My first official day of work at Simon and Schuster's Touchstone/Fireside imprint began in the waiting room of the HR department. A fellow intern, Adriel, and I exchanged small talk and some pretty scant industry knowledge while we perused through catalogs and waited for the human resources coordinator to arrive. It was 9:05 AM, and both Adriel and I were itching to start our careers in book publishing, his in marketing, mine in editorial.
Orientation sounded more like an auction than an introduction to an industry and a company. I must have heard over twenty different policies, related to just as many different topics, in maybe eight to ten minutes. It was in written form in front of me, but I tried to follow what the coordinator was saying anyway. Internships at the Big Ten of the book publishing world (McGraw Hill, Random House, Harcourt, Holtzbrinck, Scholastic, Pearson, Houghton Mifflin, Harper Collins, John Wiley and Simon and Schuster, as of 2001) don't necessarily come along easily, and I wanted to have all the tools and resources to make it worth my while.
S&S has a business casual dress code, which can be ambiguous without clarification. For men, it's easy: wear a suit. You can't go wrong. Khakis and a dress shirt work too, though. For women, it's a minefield. You can't go wrong with a dress shirt and slacks or skirt, but I've seen so many different variations on the people at S&S that it's difficult to articulate an actual policy. For example, a skirt is almost inarguably dressy. But what if it's denim? Dress code flexibility appears to come with seniority. To be certain I wasn't violating an unwritten political rules, I usually wore dress pants and button-down, collared shirt. However, I did commit my share of dress-code transgressions. I wore open-toed shoes, once. They were very dressy and quite conservative, saving for the toes. Everyone stared at my feet all day. I became so self-conscious that I made an effort to stay behind my desk all day. While I suspect their staring was a subconscious awareness (two of these things are not like the other ones!) my paranoid and overworked mind kept screaming that they were doing it deliberately to punish me for violating the dress code. Yikes. But I digress.
I was pleased, half-an-hour after orientation, to be seated at my new desk, in my little corner of S&S. I was even more pleased to learn the desk was dedicated to me, the intern (or “slave” if you prefer). I had a name plate (okay, so it was a paper one) just like all the real employees. I took a picture with my BlackBerry and hoped no one would notice. I had voicemail, which I promptly set up, making sure I sounded like I really worked at S&S. I also had an email address - and email messages! One was from Irene in IT, informing me that my ID to Rockefeller Center was ready for pick up. Already, I was important enough to have email.
I was astounded. I was relatively new to the city and did not know that 1230 Avenue of the Americas was the address to one of the Rockefeller Center buildings until I opened that email. In fact, I hadn't even recognized the buildings on sight, or noticed the advertisements for Top of the Rock. When I'd visited S&S the first couple of times, I had been too busy gazing longingly at the Random House skyscraper, which is in the opposite direction, but essentially right across the street. So, Simon and Schuster had a great view of the back of my head. As if it cared. Like every other publishing industry hopeful, I had read that feature in BookNews about Random House being the best possible workplace in book publishing. And it hadn't been retired to the back of my mind with all the information I acquire from reading so much.
When I returned from picking up my ID for the Rock (already I've picked up the lingo. Does that make me a progressive, or a dork?) I was very pleasantly greeted by every single person I work with. It was as if they all waited until I officially had an ID. Each person, from the lowly assistants to the publisher of Touchstone/Fireside himself, told me they were happy to have me, asked what school I attended, commented on Pace and wished me luck. I was impressed by this show of kindness by nearly all of the people for whom I'd be working two days a week. It suddenly seemed very unimportant that I was working for nothing, when I had the joy of working with these kind and sparkly-eyed literati!
Until they returned to their desks and promptly proceeded to ignore me. Had I done something wrong? I've always been a bit shy and introverted. Perhaps I'd been overwhelmed by all the attention and didn't smile when I should've, or nod at the right moments when editor so-and-so recanted her own internship experience. Had I somehow committed a social faux-pas, miraculously insulting all my coworkers at once and thereby ruining my career in book publishing before it had even begun? To salvage my career and popularity in the business, I began to grin toothily at each passerby. The result, each time, was a polite, tight-lipped smile and quickly diverted eyes. Eventually, they stopped making eye contact. Fabulous. They probably thought I was Pace University's class idiot come to pester them...or worse, someone with poor social skills! [enter maniacal, blood-curdling scream].
Oh, stop it! I scolded, giving myself the equivalent of the cinematic slap-across-the-crazy-girl's-face. They think you're weird, because you are being weird. You're trying too hard. No one else is running the I-can-impress-the-world marathon, so why are you? Just chill out, for goodness' sake. Stop the constant worrying and trying to impress these people with your knowledge. Besides, do you really have that much knowledge? I resolved to focus on my work and be myself...not a blithering, grinning idiot. That's right, work. The stuff I'm here to do. Now, if only I could figure out where they kept the work. My co-workers were all typing away with intelligent and well-read expressions on their faces, or chatting on the phone with literary agents. Oh, how I longed for their jobs.
And then, after working pretty hard to become a sophomore in college, I was sitting just outside the door to a senior editor's office and listening to her business. It was a wonderful experience to be able to learn from what she said in her conversations, even if it is technically eavesdropping. For example, I now know that in a galley (a pre-print of a book used for final editing before it goes to the press) the table of contents might not necessarily match up with the actual page numbers in the book. I know that a series page goes in the front matter of a book along with the title and copyright pages. I know that if some book only sells 10,000 copies it could be considered a loss. I also know that it is extremely rare for a proposal or manuscript to make it all the way to publication if its point of entry is a publishing house’s Slush Pile which is a pile of submissions from people who think they can write but don’t have an agent. Generally, if they can’t get an agent, they can’t write. And no one, to an agent’s dismay, can be taught to write.
For the last time: I Want to be a Literary Agent!
4 months ago