Starting Small

You there! Want to crack the oldest game in town? The Book Trade, I say!

Step right up! Publishing is not an easy industry to get a start in. Sometimes it seems like there’s either a feast or famine in the job market, and for entry level positions it’s a particularly ravenous existence. This is where internships help. Often people perceive the best internships or the most desirable internships to be those with the big five or other suitably large publishing operations. I disagree with that and would argue an alternative view: the best experience for an internship you can get is at a small press.

Why intern at a small press? Comparatively you might meet less famous authors, work on less high-profile books and have a less stylish office to frequent. But you will also meet local authors, most of whom are incredibly friendly and happy to talk shop and share their advice from their perspective of the industry. You will probably get to do a more diverse range of tasks because frankly, many small presses need more hands on deck than they can afford. You will be assigned projects that are important to the press as opposed to tasks that no-one in the office has time for or is particularly keen on doing. Essentially, you become part of the team.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved interning at a big publisher. It was a wonderful experience and I did learn a lot. For example, how to use Adobe Bridge, the ins-and-outs of the restaurant scenes in both Melbourne and Sydney and what it’s like behind the scenes at a cookbook photoshoot. It was brilliant and the team I worked for were a fantastic bunch of people who I couldn’t be more grateful to.

But my time at this small press has been really different (but equally as brilliant). I’ve been everywhere, and I’ve learned so much. The internship here has been one of the most versatile experiences I’ve had so far in my life. And one of the most flexible.

Work from home? Mandatory. Pyjamas? Hey, it’s your house. You can only work 8-10pm? That’s fine.

In a big press, from my own experience and the experience of those I’ve spoken to, interns tend to be placed in one area and work exclusively on a set of tasks within that area for their whole internship. This is not true of all big publishers of course, but in many there are set lines which interns, like the staff they are attached to, do not cross.

At a small press, there are no such lines because there are often not more than a handful of employees. This is great! You get to do a whole lot of things, sometimes all at once. Look! Two hands! I’m typing with two hands! Marvellous. Due to the significantly smaller size of presses, you will often find yourself in direct contact with the publisher, if not interning directly for them. This is also great. You get the full experience of what it means to be a publisher by working so closely with them. The stress, the victories, the excitement at finding a good book to publish.

Anyone looking to start out in publishing will probably find themselves doing more than one internship. Or should, because really, where do you get that competitive edge? So why not do the big press internship that everyone seems to drool over, and ALSO do a small press internship. My own small press internship has been an absolute blast and has skilled me up for the publishing industry unlike any other internship. It’s inspired me to continue in publishing, even when it seems I’m going against the odds.

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