Written by Hannah Sothcott, Marketing and Production Intern (Nov 2020)
I never expected to find and secure an internship during the pandemic. After graduating from university in July, I remained unsure about my future prospects. Finishing a degree during lockdown had been quite an isolating experience for us final years, with graduate jobs few and far between as schemes and openings were forced to put their operations on hold. I also knew that, as a new graduate, I felt quite intimidated by the challenge ahead, unsure of how to compete in a graduate market – especially one in the context of unprecedented national circumstances.
In August, I applied for the role of ‘Marketing and Production intern’ at Comma Press. The internship formed part of a scheme developed by the Lancaster University FASS Placements and Internships Team, to facilitate professional experience in the creative industries for students from the faculty of arts and social sciences. To my surprise, I was very quickly shortlisted. In my case, I had no previous industry experience, and had heard through the grapevine that experience in a publishing-specific environment was essential to climb the ladder. I now know that this isn’t necessarily true. What matters most is an interest in the titles the press produces, and the use of skills required in the job specification can come from a wide range of environments.
In particular, the translated titles published by Comma chimed well with a university module I’d taken in world literature – a module I’d argue was one of my most favourite out of my three years at university! I therefore felt keen to be involved in Comma’s mission to unearth the power of short stories and marginalised literary voices. Not only this, but I was able to link my suitability to the role to my additional experience as a charity society president whilst at university. It was clear to me that Comma felt strongly about establishing a widespread presence in order to elevate the voice of indies and indie authors, through initiatives such as the Northern Fiction Alliance. I had taken a similar approach within my society, helping to spread the word about an Alzheimer’s drug being developed on campus that very few members of the student community knew about.
With this in mind, when applying for an internship, I’d recommend drilling as far down as you can into the ethos, outlook, and projects of an organisation. What are they working on? What are their marketing strategies? How do your experiences relate to these? I don’t consider myself an expert by any means, but these are just some of the things which helped me to make my first step.
Having returned home to a small island with limited graduate opportunities, I was excited at the prospect of remote working, since it would allow me to take advantage of professional experience unavailable in my area. Once I found out I had been successful at interview, my managers Becca and Zoe were quick to communicate with me on the ins-and-outs of remote working. One communication method that has proven invaluable during my learning experience has been Slack. Whilst remote working might seem daunting, Slack allows for instant communication with other members of the team whenever I have a query. The different channels mean that I know who to put my query to. It’s an incredibly effective tool that has allowed me to get the most out of my internship, despite being miles away from Manchester!
As well as this, Zoom has meant that I’ve been able to sit in on team meetings. From these I have gleaned a lot of insight into the processes and aims of a not-for-profit independent press. I have been able to build close working relationships with the team, and now have valuable networking contacts as a result. Throughout my time at Comma, I am fortunate to have been treated as an official team member, and I am consulted on a regular basis for my opinion on things like manuscripts and marketing campaigns. I didn’t realise that as an intern you could be taken seriously in this way.
As is clear in my role title, half of my responsibility involves conducting market research, and assisting with publicity. Market research is something that sounds very complex, but actually allows you to be surprisingly creative. One of my first tasks for Comma involved researching and pitching a collection of Palestinian short stories to publications in the US. From the get go, I was trusted with a high level of responsibility. This has allowed me to take pride in what I have achieved. From this first task I have been permitted to flourish, and now manage two publicity campaigns entirely by myself. As I begin searching for my next role, I can clearly state what my contributions to Comma have been, and feel truly grateful to have been given the opportunities that I have in this position.
The other half of my role involves proofreading titles for production – an area I would never have imagined to develop strengths in previously. At first, I wasn’t confident in voicing any concerns I had with a manuscript, but was encouraged to look closely and flag up anything just in case! I then discovered that a lot of my feedback was agreed with, and after this began to develop a stronger voice when commenting on proofs. I realised that every little helped in order to make a title the best that it could be.
Above everything else, my remote internship at Comma has given me the confidence to aim high, grasp every challenge with open arms, and to have faith in my ideas. My advice to aspiring publishers – particularly those looking for their first internship – would be to value the experiences you have accumulated so far, and to believe in yourself and your potential. You can’t know unless you apply!
Hannah Sothcott is from the Isle of Wight, UK. In 2020, she graduated with a first class degree in English Literature (BA Hons) from Lancaster University. Hannah is currently enjoying reading non-fiction and essay collections, having recently finished both Three Women by Lisa Taddeo and Notes to Self by Emilie Pine. In her spare time she can also be found walking her beloved dog Izzy, practicing yoga, fundraising for charities, and perfecting her banana bread recipe.