A Virtual Welcoming to the Writing Industry

A week ago, I had a Zoom call with my boss, literary agent Andrea Somberg, so that we could finally meet each other face-to-face— or as close to it as possible. During the call, I asked her questions about the writing industry, such as the best ways to network and seek education, how she became a literary agent and her daily tasks as one, and more. She gave me the opportunity to develop a realistic idea of what it would be like for me to be in publishing as a career.

The World of Work has differed from academic life in university by requiring me to seek out more specific career goals and as a result develop specialized tasks and workloads, whereas the university has prepared me to have skills and knowledge applicable to a greater variety of academic and career options. Skills I am building as a result of this internship, for instance, include a greater ability to judge and select quality writing, not just based on technical skill, but also on subject matter and agent/industry interest. Learning to understand the role I play between writers and readers has been key to my on-the-job education and development.

Andrea Somberg’s literary agent profile on the Harvey Klinger website

The Zoom call with Andrea also allowed me to add a more human aspect to my job, and put a face and voice to a name, so that the work I do feels more personable as I continue to intern virtually this summer.

Working virtually this summer has brought with it the common conveniences of remote working, such as avoiding commutes, more flexible worktimes, creating my own relaxing work environment, and the ability to travel without missing out on my responsibilities. Of course, it also removes the everyday social interaction in the workplace that not only makes networking easier, but also adds an element of excitement to the work routine.

As the internship continues, however, I am looking forward to making the best of the virtual arrangements, and continuing to develop my skills as a literary agent intern as well as networking connections with my boss, and possibly present and future coworkers.

An Introduction to My Journey at Harvey Klinger Literary Agency

The home page of the Harvey Klinger Literary Agency website.

Reading through the queries in my inbox, I’m reminded of my younger self. I wrote these exact letters six years ago, when I attempted to write and publish my second novel. Dreaming of being a writer, I not only worked on writing as a craft, but also began teaching myself everything I would need to know about the industry. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about writing as both—enough that I now find myself here, working as an intern for Andrea Somberg, an agent working for Harvey Klinger Literary Agency in New York City.

Last fall, when applying to spring and summer internships, I had no idea where I wanted to end up or what kind of work I wanted to do. My interests spanned teaching, community organizing and activism, research, curation and conservation, art, and of course, writing. However, I hadn’t taken my writing seriously in a year or two. But I took the chance to apply to a handful of internships in writing, editing, and publishing, and I’m glad I did.

Each morning, I wake up and log into the email account used by the interns, and I open up the folder filled with queries—of historical fiction, fantasy, young adult fiction, memoirs, self-help books, you name it—for me to read through. My very first day on the job, reading the hopeful letters and fresh book ideas of potential authors, I was struck with a sense of excitement. As a writer, I understood the gravity of the words written and felt a fellowship to these people. As a reader, I felt amazed at reading stories never told before and honored to be one of the first to read them. As an anthropology major, I felt joy at being able to witness so many stories from different cultural, geographical, ethnic, racial, gendered, and queered perspectives, to watch the world unfold before me in so many people’s eyes and writing.

At the same time, I understand the responsibility I hold in this position, because I get to have a say in the stories and voices we hear— this means I am able to push forward stories that increase meaningful representation and tell beautiful, unique stories, and weed out stories riddled with queerphobia, racism, misogyny, and the like. This also means, however, that I am responsible for sending rejection emails to writers I decide to pass on, and as a writer, I know both the disappointment and immense growth that comes from such rejection.

Of course, most queries we interns place into the folder of possible queries for Andrea to review will also end up getting rejected by her. But every once in a while, there’s a story that captures her attention. 

One day, she emailed me saying that she had requested to represent one of the books I had read the queries of and flagged for her to read. Although the part I play in reading and relaying may be small, moments like those make it feel larger than life.

As I approach nearly a month through the internship, I imagine what my younger self would think if they knew I was where I am now, working in what is no less than my dream internship, and I plan for the future of this summer, and of my life career. I will continue to learn all I can about writing, to network and gain insight into the writing industry, and to pursue my dreams of being a writer and making a difference in the industry, and one day, I may find myself in Andrea’s place, representing the newest voices in the literary world, or maybe I will find myself in the place of the authors sending queries and eventually getting published.

Continuing my Virtual Internship Experience

Two months into interning remotely, this virtual experience has taught me a lot about how to be a proactive, productive intern. Going into an office holds people accountable and responsible for showing up on time, keeping themselves busy, and asking for help when help or guidance is needed. By removing this boundary, I am holding myself accountable for mimicking a normal workday to the best of my ability. Given that most of my communication with the agency is done over email, it also means that I have to actively speak up when I have a question, concern, or comment. I am responsible for finishing tasks in a timely manner and staying focused on the tasks at hand. Therefore, in this regard, I am very grateful that my virtual work experience has taught me how to stay on track and hold myself responsible because I don’t have the luxury of communicating effortlessly in an office, face to face.

Under a completely different light, I have enjoyed the flexibility of designing my own workdays and not operating under a strict schedule. It’s kind of relaxing to wake up without worrying about a long commute and being able to read the stories I’m covering outside in the sun. It’s almost nice not having to stay cooped up in an office chair inside all day, but instead, having the luxury of accomplishing my work wherever I want.

My typical workspace

My experience with World of Work has differed from my typical university/academic life because the experience has been a lot more self-motivated and independent. In a university setting, it is usually clearly defined what a professor is looking for in an assignment and what a student is expected to complete. This is less defined with my internship. It also adds a unique layer knowing that you are not crafting an assignment in order to get a good grade. My ambitions are more focused on me doing well because I want to do well and because I care about the organization, and less about attaining that satisfactory A.

Therefore, as a result of this internship, I have gained and developed many skills that will help further both my academic and professional career. I feel more confident in my ability to take initiative and solve problems without so much guidance. Due to this experience, I have also grown to trust my own creativity and know that even though I am just an intern, my ideas and suggestions can still be valuable to the wider organization.

From how to write good coverage to how to tell when a novel is worthwhile, I have also gained a lot of intel and tools on how to succeed within the literary agent industry. This will impact my role as a student because I think that I have become a stronger writer because of this experience and I have strengthened my editing abilities, all skills that will help me succeed in the classroom.

Reflecting on my Internship Experience

While reflecting on my learning goals from the beginning of the summer, I believe that I have satisfied them. Not only has my writing improved as the summer went on, but I also believe that my ability to read with an editor’s, critiquing eye has enhanced. Compared to the beginning of the summer, I now write my coverage much more quickly and in a concise manner. At the beginning of my internship, I had a hard time condensing an entire story to a two-page synopsis. This skill has improved greatly to the point that I think that I have become a more concise writer who is able to express her ideas directly and to the point. In regard to my editing skills, I have learned the difference between reading for pleasure and reading for problems. When you are reading with the intention to find lapses, holes, and problems within the story, it shifts the way you read and understand. I have learned that if I actively read a story with the hope to make it better for the next person that reads it, I have the creativity and eye to find things that I would have previously glossed over. Therefore, I have learned a great deal from my internship. On top of fine-tuning my reading and editing skills, I have learned what kind of stories and writers are out there and what makes a story unique and noteworthy.

In regard to my career interests, this internship has taught me that publishing is a field that I would love to pursue. I thought I knew for sure that I wanted to stick with books, but this internship has also exposed me to the world of screenplays, film, and tv shows. These are fields that I have discovered that I am equally interested in. In the workplace, I now feel more confident in my writing knowing that esteemed writers have read my comments and agreed with them. This will make me a more successful worker. It has given me a boost of confidence knowing that my writing and ideas are valid and fit in within an established workplace.

To anyone interested in an internship in this industry/field, I would give the advice of not being intimidated by the size and length of some of the projects. It can be intimidating to receive a 500-page book and expect to read the whole thing quickly while also brainstorming comments. In this scenario, it’s important to accept that it’s okay to read quickly, jotting down significant notes and plot moments as you go.  I would also give the advice of trusting your own ideas because an author might find value in them.

example comments

As a final reflection on my internship, I am most proud of the fact that some authors read and agreed with my suggestions. I am proud that my ideas could come to fruition in a finalized project while knowing that I played a role in that very publication.

Understanding the Behind the Scenes Work of a Literary Agent

Four weeks ago, I started my internship at Ken Sherman and Associates, a literary agency located in Los Angeles. While I originally anticipated completing the internship in-person, the internship was inevitably modified to be done remotely. Nonetheless, it has been an enriching, insightful, and fun learning experience.

The literary agency handles film, television, and book writers (fiction and nonfiction). Writers submit a diverse range of manuscripts that come in many different genres. If the work leaves an impression on the agent, he will work as a middleman between the writer and publisher by finding a publisher that is suitable to the manuscript. The literary agency also handles film and television rights to books and life rights. This includes the estates of deceased writers. Some of the clients at the literary agency can be found here.

As an intern at Ken Sherman and Associates, I read submitted materials and offer my opinions on the given manuscripts. These write-ups are called coverage and include a logline, synopsis, and comments section. I begin the coverage with a logline, which is a sentence summarizing the story without giving away the punchline of the story. Then I write a synopsis. This consists of a two page write up of me telling how the writer has written in my own words. I summarize the overall story, highlighting main plot points and characters. Finally, in the comments section, I offer my personal opinions and suggestions about the story. I comment on what I liked, what works and what doesn’t work, and how to fix what doesn’t work. I’ll also include what I would add to the story and think about if it would be good as a studio film, TV, stage play, TV series, Netflix series, etc. So far this summer, I have written coverage for six manuscripts, ranging from novels, poetry, and short stories. The genres have included drama, young adult fiction, and mysteries. Hopefully, I will impact the greater organization by giving the literary agent a framework to work off of before he decides to commit to a project or bring on a new client.

In terms of my learning goals for the summer, I hope to further develop my writing skills and become a more creative thinker when it comes to analyzing stories and determining the areas in which stories can improve. I hope to gain a better understanding of the literary agency industry and explore the different mediums it includes from novels to TV series. Ultimately, by writing coverage and analyzing stories, I aim to strengthen my interests and knowledge of this industry along with gathering the tools and skills to succeed. This includes writing useful, insightful coverage that will both help the literary agent and the writer deepen her story. The fact that my suggestions could have a real impact on a story and that my comments are heard are acknowledged by accomplished writers is a very fulfilling, unique responsibility to have on my hands.