Writer in Residence

Acknowledgements: Sarah Jackson, Intern

By Evan Munday

Book publishing, as an industry, is not unlike a Jenga tower held together by sheer force of will. If the industry works at all, it's only because many dedicated and diligent people work for little reward like that horse, Boxer, from Animal Farm. (Though it's not all gloom-and-doom; it can certainly have its moments.) Many publishing workers remain invisible to readers and even authors, toiling away on initiatives and tasks unfamiliar to all but those already deeply enmeshed in the publishing world. 'Acknowledgements' is an interview series that aims to change that in some small way.

If book publishing is like the small intestine, interns are the villi. Sure, the small intestine could still absorb nutrients from food without villi, but it would absorb so many fewer. (I never took Biology in school; this analogy would be entirely wrong.) Essentially, interns are extremely valuable and make so many projects and efforts beyond the bare bones of editing and distributing a book possible at a publishing house. As the Canada Book Fund says,'internships provide valuable training for new Canadian book industry professionals, who in turn accomplish useful tasks that the firm might not otherwise have had the resources to carry out.' Sarah Jackson just completed an internship for Toronto literary publisher, Cormorant Books, and kind of impressed her coworkers as a bit of a polymath. 'She was great at everything we asked her to try. Prepping press releases, helping out with cover copy, proofing manuscripts, reading submissions, designing e-vites, helping out with e-blasts.' Noted for her 'open mind and thirst for any and all knowledge throughout her time [at Cormorant],' Jackson answered a few questions about how an intern fits into the publishing ecosystem.

What does an intern do? What doesn't an intern do?

JACKSON: I have been doing proofreading, some copyediting, checking printer proofs, designing launch invitations and media releases, reading manuscripts, and writing reader's reports. I also worked on writing a media release and cover copy for a short story collection that I proofread. I had a lot of guidance while working on these writing assignments during my last week at Cormorant, and I look forward to seeing the final versions. I have also done a bit of clerical work, but not very much. I was concerned that the internship would be primarily clerical tasks, so I was pleasantly surprised!

Jackson had already done enough clerical work.

JACKSON: I graduated from the University of Toronto in 2010 with a BA in English. I knew that I wanted to work with books in some way, but I found that I had no idea how to break into the field. I needed a job (as most people do), and I didn’t think I’d make a good waitress so I started working as an administrative assistant for a couple years, but knew that it wasn't what I wanted to do long-term. I found out about Centennial College's Book and Magazine Publishing postgraduate program, and have been there since September. The internship is for a credit for that program. The coordinator of the Book and Magazine program, Denise Schon, put me in contact with Cormorant, and I applied to work as their intern.

Internships, like running times of Sean Bean performances, don't last forever.

JACKSON: The internship is six weeks long, and I just finished my sixth week. It flew by!

Few appreciate the anxiety or the joys of reading books before anyone else.

JACKSON: I was terribly nervous during the first week, but that's just because I was so concerned with making a good impression and doing quality work. After the first week, the nervousness began to lift, and I felt much more comfortable. One of the first projects was proofreading, and I thought it was quite exciting to read something that so few people had read.

But there are other intrinsic rewards to internships.

JACKSON: Knowing that I'm helping contribute to making great books is the best feeling. It feels incredible to work on something that you consider to be meaningful, and that's how I felt while at Cormorant.

It's [also] very satisfying to look through printer proofs of a manuscript that I proofread to see that the errors that I caught were corrected.

And it feels great to get the typesetting right for media releases. It can take a while to get the spacing right, and to stop words from breaking up, so when it finally works, there is a great feeling of relief. I have such a respect for typesetters; it can be very frustrating.

Other advice from Jackson: get your rest.

JACKSON: Since my internship was just six weeks, I didn't have to get a part-time job. I was in the office 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, so if I did have a part-time job, I don't think I would have ever slept. If the internship had been longer, I'd probably have a different answer. I know quite a few people working part-time jobs while working full-time as interns, and I think that is very impressive, but I also know they're not getting enough sleep.

Cormorant copy_0

Just because you're an intern, doesn't mean you don't work like a highly literate dog.

JACKSON: I triple-check everything! The tasks that I am given become extremely important to me. I think authors should know that even though my internship was not a permanent position, I approached each task as if I had been a part of the project for months. I think that most interns share this enthusiasm and dedication to accuracy even though their positions are temporary.

Unlike with food, for proofreading, too many cooks are advisable.

JACKSON: I really see the importance of having multiple people's eyes on things whether it's a manuscript, cover, or a media release. It's not that this is necessarily surprising, but it has been interesting to see what one person notices that another does not. Sometimes it is an issue of perspective rather than being an outright error, but multiple views by different people seem to be crucial for accuracy, clarity, and quality.

Writing media releases for short story collections = not a breeze.

JACKSON: Writing media releases and cover copy is a little difficult because you want it to represent the book in both an honest and appealing way. I wanted it be thoughtful without sounding too academic. I think that writing copy for a short story collection is particularly difficult because it should say something about the collection as a whole while also providing details from multiple stories. While I found this writing to be a bit challenging, I really enjoyed the process. And learned a lot.

All that writing and proofreading will likely help with her ambitions.

JACKSON: Ideally, I’d like to work in editorial, but I am open to anything, really. I just want to work in publishing.

Typos and dry hands can be nemeses.

JACKSON: The most annoying thing is probably typesetting issues just because it is frustrating, but like I said before, it is also extremely satisfying when you get it right. Honourable mention goes to how dry my hands get from touching paper so often. Moisturizer is key!

Though sometimes, the job takes care of the dry hand.

JACKSON: If I wrote a book about my internship, it would be called Sweaty Palms: Portrait of a First-Time Intern. Like I said earlier, the nervousness wore off after the first week or so, but there was always an element of nervousness each time I handed something in. But for me, nervousness doesn't necessarily mean a lack of confidence. It just means that I really care about the work I'm doing. The internship at Cormorant has left me feeling confident about my skills and about book publishing.

Though Sarah Jackson no longer interns at Cormorant Books, you can see some of the titles she's worked on at www.cormorantbooks.com.

Stay tuned for more 'Acknowledgements' throughout May.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.


Evan Munday is the author and illustrator of the acclaimed book series for young readers, The Dead Kid Detective Agency. Both The Dead Kid Detective Agencyand its sequel, Dial M for Morna, were nominated for the Silver Birch Fiction Award.

Evan has worked in book marketing and publicity for ten years, eight of which were as publicist at Coach House Books, and he has since worked as a freelance illustrator and ebook designer.

Find out more about Evan on his website, idontlikemundays.com or follow him on Twitter at @idontlikemunday.

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