Jul 202013
 

It’s the time that students apply for internships. I can tell. I have received applications myself. So has John Birmingham. John Birmingham doesn’t have interns. He’s gone into detail about why.

While I agree with some of John’s sentiments, I don’t entirely agree: if you’re an emerging writer or editor without connections in the industry or previous work experience, this can be a good way to develop both.

However, volunteering for organisations like the Wheeler Centre, Writers Victoria, MWF and EWF can also be good opportunities and, in my experience, are easier to manage alongside of attending regular classes than committing to a few days a week in an internship.

Alternatively, you can develop your own website, start blogging, build professional networks on social media platforms, attend industry events and contribute to other publications with or without pay.

Some writers bitch about writing without pay; newcomers to the industry need to take this with a grain of salt. Yes, you deserve to be paid for your work just like an accountant deserves to be paid for filing a tax return and a mechanic deserves to be paid for fixing your car.

However, as an emerging writer or editor, you need to build a profile and networks before you’re going to be paid, or at least before you’re going to earn enough from your writing to be paid for more than the occasional celebratory meal. (They’re pesky, those meals between the celebrations. And the bills.)

Businesses spend money on advertising. Writing for free is like advertising, it’s giving your time and energy to build your profile. Working as an intern is also like advertising; it helps to build a foundation on which you can base more publicity for your product, your writing or editing.

Even authors published with the big 5 companies write guest blogs and do interviews to promote their books; it’s part of the publicity machine. If you don’t write for free – no social media, no podcast, no contribution to the conversation within your genre – then no-one will know who you are. You’ll be a whisper in the roar of the crowd until silenced by disappointment.

I’ve thought about doing an internship with a publishing company to increase my work experience. I’m still undecided. If I wasn’t writing and editing for Dark Matter I would totally be applying for an internship.

If you’re an emerging or aspiring writer or editor with no experience, I think internships are valuable. John’s right, it is slave labour, but internships count for a portion of study in many degrees. Networking is essential but so is work experience. Internships are two for one: points towards completing your degree AND work experience.

Degrees don’t fully equip students for work after university. Degrees are the qualifications to get the job so you can then learn how to do the job. Internships double as study and work experience so you can say to a future employer, ‘I’ve done this and This and THIS in the work place and HERE is my referee who can confirm that I’M THE ONE YOU WANT FOR THIS JOB.’

You might think this applies more for editing than writing BUT lots of submissions need to be accompanied by a bio that includes previous work experience or previously published work. What you’ve done affects whether you’ll be considered for what you want to do.

Internships can be valuable.

Dark Matter has received applications for internships.

(Please DO NOT apply – it’d be too hard to have an intern who is also a peer while I’m studying for the associate degree of Professional Writing and Editing myself.)

Even though I don’t want an intern, I was somewhat pissed off with an application or two. Students cluttered my inbox requiring responses. They could at least have tempted me with their attractiveness as candidates in the slave market.

My advice for applying for an internship WITH SOMEONE ELSE:

  1. write a cover letter targeting the organisation specifically. Do NOT send a generic email that looks like it’s aimed at 100 different organisations.
  2. research the organisation before applying and be specific in your application. Do NOT send an email that leaves the impression you don’t know WTF they do.
  3. talk about what you can bring to the organisation as an intern that dovetails with possible organisational needs. I received unsolicited applications for internships from students who may never have looked at this website; they certainly didn’t tell me they’re interested in science fiction and fantasy. This was not inspiring.

John Birmingham is right: internships and writing for free are slave labour. However, done wisely and well, internships and writing for free can be the seeds sown for a later harvest. If you’re already ‘doing the thing’ or you already have substantial networks, neither may be needful. If you’ve only recently started poking your head up out of your burrow to look around at the exciting world of writing and publishing, you may need to do both an internship and contribute your words for free. Don’t turn your nose up at networking and publicity opportunities because someone else – someone more established – has pontificated from a position of relative success. Be wise, consider your situation and current cultural trends.

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