The Inside Scoop on Interns

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

Have you ever thought about using an intern? Yes, you. Interns can help you to accomplish tasks that have weighed you down every time you thought about them. And interns can attack those tasks with a vigor that only innate curiosity, youthful exuberance, and lack of knowledge of limitations can bring.

Take these examples from my experiences with interns:

The intern and the Sumo wrestler

A Scripps College junior, Olivia seems like a champion Sumo wrestler to me. You see, I hired her as an intern to help Wendy and me put together our book, The Inside Scoop: Two Agents Dish on Getting Published.

About three years ago, Wendy and I spent a week (which was supposed to be a vacation) constructing the outline for the book and deciding what topics should fit in which section. By the week’s end, we realized the task before us was daunting–so daunting that we set the project aside.

Intern #1 and the Sumo wrestler

Until that is, a Smith College student asked me if she could intern at our agency one summer. At first I couldn’t imagine which of our complicated tasks I could assign to an intern. Then, as I was talking to my client and dear friend, Robin Jones Gunn, she asked if we had some sort of big project we never seemed to get to. The Inside Scoop  popped up as an obvious choice.

So I asked Ms. Smith College to take the writing Wendy and I had already done and place the material within the book’s sections. She set up a grid and set out with vim to accomplish the task. With strong interests in both English and math, she approached the thousands of pages of material–Wendy and I had accumulated a lot of verbiage to fit into the book over our years as literary agents–like a Sumo wrestler would maneuver around a competitor.

As summer waned, so did her belief that she could wrestle the overweight manuscript to the ground. She departed back to Smith having ordered about half of the material. While I was thankful for the heaving of the giant blob into some sort of shape, the heft of the manuscript loomed as large as the Oxford English Dictionary in my mind.

Intern #2 steps into the ring

Then, in 2016, Olivia, a sophomore at Scripps College, approached me about working as an intern to help me finish The Inside Scoop despite her taking a full-course load and interning for a pair of women bloggers who needed her to interview subjects for future blog posts. Olivia had recently completed a summer internship with Books & Such, helping Wendy and me to put together our Writing and Publishing Seminars for Scripps.

Olivia the intern and me at Scripps College.

I knew she was undaunted by any task I gave her, but I warned Olivia that this Sumo wrestler could be more than she could handle,especially in light of her already packed schedule. I mentioned that it would probably take her three to four months of intense work to manhandle this wrestler.

She just looked puzzled. She couldn’t imagine the job being obese yet lithe enough to escape her grasp.

Two weeks after I sent her off with our jumbled material, Olivia mailed it back to me–in a sensible order and thinned down to 50,000 words.

It was like sending an overweight food junkie to a health spa, and then Ms. Loves to Eat returns in a few days fit and svelte.

From the fattest book to a sensible book

Having transformed The Inside Scoop from The World’s Fattest Book, I then asked Olivia to read through the manuscript and make comments on every part that didn’t make sense to her or that she thought we had assumed too much knowledge from our readers.

Soon the manuscript was back with plenty of questions: “Why would this solve the problem?” “But what makes this a negative part of a contract; it seems like a good thing.” “I don’t think a new writer would get why this is important.” “I don’t understand what you’re even talking about.”

So Wendy and I rolled up our sleeves, tightened our athletic shoelaces, and added more examples, updated examples, filled in holes we hadn’t even known existed, and generally remodeled the manuscript. Thus The Inside Scoop came into existence. Well, was ready to go through book production processes…

What an intern can do for you

Interns aren’t just of benefit to literary agencies, publishing houses, publicity firms, and other business entities. Authors can utilize interns as well. Ask yourself, What task do I wish I could turn over to someone else? (Besides writing your manuscript!)

Here are a few possibilities:
  • Research specific topics. As students, interns are great at research and are excellent at citing sources. Trust me, they won’t let you get away with using Wikipedia.
  • Help in obtaining permissions and releases.
  • Reading material and giving feedback. College students have amazing insights.
  • Filing. Ugh.
  • Organizing some part of your work–or even your office.
  • Writing material to use in social media and scheduling the material. Don’t forget to liberally add personal posts that only you can write.
  • Creating memes from quotes in your books or from short excerpts from book reviews.
  • Reading your fan mail and organizing it in a way that helps you to respond quickly. No, don’t ask them to answer your fan mail; stay in tune with your readers.
  • Taking material you wrote long ago and repurposing it into something new.

Common questions about interns

  • Do you have to pay an intern?

    Some interns don’t ask to be paid; they just want the chance to glimpse what your professional life is like and to be able to add real-job experience to their newborn resumes. Note: Paid vs. unpaid has lots of controversy surrounding the issue since many businesses could afford to pay interns but choose not to. Let you conscience by your guide and make sure that, paid or un-, you are giving interns tasks that add to their knowledge base and that expand their understanding of how an author interfaces with the publishing and reading worlds.

  • Where do I find an intern?

    Contacting the Career Development Department of a local junior college, college, or university is a great place to start looking. Or you might be aware of a college student at your church who has expressed interest in what you do as a career option for him or her.

  • How do I know if this student will work out well?

    Be clear about what the job will entail. Don’t glamorize the job description. Speaking thereof, write out a job description to be sure communication is clear about the types of tasks the student will undertake. Have an interview with the student, and ask why the collegiate thinks he or she has the right attributes to undertake the job.

  • Are you ready to be a boss and a mentor?

    While you’re bringing the intern into your writing life to help you out, make sure you’re ready to take the time to provide the necessary direction, feedback, and encouragement for the experience to be of benefit to the student. And know that, if necessary, you will need to be prepared to fire your (free) intern. If the situation goes south, it’s for a limited time, and you might not need to let the person go because he or she is helping you–just not as much as you had hoped.

    But be prepared, before you even sign up the intern, to release the person from the internship early if circumstances warrant it. Don’t allow both of you to continue to the expected end date if you’re both miserable, or if the student loses interest. (A possible firing is a good argument not to take on your cousin’s daughter, your pastor’s son, or the neighbor’s child–firing isn’t an option in these cases without potentially straining relationships important to everyone involved.)

Surprise benefits

You never know just where an internship will lead. Rachel Kent started working in our office as a summer intern while she was attending UC Davis and majoring in English. She came to the internship at Books & Such thinking she wanted to be an editor. But by the time she graduated from Davis, I couldn’t bear the thought of missing out on her valuable insights on manuscripts, proposals, and queries. So Rachel went from intern to university graduate to associate literary agent with nary a bump in her career path. And I’ve never been able to imagine not having her as part of Books & Such since.

What jobs would you like to give to an intern? What other questions do you have about internships?

Authors: Have you thought about using an intern? Here’s the scoop. Click to tweet.

Interns can help authors, not just businesses. Click to tweet.