Why I Loved My Internship at Duke University Press

FullSizeRenderHi everyone! My name is Sarah Kinniburgh and I am a senior at William & Mary. This summer, I was an intern in the Books Marketing Department. It’s been a blast, but I don’t want to reminisce too hard just yet! Instead, I want to share how I ended up at Duke in the first place and my main takeaway from the experience.

So, once upon a time, also known as December of 2015, I knew I wanted to write a thesis. With no concrete ideas beyond that, I took to the stacks of Swem Library for hours at a time. I was curious to see what I was curious about.

This free association was not the most efficient brainstorming strategy, but it worked. After a few spins, I had a list of books and authors that spoke to me. At the top: A Coincidence of Desires: Anthropology, Queer Studies, Indonesia by Tom Boellstorff and Cities From Scratch: Poverty and Informality in Urban Latin America edited by Brodwyn Fischer, Bryan McCann, and Javier Auyero. It blew my mind that books on totally unfamiliar subjects were so well-researched, so nice to look at, and so fun to read. So I checked out those two books, then as many other Duke University Press titles as I could find.

At this point, I was on the prowl for a paid internship. Based on one phone call with a manuscript editor at a university press and a few blog posts (one of which helpfully suggested, “Love editing? Be an editor!”), I focused on editorial departments at publishing houses, as well as communications departments at think tanks.

Duke University Press was the first place I emailed. I heard back within two days—a promising sign, to say the least. Books Editorial was all set with student interns for the summer, but had I talked to Laura Sell in Books Marketing? The way it all worked out, I had my phone interview with Laura on my birthday. At the time, I was taking Amtrak to New York City to spend the weekend with my family (and was in a ridiculously good mood, which couldn’t have hurt). Not long after, Laura contacted me to offer me the internship.

The best part? On my first day at the Press, I walked past a stack of Cities From Scratch, casually perched on a table in the front office.

All of this is to say, I ended up at Duke University Press because I wanted to work around books that I knew I liked reading. This summer, I had the chance to do just that. I also got to know the people and process behind the titles, which is just as fun. Another unexpected perk: I feel more prepared to write my thesis, though not about Latin America or Indonesia, having worked around serious scholarship all summer.

In the big picture, though, my favorite part about the internship has been learning what academic publishing really is. Books Marketing covers so much territory: exhibits at conferences and museums, advertising, author events at bookshops, social media, and more. By learning more about Duke University Press’s marketing strategies, I feel like I have learned about the industry as well.

My favorite, favorite part has been learning how university presses use social media. Twitter is a great way to support individual authors and to connect titles with current events. Instagram may be on the rise for presses who know we all sometimes judge a book by its cover. Even Pinterest factors into some press’s brands. But the humble blog especially is thriving. University press blogs can feature longer, original reads that frame their titles and topics in the context of current events. For example, University of Chicago Press shared how Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissenting opinion on a recent case cited one of their titles, MIT Press posted a Happy Birthday message to Alan Turing, and NYU featured a guest post by an author on the private prison in Orange Is the New Black. And, for University Press Week two years ago, Columbia offered a manifesto explaining its weekly university press blog roundup and, like many other presses, sharing links to other themed posts from around the country. I especially like that university presses can play to their strengths and expertise with these posts, from incorporating guest posts to sharing the timeline of a particularly time-sensitive book from start to finish, like the University of Georgia does here.

And, as if these posts weren’t enough reason to show academic publishers some love, the Johns Hopkins University Press shared this tweet about the humble weasel. As I responded almost immediately, that is the kind of quality content that I have come to expect from our university presses.

My time at Duke University Press has come to an end, but—if my obvious heart-eyes for this entire experience didn’t give it away—I hope that I am just getting started with this complicated, exciting field.

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