How I Survived A Retail Marketing Internship With A Book Publisher


Last year, in February, my best friend pointed me to a retail marketing internship at a publisher, and I knew I had to apply even if:

  • a) the internship was in an area I knew nothing about
  • b) I would make a fool of myself

I had been actively volunteering and freelance writing for the past three years to further the dream of earning my living as a writer, but this opportunity was too good to pass up.

So, I stuck to my strengths; I sat down and wrote an elaborate and gushing love letter to Harlequin, the largest publisher of romance books in the history of ever.

My cover letter included the mention of unrequited love, Javier Bardem’s abs and chasing my first crush in Grade 3. While this was well and good (some say it was risky – I say it was “branded”), I knew I had to prove my business savvy, so I found an HR representative on LinkedIn and sent her the most pleadingly professional message I could and asked her to throw my cover letter in the pile.

I was the last applicant and the last-interviewed candidate.

The interview process was long – an hour or two chatting with my possible superiors – and involved several business marketing assignments. I connected with the women interviewing me quite well, but I wasn’t sure what kind of things they’d be looking for in the assignments, so I used my own resources: my business-savvy friends. I pumped everyone I knew for information about marketing plans and business strategies and keywords, and submitted what I thought was my best work on short notice.

Several months later, after having given up on the idea that I would be able to be of any help to a marketing department, I got a call from the same woman who pushed my cover letter through to the hiring managers. I got the job. And then I started hyperventilating.

The hyperventilation did not stop once I started. My boss made it very clear that I was swimming in the deep end, but her expectations for me were to act as though I was on dry land. Her belief in me buoyed my desire to prove my worth in an industry that I loved, for a company that I admired, and in a department that I wanted to fit into.

I started out simple: mailing out books for conferences, authors and agents, and making spreadsheets. Strangely enough, these tasks still made me nervous. Was I mailing it to the right people? I had started questioning my ability to function as a normal human being. This internship was intimidating, or so the mailing labels made it seem to my completely inexperienced mind.

Of course, I’m sure others would handle this with more grace than the general fear I felt from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. That being said, once I was tasked to work on creative projects with real people who earned real money for what I was creating with them, I freaked out even more. I had no experience in publishing and no marketing qualifications, but luckily, plenty of guidance.

When I had no other option (failure was not a box I wanted to tick), I just took control. I created postcards and other marketing materials for upcoming books, and researched marketing companies in New York City for a project for fashion week that we were planning for one of our fashion books (Wear This Now).

I bantered with designers and fact checkers and made friends with copy editors and production editors. In short, I fell into a groove. I researched. I emailed. I created. I worked on campaigns for the Sh*t Girls Say creators, for a New York Times bestseller called How Winning Works, and on other exciting non-fiction books.

I liaised between departments and companies and helped put together book layout and design samplers (BLADs) as well as our catalogues. Not only was I delegated real-world tasks that would affect company profits and successes, but I was included in conferences with designers, directors, and authors.

Ultimately, before this internship, I had never had such intense responsibilities, nor did I have such a daily rhythm. The work was sometimes overwhelming, but always very exciting in that I was literally learning new things every day from morning til night. Whether the learning involved figuring out how to use a new market tracking system, understanding point-of-sale readings, or researching marketing techniques that we could re-purpose for our books, every day was a challenge.

This is the best part of foraying farther than normal from your usual field of interest: you understand the business in a different way than you did previously, as it tends to be the case when you try on a different perspective.

I had never worked in publishing (or marketing) but always wanted to know what it was like, so this opportunity, which allowed me to peek into several departments each day and chat up employees whose jobs I was curious about, could not have been more perfect. I left this internship with incredible friends and a whole roster of enlightening experiences that have helped direct my career path.

My advice for those looking to stray from their fields of expertise? Try it out. I (think I) was hired because of my initial resourcefulness and thought process, not my previous knowledge of the industry. I loved books, I loved publishing, but most importantly, I could think on my feet.

If you are interested in trying out a new branch of an industry, open your mind to all of the resources open to you and dive in with passion – especially if it’s terrifying.

Sales & Marketing Week

Photo credit: Stephen Coles