Encounters in Publishing #19: Making the Most of It, by Ian F. King
September 11, 2013
Five paragraphs into Janet Maslin’s recent review of Samantha Shannon’s THE BONE SEASON in the New York Times, and I had to re-read one sentence in particular:
“Ms. Shannon’s first big break came when she was hired as an intern by David Godwin, who later became her agent.”
That proves it, I scolded myself. You didn’t make the most of your internship.
Nine years ago, over the spring and summer of 2004, I interned at David Godwin Associates. The gig came about in that roundabout way opportunities like that often do. In the winter of 2003/2004, wrapping up my English degree at the University of Washington, I applied to the BUNAC program in order to get a six-month visa to go work on my fake accent in Britain. I told the literary agent (the only real-deal agent in Seattle at the time, and an excellent one at that) for whom I was then interning that I was heading over to London in the spring. She put me in touch with Abner Stein, the famous UK literary agency. Thinking it was in the bag, despondency crept in shortly after I set up camp at the youth hostel near Regents Park and found out Abner Stein didn’t have room for an intern after all.
Fate quickly intervened, and, through a fourth-degree connection, David Godwin Associates took me in like a lost cat. Charitably, David, Heather (his wife), and his two assistants let me spend every Thursday and Friday from April through August alone upstairs in Heather’s office, rejecting a tall backlog of unsolicited submissions, and continually hitting my head on the low doorways (the office was in a cozy old multi-level unit above a shop near Covent Garden). Here and there I’d look out the window across the interior courtyard and see Alex James, bassist for Blur, in his apartment having a cup of tea in the late morning. They even gave me a more-than-generous stipend of £50 in cash each week, which I was severely in need of for basic things like groceries, because the night job I had as a cook in a Kensington pub barely paid my room-share rent and bills.
A week after starting at the agency, I took on another internship working Monday through Wednesday at Granta Books. That one mostly involved stuffing hundreds of books in to hundreds of padded envelopes and mailing them out by the sack load. Everyone there was quite nice as well; I’m still in touch with both of my former supervisors. When it all wound down in early August, both DGA and Granta sent me off with generous referrals and a pair of quality experience lines for my unimpressive post-collegiate resume.
Despite all of that, one thought did start to nag at me almost from the moment I took my seat on the British Airways flight back home to Seattle: Did I make enough of it all? I had read a lot of slush, mailed a lot of books (including one to Billy Bragg!), and eaten a lot of cheese and onion sandwiches from Tesco for lunch – but had I really taken every chance available to advance myself? I fancied myself a budding short fiction writer at the time, and had in those months abroad placed a couple of stories on literary websites, but the Self-Doubting Thomas in the back of my head kept me from discussing this with anyone, for fear of being seen as overeager, or worse, a naive opportunist.
Granted, I was a lanky redhead in his early twenties penning random short stories about shredding memories and metaphor abuse, not an attractive young woman writing a dystopian wizards’n’werewolves kitchen sink series, so it probably would have made for a bit of an awkward silence if I had stridently sought representation from one of the UK’s premier literary agencies. And yet, it’s both stirring and somewhat deflating to see that taking that kind of chance worked for someone who was in the very same position I was once in so many years ago. After reading about Ms. Shannon’s success, do I wish I had been bolder about shouting my writerly dreams into those ears briefly opened to me that summer? Possibly. Will I now commence working on SEA MONSTER HIGH SCHOOL, my post-apocalyptic undersea romance trilogy? Immediately.
Ian F. King is a contributing music writer for Line – A Journal and Stereo Subversion, the Book Reviews Editor for KGB Bar Lit Magazine, and the Literary Events Editor for Slice Magazine. His writing has appeared in Nylon, Slice, Hobart, Pindeldyboz, Take the Handle, and other places. He also maintains an experiential music blog called Dear Jerks. He lives in Brooklyn.