Top Ten Tuesday (38): Top Ten Things I Learned as an Editorial Intern

publishing post stars

Top Ten Tuesdays is a meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.  This week’s topic is:

Freebie: Top Ten Things I Learned As an Editorial Intern

I spent this past summer as an editorial intern (publisher to remain unnamed, since my views do not reflect the views of their company, etc. and so forth).  I had a fantastic time (I would really love this job!), and I learned a lot about publishing, too—specifically for children’s books.

1.   If you want to publish a book, get an agent.  Even though many publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts, many publishers know their chances of reading a manuscript they will like and that fits their list increases greatly when the manuscript is from an agent.  And, sadly, the fact that your manuscript is in the slush pile at all says something about you immediately—that you didn’t take five minutes to research the industry and realize you really need an agent.

2.  Editors do a lot more than edit.  They meet with agents, speak at writers’ conferences, comfort authors, write jacket copies, look for artists, and so much more.

3.  The art is edited just as much as the text.  Designers send notes to artists about anything from coloring to the fact they think some faces in the background crowd of a scene look a little too frightening for a picture book.

4.  The marketing and sales departments actually get a lot of say on artistic matters.  These are the people who have to sell the book, and they have enough experience to know whether certain words in the title will turn off young buyers or whether certain styles of covers just have not sold books in the past.  (But don’t worry, they do read the books and they love them, too!  Sometimes they just have to be a little more practical than the editorial department.)

5.  Editing truly is a skill.  Book reviewers will know how easy it is to say, “____ didn’t work in the book” or “I didn’t like ____.”  Coming up with practical solutions to fix the problem can be harder.  Editors cannot just say, “I felt as if I did not truly know the love interest” to the author and leave him or her hanging.  They need to suggest places the love interest can appear more in the story, or ways that he might get into a heart-felt conversation with the protagonist.  Editors often need to be as good at creative writing as their authors.

6.  Author attitude matters.  It generally takes two years for a book to be published after it is acquired, and the editor has to work with the author closely the entire time.  No one wants to work with someone who is difficult, arrogant, or rude, no matter how wonderful his or her book is.  This is one reason a cover letter is important, whether you are querying an agent or a publisher directly.  Make sure you sound polite and professional, and include any experience (with editors or otherwise) that demonstrates you will open to others’ suggestions and willing to modify your manuscript.

7.  Fancy picture books go through tons of tests.  There are a lot of laws about what materials can be used (in case children chew the books) and about special materials.  Do you want an actual string on a picture of a balloon in the book?  There are length restrictions.  Pop-up books are a particular problem, and people literally sit down opening and closing them to make sure the process still goes smoothly on the hundredth reading.

8. The review quotes on Amazon saying how great the book is are selected and submitted by the publisher.  It is good to have a healthy suspicion of too many ellipses….  You never know what was actually cut out of that quote.

9.  Picture book summaries and taglines should be in the voice of the book.  This can be difficult and involve a lot of rereading, but it is definitely a fun and worthwhile challenge!

10.  Everyone who works on publishing a book really loves the book.  It is truly inspiring to see people who have been working on a book for two years, and who have read the book dozens of time, get excited all over again when the final copies are printed.  (And, yes, they get just as giddy about cool cover effects as everyone else.)

23 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday (38): Top Ten Things I Learned as an Editorial Intern

  1. Lianne @ says:

    Great list, that’s awesome that you learned so much from your internship about the editing process. I was having lunch with my friend from undergrad today and she was telling me the same thing about #1. It’s very good to know for the future should I ever be ready to publish. Thanks for sharing this list =)


    • Briana says:

      Sometimes it makes me wonder why there are slush plies at publishing houses. I guess there’s always that chance of finding something wonderful. One of the editors I worked with said some of her first books were from slush.

      And agents have to deal with ONLY slush. There is no escape for them! 😉


  2. Melanie says:

    Goodness, this sounds like such a neat experience! I love the fact that ten is actually true. Sometimes I wonder whether it’s marketability or true love for a book that sends it to print.


    • Briana says:

      I know some editors do feel a little stress to publish at least a few books that will sell well; it depends on the publishing house and sales figures and such. But at the end of the day, you do have to work with it for two years and read it a million times, so you want to publish something you like. Obviously the goal is that if you publish something that is wonderful enough, people will buy it.

      Edit: I guess I should clarify that sometimes there is a push to publish genres that a particular editor might not be interested in. Romance for instance, sells remarkably well, and someone has to sell it. Even if an individual editor does not appreciate its merits, the publisher appreciates the steady purchases. Sometimes, in exchange, the editor might be able to buy one book he/she really loves that the publisher might not have taken a risk on otherwise. But, again, different publishers operate differently.


  3. Tanya Patrice says:

    This was such an informative post! I have no interest in the book biz other than reading the books – but it’s amazing to see some of what goes on behind the scenes.


  4. Cassie says:

    These are all great tips. And as an aspiring writer myself I definitely appreciate them. =D

    Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier, returning some of the love <3.


    • Briana says:

      There is a huge team of people. Obviously larger publishing houses have more, but there should at least be an editor, marketer, designer, and sales representative involved. Also production–the people in charge of getting fancy cover effects and whatnot!


    • Briana says:

      Thanks! I am thinking of doing a future post of tips for applying for internships. But I would say two important things to consider (though not absolutely necessary; I didn’t really follow “best practices” and I got an awesome internship!) is that many applications say office experience is helpful, so an on-campus job that has that could be a good idea, and that it is good to try to get “less competitive” internships after freshman and sophomore years. So anything from small publishing houses to your local newspaper. Then you’ll be a better candidate applying to the big publishing houses after junior year. (Many focus on hiring rising seniors because they want to hire the next year from their intern pool).

      Having a blog also helps, either for editorial or marketing positions. A girl I was friendly with was in charge of updating Twitter and Facebook, looking for blogs to send books to, and random things like making personality quizzes for the Facebook page. Sounds like what you do now, right?


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