My Internship with Future Tense Books and What I Learned There

Over the summer, I interned at Future Tense Books, a micropress helmed by local author Kevin Sampsell. Together, we worked to get Wendy C. Ortiz’s debut title Excavation: A Memoir into as many hands as possible. Going into the internship, I felt confident, but ten weeks as a marketing/publicity intern—my first real-world publishing experience—showed me that I have much left to learn, both from my instructors at Ooligan and the industry itself.

At PSU’s Book Publishing graduate program, students become part of the Ooligan Press staff. By working to acquire, edit, design, and market books, we gain a practical, foundational skillset that will serve us in the publishing world and beyond. We also enroll in courses taught by industry professionals. When I took Rhonda Hughes’ marketing class in the fall of 2013, I gained an appreciation for the creativity and research involved in marketing and promoting a book. The lessons learned in that class have served me well thus far as the marketing lead for Ooligan Press, and so I thought that interning at Future Tense would be cake. How naïve I was.

First of all, I should note that my internship with Future Tense was quite special. Rather than dip my hands into several ongoing projects, I had the task of marketing one specific book: Wendy C. Ortiz’s powerful debut Excavation: A Memoir. The book follows Wendy from ages thirteen to eighteen, during which she entered a relationship with a male high school English teacher fifteen years her senior. During their time together, he encouraged her writing, and the experience irrevocably shaped her work as well as her future relationships. The story could have easily been marketed as a salacious scandal reminiscent of one of the most widely circulated news stories of the late ’90s: the relationship between elementary school teacher Mary Kay Letourneau and her student Vili Fualaau. However, that is not the story Wendy tells, nor is it the story Wendy wants others to read.

Since the book contains dark subject matter, the marketing had to be handled carefully. In addition to contacting media outlets for potential review, writing press releases, and advertising Wendy’s upcoming events, I had to vet potential reviewers and interviewers. If one believes that authorial intent no longer matters once the book is in the hands of the reader, then vetting reviewers and interviewers may seem like a fruitless task. Still, Excavation is not a piece of fiction; it is the author’s true story. I understood the potential for someone twisting Wendy’s story into one of victimhood (which Wendy was vehemently against), so I endeavored to ensure the integrity of the book.

Now we come to the most challenging aspect of my internship: taking initiative. One of the suggestions Kevin made was to not fear suggesting ideas. At Ooligan, brainstorming is so easy for me to do. I’m surrounded by kind and supportive faculty and friends. While Kevin was also greatly supportive, I was ultimately intimidated by the prospect of generating ideas for a publishing house that wasn’t Ooligan, and I’m glad he noticed. His encouragement gave me the push I needed to finish off the internship with a successful booking at a major Los Angeles bookstore.

As of late September, I’ve been interning at Bitch Magazine, and I keep the lessons I learned with Future Tense in mind. No longer do I allow the scope of my work intimidate me into staying silent. At Future Tense, I learned to value my ideas. At Future Tense, I found my voice.

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