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Kate Icely

DISPATCHES from an Editorial Intern

A woman is carrying a huge stack of hardcover books. She is standing in front of an institutional green brick wall on which there is a clock that says 3 o’clock.

A woman is carrying a huge stack of hardcover books. She is standing in front of an institutional green brick wall on which there is a clock that says 3 o’clock.Outside Looking In

I decided I wanted to go into publishing in early 2011. It was a good solution to my problems at the time. Problems like why I didn’t want to fill out arduous grad school applications and why I wouldn’t apply to law school (as members of my family fervently hoped I would).

Now when people ask me what I do I tell them “I’m trying to get into the publishing industry.” Since I made that decision two years ago, I have started attending courses in publishing at Ryerson University, and I have held two internships. But I’m still doing it: I’m still trying to get in.

Many have tried before me. In the past two years, I have met an alarming number of people who tried and failed. After I give my standard answer (“Trying to get into the publishing industry”—the delivery more tired with each iteration), I’ll often ask what the inquirer does in return. A shocking number have told me that they too tried to get into publishing, but there were no jobs. Now they work as librarians, as event planners; now they are returning to school.

These days I find myself on the outside looking in, wondering exactly where it is I am trying to get to. There is no money, they tell me. The hours are long, they say. The editorial department of a single imprint in a big firm will have ten interns a year, and in the same time the entire company will post maybe one or two jobs. There is even some doubt as to whether editing as a profession will endure (see Nancy Flight’s thought-provoking article on the subject).

People are now starting to ask me “Are you sure you want to go into publishing?” When I sit in my little cubicle at my current internship, I do pause and wonder. Where I am going? Will this road take me the right way?

I don’t have all the answers. I’m an intern—I don’t really have any answers. But this is the beginning of a short series of articles that I hope will ask all the right questions. What is it like to be an intern in the publishing industry today? What are young people facing in order to find jobs? And how can an intern survive without losing all hope?

Dispatches from an Editorial Intern is the first in a series of posts from a neophyte editor in the publishing trenches.

Next in the series: What’s in an Internship?


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About the author

Kate Icely

Kate Icely interned at both the Porcupine's Quill and Random House of Canada. Now she works as an editorial assistant at Penguin Random House Canada.

10 Comments on “DISPATCHES from an Editorial Intern”

  • nancy

    says:

    thought provoking ideas, indeed. Looking forward to more….

  • Viola Funk

    says:

    More power to you, Kate. I feel for you, as someone who kind of lucked out — I got my first job in book publishing in 1998 without a master’s in publishing (did have a minor in it from SFU), and without having done any internships. It’s crazy how exploitative some employers are nowadays. Two pieces of advice, which you’ve probably already figured out: cultivate living with flair on an absurdly tight budget, and don’t limit yourself to book publishing. I look forward to following your posts.

    • Kate Icely

      says:

      Viola, thanks for your comment! I appreciate your support and advice. I’m happy to know you’ll be following along!

  • @emchau

    says:

    I look forward to your future posts. I like your tone and style. Perhaps try to branch out by writing a few more pieces, creating your own website or blog-space and working with some non-profit organizations to network?

    • Kate Icely

      says:

      Thank you! I’m glad to know you’ll be reading along. There’s a lot more to say on the topic, so there will be many more posts to follow. I’m hoping to get a good discussion going!

  • Rosemary Shipton

    says:

    It’s true, it is difficult to get a permanent position with book and magazine publishers right now. A few companies have closed, releasing their staff into the market, and other firms are not expanding, waiting to see how the new technologies and avenues for distribution play out. Still, we publishing educators know that internships are the best way for students to gain real experience – the perfect complement to what we can accomplish in the classroom. They also provide opportunities for networking – contacts that may well lead to other positions.

    The experience gained during an internship is easily transferable to other areas where publishing skills are needed – positions in government, corporate, or nonprofit communications departments, for instance. Moreover, the skills learned in editing and design courses – in writing correctly, organizing your thoughts, and presenting your ideas clearly and attractively – are in demand everywhere. So don’t be discouraged, Kate – I know you’ve got huge potential for a career in publishing or communications.

    As for the future of editing as a profession, I am sure it will endure. It’s just too valuable to let go. We do, however, have to find ways to integrate it into the new publishing configuration. I’ll be tackling that theme in my talk at the Writing in Three Dimensions conference in Edmonton in May. Stay tuned …

    • Rosemary Shipton

      says:

      Ooops – that should be Words in 3 Dimensions conference.

      • Kate Icely

        says:

        Rosemary! So happy to have to weigh in here. Thank you for your comments and your support. I couldn’t agree more about the usefullness of publishing internships. Despite the hardship and difficulty finding work in this economy, the skills publishing hopefuls acqurie during internships are invaluable. You can always start your learning in programs, such as the Ryerson certifate program, but nothing beats putting those skills to work in a real publishing environment. It’s also hugely beneficial to meet people in the industry. You get to pick their brains and (hopefully!) make some good friends, too. There’s much more to follow in this series … from the editorial skills acquired during an internship, to survial tips necessary to make it through, to parallel industries where editorial skills are equally in demand. But I don’t want to give too much away! Stay tuned!

  • Nancy Flight

    says:

    A very good article, Kate–if a bit depressing. The sad reality is that Canadian publishing is retracting, and some employers see interns as a form of cheap labor. But you can learn a lot, and during my time at D&M we ended up hiring numerous interns for full-time work. In the reconstitued Greystone Books, we plan to hire at least one intern, and there is the potential for a position in the company down the road, though certainly not right away. I also agree with Rosemary that you will be able to use your editorial skills in many other industries. Good luck to you!

    • Kate Icely

      says:

      Nancy, thank you so much for your comments! It certainly is dicey out there for interns, but I think the good out weighs the bad. You’re exactly right that interns have a chance to learn a lot and that there is always the possibility of a job down the road. And the skills interns learn are transferable, as you say, to many other jobs in the communications industry. For folks like me, who love books and have a passion for language, it seems worth it to try–no matter how hard people tell us getting a job is going to be! There’s much more to come in the series; I hope you will continue to follow allow and join the discussion!! Thank you, again, for your comments!

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