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: