Today, I’m interviewing (get it, Intern-View) the fantastic writer and intern super-star Kate Brauning (Link). Kate’s an editorial intern for Entagled publishing and an agency intern for the Carol Mann Literary Agency. She’s gifted in writing, editing, critiquing, and diving through your query slush. She shares a behind the scene glance of what being an intern is all about.
Thank you for visiting Kate! I’m just going to throw some questions out. Prepare yourself. I want to know a lot about what you do. The whole intern thing is quite a mystery to me.
1. What’s your writing beverage of choice?
I’m usually drinking something no matter what I’m doing. Cool flavors of herbal tea, fruit smoothies, lattes, and anything from my Keurig would probably cover it most days. Coffee is a frequent choice, naturally.
2. First and foremost, you are a writer. Can you give us a quick pitch for one of your manuscripts?
I’d love to! The MS I’m querying is titled MOON RIVER, a YA contemporary. Here’s the pitch:
Making out with your cousin has its pitfalls. Jackie knows she shouldn’t love Marcus the way she does, but she can’t stop loving him anymore than she can stop the Missouri River from freezing. But now Marcus is dating someone else— a new girl who knows more than she should about a murdered classmate, and Sylvia’s secrets may mean their bodies will be the next ones the police dig out of the woods.
(Killer elevator pitch, Kate. WHOA!)
3. How did your internship opportunities come about? Have you always wanted to be involved in publishing?
I’d thought about being involved in the publishing industry in college, but I didn’t have a clear idea what editors did and I barely knew agents existed. I thought editors mostly proofread manuscripts, which sounded like a horrible job. I just wanted to be a writer. After college, when I finished my first manuscript and started looking into what to do with it, I started reading agent and editor blogs, and thought, “Hey, there’s this whole group of people who love sushi, whiskey, and books. Also, they seem to really like Twitter. We could probably be friends!” While researching how to query and what happens during the publishing process, I discovered agents are an irreplaceable part of authors’ careers and editors do much more interesting things than proofread.
Joining Twitter and reading those blogs was actually my first step toward connecting with the industry. Agents and editors tweeted/posted about internship openings, and I applied to every one I saw. Bookjobs.com also had a significant list of internships, so I used that, too. While applying, I read Shelf Awareness and Publishers Lunch and as many of the books I was hearing publishing people talk about as I could. I joined a writing group, found an amazing critique partner, and started blogging with YA Stands. After about 6-8 months of that, a few more opportunities and connections opened up for me. I applied to Entangled and started working for them the end of July 2012. After gaining some experience there, I applied again for a few agency internship openings I saw being passed around, and I was offered the position with the Carol Mann Agency.
4. How does being an editorial intern with Entangled Publishing differ from your internship with the Carol Mann Literary Agency?
Mostly they differ in content. For Entangled, I read a lot of paranormal, fantasy, YA, and category romance. CMA deals more with nonfiction, literary fiction, YA, and adult fiction across the genres, but very little SF/F. What makes a quality manuscript in my two internships differs more than I thought it would, and seeing those differences has helped me come to respect and appreciate fiction (and nonfiction) in many forms.
5. What are your duties as an editorial intern?
I read manuscripts, write reader reports, and try to entertain my boss editor, Theresa Cole! Building my knowledge of Entangled’s lines is also important, so I do a good bit of research to keep up with them.
6. What are your duties as an agency intern?
I read queries, partials, nonfiction proposals, requested manuscripts, and client manuscripts. Of course, I write reader reports on everything, and I also blog occasionally for the agency. I tweet observations from the slush pile, so follow along on Twitter, if you like!
7. What skills do you have that you’ve found to be most useful in your internships?
Being a writer myself helps (and of course, being an intern helps my writing). Being an active reader and writer helps me to comment on character development, voice, plot, pacing, sentence-level writing quality, etc. Being a fast reader is absolutely necessary, which doesn’t come easily for me. If I like a MS, I’m tempted to slow down and enjoy it, but I have to force myself to focus, read quickly, and still take thorough notes.
8. Have these internships changed the way you write or what you write about?
Definitely yes to both! Seeing what comes through the slush pile helps me with my concepts, because I see what’s being done a lot. Many of the story ideas I see are the same ten or so concepts in slightly different forms. Pushing myself to come up with original and gripping ideas is hard, but it’s necessary to stand out. Also, reading so widely (I never know what I’m going to be handed next- memoir, steampunk YA, you name it) and reading works by so many different writers has stretched my understanding of both what’s possible and what’s effective in fiction. One of the most significant things I’m learning is the idea of “common phrasing.” The more I read, the more I’m noticing that people tend to describe the same things the same way, and express the same ideas in the same words. To me, a big part of good writing is finding a new way to express that thought and a new way to show the reader that thing. Learning to recognize common phrasing helps me keep it out of my own writing and challenges me to make my prose more original.
9. How have the internships helped you in the query trenches?
Reading queries is really helping me understand what works and what doesn’t, and why. Having “intern” in my query bio doesn’t hurt, either. However, I can definitely say it’s the writing that matters most, and many imperfect queries, as long as they tell the agent what the book is about, still get requests. So, it helps, but mostly through skill building.
10. What advice can you offer to someone who is wanting to intern with a literary agency or in publishing?
Get on Twitter and follow literary agents there (here’s a list), read agent blogs (here’s another list), join a critique group for writers and book clubs, get to know writers and industry professionals, and keep applying. I probably applied for 20 or 30 internships before found mine. Persistence pays off!
11. What advice can you offer writers based off both of your internship experience?
I blogged about a few things writers can do to make their manuscripts stand out in the slush here pile here, but if you do only three things as a writer, do these:
1) Read current fantastic fiction, not just classics. A few recommendations: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS for voice. GRACELING for fantastic character development and internal and external conflicts that impact each other. WHAT ALICE FORGOT for tight, impacting prose and one of the best portrayals of genuine human emotion I’ve ever seen.
2) Read books on craft. A lot of writers tell me they don’t do this, and I firmly believe they should. WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL and its workbook, and MASTER CLASS IN FICTION WRITING are two of the best I’ve read.
3) Get a critique partner, someone who is a close reader and a tough critiquer. He/she will improve your writing ways you didn’t know were possible.
Finally, I’m just an intern. Don’t take what I say as the be-all, end-all of advice. Lots of very knowledgeable people will probably disagree with me on a few things here. Double-check facts and get second opinions on the publishing advice you read. It’s your career, so look for other sources that support or disagree with what you’re hearing, and then make your decisions.
12. Besides these two internships, you are also a teacher, writer and blogger. How do you stay organized? Do you plan your writing hours or just write when inspiration hits?
I am definitely not always organized, but I try. One thing I do that helps is having set times for doing different activities. I teach in the morning, work on my internships in the afternoon, and read and write in the evening. Social media and browsing the internet can take far more time than it seems, so if I get on Twitter, I give myself a ten-minute limit before I have to be back working. Having two computer monitors also helps a lot- less clicking and moving pages around, more space for me to think and be productive. Mostly, I have a list of daily tasks I want to accomplish written on my marker board by my computer, and I focus on doing them one at a time, without distractions. Getting rid of those distractions is, of course, the trick! I have a niece and a dog and a husband who claims he wants to eat more than once a day, so sometimes it’s a juggling act.
As for inspiration, Jack London is reported to have once said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” Ray Bradbury also said to read one short story, one poem, and one essay a night in every field possible, and before long, you’ll be full of ideas and perceptions, and you’ll be well on your way to being more creative. Both those things apply to how I find the time and inspiration to write. Writing at a certain time of day helps; using the activities in the Breakout Novel workbook helps because it gets me focused and thinking and excited to write. But mostly, it’s showing up and putting in the time. Motivating myself can be the hardest part, but if this is what I want, then I have to go after it with a club. Most of the time, chasing down inspiration turns out to be pretty good fun.
Where you can find me:
Thank you Kate for sharing your experiences as an agent and editorial intern. I loved having you! MOON RIVER sounds thrilling. I bet it floats to the top of the slush pile! I can’t wait to read it someday!
Also, thank you to my new writing assistant JenVictoria for brainstorming some of the above interview questions. They were fantastic!