Posts Tagged ‘interviews’

(Don’t ask: this is the picture Jen gave me.)

This is the fifth in a series of interviews with the bushy-eyed beginners of the publishing industry — interns. You can see HELLO INTERN interviews here with the other Australian Publishers Association interns, who are, respectively, at Scribe Publications, black dog books, Oxford University Press and Text Publishing.

Onto the present, and Oxford University Press intern Jennifer Butler. Jen is actually doing her internship through the Melbourne University Postgraduate Diploma in Editing and Communications. We both work at OUP, and since I’m not attracted enough to whiplash-type injuries to conduct an interview with myself, here’s a peek into her internship hijinks. She’s tall and really disciplined, and if I were honest with myself I would say that we were at polar ends of the spectra for those particular characteristics. (I’m five feet tall and have a really dusty yoga mat.)

I know about you, but the internet doesn’t know as much as I do (for once). Tell it a bit about yourself.

How do you know the internet doesn’t know as much about me as you do? Have you googled me? Hmm?

Yes, I have, but I got numerous results for Bill Murray’s ex-wife, so I thought it better to desist.

Okay, fine, there’s not much about me out there. Here’s a bio I wrote about myself for an upcoming book (the book is not an OUP publication, so in deference to my mentors I won’t name it):

Jennifer Butler completed her undergraduate degree at the Queensland Conservatorium and her PhD on nineteenth-century Russian opera and literature at the University of New South Wales. She then lived in various parts of Russia for two years. She has written liner notes for Decca and Deutsche Grammaphon, and reviews of Mariinsky Theater productions for The Moscow Times. Her hobbies include languages, literature, and slowly sightreading her way through the piano repertoire. Bach is a particular favourite. From time to time she plays badminton. She currently lives in Melbourne, where she teaches English.

I’m interested in publishing because I like being part of a creative process and I like big projects. As for reading, after many years reading obscure nineteenth-century Russian literature I’m trying to get a hold on contemporary literary fiction. That broad enough for you? I also like Ian Rankin and Reginald Hill.

Oh my God. I’m actually scared of you a little bit now. You’re doing an internship with OUP as part of the Melbourne University Postgraduate Diploma in Editing and Communications. How is the internship structured, and how does it fit in with your other studies? Do all the students of that course do internships, or is it an elective?

The internship is structured according to your needs and those of your host. You need to be there for 100 to 120 hours, and complete a research project which helps your host in some way. I’m working on a top secret project involving new editions. I’m not studying anything else at the moment, so fitting it in with other studies is not an issue. Fitting it in with the rest of my life is another matter.

I don’t know if all students do internships, but I think they’d be silly not to. At some point you need a chance to prove yourself.

Did you have a say in where you did the internship? Why did you pick OUP? How did you prepare the internship application?

Yes, we had a say. I chose OUP because I wanted to work for an educational publisher with a good reputation. The internship application involved nominating the publishers and the type of work I was interested in, and sending them my resume via the course co-ordinator. Then I had a meeting with my mentor to discuss the type of work I’d be doing, and that was that. Other students’ applications were a bit more complicated (writing tests, reference checks and so on) but OUP seemed very trusting.

That strikes me as unfair, seeing as I had to do an editing test and two interviews to get my job. But tell me a bit more about the Editing and Communications course.

After you’ve completed some core subjects (Editorial English and Structural Editing) you can continue as you wish, adding subjects to match your interests. I’ve also done Print Production and Design (indesign training) and the Contemporary Publishing Industry (finding out about current industry issues).

Do you know where any of the other interns are posted?

Yep. There are lots at funky literary magazines (including The Lifted Brow), some doing communications work with the government and charities, and others are with fiction publishers. As far as I know I’m the only one with an educational publisher. Aren’t textbooks sexy enough?

What’s the most salient thing you’ve learned from doing the internship?

That my instincts are often right, and they are not only applicable to theses on Russian opera. Constant self-doubt is a common side effect of finishing a PhD, not preening arrogance, as you’d assume.

What are you reading right now?

Dave Eggers’ What is the What.

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Guess what? It’s part four of HELLO INTERN, your favourite series of interviews with extremely literate and fun members of society: the people taking part in the Australian Publishers Association‘s internship program. There are six of these internships on offer this year, and they cover a broad range of roles with equally diverse publishing houses. Today’s parley is with Sophie Splatt, editorial intern at black dog books.

Before I sat Sophie down for a chat, I perused black dog books’ titles on their website. Tell me you don’t want to buy Saving Pandas right away. Wait until you see the one with the lamb on the front cover.

Sophie, you must be in the running for the intern with the best name. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I finished a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT last year. Before that I have completed a Bachelor of Creative Arts and a Diploma of Modern Languages (Italian) and worked in Japan, among other things. I also have my own business designing and making crafty goods which you can see here: http://www.mistressoftheupperfifth.com.au/

How did your interest in publishing develop, and what steps did you take to get involved? Can you talk a little bit about your interest in children’s publishing specifically?

I have always loved reading. I went back to study because I wanted to get work in the publishing industry, ideally as an editor. I chose the RMIT course because I had a friend who had done it and really recommended it as being very practical (I love TAFE!). During my time there I did a placement at Allen & Unwin which really confirmed for me that I wanted to work in publishing.

I guess my interest in children’s publishing really stems from my love of all things childlike. I collect picture story books from the 50s, 60s and 70s and vintage children’s fabrics too. I love toys as well and I spent 6 years working in a toy shop on Brunswick St. At RMIT I studied writing for children and writing for young adults and found that as well writing for this age group I still loved reading for it too. It’s wonderful to be working for a publisher who focuses on making great books for kids.

What was the interview process like?

I had two interviews for the internship. I already knew quite a bit about black dog books but of course I prepared for the interview – just like I would for any job.

How is your internship structured?

I am an editorial intern so I am doing mostly editorial work. I have already studied editing but I am learning a lot as I go (and really enjoying the chance to put what I have learnt into practice).

What’s an average day in the life of an intern at black dog books?

I like the fact that every day here is different. While I have some long-term projects that I’m working on, there are always lots of other things to be done. It’s great to work in a smaller company too, so that I get the chance to find out about all the aspects of the publishing industry and not just the editorial side.

You must have been pretty excited at the opportunity to step into the publishing world. What have been the highlights?

Getting a job! I wasn’t sure how hard it would be to find work when I finished my course so I feel very lucky to have this opportunity.

Any advice for people who are interested in working in the industry?

Make a plan – whether this is going back to study, getting work experience or applying for jobs. It’s not impossible!


Welcome to the third instalment of the HELLO INTERN interview series. You’ve already said HELLO INTERN to two of the APA‘s interns. (Well, you’ve said hello to one; the other is actually a publishing assistant…never mind.) Sonja Heijn is carving it up at Scribe Publications‘ Carlton North office; giving editorial lip to the likes of Ben Naparstek and Cate Kennedy, no doubt. That’s Sonja’s desk to the right. It’s where she makes the magic happen. Two screens, people.

In case you’ve just tuned in, HELLO INTERN kicks off with a no-longer-funny/was-it-ever-funny gimmick: bylines ganked from The Poker Star website, in honour of my friend Chris, a contestant on said reality TV show.

Sonja Heijn is…friendly, enthusiastic and tenacious.

Sonja, hello. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Hi, I’m an editorial intern at Scribe. When I’m not editing, reading, or making lists of books that I simply must read, I like making cakes, swimming, and going on long roadtrips. My goals are to make editor, live somewhere I can grow vegetables, and swim a whole lap of backstroke without crashing into the lane divider.

How did your interest in editing develop, and what steps did you take to get involved? Can you talk a little bit about your interest in Scribe specifically?

It developed pretty naturally from being an avid reader as a kid. It’s always been my absolute favourite thing to do, and I’ve always been fascinated by how the English language works. I started a dictionary collection in my teens, but it still didn’t occur to me to make a career out of it until a few years ago, after a succession of different jobs that didn’t quite hit the spot, when I decided it was time for a serious think. I thought about what I enjoyed, what I believed mattered, and what I was good at — and came up with editing. It made perfect sense then and it still does now. So I moved to Melbourne and enrolled in the Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT, did prac. placement at Allen & Unwin, and when I saw the internship come up at Scribe, I applied quick smart. I was very interested in Scribe because it’s an independent publishing house and their list is informed by a strong belief that the book itself — especially what it has to say — is (at the very least) as important as its sales potential.

What was the interview process like?

Ah … nerve-wracking! I’d already read everything I could find about Scribe before I sent my application letter, so I knew what a rare chance this was, and I was really just trying not to get my hopes up too high. It was a two-interview process, and the first interview was with the publisher and non-fiction editor and involved an editorial test. The editorial test had 2 components: copyediting and manuscript assessment. I got some very good advice from a friend at Allen & Unwin in regard to the manuscript assessment, and I read and re-read all my grammar and markup notes from the RMIT course for the copyediting test. The first part of the interview confirmed what I had already felt — that I wanted to work at Scribe — and the test went well, so I was over the moon when I got a call back to come in for a second interview. The second interview was with the publisher and a representative from the APA, and we talked about the internship program and what would be expected. After the second interview, I don’t think I breathed properly until I got a call from the publisher saying I’d been successful and how soon could I start …

How is your internship structured?

My internship is quite informal. Scribe is a small publishing house, so there’s lots of opportunities to see how other parts of the business work and how editorial fits into that. Another advantage is that I can always just pop upstairs and ask one the editors or the publisher if I have a question about something. Having that kind of immediate access is invaluable. I started off my internship reading and reporting on submissions, which I love, and then gradually moved on to proofreading and copyediting, getting familiar with house style, and recently got a book of my very own to edit.

Describe the average day at Scribe.

I’m not sure there is an average day! If I’m in the middle of a big editing job, I’ll usually just check my emails and then get stuck into it straight away. If it’s a smaller job, I might spend the first half of the day reading submissions and writing reader’s reports for the publisher, and edit in the afternoon. Usually there’s a convergence on the lunch room at around 12.30, when everyone catches up.

Scribe is renowned for its serious non-fiction and quality fiction. What have been the highlights of working at Scribe for you?

The highlights have been seeing the finished products: seeing a manuscript go through the editing, cover design, sales and marketing, and publicity processes and come out at the other end a new, beautiful book at a book launch. Another highlight, is that, as you say, Scribe is renowned for its serious non-fiction, so I get to read a lot of high-quality submissions on important topics. I’m learning every day, and I feel pretty lucky to have a job where that’s possible.

I’m sure you remember what it was like to wonder about publishing and how on earth it was possible to get in. Do you have any advice for people who are interested in working in the industry?

Well, doing a publishing-specific course worked for me, and I’d recommend it as a way to learn the basics, get an idea of how the industry works, and make contact with people already working in publishing. That last bit is the most important. In my case, prac. placement led to freelance work at Allen & Unwin, which in turn gave me the experience I needed for the internship at Scribe. It is a hard industry to get into, and I think you need to spend a lot of time reading about it and talking about it with people who are already on the inside to give yourself the best chance. Without that kind of contact it’s very difficult. And you need to be persistent. It might take ages to get a foot in the door, but you have to keep trying and let people know that you’re serious about it.

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Alright, so Belinda’s not an intern. She almost was one, but she became a publishing assistant instead. She still gets invited to my Oxford University Press Entry Level Power Lunches, so I’m sure life has furnished her with all the publishing plaudits she desires. And it means she has instructive material for you, rabid publishing ferrets. God bless her: it’s Belinda Leon.

To the left: Belinda’s rad ribbon-typing skills. Unfortunately, One HD has taken its The Poker Star website down, so I am without triple-adjective byline. (See the first intern interview for kind-of-an-explanation.) But I’m not an editor for nothing. Here goes.

Belinda Leon is: stark, asymptotic and tremulous.

Belinda, you applied for my job but ended up with a different one instead. (Strangely, we’re not mortal enemies.) What happened there?

I got this job in a fairly roundabout manner. I went to about 50 websites before I found the ad for your role, then umm’d and ahh’d for a couple of weeks while I organised my resume and drafted cover letter after cover letter. I finally screwed up my courage, and rang Debra James — who was listed as a contact on the ad. This was the Thursday before Easter, and I ended up leaving a message, and spent the whole weekend fretting over it all. I eventually got through to her a few days later, introduced myself, asked about the job, and gushed a little bit sillily about how much I wanted to work in publishing. I sent her my resume the next day.

About a week later I got a call from Debra, I began to panic at this — the deadline for the job hadn’t passed yet, and she started off by telling me I didn’t need to panic. Of course I panicked. I calmed down a little when I heard she was telling me about a different role, and asked me to interview for it.

I think I stood out because a) I had exactly the types of experience in the kinds of roles they wanted (I’d worked as an Admin Assistant for a tiny information publishing firm before), and also, I’m a raging nerd, which interested them. I did a Multimedia degree at uni, and am really interested in digital publishing, iPhone applications, and studied XML as part of that, which is increasingly important in the publishing world. The combination of being literary/publishing minded and comfortable with technology and programming appears to be a little unusual in publishing.

What does a publishing assistant do, apart from giving the editorial intern copious snacks?

I run around the office carrying stacks of books, draft up the contracts for authors, fill in scary amounts of forms, tie ribbons on the new books that come in so that the authors can untie the ribbon to see their books, help out with some of the editorial stuff, go to meetings, sit at the front desk one Friday afternoon a month for 10 minutes, drink large quantities of tea, discuss loudly the virtues of the different dogs on the calendar each day (though mostly I’m just calling out things like ‘where are the cats?’). There’s much more, which suits me. I’m constantly changing what I’m doing, and it means if I’m finding something boring, there’s lots to break it up with, and it’s usually over before too long.

You’ve done an IT degree and a diploma in English Literature. What was it about publishing that made you go ‘mmmm’?

I’m a huge book nerd. I love reading, and I love books. All about them, the smell, the feel, opening a new one fresh from the store, opening an old one from a second hand store and finding someone’s writing in it. There was also something about the process of a book that seemed so mysterious. How do you get from someone tapping away at a screen and turn it into a book? Do authors write in Word? is there a special program they need to use to make a book? HOW DOES IT WORK?

I seem to have figured out many of these questions now (yes, authors do generally write in Word. Some might use googledocs, or iWorks though) but the process is as interesting as ever, and I love being involved in it.

What’s your current favourite Youtube video?

How to pick just one?

A goat, on a cup, on a tightrope, with a monkey doing hand stands on its head is possibly the greatest thing ever.

But then again, how can you go past a fuel truck singing ‘Ring of Fire‘ by Johnny Cash?

Can I have an Express Post envelope?

No. I only get two a week, and you guys have stolen them all… but there are some Jaffas in my desk still, you’re welcome to some of them.

Dammit.
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This is the second year the Australian Publishers Association has run their internship program, which is funded by Copyright Agency Limited. The program gives six rabid publishing ferrets the opportunity to get their furry little snouts in the door. The internships are funded through to next year, meaning that another five or six people will get the chance to experience the publishing industry firsthand around this time in 2010. Most of the current interns are just over halfway through their terms, and I thought I’d check in with them. First kid on the stumps: Stephanie Stepan, publicity intern at Text Publishing. I guess that means I’m publicising…her?

Picture on the left: Steph’s desk. Yes, that’s what the glass slipper looks like, publishing Cinderellas — Express Post envelopes.

Steph, blossoming publicity expert that she is, will probably agree that I need a gimmick for this series of interviews. I mean, who wants to read about the most lowly people on the publishing ladder? Interns? No thanks. Well, courtesy of my friend Chris, soon to appear on television in a poker game show (not joking) called The Poker Star (still not joking), I have some awesome bylines, ‘borrowed’ from the One HD website. Ready?

Stephanie Stepan is…’unpredictable, tenacious and intimidating’.

Steph, tell us a little bit about yourself.

The nutshell version goes a little like this: I’m a recent Creative Arts/French graduate who had a certain career crisis at the beginning of the year and have now, much to my delight, landed myself a six month long publicity internship at Text Publishing.

How did your interest in publishing arise, and what steps did you take to get involved? How about your interest in publicity specifically?

A Creative Arts degree sounded like a good idea at the time, but in the end I found myself in that familiar arty dilemma of no real certainty about what I wanted to do. I was a chronic dabbler. I’d worked as a photographer while still at uni, had written small pieces for magazines and tried my hand at a marketing internship with STA Travel, but still I ummmed and ahhhed (this sounds terribly Gen Y doesn’t it). At the end of last year I saw a job advertised for a publicist at Black Dog Books. Suddenly I thought: why on earth had I not thought of this before? As expected, someone with experience got the job, and I naively thought my marketing background might just stand up. So, as is the way, I thought I’d just offer myself for free, and went on to do work experience with them. From there I applied for the internship at Text and after some grueling interviews I got some very good news.

What was the interview process with Text like?

Nothing like a good interview to get your heart hammering, is there? In preparation I found out as much as I could about Text and though it was impossible to know their entire list I had a good knowledge of their more prolific authors, their overall philosophy and how I might fit into that. You get a useful hint about what you’ll be asked at the interview by looking at the key selection criteria so I had a good idea of how I would respond and why I wanted to be in publishing. ‘I just love books’ is just not an answer you ever want to use! I’ll confess that I wasn’t really overly nervous until the second round where they left me to my own devices for an hour, handed me a book and asked me to write a publicity plan and a press release as well as do a proofreading exercise and following that sat me down with the publisher for a second chat. That really got my heart thumping!

How is your internship structured?

I’m lucky enough to work with three other publicists who are all extremely good at what they do, so I’m on a bit of a mission to glean as much knowledge as possible by the end of the year. For the most part, I’m learning how to run my own media campaigns in really enjoyable bite-sized chunks. For example, I might organize a press release for one author while designing a launch invite for another. I also work in an open plan office, so I do a lot of observing, and hear some great conversations, ask questions and have come to accept that I will at times just make a buffoon of myself.

Text is a growing publisher — I’m sure it’s a pretty exciting place to work, but I bet it’s not all swanning around at Blue Diamond, either. What’s an average day like for you, and what have been the highlights?

Oh, the glamour of my coffee stained, paper-filled desk. Most of the time I leave the frocks at home and I dig into anything from writing copy for promotional material and chasing after the media to the never-ending mail outs and towers of media clippings that regularly find their way to my desk for filing.

Text is also a great size — there are almost 20 of us — to learn how all aspects of the industry work and I count myself extremely lucky to be involved in editorial and book design conversations on a weekly basis. I’m also thrilled that we publish such a large variety of local and international authors as I never dreamed that I’d be able to find a job where my love of languages would come in handy.

I’m sure you remember what it was like to wonder about the publishing world and how on earth it was possible to get the hell in. Do you have any advice for people who are interested in working in the industry?

I think it’s true of many roles in the Arts industry; there are very few entry level positions and you begin to wonder if you should be sending a box of chocolates with your applications! If you’re still in university I would suggest lining up work experience throughout your holidays. You’ll find a lot of the big publishers are booked out in advance so get in as early as possible. You’ll get an idea of where you might like to be in the industry and while you may not end up with a job at the end of it at the very least they will know who you are. Be prepared to pester a little, often follow-up calls are necessary and find out if there any formal processes each publisher requires. While it might be nice to brag that you spent your summer at Penguin Books, don’t discount smaller publishers. Often you’ll get more of a chance to speak to the whole team, and more opportunities to eavesdrop on/pester/ask questions about their day to day work! Also, do your research. If you’re lucky enough to be able to get some experience at a publisher make sure you know as much about the company as possible — Google is grand — and are able to articulate clearly why you want to work in publishing. At one point I also began making contact with course coordinators of publishing courses at various universities and asked for their advice on where to go. In a nutshell, make yourself be known!

September 4, 2009


I was getting bored of always writing about what I was reading. Kind of like getting sick of looking at yourself in the mirror. So I thought I might ask Wally de Backer, better known to music lovers as Gotye, what he was reading. Before Wally was Gotye, Wally was a librarian. Awesome! Ex-librarians have the best stories. Although I didn’t actually ask him to tell me any. Uhh, okay. Let’s move on.

Our friend Belinda just showed me the copy you lent her of Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint. Why is this book so compelling for you?
Roth’s prose just feels like it streams straight out of Portnoy’s mind into your ears. I was hooked within the first paragraph and that doesn’t happen very often for me. I’ve never known any Jewish people well, certainly not from New York, so I’m going from my limited experience of a few Woody Allen films and American television, but the character of Alexander Portnoy just seems to so convincingly capture the lifetime’s torment of neurotic worry, crippling expectation, family tension and anti-goyisch prejudice of a young Jewish man from New York. The book is also disarmingly funny, especially Portnoy’s musings on women, sex, love and marriage. It provides little glimpses into the complex, sometimes pathetic and perverse web of thoughts we (or is it just men?) carry around in our heads.

Who are some of your favourite writers/favourite books?
When I discovered Annie Proulx’s writing I devoured her entire collection of novels and short stories. Accordion Crimes was a particular favourite. It might be a fascination with a stereotypically rugged and romantic picture of midwest America, but Proulx’s prose just brings brings characters, places and even smells of places to life for me. There’s a magic to the flow of her sentences that, beyond the incredible descriptive depth, I find mesmerising in their meter and tone alone.

In contrast, I’m a sucker for biographies of musicians and performers. From Joni Mitchell to Prince to Monty Python, I’ve read up on the life stories of most of my favourite entertainers.

What was your favourite thing to read when you were a child?
Flemish comic books. Asterix and Tintin I read in both English and Flemish, but I had a particular love for a series that was never translated into English, called Robbedoes en Kwabbernoot (one of the better-known series in the incredibly broad range of Flemish/French “stripbooks” published in Belgium, where I’m from). I’ve got an almost-complete collection of maybe 60 of the editions in my bookshelf.

What are you currently reading? How do you choose what to read next?
Tim Heath, my bandmate in The Basics, seems to consistently put me on to great books. For instance, he passed me Annie Proulx’s That Old Ace In The Hole, and that’s how I got into her writing. He was reading Philip Roth on a recent tour and I pinched it from him. He always seems to find interesting and varied things to read, and I’m more than happy to piggyback on his discoveries.

At the moment though, I’m reading things I’ve come across myself:
Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. A book that examines how the increasing rate of change in society and our lives that we need to get used to, may not be manageable for much longer. A ’70s look at how we’re struggling to keep up with the world in short.
A Beginner’s Guide To Living by Lia Hills. Not a self-help book, but a fiction for young adults about grieving over loved ones who die. The author was listening to my music while writing the book and graciously sent me a copy — I’m enjoying it, and keeping an eye out for references to my music ;)
A Fortunate Life by A. B. Facey. An Australian classic, given to me by my neighbour. An extraordinary life story about an ordinary Australian man. I’ve only just begun reading but it’s engrossing.
Fraffly Strine Everything by Afferbeck Lauder. This was huge in Australia in the ’70s. I found a copy of the classic Let’s Stalk Strine (which comprises the first half of this combined novel), and while I think it’s aged a little underwhelmingly, its written-as-you-hear-it-said take on the dry ocker Aussie accent is at times strange and amusing.
Wired magazine (USA) and Audio Technology magazine (Aus). I’m nerdy enough to have subscriptions to these two mags and I excitedly rip through them (with my eyes) when they arrive in the mail every month.

I heard that you have an extensive collection of Fabio romance novels…
It’s true, and not only do they have remarkable cover photos and inlay fold-out posters, they also feature classic prose like ‘the very sight of this rogue shot a shiver through Natalie that she hastened to control, lest this libertine guess she sensed his raw virility’. But none of the books compare with Fabio’s album. Snippets on my blog.