveliest people I’ve met, but they have a job to do. The fact of the matter is, agents can’t sign everybody; they have to look for any little reason not to take on your manuscript. They might like your manuscript but have just signed something a little too similar. They might like your manuscript but recognise that they’re not the right person for it. Honestly, they just might not like your manuscript. But that doesn’t mean that nobody will, and that’s the most important thing to keep in mind as a writer. One agent might not like your manuscript—but they might pass it on to a co-worker who does. I’ve seen it happen. As the writer, all you can do is keep your chin up and keep trying.
Don’t believe the stereotypes
Following on from my last point, I was TERRIFIED on my first day of the internship. A tutor at my university sat me down before I left and explained to me that the London publishing industry was a far cry from the (Northern, working-class) life I had always known. And in many ways, he was right. But there are definitely a lot of stereotypes about the white, upper-middle-class, we-all-know-each-other-from-our-Oxford-slash-Cambridge-days publishing industry that were completely debunked on my first day at the agency. There were people in the office from all walks of life, all different backgrounds, and all parts of the UK; I even met a girl from my (not very well-known) home city, which was a huge comfort to me. Yes, the UK publishing industry is still very London-centric, and there are still huge steps to be taken. But I found that the agency cared deeply about diversity, and that was reflected in the people I met while interning there.
Publishing covers so much ground
While I was definitely riddled with nerves as I started my internship, I strolled into the office thinking I knew exactly what to expect. After all, I’d listened to podcasts. I’d read blog posts. I spent all of my time on writing Twitter. I knew what to expect from the publishing industry—right? Wrong. As I was introduced to everyone in the office, along with each of their roles, I was shocked to find out just how much ground it covered. Things like writing up contracts and even international rights had never really occurred to me before. And the tasks I was given reflected the variety of responsibilities a literary agency has; reading submissions, yes, but also keeping the website up-to-date, researching book podcasts, finding journalistic work that demanded adaptation… the list could go on forever. After seeing just how much agents actually do, I don’t think I could ever complain about how long it takes to get a query response again.
The importance of comp titles
We’ve all hurriedly picked out two of the books our manuscript was loosely inspired by in time for the next Twitter pitch contest before. But until my internship, it never really sunk in just how important it is to have good comp titles. One of my main jobs at the agency was reading submissions and giving feedback (naturally, I was in my element). The very first thing I was asked by the agents is what books I would compare the submissions to. Likewise, I noticed that all of the full manuscripts they requested had really specific, well-thought-out comp titles. Even in casual office conversation when people were recommending books to each other, it was all “it’s this book meets this book, but as if it was written by this author.” Agents value good comp titles; after all, it shows that you’ve thought about how your book fits into the market. That means reading widely, and honestly, any excuse to read more is never a bad thing.
Kindness pays off
I guess this one applies to more than just publishing, but it’s a value I’ve always held and my internship only renewed its importance to me. I had absolutely zero experience in the industry when I went to London, and I found out that I knew much less about publishing than I thought I did. Naturally, I made mistakes. I got things wrong. I thanked everyone for the experience until they were sick of hearing it. I thought everyone would be glad to see the back of me, until my last day, when they wheeled in a little trolley of cakes and drinks and gave me the loveliest send off. I’m not going to lie, it made me a little bit emotional chatting to everybody in the office about my time there and hearing them wish me the best for the future. They wrote me a surprisingly glowing reference and sent me on my way, and ever since, they’ve been happy to answer any questions or help me in any way they can. Was I the best intern? Absolutely not. But—not to sound like a Disney movie—it just goes to show that being kind and trying your hardest is the best thing you can do.
The two weeks I spent at that agency is a time I will never forget, and I’m incredibly thankful to everyone there for making it such an incomparable experience. Of course, my experience as a publishing intern may differ to other people’s, especially since it was organised through my university. But I hope the things I learned can be useful to other aspiring writers or anybody looking for a career in the publishing industry.