Are Internships the New Entry-Level Jobs?

The world of book publishing is highly insular, highly competitive, and notoriously difficult to break into. Particularly in New York City, the industry epicenter, job seekers often struggle to stand out from a crowded field of equally qualified candidates. In order to get a foot in the door, many aspiring publishing professionals turn to internships, where they hope to gain hands-on work experience and forge connections with established industry pros.

While gathering information for my research paper (a requirement for graduating from Portland State’s publishing program), I surveyed 187 current and former publishing employees in an effort to understand the challenges facing those who hope to break into the industry. Of the 187 respondents, 72.7 percent worked as interns at some point in their publishing careers. Of the respondents who had worked as interns, 69.1 percent had worked two or more internships; almost 20 percent of respondents reported working four or more internships.

Additional statistics paint a bleaker picture. Even with relevant experience, 50.7 percent of respondents who had worked as interns reported taking more than six months to find a job in the industry; 39 percent of respondents said it took them more than a year.

These numbers raise interesting questions. Are these long-term interns stringing together multiple part-time internships out of necessity? Are they unable to find or secure entry-level jobs? Or are internships the only “jobs” they’re qualified for, with so many entry-level roles requiring a year or more of prior relevant experience? More research is needed to answer these questions.

Another finding revealed a possible relationship between the length of an employee’s career and whether or not they had worked as an intern. In my survey, I asked respondents how long they had worked in publishing, to which 36.9 percent answered three years or less; 28.9 percent said four to six years; 15.5 percent said seven to ten years; 7 percent said eleven to fifteen years; 2.7 percent said sixteen to twenty years; 2.7 percent said twenty to twenty-five years; and 6.4 percent said more than twenty-five years.

Of the respondents who had worked in publishing for fewer than fifteen years, 80 percent had worked as interns. In contrast, among those who had worked in publishing for more than fifteen years, only 18.2 percent had worked as interns. The difference is most striking among respondents who have worked in publishing for more than twenty-five years; only one of those twelve respondents reported having worked as an intern at some point in their career.

It isn’t hard to guess what could have contributed to the shift. A decade ago, the Great Recession fundamentally altered the landscape of American employment. Although my research did not specifically look into the effect of the recession on the publishing industry, it would be fascinating to explore that topic further—and to try to piece together why the industry continues to rely so heavily on interns.

Interview with Mary Breaden, Ooligan Alum

I introduce to you, Mary Breaden, an Ooligan Press alum who graduated from our program in 2013. During this time, she founded a website called PDXX Collective, which is dedicated to showcasing women writers. She also helped publish Wax Bullet War, which is our most recently launched title. Since graduating, she held various jobs around New York, and ultimately got a gig with Mediabistro. She was kind enough to answer some of my questions about her life during and after Ooligan Press.

What have you been up to since your Ooligan days?

After I graduated, I moved to NYC! After I arrived, I temped for a few weeks (fodder for future short stories!) while I interviewed and I eventually landed a job with Mediabistro, a website that many Ooligan students may or may not be forced to look at, for job postings if nothing else!

Was it tough getting a job after school?

Getting a job in New York was a piece of cake for me; getting a fulfilling job has been a different story. I did a lot of lateral moves in my twenties, which is an asset in some ways and detrimental in others. I don’t think I would have gotten a job as quickly in Portland, though. Portland has a much smaller job market.

Are you enjoying New York?

I heart New York and New York is indifferent to me; the city and I have formed a symbiotic relationship, mainly one that benefits me. I love spying on people; the city sets my imagination on fire. I’m fascinated by the city’s history and by the speed with which it alters itself (this isn’t always a great thing for those who have lived here a long time). If you are a writer or artist, you really should experience living in New York (in my humble opinion).

What can you tell me about PDXX Collective?

PDXX Collective was a WordPress site I started at Ooligan as an independent study. I was interested in looking at how collective publishing could help emerging women writers launch their author platforms. The goal is to offer a feminist perspective that’s thoughtful, articulate, and generous. Managing the site and working with these women is very important to me. I’ve never been in any community as loyal and supportive. Also, doing my feminist profiles has given me the chance to speak to some pretty rad feminists. We’re always looking for contributors, by the way!

What can you tell me about working for Mediabistro?

Mediabistro is a website for media professionals that offers classes, events, a job board, and network-y stuff. It’s interesting to be in the education department because we offer so many online classes in very trendy topics that usually are the inspiration for other websites’ online courses. Since we have a small department (only four of us!), I feel like I have more of a stake in helping the department do well. I get to write copy, research courses, recruit instructors (who are usually in publishing), schedule social media posts, and advise students. I’m also taking a novel writing course through my job and that’s really fun.

What was your favorite thing about Ooligan? Do you have a favorite memory?

I loved my time at Ooligan! Working with Kait Heacock on Sean’s book was a really important part of what I did there. Also, being at the Willamette Writers conference and getting pitches from authors, and eventually nabbing Karelia’s wonderful book for the press, was extremely rewarding to me. I’m so happy that Ooligan is publishing her book.

Any future plans?

After a pretty stressful transition period since my graduation, I’m trying to put down some roots out here.