Spending Summer in an Igloo: My Editorial Internship with Penguin Random House

Natalie Hallakby Natalie Hallak
Upsilon Omicron Chapter
St. John’s University, Queens, NY

Like many English majors, my idea of a perfect job is one where I get paid to read—and publishing is the best industry to make that happen (or so I thought, but we’ll get to that). Thus, applying for an internship with Penguin Random House (charmingly nicknamed “Igloo”) through Sigma Tau Delta seemed like the perfect way to get my foot in the door. After spending the majority of my spring semester waiting on the edge of my seat, hoping each new email/phone call might be the one, I finally heard back from Penguin a month before the start of the internship. Soon after my interview, I pretty much died of happiness when Penguin offered me an editorial internship with Amy Einhorn Books, publisher of The Help (Kathryn Stockett) and Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (Jenny Lawson), among other bestsellers.

I learned my first lesson in publishing when I found out that Amy Einhorn was leaving her eponymous imprint to work for Macmillan’s Flat Iron Books: The publishing world is constantly changing. Yet, everyone knows everyone; as Ms. Einhorn said before leaving, “The world is big but publishing is small, so our paths will most likely cross again.”

Now, I work for the much larger G.P. Putnam’s Sons publishing group, which has a rich history and specializes in publishing blockbuster books by literary giants such as Tom Clancy, Sue Grafton, and Nora Roberts. I’m able to work with a dozen editors and editorial assistants, and even though Penguin Random House is one of the largest book publishers in the world, the individual, small-house feel makes it a truly enjoyable place to be. It helps that everyone is really, ridiculously nice.

And there’s never a dull moment around here. I’m constantly reading manuscripts of varying genres: memoir, women’s commercial fiction, thrillers, mysteries, nonfiction, historical fiction, adventure, literary fiction—basically, you never really know what the next submission will be. I’ve also been put in charge of the “slush pile” (a whole bunch of unsolicited manuscripts) that I read and respond to. Reading in the office, however, is something that seems unique to an intern.

My cubicle with an ever-growing mountain of books I’ve received for free.

My cubicle with an ever-growing mountain of books I’ve received for free.

As my internship progresses, I’m learning the many different responsibilities an editor must take on; reading submissions and editing manuscripts is only a small fraction of the job, and must be done during “free” time, such as the weekends. Most of an editor’s time in the office is spent dealing with the countless emails sent every day from authors, agents, and coworkers. An editor must oversee every step of the process in book production to make sure everything runs smoothly and the final product is the best it can be—and ensure that the author is pleased with the result. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg; most editorial work is about sales and taking great lengths to guarantee that people will buy the book. Being an editor is certainly not for the faint of heart.

With all of the work that I’m doing, though, it’s becoming more and more obvious to me that being an editor is exactly what I want to do. So far, I’ve written a reading group guide for an upcoming Jan Karon novel (and will be writing a few more for other titles before the summer ends), as well as many rejection letters and reader’s reports. I’ve also communicated with most departments of the publishing house, attended various sales and editorial meetings, made friends and connections with editors and interns alike, transcribed edits, and am learning firsthand not only what goes into producing a bestselling book, but what it takes to be an editor. This is a place of creativity and forward thinking, where my voice is heard and respected.

Oh hey Freedom Tower, what’s up? I can see you from my building!

“Oh hey Freedom Tower, what’s up? I can see you from my building!”

There are also some sweet perks of the job, “Summer Fridays” (where we have the day off) being the best. A close second are the numerous “take shelves” scattered around the building (I’ve received more free books at this job than I know what to do with). Also, people dress pretty casually here, so no one bats an eye when I wear open-toed shoes or jeans. Not to mention Penguin is located in downtown Manhattan, so we’re right in the heart of all that NYC has to offer.

I’ve found my place in the middle of the city that never sleeps, and I’m so grateful to all of my professors and to Sigma Tau Delta for helping me get the internship of my dreams. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the summer brings.

Natalie was one of two interns selected for the 2014 Sigma Tau Delta sponsored Summer Penguin Group (USA) Summer Internship. Society student members may apply for the 2015 between December 1, 2014, and January 20, 2015. 

Embrace It

Sara Laborby Sara Labor
Sigma Beta Chapter
Chadron State College, Chadron, NE

Sara’s blog was selected 2nd Place in the 2014 Convention Story Contest.

I walk out of the tattoo parlor into the blinding sun and a warm breeze. Savannah air fills my nose: the smell of river, trees, and life. As we walk, there is a little skip in my step. I can’t tell if it’s a leftover euphoria from the adrenaline of the tattoo or if it’s just the gorgeous weather. Probably both.

“Oh my God, the world is beautiful!” I say, skipping a few steps ahead of Hannah. I look back at her; she is smiling.

We walk along the brick sidewalk and enjoy the city sounds. At every direction there is something to see: beautiful historic buildings, moss-covered trees, and street musicians. Hannah points out a brass fountain nearby. We rush excitedly across the street to get a closer view.

When I finally get to peel the bandaging from my wrist, the two black words “Embrace it” greet me. One summer night, while explaining minute plot points of a Doctor Who episode, I stopped mid-sentence to say “Am I boring you with all my nerd talk?” My friend Katie shook her head and said, “I think it’s interesting. It’s cool that you talk about nerd things. Embrace it.”

Inspired by her words, I grabbed a sharpie to write “Embrace it” on my wrist. Even before it was permanently scrawled into my body, I would glance at my wrist when I felt unsure about myself.

Sara Labor with Daniel Mendelsohn at his book signingBut as I peel off the bandage, it has become so much more than that. For now I am thinking of the speaker we just saw, Daniel Mendelsohn, who said “I made my mistake and I stuck to it.” He was talking about the major he’d chosen in college: Classic Greek Literature. “I bet since you’re all here,” he said, “you stuck to your mistake too.”

From day one of the convention, I’ve been unsure of myself. At open mic night, I heard someone bragging about getting her novel published, while others spoke about graduate school or teaching. Meanwhile, little ‘ol me is about to graduate college with no plan and certainly no novel.

But as I look at the new ink in my skin and think of Mendelsohn, I have to smile. I don’t have to be unsure of myself. I am doing what I love: writing, reading, and discussing these things in a beautiful city.

I made my mistake.

I decide to embrace it.

#SigmaTauDeltaConvention2014

Ellen WattsEllen Watts
Public Relations Officer, Alpha Alpha Upsilon Chapter
University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wilmington, NC

Ellen’s blog was selected 1st Place in the 2014 Convention Story Contest.

 

“Definitely going to miss this view. See you soon, Savannah.”

This caption accompanied my Instagram photo that showcased the scenery from my hotel balcony. I couldn’t leave Sunday without taking one last picture of the boats gliding along with the river current and the bridge standing tall in the background.

Savannah Picture

This was my second trip to Savannah, so I already knew I adored this city. History is embedded in the cobblestone streets. Music gets tangled in the moss lazing in the trees. Charm is in no short supply amongst the trolleys, shops, restaurants, and people. Walking throughout the city it is easy to see why so many writers have been inspired by Savannah.

The final weekend of February ushered in a new generation of writers to Savannah. These people were often easily spotted due to the matching name tags or because they wore a cool English themed button or shirt picked up at the merchandise tables. The days spent exploring the city and filtering in and out of convention rooms offered the opportunity to meet with these Sigma Tau Delta members.

Throughout the sessions, students shared their scholarship and creative works, and invited the audience into conversations that expanded knowledge and broadened perspectives. These conversations often did not stop just because the sessions ended. I would notice that as we cleared the rooms for the next sessions to start, small groups would form continuing the thoughts brought up in the closing question and answer periods.

It was an incredible experience to interact with others who share the same love of language and literature that I do. Part of this interaction came during the business meeting. Surprisingly, it was one of the most entertaining sessions of the entire convention.

The roll call that kicked off the meeting shed a little light onto the personalities of each chapter as they proudly announced they were present. Both large and small chapters had unique group cheers or clever slogans and sometimes even choreographed moves. The creativity of English majors could be clearly seen and heard.

I wish I could have captured the energy and enthusiasm in that room and shared it with Instagram. The photo and two sentences that I posted did not begin to cover my experiences at convention. The city, the people, and the conversations all added up to one wonderful weekend.