| Don’t Write Alone
Shop Talk Interning In the Publishing Industry
A roundtable discussion with Catapult’s current and past interns.
Publishing professionals talk about internships as a great way to get your foot in the door, but what are they actually like? What should you consider before applying to them? Since the company’s launch in 2015, Catapult has been host to an evolving internship program. As Catapult has grown, many of those interns have joined the company full-time. This conversation is a discussion with current and former Catapult interns about their experiences.
What is your current role, and when did you intern with Catapult?
Summer Farah (SF): Associate editor! I was a publicity and editorial intern (technically at Counterpoint) in summer 2018.
Elizabeth Pankova (EP): Editorial assistant; I was the publicity and marketing intern in fall 2021.
Katie Mantele (KM): Sales and marketing associate. I was a publicity and marketing intern in fall 2019.
Vanessa Genao (VG): I’m a current publicity and marketing intern.
Olivia Cuevas (OC): I’m also a fall 2022 publicity and marketing intern.
Olenka Burgess (OB): Production manager. I interned in early spring 2017.
tracy danes (TD): Production assistant for Catapult, Counterpoint, and Soft Skull Press. I was a publicity and marketing intern in spring 2020.
What has your professional journey been like? How did you arrive at Catapult?
SF: I did two publishing internships—one with Counterpoint and one with Little Feminist . The Counterpoint offices are in Berkeley, which is where I went to college, and Little Feminist was a start-up in Oakland. My first full-time publishing job was at University of California Press, where I worked under the sociology and art history editors, as well as the editorial director. After three years there, I came back to Catapult! This is my formal/institutional journey, but I owe a lot of the opportunities I’ve gotten to my creative communities like Berkeley Fiction Review , online lit mags, spoken-word spaces, and volunteering with the Radius of Arab American Writers . The time I’ve spent organizing poetry slams or reading my friends’ manuscripts have been so valuable in shaping my understanding of audience, how people read, how different writers think, etc.—all play a big role in my editorial practice.
EP: I started in journalism, where I was mostly interested in cultural and literary criticism. Then I decided to try publishing, and after my internship at Catapult I knew I wanted to stay in publishing and work in editorial.
KM: I first discovered Catapult through its magazine but didn’t apply for the internship until years later. I had previously interned at a literary nonprofit and a big-five publisher, so Catapult’s internship was a great opportunity to experience independent publishing.
VG: Before joining Catapult, I served as an administrative assistant for Latinx in Publishing , where I helped manage their Writers Mentorship Program . That helped me land an apprenticeship at the Feminist Press , where I did editorial, marketing, sales, production, and administrative work. As it turns out, this experience made the Catapult internship the perfect fit for me: I had enough experience in each department to get started but still had enough room to learn and grow, which I get to do every day!
OC: I found Catapult through its listing for [the internship] position, and I am so incredibly grateful that I stumbled across it on Twitter. This is my first internship, and it’s been so rewarding to learn about so many different departments and areas of publishing I previously knew nothing about. I know that my experience here at Catapult will serve as a great foundation as I continue my professional journey and venture into the world of publishing.
OB: I entered the industry through the book-publishing master’s program at Portland State University, during which I interned with a couple creative small presses who were also part of a Pacific Northwest indie publishers collective. I attended a few of their meetings, where I met Jennifer Kovitz, the associate publisher of Catapult at the time, who had recently moved to Portland. She encouraged me to apply to the internship, and the rest is history.
TD: If you asked me in high school (even in college, depending on the day), I thought I’d be writing for World of Warcraft or developing indie video games by now. Instead, I pursued creative writing in undergrad, which naturally led to publishing. Like many, I thought I wanted to work in editorial. I realized the folly of that after interning in production at Penguin Random House. Oh, how my childhood love of spreadsheets and fonts keeps me warm.
What were your duties as an intern, and how do they differ from your current position?
OB: Can I say how they’re similar? I have a fond memory from one of my first days of interning: A snowstorm was on its way, so the office was empty, but I’d opted to come in to knock out a big mailing of galleys. I remember feeling so blissful that day. The excitement of being new to the city and landing a cool internship was surely part of it, as was a general affection for snow, but it was also the meditative hands-on process of stuffing letters into books and books into envelopes in service of getting them into the world. It felt meaningful, like a humble culmination of so many people’s labor and vision. And while my day-to-day tasks are different now, being involved with the physical production of the book still gives me this feeling; I still find meaning in the quiet, diligent, sometimes-repetitive behind-the-scenes work that enables a book to be a tangible thing in a reader’s hands.
TD: As a publicity and marketing intern, I worked between the two teams to develop influencer mailing lists, draft media pitches, scour the internet for buzz about our books, and generally try to help the books find hands in the world. As the production assistant, I help make sure that there are books to find hands. As Olenka noted, our small department is responsible for turning the manuscript (a Word document) into a book. This entails understanding the author’s voice and vision; pairing the MS with an appropriate copy editor; designing and typesetting the interior layout (which is my favorite part and which many other houses outsource); coordinating with Editorial and Design to ensure all files, interior and cover, are ready by the print date; coordinating with printers to ensure they have paper, with trucks to ensure they have wheels, with warehouses to ensure they have space. Not to mention ebook production and the many PDFs along the way. Publicity and marketing work felt social in a way that didn’t jibe with my introverted tendencies. Production is logical, sequential.
How has your internship experience helped or contributed to your current position?
EP: My internship was a great introduction to independent publishing, which I didn’t know much about beforehand. It also allowed me to observe and participate in the work of Catapult’s editorial department, and build the skills and relationships that helped me come back full-time. I had a lot of freedom to explore my interests beyond publicity and marketing, which was extremely helpful and instrumental in my decision to continue working in the industry.
TD: Despite the title of “publicity and marketing,” I would not be a production assistant if not for the internship! Thanks to my previous internship at Penguin Random House, I already knew I wanted to do more production work, so I made sure to reach out. I grew close with the production editor at the time and took on ever more responsibilities, to the point that, after my internship, I was brought on as the production assistant. It’s important to advocate for yourself, especially when you’re just starting out! Internships should let you branch out and explore your many curiosities—and luckily my supervisor at Catapult understood and encouraged that.
What advice do you have for someone interested in interning in the publishing industry?
SF: Do not take an unpaid internship! Do not apply to unpaid internships! The number of paid (albeit, still under paid) positions since I was on the intern market has risen dramatically, and so many houses are still offering remote work—take advantage of this. If you’re going to do something that’s unpaid, let it be reading for a small literary magazine or volunteering for an organization that means something to you; these experiences are just as valuable as an internship in gaining connections and building muscles in the industry.
EP: It’s helpful to know what’s going on in the publishing world, and places like Twitter, Publishers Weekly , Poets & Writers , and other literary magazines are great for learning about the big books and writers and trends. That being said, it’s not necessary to have read all the recent bestsellers and prizewinners to have good taste or be qualified for an internship. I think it can be very beneficial to have a reading diet beyond what’s trendy in the current moment. Everyone in publishing “loves books,” but which books you love, and why you love them, is what sets you apart.
VG: You can go about publishing internships in two ways: You can decide what department you’d like to work in first and look for presses that have a relevant internship open, or you can decide what presses you’d be interested in working at and see what internships they have available. Either way is fine, but I think it’s important you care about the work a particular press is doing. Before I applied to this internship, I had fallen in love with several Catapult titles and was also a longtime reader of the magazine. I wanted to work with a press whose vision of the world aligned with my own and whose legacy I wanted to contribute to, even in a small way. I’m convinced that my enthusiasm for and knowledge of the press helped me secure the [internship] position. Moral of the story is, consider looking into the presses who published your favorite books and letting that drive your internship search. If you’re interested in design, do the covers especially speak to you? If you want to go into editorial, is there a strong editorial vision you can see across titles? If you’d like to work in marketing, did those books have a distinctive social media campaign? Let these questions help drive you toward the right internship for you.
KM: Explore other departments in your publishing house/imprint beyond your immediate team. Catapult’s internship program encourages you to regularly chat with colleagues across the company, which is really helpful if you’re not sure which role is right for you. Having these conversations helped me better understand the publishing ecosystem and showed me how each department relies on and needs the other departments to be successful. These conversations also gave me the opportunity to do elective work and thus increased my overall skill set.
OB: A broad general knowledge of the publishing process is always helpful, so be open to internships that seem to fall outside your ideal department or career path. Likewise, if there’s a particular department or type of work you’re interested in outside the scope of your internship, don’t be afraid to ask if there’s some way you can help out. There likely is, and you never know where that could lead.
TD: These insightful people make excellent points. I’d like to add that it’s okay if you don’t read as much as you think you have to. I so rarely keep up with or even understand the literary zeitgeist. Of course, being aware of literary trends is more or less important depending on what kind of work you want to do (and if you want to do it, you’re probably already keeping up). During meetings with editors and publicists, I get a faint tingling of imposter syndrome— Am I not a “literary citizen”? They’re able to conjure networks of comparisons, but to me, it’s just that: arcane sorcery. Where do they find the time! Not all publishing jobs demand that you read the bestsellers. I’ll be over here playing Ori and the Blind Forest and reading Ice (1967) and writing abstract poems.