Friday, February 01, 2008

Learning More than Skills: Interning for Relationships

Since my internship is completely online, I can't post a picture, unless I get someone to take a riveting photograph of me laying on my bed with my laptop. I can, however, post this staff web page with my pic:

When Chris Torockio, one of my undergraduate writing instructors, published his novel, Floating Holidays, last semester, I brought a notebook and pen to his reading. I was writing an essay for my Technology and Production in Fiction class and Torockio’s editor, Diane Goettel, had scheduled a Q&A before the reading. A perfect opportunity, I told myself, to pick up the old stone and heave it at two birds. I’d get information from Goettel for my essay and support my former professor. What I didn’t see at the time was a third bird, eyes large, feathers bright and fluffy, hiding behind the other two. I didn’t complain, though, when my rock snapped its little neck and it fell from its tree right into my greedy hands.

At the time, the problem that lay hidden—my third little birdie—was a looming internship for the third semester. As the second semester rolled on and found me empty-handed, my casual concern became a nagging worry and, as the semester drew to a close, an obsessive panic.

A few residencies ago, Don Snyder sat on a table, casual as only Don can be, one leg crossed over the other, and talked to us about writing for Hollywood. It’s not how good you are, he told us. Success, he said, is mostly about perseverance, and it’s also about who you know. I’d been thinking about his lecture as I scoured the internet for possible internships but came up with nothing. I lamented—wished I’d been born into a Hollywood screenwriting family, had an uncle in New York publishing, a best friend of Hemingway’s grandchildren.

But I did know somebody. It didn’t dawn on me until I sat down to edit the Technology and Production paper I’d sent Dan Pope about online literary journals. Glossing over his comments, I read my section on The Adirondack Review and remembered Goettel, bubbly and chatty, talking to us before Torockio’s reading. She’d mentioned that she got into publishing by starting out as an intern, and that Adirondack, the journal she edited, accepted interns from time to time. Immediately, I went back online to check the journal web page. Perfect, I thought, checking the intern submission guidelines, which required two letters of recommendation. It’s about who you know, Don had said, and I fully intended to exploit my resources.

Although I hadn’t had Torockio in over three semesters—didn’t even go to the university he taught at anymore—I e-mailed him to ask for a letter of recommendation and he promptly responded. No problem, he said. I sweat through nearly two months waiting for Adirondack’s reply, and bugged Brian Clements (incessantly) about it until he offered a Sentence internship if Adirondack fell through, but Goettel replied just as the third semester started. She sounded as cheerful over the phone as I remembered from the Q&A. “From your application,” she said, “it sounds like you should work with our fiction editor, Kara.”

Great, I told her. Perfect. Right up my alley.

Kara Christenson, Adirondack’s fiction editor and my direct supervisor, contacted me soon after to tell me about my internship, and I’ll get to that shortly. It is perhaps the most important element of the internship course, however, that we meet people in our line of work—that we initiate a network. The Adirondack Review publishes short fiction, poetry, book reviews, interviews, and features on authors. What that means is that, if I submit to Adirondack, my work could receive more careful consideration, or more in-depth feedback, from editors. More importantly, though, Diane Goettel, as I mentioned earlier, is executive editor not only for Adirondack, but for Black Lawrence Press, the house that published Torockio’s novel. Black Lawrence, an independent house, primarily publishes stories that, as Goettel puts it, “we fall in love with.” In other words, Black Lawrence doesn’t pander to the market. Its editors seek good, though not necessary mass-market-salable, fiction.

Black Lawrence recently aligned with Dzanc Books, a 501(c)3 publishing house[1], which allows Black Lawrence grants and tax breaks. Although it became an imprint[2] to Dzanc, Black Lawrence has retained its independence and freedom to seek stories its editors wish to publish. And how did Black Lawrence and Dzanc merge? In this case, too, it’s all about who you know. In addition to publishing books, Dzanc performs public services by hiring writers in residence to tutor high schoolers. Goettel met up with Dzanc founder Steve Gillis while she acted as one of their writers in residence for a Brooklyn high school.

Even with the merger, Goettel says that Black Lawrence is a “teeny” press. Still, this year they’ll publish more books than in their entire history, and with a relationship blooming with Consortium, Black Lawrence is quickly getting bigger and better. Consortium, a distributor[3] for independent publishing houses, boasts over 90 publishers (“About Us”), and in the world of independent publishing, Goettel says, distributors are the “thing to have” since independent houses’ small staffs are often too busy to market books.

I’ve hopped on board a moving train, and can only benefit by watching the company expand. And even though I’m interning with Adirondack and not Black Lawrence, it can’t hurt, as Don might say, to know people.

For my part, it’s enlightening to experience the life cycle of a submitted short story, and the more stories I read, the better I get at recognizing elements that work and don’t work in my own fiction. My job as an intern places me on the lowest rung of the Adirondack ladder. Authors submit fiction to an e-mail address that forwards their work to a Google account, where it awaits reading.

Every day, I log onto the Google page and read submissions, and then comment on them. The process for accepting or rejecting a piece is pretty straightforward. If I don’t like a piece, I reject it. If I like it, I tell Kara to consider it. When two assistants have read a piece, Kara goes over their comments and makes a decision about whether or not to send it to Diane, who has the authority to publish. If both readers reject a piece, Kara sends a rejection e-mail to the author. If both accept, she reads the piece and often forwards it to Diane. If one accepts and one rejects, she decides whether or not Diane sees it.

The most difficult part of reading submissions is that, to a degree, I have to remove myself from my personal taste. Before starting, I read a few Adirondack issues to get a feel for the kind of literature they publish—literary with an edge, as it turns out. For the most part, I would read the stories Adirondack publishes even if I wasn’t interning. Either way, I’ve been workshopping fiction since I was an undergrad and reading since forever. I like to think I know good literature when I see it, regardless of whether or not I like it. Kara tells me I’m doing fine, but I still want to read more Adirondack fiction to feel like I’m successfully critiquing submissions. I like to think I’m up to the task.

Works Cited

“About.” Black Lawrence Press. 27 January 2008. <>.

“About Us.” Consortium Books Sales & Distribution. 27 January 2008. <>.

“About Dzanc.” Dzanc Books. 25 January 2008. .Goettel, Diane. Personal interview. 27 January 2008. <>.
A tax provision that exempts nonprofit organizations from federal taxes. 501(c)3 status also opens doors for federal and private grants.
[2] A subsidiary branch. Simon & Schuster, Inc., for example, is a large corporation with a number of imprints, including Scribner, Pocket Books, and Simon & Schuster.
[3] Distributors act as a link between publishing houses and merchants. They store and often market books. More importantly, they initiate and maintain relationships with chain and independent retailers so they can place a publisher’s books appropriately.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

With your editorial skills and eye for good writing, this internship should be a great fit for you. Sounds very interesting!