Eastern Region English Careers

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. 

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  • Thanks for the excellent post, Natalie! I’m glad to hear how much you loved the internship. Getting an inside look into your internship experience helps me think about what I want to do for the future. Working as an editor is my dream job, too. Good luck in your future career! Hope to hear good things. 🙂