Monthly Mini-Post: Confessions of an Intern (part 1)

Each month, one of the weekly posts will be a bit shorter and more personal: a “monthly mini-post” about my experiences in publishing and literary agency to provide you with a view of what it’s like on the inside of these operations. This is the first one.

Confessions of an Intern

I’ve worked as an editorial intern for a literary agent for the last eighteen months, and I have to say that it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. My responsibilities differ from manuscript to manuscript, but it’s important to have an understanding of what interns like me do and how they might affect your own manuscript’s journey to publication.

What I Do

Primarily, I read the slush pile. This means that I go through manuscripts that authors have queried the agent with and I try to find ones that seem promising. Since I’ve been in my role for a while, I have a very symbiotic relationship with the agent I work with. She has other interns as well who wade through the bulk of the manuscripts, and my job has become more tailored to queries that the agent is already excited about.

So I read manuscripts and I tell the agent what I think. For many interns, this means writing a “reader’s report” detailing what the manuscript was about, who the characters are, the quality of the writing, strengths and weaknesses, etc. It can also include a recommendation from the intern about whether the agent should turn down the manuscript or read it further for him- or herself before making a decision.

I also sometimes communicate with authors, particularly in the case of rejections where I occasionally draft emails to authors explaining why their particular manuscripts weren’t right for the agent.

There are a few other things I do, but there you have it: the basic duties of an editorial intern. Of course, there are other responsibilities, and they differ between agents and agencies, but those are the big tasks I complete with each new manuscript the agent sends me.

How I Affect “The Process”

It might surprise you that an intern can have so much impact over the process of getting a manuscript seen and read by an agent. However, it goes back to the “agents are busy, busy people” trope that I repeat like a broken record. In many cases, interns are trained to know exactly what each agent is looking for, so their understanding of manuscripts is attuned to the agent’s preferences.

I know precisely what the agent I work for wants for her list. If something is bordering on those qualifications, I make sure to recommend that she reads a manuscript for herself to know whether or not it’s something she would like. Again, a good intern knows his or her agent’s list inside and out. A manuscript the agent would like should never slip through the cracks.

Why I Might Stop Reading

Next week’s post is all about your manuscript’s first reader—be that an intern or an agent—so I won’t go too in-depth here. Suffice to say that I usually stop reading if I know the manuscript doesn’t fit the agent’s list (for example, it’s an adult manuscript, and she only accepts children’s and YA) or the quality of the writing isn’t up to par.

As we discussed in the Querying Basics (Dos and Don’ts) posts, it’s very important not to query an agent with something that isn’t ready for publication. If the writing isn’t polished or the characters and story aren’t gripping, an intern or agent will quickly choose to stop reading. I know I have.

Why I Love What I Do

There are many reasons I want to pursue a career in literary agency, but a few stand out. I expect I’m like many agents in the things I like about the job: I love reading manuscripts by aspiring authors. The chance to work with someone as they enter the publishing industry, to shepherd along their project from manuscript to bookstore shelf, is very important to me. Knowing what I do about the industry and how difficult the process can be, I really love the chance to help great books reach yearning readers.

I love when I come across a manuscript that tells a story that I feel the world needs to hear. I read middle-grade and young-adult manuscripts, and I can tell when a book is one that kids will devour and gain something from. The times I find those stories are really special to me.

Finally, I have a particular passion for the Own Voices movement and the We Need Diverse Books initiative. I want books by diverse authors about diverse characters to reach the hands of readers everywhere.

Thank you for indulging this first Monthly Mini-Post with the insider perspective about working for a literary agent! There will be another similar to this next month, and a variety of other Mini-Posts (which, I note…might not actually be shorter than regular posts) as we go along.

As always, if you have questions, comment below or send me a Tweet! See you next week for a post about your manuscript’s first agency reader.


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