This summer I interned as the electronic media assistant in the college department at W.W. Norton & Company.
Given my past internship experiences and my editorship on the Long River Review, I had thought it would be easy to get a summer internship at a publishing company. My naïveté was exposed when I applied to five publishing houses and was rejected again and again. To get my job at Norton I had to apply fourteen times and interview with three different departments before I got a shot.
I have always wanted to work in publishing, but I had never set foot on Manhattan before. I rented a dorm at NYU (they rent to non-students during the summer), navigated the subway and found 500 Fifth Avenue with confusion. I was excited and nervous. I was finally getting a chance at experiencing my dream career. I met my boss in the lobby and she brought me up to the seventh floor and led me into the kitchen: this was where I would work. Interns were crammed at long plastic tables in front of IBM ThinkPads, some of which worked better than others. This, of course, led to bickering and thievery of the better laptops. My nervousness and excitement fell away and were replaced by chagrin.
The kitchen, of course, was not a place designed to make interns suffer, but rather to meet the needs of Norton’s tight budget. Norton is an employee-owned company, perhaps best known for their Norton Anthologies, and they are the only publishing company that has consistently grown the past five years. I was paid $7.25 per hour, and I did not file or scan or buy my boss coffee. Instead, I copyedited the electronic versions of English, economics, biology, astronomy, geology and music textbooks. I created online study resources such as electronic flashcards and designed author videos and podcasts. I screened transcriptions for errors, tweeted for authors, and cited resources used by our traveling salesmen. I found the work (although tedious at times) to be incredibly rewarding. I got to copyedit MARK TWAIN and HARRIET BEECHER STOWE! It was an English major’s dream.
My advisors in the electronic media department were amazing. They had all been interns at some point and understood the tediousness of the work we had to do. My boss was twenty-three years old. No one that I directly worked for was older than twenty-five, or had been working at Norton for over two years.
(A side note: This is due to high turnover. I was working for editorial assistants, and let’s face it: If you’re an editorial assistant for more than two years, and you haven’t been promoted, you probably suck and should look into finding a career outside of publishing; or so I was told.)
During the summer, the company hosts weekly brown bag lunches and every department gives a presentation about what it does. I learned about contracts, jacket design, communications, marketing, publicity, and what, exactly, makes textbooks so damn expensive. My favorite lunch session was with the managing editor of the trade department. She went over the five responsibilities of the trade department, which are:
- Vocabulary and grammar consistency
- Plagiarism and liability (authors often accidentally plagiarize themselves)
- Permissions and fair use
Copyeditors at Norton are always freelance and usually only work on one book at a time. The managing editor told us that the book should always be what the author wants. I think that’s what I appreciate most about Norton. Corporate companies tend to churn books out without much respect to the author, but because Norton is so small there is far more individual attention.
If I wasn’t attending a brown bag lunch, the interns and I crossed the street and spent our hour in Bryant Park (where you have to physically fight people for chairs at lunchtime), and on Thursdays I watched Broadway in Bryant. It’s exactly what it sounds like.
When my internship was finished, my boss asked me if I was graduating in December, and if I would be looking for a position. I thought about it. However, starting salary at Norton is only $32,000 a year. That’s a tight budget for a recent college grad all on her own.
Give interning at Norton some thought. It was an amazing experience. If you have any questions, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.