Well, it's official. I have returned from a short hiatus from Oberlin campus, and a slightly longer one from Oberlin blogs. Coming back to campus after six weeks off is like wiping your past semester cleanly off your slate/hard drive and pressing restart or whatever this metaphor is. You come back to your apartment and quickly neaten up your kitchen and make your bed, pretending you left it that way. You make new folders on your laptop and label them according to the very Oberlin classes you're taking: Intro to Photography, Capoeira Angola, A Holistic Neurological Theory of the Mind and the Body in Eastern Traditions of Femininity Across the Thirteenth Century. You consider buying new notebooks, and then take out your old ones and rip out the used parts instead, tossing the old notes in large box labeled "throw out later." Clean slate, right?
But one of my favorite parts about coming back to campus after winter term is that you have a preset conversation starter for the next week and a half. "What did you do for winter term?" It's so simple. So easy. You can whip it out at dance practice, at a cocktail party, at the two minutes of class before your professor shows up.
"What did you do for winter term?" you ask your math tutor, your new freshman friend, the boy next to you in English who wears a bathrobe and goggles, the cashier at Gibsons.
"Nothing," answers the cashier. "I'm not a student. We don't get winter term."
So I'm going to grab that nice, easy conversation starter while I can, before my week and a half is up, and everyone already knows, and we have to go back to talking about the weather and why we identify as radical, not liberal. I'm actually going to tell you even more than what I did, I'm going to tell you what I learned.
Things that I learned as a Publishing Intern:
• There are many, many people involved in publishing a book. In our idyllic creative writing workshops, sometimes it seems as though if you are imaginative and profound enough, then a book simply springs into being on little bookmark legs and goes running around the world flipping pages and inspiring people and earning prizes. We usually don't talk about the literary agents, and editors, and proofreaders, and publishers, and publicists, and cover designers, and critics, and reviewers, and amazon reviewers, and interns, interns, interns.
• YES, you can do real work as an intern. The unpaid intern in my mind is an overexcited headband-wearing American Girl Doll carrying cups of coffee and walking the boss's shih tzu. But in this case, all the coffee that I made was for myself, and as well as basic office work I got to read piles of manuscripts, proofread, and voice real live opinions.
• If you look straight ahead and walk quickly, people in the financial district might actually think you're an adult with a paying job. See how long you can go before you pick a penny off the ground or fall down the stairs in the subway and break the illusion.
• There is something very, very satisfying about being surrounded by piles of books. As a reader and writer, it is absolutely delightful to sit amongst stacks of early not-for-sale copies, and read another manuscript, and guess how many pages are in the room, and feel like you've made it to the magical place where all the books come from.
• When reading other people's raw work, it is easy to feel unqualified, inadequate, and unprepared. On my first day I was emailed three manuscripts, and taught how to write a reader's report. My boss explained to me that I would read fifty pages, then decide whether or not it was worth continuing. If it was, then I would read to the end. If not, then I would write a report explaining what I didn't like. Either way, after reading, I would write a report with a summary, an analysis of what was or was not working, and idea of the audience this might appeal to, and then a verdict. The verdict could be: Recommend, or Do Not Recommend.
• It would be amazing to be able to give everything in life a verdict. Went on a hike and saw four beautiful birds, and a talking squirrel? Verdict: Recommend. Crossed the street and got hit by a schoolbus? Verdict: Do Not Recommend.
• It's almost impossible as a publishing intern to convince yourself that you are qualified to do this. You essentially have two powers: to pass something on to be read by a higher-up, or to shut it down forever. Dear writers of the world: It's me. I'm the one crushing your dreams. I'm an unpaid one-month college kid with half a desk, and I have just decided that the manuscript you put three years of your life into will not be published.
• Black pants are really a good idea. You might mess up with the Keurig on the first day and spray coffee everywhere, but if you have on black pants, not only will they hide the lasting coffee stains, but they will also hide the appearance that you have wet yourself.
That's all, folks. Not actually, because chances are that as soon as I press "post" I will think of fourteen other things I learned which are more significant than these. But either way, this is a good sample.