Linen Press is a one woman band run for the past ten years pretty much single-handed so the interns who pass through the revolving doors of our tiny women’s press are invaluable. They bring their interest in social media, fresh perspectives, up-to-date skills, youthful energy. I love working alongside them and without their input and support, we could well grind to a halt.
I’m leaving aside here the argument about pay, to be tackled in another blog. Let me just say that I haven’t paid myself a wage in 10 years. Profits from book sales are ploughed straight back into forthcoming publications, and at the moment, in the oppressive, crushing shadows of Amazon and Waterstones, we barely break even. Our books sell in hundreds not thousands. Those figures are nothing to do with the quality of our books, nor with marketing strategies and everything to do with marketing money. Give me £50,000 to throw after a Linen Press book and it will be on the shelves of Waterstones. Another argument for another blog.
Recently, I nearly ran out of interns and that’s scary. Francesca, a brightly enthusiastic Italian student who’d finished her publishing course stayed with me for more than six months and in that time increased Twitter followers from 650 to 2000. Her tweets were upbeat, friendly and funky. She was offered a paid post in mainstream publishing. My other intern, Rianna, left after more than a year with us to study for her doctorate in London. And finally Liz, who made glorious trailers for our latest publications and edited one book from start to finish alongside me, left after more than a year to do a degree in art at Glasgow University. Perhaps because they are a self-selected group, LP interns have an excellent track record of finding employment, being offered places on PhD courses and choosing to go freelance.
That left Nicole, my stalwart guardian of Twitter and general help mate. She placed an ad saying we were looking for interns. Within 24 hours we had over 100 enquiries and I received 50 emails with full CVs and long, convincing letters. So there seems to be an acceptance amongst post-grads on publishing and literature courses that interning is a necessary step on the way to employment. Reprehensible perhaps, but it’s the current state of play with so few jobs available. I read the first 35 emails after which the candidates blurred into a single, well qualified, interesting candidate. Those 35 I reduced, somehow, to a short list of eight, but who knows who I missed along the way. To you, I apologise. I spoke on Skype with the final 8 and with difficulty chose 2. Percie, from a working-class background, comes with a zeal to tackle elitism and inequality in publishing, and Wendy, from Bermuda, is a committed feminism and has taken on our Instagram account.
During my initial Skype with Percie, she suggested I waive the submissions clause that asks writers to buy a Linen Press book as a contribution towards us reading their submissions. I only added it recently to get writers to take a close look at our list to judge if their ms fits, but also as small compensation for the hours we spend reading unsolicted submissions and giving feedback to many. We read (some of) everything that comes in. This Twitter announcement seemed to touch a nerve with 158 RTs and 308 Likes. So here’s an exampe of how an intern can shake things up and immediately make an impact. I’m waiting for Percie’s next suggestion.
My interns are very much part of the team while they are with us. They don’t sit in a corner reading the slush pile nor spend hours sending out mass emails. I like them to take ownership of a project so that they feel they are genuinely contributing to the press, which they are. We are all over the globe – in France, Germany, London, Stirling – and operate over the airways. We work flexi time and odd times. We learn to trust and support one another.
Over the last eight years when my first pink-haired, punk intern from Napier University started work with Linen Press, more than forty young women have entered and exited our revolving door. Some have stayed a couple of months, some more than a year. They have been Scottish, English, German, Dutch, Italian, Indian, Chinese, women of colour and women of mixed race, They have come from privileged backgrounds and working class backgrounds. Each has given something different, something valued. I thank all of you for your time, energy, talent and commitment. And for keeping me company and supporting me as I run this small independent press for women writers, now the only one in the UK.