13th August, 2017

Internal Musings: The Experiences of Ford Street Interns

You always read about the authors and illustrators but what about the interns who volunteer their time and skills to the industry? The current interns at Ford Street Publishing have reflected on undertaking internships. They discuss their tasks, learning curves, team dynamics and the office atmosphere, including Benji the pup.

You never really know what to expect when you start an internship. Are you going to be shoved to the side and not spoken to? Forgotten about? Are you going to be fetching the mail and completing other menial tasks? I can safely say that none of my reservations were valid when I interned at Ford Street Publishing for writer/publisher Paul Collins. I was welcomed into the Ford Street family with open arms and instantly felt at home with the diverse group that makes up the heart of this independent publisher.

I was thrust headfirst into the world of independent publishing and was provided with an invaluable overview of how the industry works, right down to the nitty-gritty of dealing with distributors and stock collection. From the get-go I was assessing new manuscripts, copyediting and proofreading others, writing copy and organising stock. Not once was I ever sent out for coffee.
Stepping into a small independent publisher meant that I didn’t get lost in the madness or shuffled around departments. With an office usually occupied by three people I found my voice was valued and that I was, in general, highly appreciated. Small publishers often don’t have the luxuries that bigger houses do and as such everyone at Ford Street has very ‘hands on’ approach to all aspects of the business. It was like being given a free backstage pass into the world of publishing; every day I walked into the office I would discover a new aspect of what it takes to sustain and run an independent publisher. Over the course of three months I was involved in various behind-the-scenes processes, and was been able to observe the inner workings of all aspects of the publishing industry.

Ford Street has been a fantastic introduction into the complexities, and ins and outs of the publishing industry. I got to spend every day working closely with the founder and publisher and was constantly regaled with a tales and anecdotes of Paul’s own personal writing and publishing experiences from the past four decades.

Interning at Ford Street has been a challenging, rewarding and versatile experience. I was given more responsibility than I initially thought I would be but felt completely safe in the knowledge that someone would be around if I had any questions. I was able to develop my professional skills under the guidance and expertise of everyone at Ford Street. I got to interact with authors, illustrators, editors and booksellers that make up the heart of the independent publishing world.

Ultimately it was the people I worked with and met that made my experience worthwhile. It was fantastic to work in an environment where everyone is extremely dedicated to fostering and nurturing the voice of Australian writers, and producing quality titles.

Even before my university required an internship, I was researching small presses and discovered Ford Street. Initially unremarkable from their web presence, I kept an eye on their Facebook posts and began to build an idea of a friendly publishing house, a rare thing in the industry. My university’s connection with Paul at Ford Street Publishing led me to apply for an industry placement there early in the year. My internship was locked in before meeting anyone and when I did come to the office, I was welcomed and given flexibility regarding my availability.

My first day as an intern was attending a seminar for teachers and librarians where I spoke to authors and presenters as well as selling Ford Street titles. Having previously attended events where big names have presented, I can say with confidence that you need an in to begin conversation with such people. Most of the time I was engaged in easy conversation while selling books and continued to chat during the lunch break. Editing and publishing experience won’t help in such a situation unless there are networks to begin with, so it was important that I was identified as Paul’s intern.

As you would expect, manuscript assessments have been my task for a portion of my time at Ford Street Publishing. I have enjoyed seeing the high standard that the publishing house expects. Practicing the all-important diplomacy in the assessments has made it worthwhile, and it is rewarding to hear that a writer has received your assessment well, even though the manuscript was rejected. I am particularly glad that at Ford Street we provide the writers of all unsolicited manuscripts with feedback, as some work would need only address the feedback to raise it to publishable standard.

One of the most enjoyable things about publishing is being involved in a manuscript’s growth into a book. I’ve edited manuscripts that the other interns have also marked, and reading their queries and decision-making has advanced my own thinking. Catching mistakes in work that is at the proofing stage is also a rewarding part of my internship.

An interesting discovery as an intern was that digital disruption hasn’t changed much at Ford Street Publishing. Editing is always done on hard copy and when unsolicited manuscripts are accepted, they must be via post. As with most booklovers, I love the physical book. Seeing a two-hundred page PDF file is not the same as seeing it printed out.

As a small press, there are also the basic jobs of moving stock and packaging new titles to send to reviewers but the tasks took up very few hours of my time at Ford Street. If you find yourself involved in the publishing house, come to the office around lunchtime and you may get a free feed and meet the affectionate Benji!

My time as an intern at Ford Street has been interesting and rewarding right from the get-go. On just my second day working here, I emceed a seminar which featured Justin D’Ath, who was one of my favourite authors growing up, as one of the guest speakers. This took me way, way out of my comfort zone but was very rewarding and gave me the opportunity to meet lots of people engaged with the publishing industry in some form or another. Meeting such passionate people has been one of the real highlights of my time here, and is an opportunity I could not have had otherwise. I’m grateful for the chance to get to know our wonderful writers, our fantastic freelancers, our firm friends working in other parts of the publishing process and other publishing houses, and of course our stupendous staff (composed of the prolific Paul, some truly incredible interns, and our occasional office dog, the ever-boisterous boy Benji).

I approached Paul for an internship in order to gain some vital experience in the publishing industry. I’ve relished the opportunity to practise my proofreading and improve my confidence as a copyeditor. Writing reviews of some of our brilliant books has also been surprisingly satisfying. In my time here, I’ve had the chance to take on more challenging tasks as the level of my responsibilities has risen. I’m currently editing some reprints we’ve taken on, directly liaising with the author and generally being responsible. Along the way, I’ve gained a new appreciation for dictionaries and style guides.

But before I rose through the ranks (well, rank, anyway), I started out with that time-honoured publishing intern tradition of assessing submissions. While this is a task sure to bring out the eye-rolls in industry insiders, it was actually very beneficial for my development. Through assembling assessments for the submissions we received, I learnt a lot about what sort of stories people are writing (and reading), our standards for publication, and what makes a strong submission in the various children’s/YA formats, genres and subgenres.

My internship here has not been without memorable moments. First to mind is the September Flood, when the hot-water system blew its top and broke its levies. Before that, we had a flood of a different kind, as we changed distributors and suddenly had to find storage for a stack of books. And of course, every day with Benji is a new adventure all of its own.

When not interning (where I can usually keep my incurable irreverence under check) or attending Alliterators Anonymous meetings, I enjoy reading, gaming (tabletop, video, board, card; you name it, I’ll play it), and hockey.


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