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.