Audrey is an editorial intern for a US-based literary agency and loves sharing insight from literary agents and seasoned writers.
What Exactly Do Editorial Interns Do?
I’m an editorial intern at a literary agency, and I frequently get asked what I do exactly––Especially after I mention my title. Here are a few things I do on a weekly basis.
As an editorial intern, I am blessed to read a lot. The agent who mentors me, who we will just call Sam, sends me several types of manuscripts so I can work up a reader report.
On Sam’s personalized reader report form, there are sections for me to fill out with my comments about the voice, plot, setting, dialogue, characters, improvements to be made, as well as an overall weaknesses and strengths section. Sometimes, the manuscript I am reading is from a full request of his to an unagented author querying their work. Those are fun!
At other times, he sends me finished manuscripts from writers he already represents. Here, I am able to save him a bunch of time by reading the piece and working up a reader report before he lays eyes on it.
Agents have a lot to do; keep in mind they work with books, and each book requires lots of rounds of editing to get it perfected to go out on submission. All that editing takes time. Bring into account that each agent represents numerous authors with numerous books, and you’ll see that their schedules get impossibly full. That’s why interns are an asset to agents.
There is one big thing I’ve learned while doing this: many books that are queried aren’t ready or polished enough to do so.
When a manuscript is being readied to go out on submission to publishers, line edits must be performed. An agent, editor, intern, or other publishing industry professional goes through the manuscript line by line, leaving comments and suggesting editing changes such as, but not limited to:
- eliminating words,
- variation of vocabulary,
- reworking clunky sentences,
- correcting spelling/grammar mistakes,
- filling in missing words,
- general comments about cloudy portions of the text,
- and general comments about inconsistencies in the plot.
It is hard work, but I have to say, when you get a thank you from a published author who sings your praises about everything you helped them see, it makes it all worth it. Line editing takes days or weeks because you are not just breezing through the text. You have to stop every so often and fix something or suggest that the author fix it.
Taglines and Copy Drafts (Blurbs)
After reading a book from a represented author, interns are sometimes asked to come up with a short tagline for the cover or to draft a back cover copy. This is harder than it looks. You don’t want to give too much away, but you want to hook your reader.
I’m growing in my ability to do this, and I’m probably more comfortable with the tagline side of things than blurbs. The cool thing is, when you see a published book you helped with at the bookstore, you can look at the back cover and say, “I wrote [part of] that!”
Sam has sent me a few queries and walked me through his analysis process so I can see how he goes through them so quickly and how he knows when something is special. Some things that turn Sam off and make him think the writer needs to work a little more on their craft:
- explained motivations [she reached for the light switch to turn the light on because it was dark],
- filtering verb [she heard, she saw, she felt, she began, she started],
- and not getting to the hook quick enough [Rambling on. If it’s a romance, where’s the love interest? If it’s suspense, why are you just telling me facts for three pages?]
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Seeing Sam’s process helps me understand the delicate dance of querying, what to look for, and what my own green and red flags might be if I ever become an agent or acquiring editor.
As with anyone who has a writing career nowadays, editorial interns are expected to grow their brand on social media and amass followers. Sam has never pressured me at all; it’s just a reality of the publishing industry today.
I have to admit; this is one of my least favorite things about growing in the writing world. In the past, you could write under a rock and still have a bestseller. Today, if you don’t have anything published, having followers and an audience is key. So, I’m active on Twitter and Instagram in the writing communities there. (I keep Facebook for personal use, though in the future, I’ll have to make a Facebook author page and a personal website––cringe!)
One thing I like on social media is following Twitter pitch parties, reading tweets, and forwarding them to Sam. I love the excitement these pitch parties bring. All the dreamers have stars in their eyes as they hope their chance finally comes.
Cheerleading: Networking With Authors and the #Amquerying Crowd
Social media might be my least favorite aspect of what I do, but connecting with authors on social media or in real life, and cheering them on toward their goals is something I absolutely love.
Reading all the time is good enough, and then I actually get to help them? I get to prepare their books to find their publishing homes? It’s too good to be true. It’s exciting, and it doesn’t get old!
Cover Art Piddling
Occasionally, interns are asked to mock up cover art or teasers for upcoming submissions and releases. Graphic design savvy comes in handy. Stock photos and photo editing software like photoshop do the trick.
We Query Our Own Writing, Too
Even though I am good at noticing others’ blindspots in terms of plot and grammar, I actually have blind spots of my own that get in my way. This is why my books are still unpublished. Sam does not represent me, though he has read the opening to my books and takes his time to give me advice about what would be stronger.
Ultimately, the hard work is up to me. It’s a misconception to think agents are like fairy godparents who scoop you up (unpolished/unready) and make you famous, despite your writing flaws. Hard no. The fairy-godmothering is up to you and you only. You must make your book so good it’s irresistible.
It’s so hard to get there, but I’m approaching that mark, with help. Then, I’ll query my books just like everyone else, though with a few more professional contacts. Being an editorial intern does not mean you are automatically represented by an agent. (Though, I like to think that if I don’t get an agent but rather become one, I’ll try to represent my own book on submission!)
We Hope to Make This a Lifelong Career in the Industry
Editorial interns, for the most part, are not where they are by accident. They applied for an internship, often unpaid, and are wanting diverse experience and to get their feet wet in the publishing world.
They want to know what they like best. Do they enjoy championing authors (agenting)? Do they like fixing errors (editing)? Or do they like the marketing and sales side of things (publishing)?
There is so much that goes into it, but it’s safe to say that editorial interns want their writing careers and their careers in the book industry to go far beyond their internships. Like most writers, they are tenacious and persevering, resilient and stubborn.
I am so thankful for the opportunity of this internship, and I hope it paves the way for future successes in this crazy, ever-changing industry.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Audrey Lancho