Last Christmas, my sisters gleefully gave me the DVD of The Devil Wears Prada. Since it’s kind of a stupid movie, I wondered what the hell it was doing in my stocking. Apparently they thought it was a hilarious way to welcome me to the world of post-graduate life for an English major. “You’ll probably be fetching so many coffees next year,” my sisters told me. Mind you, they are both sixteen years of age and really have no right to make fun of anyone. Be that as it may, it’s true that competitive industries like publishing look scary on the outside. We all know first-hand, thanks to the scientific accuracy of movies (Legally Blonde) and television (Ugly Betty), that you have to earn your way: making copies; being called “Intern” rather than the name your mother gave you at birth; being paid little to nothing; and sitting in the corner between the wall and the filing cabinet whilst the other interns—in some sort of office-environment embodiment of Darwin’s “Eat or be eaten”—glare at you, attempt to bug your computer, and threaten you with bodily harm. Ugh!
Several months later, I was shipping out to California, just in time to land a Chronicle Books internship at the end of summer. You might imagine what thoughts might have been running through my mind while headed to Chronicle for my first day. Would my bosses be wearing furs? How many times each day would I be required to run down the street for a non-fat, extra-hot, no-sugar, double-shot, half-hazelnut latte? Would I do something really stupid, like burp in a meeting, or spill food on my shirt, or cause one of those amazing copy-machine mishaps in which reams of paper spew maniacally out of every feed? Would the other interns be nice to me? Would they be wearing furs?
Sheepishly, I confess that perhaps my worries were just a tad self-centered. Apparently, a salaried employee is not necessarily interested in making their intern’s life a living hell for no good reason. My bosses are lovely people whose motivation for having me do things for them is simply that they don’t have time to do everything. And in an industry where every little thing has to be looked after, it helps to have as many brains involved as possible. Perhaps this is not news to you. It was to me. (And the furs turned out to be non-existent. It seems they don’t have cold weather in San Francisco—they only think they do. Not to mention the fact that I just don’t know what would happen to me if I walked down most streets in the Bay Area clad in bunny rabbit.)
Constantly, there are new tasks to take on, and old ones to be looked after. In a day, I mail packages, do research for new titles, write flap copy, and enter a series of staring contests with the printer. (It always wins.) None of this work is impossible, much of it is—luckily—very interesting, but all of it has to get done. Stacked all around my desk are various Chronicle titles—the time-consuming and exhaustive output of several editors and their army of previous interns, design people, production people, sales and marketing people, writers, copywriters, artists, publicity people, tech people, the people in the mailing room, I mean really, just tell me when to stop—in neat, colorful packages. They watch encouragingly as I work on something pretty small—for God’s sake, it’s something an unpaid intern can do—that is going to further things along for a book that won’t exist for two years. It’s great knowing that what you are doing will lead to a real book, a tangible, colorful little thing that will be in bookstores all over the country.
The bottom line, of course, is that being an intern is just fine. You work hard, but you learn a whole lot. I am considering getting my own unpaid intern. Of course, I will absolutely be interested in making her life a living hell for no good reason.