Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Interns in bikinis!

Interesting development in the U.S. the other day. It seems that a pretty major publishing company has decided to pay their interns some sort of living wage. Wacky, I know. You can read intelligent musings about it here.

This got me thinking about my own internship days. I've already fessed up to the fact that I did a turn at McClelland & Stewart, one of Canada's finest literary publishers. While I only got paid $1000 for three months of full-time labour (and zero educational credits - many book publishing internships are post-grad), the time I spent there was likely the most important in my career/life thus far. Here's why.

1. I met two of my best friends (and met my partner through one of them. Hi muffin!);
2. I learned how hard it is to get a book deal in this country (and how little most authors get paid when they do);
3. I got my first real publishing job because of that internship (and a little bit of strategic cultural/professional exaggeration);
4. In my tiny intern office surrounded by stacks of catalogues and the unholy wailing of my boss ("Leonard!"), I began writing my first novel.

Obviously this story would be more inspiring and romantic if my book would hurry up and get published already, but even still, I'm 100% supportive of the internship process. What I'm 0% supportive of is the lack of pay. The argument, from the employer's perspective, often goes like this: "But you're young and you don't have any experience in publishing so why should we pay you more, or even at all?" True, but I didn't have any popcorn experience when I worked the candy counter at Cineplex yet they still paid me $10 an hour.

The issue is a complex one and veers into all kinds of dangerous territory (class, connections, exploitation...). But right now my main concern is this: interns who don't get paid are more likely to grow up to become professionals who don't get paid. Just look at the going rates for online and print writing these days. $1 per word? Ha. We'll pretty much take anything we can get. A can of ham? A gluten-free granola bar? We're just so f%$#&ing grateful for the opportunity, don't you know.

Despite the coffee gofer jokes that get made, the publishing industry would fall apart without interns. As such, this is Edward the Bear giving a high five to the progressive folk at Atlantic Media on my behalf:

And this is me hoping that others here in Canada will soon follow suit:


  1. See, on the flipside of that, engineering interns (students) get paid very well for their work, but coming out of that, they are generally:

    1) Unsatisfied with the wage they end up with when they get a full-time position

    2) Unappreciative of the fact that their wage is higher than most other interns or students

    Not being paid builds character!

    Seriously, though, I think not being paid for an internship is one step away from slavery. You might as well have a whole bunch of writers hanging out in a parking lot, waiting for the publishing pickup truck to come get them for the day. THAT would make an awesome movie...

  2. Je-sus. An engineering internship seems a bit scary to me, Matt. "So, uh, Inexperienced Intern, why don't you go fix that bolt to that bridge over there. And then I have some arc welding and acid pouring that needs a doin'."

    Ouch. I just got a paper cut.