Preparing for Publishing Internship Interviews- Updated

Publishing Interviews


As the season for applying to summer publishing internships approaches, I thought I would share some of the interview questions I have been asked while applying to both internships and full-time jobs with publishers.  (Full disclosure: I have had one editorial internship with a major publisher and three internships with literary agents. No full time jobs yet, but I do have significant experience applying to these positions!)

I have written previous posts with my Top Ten Tips for Getting an Editorial Internships and my Top Ten Things I Learned As an Editorial Intern.  If you have any internship/publishing questions I haven’t answered, feel free to ask in the comments, or email me!

Interview Questions

First Interview

  • Why are you interested in [specific type of literature]?
  • Why are you interested in this publishing company?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • What are your favorite books?
  • What television shows do you like to watch?
  • What are you reading currently?
  • What is a recent book you read that you didn’t like?  Why?
  • How do you stay organized?
  • Are you detail-oriented?
  • Describe your ideal work environment.
  • What did you learn at your last internship?
  • Are you ok with doing a lot of administrative tasks?
  • Tell us about your blog.
  • Do you have any questions for us?

As you can see, the interview questions tend to include a mix of “standard” interview questions and questions specifically about books. Of course, you’ll want to demonstrate your interest in the company.  Tell them why you want to intern or work specifically at that company, with that imprint, not just why why want to work in the publishing industry in general.  You’ll also want to demonstrate that you read the books the specific imprint publishes. Be able to talk about a variety of books in the genre/category, and make sure you’re not only mentioning bestsellers.

First Interview (Academic Publishing Internship)

  • Read a manuscript proposal.  If you would like to acquire it, write a reader’s report to the editor explaining why.  If you would not, write a rejection letter addressed to the author.

Second Stage Interview (Children’s Editorial Internships and Literary Agencies)

  • Read manuscript and write a reader’s report.
  • Read manuscript and write a reader’s report and jacket copy.

How to Write a Reader’s Report for Your Application

If you’ve made it to the second round of an interview and are now being asked to write a reader’s report, congratulations!  In the best-case scenario, the publisher or literary agency will send you a sample of the type of report they’re looking for and other general instructions. (This is particularly helpful because different employers will want rather different lengths of reports and different information included. I’ve written six page reports for one internships and one page reports for others.)  If you aren’t given instructions, I suggest inquiring what they’re looking for. However, if the answer is vague or if (like me), you’re asked to write the report on the spot at an in-person interview, here’s some general advice:

Do Preliminary Research

If you’re applying to work with a specific imprint or a specific person, try to figure out their tastes.  As an intern or entry-level employee, you’re not generally being asked to give your personal opinion on a manuscript; you’re being asked whether the manuscript is something your supervisor would be interested in.  If your tastes don’t naturally coincide, you’re going to have to do your best to think like your supervisor, especially before they hire you.  I’ve been rejected from internships for essentially not having the “correct” opinion of the manuscript I was asked to write a sample reader’s report on.

So do some research. What manuscripts has your potential supervisor acquired before?  Have they done any interviews where they’ve stated what they are or are not looking for in a book? What types of books does their publishing house or agency generally acquire?  I’ve been given a manuscript for an internship application that was listed under “recent deals” on a blog post on the agency’s website and, in fact, had recently been published.  I tried to do the honest thing by telling the agency I knew the book had been sold to a major publisher and didn’t feel I could give an unbiased report on it (anyone who had done a Google search would know to write a positive reader’s report!), but the point is that you never know what useful information you’ll find.

Answer These Questions

But what should actually be in the report?  Again, the desired information will vary by potential employer. Some people are mostly interested in characters while others want to know if the plot is engaging.  However, if you haven’t been provided with particularly clear instructions on what the employer is expecting the report to look like, consider these categories:

  • Summary. The editor/agent will probably have a query letter with a summary of the manuscript. However, since they haven’t read the manuscript yet themselves (the point of a reader’s report is to give them a sense of whether they want to), it can help to give them your own, brief take on what the manuscript is about. This will also give them the information they need to follow your report, such as who the characters you’ll be referencing are.
  • Characters. What are the characters like?  Are they developed?  Do they have arcs? Or are they flat? If you want to make a statement on whether they’re “relatable” or “likable,” remember that these impressions can vary widely by reader.
  • Plot. Is it engaging?  Logical?  What is the pacing like?  How much of the plot is “action” and how much is “character development?”
  • Voice.  Who’s telling the story?  What is the voice like?  Is it appropriate for the character?  For instance, does a first person narrator who’s fifteen sound fifteen or do they sound fifty? Or is the author trying too hard to make them sound fifteen and using too much ridiculous slang?
  • Writing. What is the prose like?  This could be one of the most important points of the novel. Remember that, with a good editor, anyone could spruce up their plot or make their protagonist more developed. But if the prose is clunky, awkward, or just unsophisticated, that’s going to be difficult to fix.
  • Recommendation. Finally, make a clear recommendation. Do you think this is a clear winner your supervisor will definitely want to look at?  Do you think it has potential so your supervisor should look at it to give a more experienced evaluation of it?  Or is the manuscript not worth your supervisor’s time? If you feel you have enough insight into the industry/market to make further comments, you can also give your impression of whether you think the manuscript would sell. (For instance, maybe it’s a pretty well-written vampire romance, but that fad is past and it’s not remarkable enough to really find readers at this point in time, so you’re recommending a pass on the story but keeping the author in mind for future projects.)

Further Reading

If you’re still searching for a position to apply to, check out my other posts:

Have you applied for any publishing positions? What was your experience?

4 thoughts on “Preparing for Publishing Internship Interviews- Updated

  1. Anahera says:

    I’m not looking for a publishing internship, but those interview questions are also really helpful for other types of interviews too. Strengths/weaknesses/work environment. I also feel like questions asking about their future plans or something might pop up.

    As always, very interesting and useful post!🙂


    • Briana says:

      You’re right! A lot of these are “standard” interview questions that could be asked for a variety of jobs. I think the key for acing the publishing interview is knowing to expect a mix of “typical” or “generic” questions and book-related questions.

      Book-related questions should be answered with specific titles and explanations. I’ve also been told talking about books that aren’t bestsellers helps show a deeper interest in the industry.

      Having an answer for future plans or “where you see yourself in x years” is a great idea! People are definitely more likely to hire you if they believe you have a true interest in the industry and aren’t just trying out the internship for kicks or because you don’t have any better summer plans.

      Thank you!


  2. Andrea @ The Overstuffed Bookcase says:

    Ack! These questions just make my palms start to sweat! I’d love to work as an editor for a publishing company but I’m just not comfortable with my experience. But right now I’m content being a stay at home mom/aspiring author and maybe one day I’ll try for an editing job… But good luck with your interviews! I hope you get an awesome internship/job!


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