Last week, sitting outside the Senior Editor’s office at Quaker Magazine Headquarters with a pile of manuscripts in my lap, I had a brilliant idea. “Hey!” I called into the next cubicle, “We should start a book club.”
It was Wednesday, and as such I was downtown at QM Headquarters for my internship. On Wednesdays, I don’t have to wear a regulation polo shirt. On Wednesdays, I edit manuscripts and have intelligent conversations with intelligent people. Sometimes, my supervisor asks for my opinion on something really important (ie. “Do you think there’s a market for a book of this nature, if we were to publish it?”), and this comes such as such a welcome relief from the usual routine of, “Miss do this ribbon match this paper?” that on Wednesdays, I don’t hate my life.
I’ve been interning at QM since February. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I would lose my mind at The Shop if I didn’t take some precautionary measures, and having recently joined Trenton Friends Meeting (which makes me officially Quaker), an editorial internship with QM seemed like an obvious choice.
Having never taken a formal English class, I’ve spent the better portion of my freelance career flying by the seat of my pants and about a year ago I realized I had a lot to learn. I was walking across campus at the time with a fellow grad student in London. As a PhD candidate and professional writer, she had been charged with teaching an undergraduate class on dance criticism. “Kat,” she complained, “you have no idea how hard it is! These students have no clue. They don’t even know what a nut-graph is!”
A nut-graph? I tried my best to nod in a consolatory fashion (after all, complaining about undergrads is an integral part of the grad student experience) but the truth is, I didn’t know what a nut-graph was either and something told me this could be a major stumbling block in my career.
Two options presented themselves, and neither was terribly pleasant. I could either look stupid then, on a university campus where you’re supposed to ask dumb questions, or I could look stupid later, in front of an editor where you’re not supposed to ask dumb questions.
I opted to get it over with. “What’s a nut-graph?” I had visions of squirrels running around with graphing calculators but somehow that didn’t seem quite right.
“It’s a one sentence statement that outlines what the piece is going to be about,” my friend replied. “See you in class Monday?”
I nodded, and realized—to my great relief—that I’ve always written nut-graphs, I just didn’t know they were called nut-graphs. This meant I wasn’t a hopeless cause after all, and obviously my friend didn’t think so either because a week later she recommended me to her editor at Dance Teacher Magazine… but then that same editor asked me to submit a Hed-Dec for my piece (a what???) and I was back at square one.
Fortunately, I googled my way to an answer (and another two contracts from the nice people over MacFadden Publishing) but my ignorance of industry terms was becoming glaringly obvious. And so, upon returning to Philadelphia, I applied for an internship at QM.
As far as unpaid internships are concerned, I love working at QM. I roll in around 11:00am, edit manuscripts for an hour or so, take an hour lunch with my fellow intern (who’s completing an MA in Publishing and knows all about nut-graphs) and then we return to the office for the weekly staff meeting (which is very… well, Quaker). After that, the Token Male Intern arrives and the three of us spend the rest of the afternoon “reviewing new submissions.”
By this I mean we sit around a table making fun of authors who submit manuscripts typed in Comic Sans, or include in their covers letters a reminder to the editor of their “recent donation to the journal.” We read particularly preposterous and laugh-worthy quotes aloud to one another, and then around 3:00, I’ll generally suggest something along the lines of, “Let’s go the writers workshop in Willow Grove this weekend,” or “Anyone up for a snack from Reading Terminal Market?” (It has, after all been at least 90 minutes since lunch at that point).
Last week, my three o’clock suggestion was to start a book club. Given that we’re all unpaid interns, however, we’re going to hold off until our inter-library loan requests come through. In the meantime, we sit around jabbering about “blue lines,” “pull-quotes,” “widows” and “galleys” and I am finally starting to understand what it is I’m talking about. Except for the difference between blue lines and galleys—I’m still confused on those—but I’m getting there.
Best of all, the entire QM staff are lovely people. They don’t treat me like a shop girl. They don’t even make me wear a polo shirt.