Survival Tips for Unpaid Publishing Interns

Last week, HeavyHeartedLove responded to my call for follower input to ask if I have any advice for people who are worried about unpaid internships.

The happy answer is, yes I do! The unhappy answer is that I can only be so helpful in this particular situation.

Yesterday I wrote a prelude to this post about how the institution of unpaid internships is unfair, particularly to those who are limited by their finances. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d reccommend that you go and take a look. The bottom line of that post is that it’s pretty much impossible for some people to intern for free, and I can’t provide advice to those people aside from get rich (which would be gross, insensitive, and completely out of line).

So this post is largely directed at people for whom working unpaid is feasible, but not comfortable.

Before diving in, I want to give you all HeavyHeartedLove’s, exact wording… because I have a point to make:

Do you have any suggestions for people worried about unpaid internships? I can’t figure out a way to keep living while doing one full-time.

Now, I mentioned this in yesterday’s post, but I think it bears repeating, so: DON’T INTERN FULL TIME IF YOU’RE NOT GETTING PAID!

Actually, I should say “don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of.” If a company isn’t paying you so much as a travel stipend to work FULL TIME (and they should really be paying you more than a stipend in this case), then they are being assholes

I know that we in the publishing industry put a lot of stock in internships—and for good reason… they’re usually how you get hired—but don’t let that fact drive you to work for a company that blatantly doesn’t appreciate you. You are worth more than that.

Keep that in mind as we move forward, because the options available to you will depend greatly on your own situation and how far you’re willing to stretch get an internship. Try not to kill yourself getting one.

Apart from that general rule, the name of the game is this: how can you make your finances work (or otherwise justify your financial burden) while interning for free?

Here are some things to consider:

1) Budget more effectively to stretch you dollar—I’m not going to get into this too much because you can find general advice on this all over the internet. I will say that I’ve found changing my eating/cooking habits to be particularly helpful in managing my own finances—my fiancé and I cook huge freaking meals and eat the leftovers for days, which is much cheaper than buying a multitude of ingredients in smaller amounts. It also saves us time (time being money and all). Also, spaghetti squash is God if you want to make mass amounts of delicious and cheap food—I kid you not, you can cook that shit in the microwave!

2) See if you can intern for credit—some colleges or universities require their students to complete an internship (and I know a lot of Publishing Masters programs are like this as well), and many more allow you to take internships for credit. If your school allows you to intern for credit, that usually means that you are interning in place of taking a class. In some cases, taking one less class means that your tuition for that semester will be lower. See if your school has that option. Having that extra money in your budget can be a big help.

3) Try to get a part time job to help subsidize your internship—This is obviously easier to do if you’re a student and it’s the summer, but it’s feasible in a lot of situations. Lots of chain stores in the customer service industry are always looking for part time employees. It may not be a job you like, but it will help.

and finally

4) Consider a remote internship—If you can’t afford to commute or your schedule is just too hectic to work regular hours, you can always apply for a remote internship. It’s true that these are not as highly valued as in-person internships (and frankly they’re not as rewarding), but they will help give you experience, bulk up your resume, and increase your chances of getting a better internship down the road. You’ll also save a ton of money on gas and/or train fair, be able to work on your own schedule, and find it easier to maintain your school work and/or paying job. These internship opportunities are becoming increasingly popular among publishing companies that need help with reading submissions, so you’ve got a better chance of finding one nowadays than you did a few years ago.


During the year in a half in which I completed internships for free, I did all of these things at least once (aside from interning for credit, because my alma mater is a snob and doesn’t accept class credit from internships). The other three options were incredibly helpful to me personally, and I know that they’ve worked well for others.

I hope this helps you out, HeavyHeartedLove. I just wish I could give more advice.

Do any readers have more suggestions for unpaid interns?


  1. driednib reblogged this from lettersfromafutureeditor
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  4. willywaldo answered: Don’t allow yourself to be exploited. ! Be resourceful and creative. Get a part-time job, freelance, volunteer, whatever it takes.
  5. booksandpublishing reblogged this from bibulous
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