On Interning with Busybird Publishing

Interning for eighteen months with Busybird Publishing has been one of the most rewarding professional experiences I’ve had to date, teaching me about aspects of writing, editing and publishing.

The Importance of Industry Overview

I met Blaise van Hecke and Les Zigomanis at NMIT, where I was studying for a degree in Professional Writing and Editing. NMIT alumni themselves, Blaise and Les had come in as guest speakers for the Industry Overview subject to share their experience as an independent publisher; speak about [untitled], Busybird’s flagship journal; and put the feelers out for prospective interns.

Following their presentation, I waited around to give feedback, ask questions and express interest in a Busybird internship. I must’ve left some sort of impression, as I received an internship offer a few weeks later.

It shows the importance of tertiary guest speaker programs, and actively involving yourself in the industry. Whether at a university talk or wider industry event, it pays to show engagement and learn as much as you can. When appropriate, seek out the relevant personnel to ask questions and offer feedback. Be sure to tell them a bit about yourself and your projects, too. Making a personal impression is preferable to emailing.

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interning

We go behind the scenes of interning at Busybird Publishing with Tom O'Connell. Image Credit: Jain Basil Aliyas via Flickr Creative Commons.

Getting Started

Like most jobs, my Busybird internship began with a trial period to ensure I was a good fit. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little apprehensive about this – it’s a scary prospect having your competencies assessed! But I wasn’t being scrutinised; in fact, Les, the Chief Editor and Publications Manager, assured me it was okay to make mistakes, that they were part of the learning curve. He encouraged me to ask as many questions as necessary and gave clear, thoughtful feedback.

Consequently, my first six months with Busybird were like an intensive crash course in publishing. I learnt a great deal and fostered working habits which I strive to uphold today. The experience perfectly complemented my Writing and Publishing degree, which I completed in unison.

Reading

Although Busybird Publishing offer a range of services, my duties related to their short fiction anthology, [untitled]. Alongside a handful of other interns, I read and rated submissions, and together we decided which stories proceeded to the next selection round. These successful stories were discussed (along with Blaise and Les) at periodic content meetings. This was often an extensive process, with each reader going all out to defend their favourite stories – always an enjoyable process!

Since reading is inherently subjective, I wondered if I’d be able to discern which stories were the strongest. High school and review-writing taught me how to read critically, but my barometer has always been my gut. Sometimes it was difficult to articulate what I liked about a story and I worried I was insufficiently qualified to offer critiques. These writers’ dreams were in my hands; I had the power to dash them or push them to the next selection round. I did not take this responsibility lightly.

Fortunately, this was yet another case of practice making perfect. Reading widely (and believe me, no two submissions are ever the same!) has made me more discerning. Writers are often self-critical, but reading others’ submissions gave me real perspective; it showed just where my work sits on the quality spectrum. I read hundreds of stories and learnt, through observation and osmosis, about the mechanics of good storytelling.

Administration

I was asked, not long after starting, if I felt comfortable managing the submissions inbox. As a fan of order, the proposed administrative duties sounded appealing. In the pre-Submittable days, it was my job to receipt all submissions, collating the author’s details (story title, word count, email address, etc.) into a spreadsheet, and forwarding the submissions to designated interns. I was also responsible for answering author queries and compiling the other interns’ ratings.

Manning the submissions inbox and liaising with authors also gave me insight into the submissions process. I could see the mindsets of working writers and editors. Many misconceptions about writers (i.e. that they are self-entitled divas) and editors (i.e. that they are malevolent gatekeepers) were disproved. Most writers were a pleasure to deal with. Their only expectation was mutual respect. And the journal editors – at least those working on [untitled] – took their responsibilities very seriously.

busybirdbooks

A range of books published by Busybird.

Editing

My final main duty was to edit selected successful stories and ready them for publication. Writers and editors corresponded via email and performed edits using Word’s Track Changes function. Stories usually went back and forth multiple times, refining with each draft. Les oversaw this process, acting as a safety buffer and enforcing quality control as necessary.

As an assistant editor, I looked at technical issues, such as tense, spelling and punctuation usage, and issues pertaining to narrative structure, such as pacing, plot progression and character motivations. Copyedits were essential to ensure consistency, excise redundancies and standardise stories in accordance with the Busybird house style.

I also enjoyed writing covering emails which surmised or detailed my proposed edits. Interns represent a company and so it is important to present professionally – even in emails. Learning how to phrase feedback positively and constructively was valuable, and has made me a better writer, editor and workshopping partner.

Unlike other journals, which expect technically perfect submissions and will only engage in light copyediting, [untitled] favours authors with strong voices. Although technical proficiency is certainly looked upon favourably, it is not essential; some of the strongest stories come in raw, and require a good spit and polish.

Most authors were thrilled with the editorial process, remarking that our methods were thorough yet unobtrusive. Though the focus on minutiae could be exhausting for both parties, (we often exceeded ten redrafts!), the communication lines were always open and writers understood our efforts ultimately serviced their story. I don’t understand the cliché about writers having combative relationships with their editors, as this hasn’t been my experience at all. I enjoyed working with authors towards a common goal, exchanging ideas and building rapport, and was heartened to receive positive feedback.

Concluding Thoughts

Interning taught me a lot about writing, editing and the publishing industry. I sometimes feel I got more out of the months of practical experience at Busybird than years of theoretical classroom experience. I also enjoyed working alongside people with such a high standard of professionalism.

Though young and green, I was always made to feel that my efforts and contributions were valued at Busybird. It was an honour to be involved with [untitled], a journal which nobly champions popular fiction (so often under represented in the literary fiction-dominated Australian market). I enjoyed the responsibilities I was given and am certain that interning has helped develop my confidence as a writer.

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