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Kate Icely

DISPATCHES 4: What’s an Intern Worth?

An employee peeks out from behind 4 large boxes he’s holding; 49 KB.

An employee peeks out from behind 4 large boxes he’s holding; 49 KB.So now that you know what editorial interns do and you have some tips to get you started, I’m sure you’re wondering how the editorial staff really feels about interns. This question was burning in my mind when I started at Random House Canada. With so many interns coming in (up to eight a year in some of the bigger editorial departments), would the editors even remember my name?

I’ve spoken to a few sources on the inside and, combined with my in-house experience, I think my findings might surprise you.

When I asked my first contact what the office would be like without interns—wondering if she might think it would be better without so many rookies underfoot—she laughed and said, “No one would go home at night!” Interns, she explained, help out with the time-consuming tasks that full-timers are often hard-pressed to fit into their packed schedules.

My second contact told me that without interns the editorial department would be completely overworked, since interns do a lot of essential tasks that save the department and managing editors a lot of time. Keeping up with the quotes database, for example, can take up to two hours a day. Checking page proofs can also be a huge time-suck, with interns receiving up to five proofs a day, at about half an hour a proof.

While this might not sound all that glamorous, both my contacts were quick to remind me that interns learn a lot in the process (see tip #3). For example, while reviewing proofs at Random House, I’ve significantly improved my proofreading skills and learned the subtle (and sometimes completely subjective) distinction between an editorial break with a dingbat and without. (And sometimes there are even different kinds of dingbats within one book. Have you ever noticed that?)

My second contact was also keen to remind me that interns have a lot to offer in return. In many cases, interns have unique knowledge that proves invaluable. For example, if an intern happens to be a Revolutionary War nut, she might be asked to read a proposal for a revisionist history of the war to determine if the idea is sound and saleable. It might very well be that the intern knows more about the Revolutionary War than anyone else in house. My second contact told me that in her experience the editors are always quick to notice—and reward—the special talents of their interns.

I’m happy to say that what I report here has also been my experience. In my internship, I have never felt taken advantage of, or—almost worse—ignored, and I have felt that my unique skills were appreciated. For example, when one of the managing editors realized I enjoyed indexing, she made sure to keep me busy with indexing projects.

I have been pleasantly surprised by my experience in-house. If you’ve interned in publishing, what have your intern experiences been like? Do you feel appreciated, or taken advantage of? If you work in publishing, please weigh in too… what is it like to have interns around? Are they helpful or a nuisance?

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2 Comments on “DISPATCHES 4: What’s an Intern Worth?”

  • Becca


    I worked as an intern for a textbook company last winter, and I certainly never felt like they took advantage of me. In fact, thinking back on it, it was probably one of the best environments I’ve ever had the pleasure of working in.

    Everyone in the editorial department was highly supportive, and appreciative, and took an interest in who I was as a person, not just someone to do the tasks they didn’t want to. Even now, a year later, I still receive the occasional email from them, inviting me out to lunch, or just to check in and see how things are doing.

    • Kate Icely


      Hi Becca! That sounds wonderful. It sounds like you had one of the best possible experiences. Thank you so much for sharing!

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