Top ten things I’ve learned while interning

A bit of reflection in my last month at the Quill – but before I begin, I want to announce our blog’s participation in Savvy Verse & Wit’s Independent and Small Press Month. I’ll have a guest blog up on her site on March 10, but check back at the blog often for posts by other reviewers and publishers around the country.

This list is a bit tongue-in-cheek, and I’ve kept it as broad and transferrable as possible to help out those of you actually trying to learn through my internship! Take it all with a bit of salt.

1) People skills are just as important as any other publishing skill you might learn.

So much of what I’ve learned – at the Quill and outside – has stemmed from my co-workers’ generosity with their time and knowledge, and also from their patience with my ignorance. The basic ability to make and keep friends has allowed me to learn about a ton of different career paths and the business of publishing.  There is a lot of collaboration in publishing, and being good at that is important. Sometimes, when the collaboration is about something as precious as an author’s baby (aka book), tempers can flare and group harmony can go out the window. You need to know how to deal with that, too.

1.a) Pay it forward.

Related to item #1, I’ve come to realize that there’s no way I’ll be able to repay the many people who have helped me over the course of my internship. Instead I can ‘pay it forward’ – I return the favour not to the original helper, but to someone new who really needs the help. What goes around comes around, after all. I actively send news about jobs, internships and resources to the people who appreciate it.

2) When it comes to emerging technologies, nobody in the business has a clue what they’re doing.

Or it might be more accurate to say that there is no Right Answer when it comes to emerging technologies. Everyone is experimenting. Everyone is making mistakes. Everyone is trying to predict the future (which is, as we know, pretty difficult without a crystal ball). I find all of this incredibly empowering. There is a publishing revolution going on right under our feet! And since everyone is in the same state of befuddlement, you, the intern, can actively  and confidently participate without being dismissed for your inexperience. (Well, that is still a possibility, but at least you can say that there aren’t many people with experience in the future.)

2.a) At some point you need to get off the Internet.

Seriously, though. Since a lot of my work for the Quill – all of it, now – is done online, it’s become increasingly easy for me to suddenly perk up at 8 in the evening and realize I’ve spent the entire day on the computer. That is just plain ridiculous. It’s important to meet with people face-to-face and learn things the old-fashioned way, too; so far the web just can’t replicate that.

2.b) People who ‘get’ metadata are the Harry Potters of the publishing world.

Onix errors are tiny Voldemorts.

3) An organized desk makes an energized intern.

Balancing two jobs and graduate school applications (luckily all finished last month – yippee!) has been a real kick in the pants for me. It’s been stressful and difficult and if it weren’t for the fact that my saintly partner does all the housework (‘Including cooking!’, he adds), I might have cracked. But one thing that always helped was keeping organized – a clean workspace and uncluttered computer(including a system for version control) perks my mood right up and reduces the stress to merely “Oh jeez I still have to make lesson plans for tomorrow” (instead of “Oh jeez I just lost the manuscript I typeset”).

4) Writers never quit (and I love them for it).

Over the past twelve months I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several authors on the job, and they never fail to amaze me. From emailing me about submissions to henpecking a tip sheet I wrote, authors put up with a lot of abuse to see their baby (book) published. Although I’ve had to reject a number of writers over the year, I still feel honoured to have read their works-in-progress and to witness that small part of their long journey for publication. You go, writers! Without you I would not have a career. ; – )

5) There is nothing quite like the feel of a quality book.

Before starting work at the Porcupine’s Quill, I had never really considered the physical quality of a book. I hadn’t encountered e-readers at that time and I wasn’t particularly gifted in the fine art of book printing or binding. The Porcupine’s Quill has changed all that. After working with PQL books for the year, I now find myself in a state of unhappy confusion when faced with a book that smells like glue or stains my hands with ink or whose paper tears if you look at it the wrong way. Now the physical quality of a book has a major effect on my enjoyment of the book’s content. And although I’ve been using an ereader for the past year – easier for travelling – I am really excited to move back to Canada, buy some bookshelves and start filling them with beautiful books on the inside and out.

6) Even if you are super, super busy, you should keep reading for pleasure.

This is just obvious, isn’t it? Cut out the television, cut out Facebook and find a book to read. If you want to work in the publishing industry, you should be a reader. This past year I made a lot of seeming sacrifices* to find the time to read for fun – and it turns out, after getting into my book, they aren’t such sacrifices after all.

* These sacrifices may or may not have been named The Office, The Mentalist, Dexter, Modern Family and True Blood.

7) Keep your eye out for opportunity and don’t be afraid to deviate from the plan.

Over the past year I’ve learned the value of occasionally jumping into a last-minute project or opportunity if I get the chance – despite my compulsive need to plan out everything at least one year in advance. Sometimes life doesn’t fit neatly into a five-year plan, after all. You’re more likely to regret the things you don’t do, after all. (So they say, anyhow. I don’t completely buy this, but in this case it works.)

8 ) Coffee breaks are the key to sanity.

Regular small breaks away from the keyboard are a must. You may not think you need a break, but after three hours you most certainly do. Take one. Trust me.

9) Tim and Elke Inkster are the hardest-working people I know.

Also the most reliable, brilliant and ferocious. Whenever I felt confused or overwhelmed, they were there to help and support. It’s easy to forget just how long PQL has been around – and how long Tim and Elke have been there pushing it forward. Canada is so lucky to have this treasure of publishing history and innovation.

10) The future of publishing lies (mostly) with small presses.

The success and vitality of the Porcupine’s Quill is proof that small presses can and will thrive in a market that the massive publishers are finding difficult to navigate. Small presses – and their owners – are flexible, dynamic and open (and able) to change. Supported happily by a dedicated niche group of readers, a small press helps its community and can provide a trusted, worthy and knowledgeable alternative to self-publishing. After spending a year with the Quill I’m fully convinced that despite their small budgets, Canada’s small presses already have the leadership and vision to ride out the digital revolution in a way that most big publishers will be unable to match.

Of course, it’s still unlikely that there will be any more money in small publishing … but that’s not what we’re here for, is it?

About Caleigh

Intern at the Porcupine's Quill.
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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.