A spring break trip will give three Nebraska English majors a coveted line on their resumes: first-hand exposure to New York City publishing.
Nicole Eisenbraun, Araya Santo and Abigail Goodwin spent their break in the Big Apple, working with an agent for Curtis Brown Ltd., one of the world’s leading literary agencies.
The trip is a high point of a semester-long internship with agent Noah Ballard, who is a University of Nebraska-Lincoln alumnus. The three students have served as his readers, reviewing manuscripts and proposals from authors and aspiring authors each week, writing reports and conferring with Ballard via Skype.
“He requires us to do a readers’ report on whether or not he should take it on and why,” said Eisenbraun. “You need to think about what makes a book work and what doesn’t – what that means, outside of your own personal preferences.”
Except for March 21, when a record-setting snowstorm pummeled the city and forced cancellation of their activities, the students spent March 19-22 in meetings with representatives of the Big Five publishing houses and with Ballard’s colleagues and co-workers. March 24 was a free day spent sightseeing.
“It puts everything we’ve learned into perspective,” said Santo, who will graduate in August. “It’s an opportunity not a lot of people get, coming to New York and meeting with representatives from all five houses. It helps us think about publishing careers and become more serious about it.”
Timothy Schaffert, director of the university’s creative writing program, and Kelly Payne, major adviser for the English Department, said this internship is part of the English Department’s efforts to help Nebraska graduates break into a tough and competitive industry. Contrary to popular belief, there are jobs for English majors, they said.
“Students who have done this internship and others have been getting jobs and have been able to infiltrate the market,” Schaffert said. “The internship exposes them to the industry, gives them some experience to include on their resumes and helps them position themselves professionally.”
The department’s published authors, such as Jonis Agee and Schaffert, are committed to helping students make industry contacts, Schaffert said. University of Nebraska Press and the Prairie Schooner offer internships and the department holds a publishing week each fall so that students can meet with editors and agents and learn more about the publishing world.
Each of the students received a $500 fellowship through the Nordbrock Experiential Learning fund to help offset the costs of their New York City trip, with the students responsible for remaining costs, Payne said. She said the English Department is developing similar internship experiences for students in the future.
Goodwin, who graduates in May, said the internship and the trip opened her eyes to career possibilities.
“I had to be an English major, I had to,” she said. “It was the only thing that was calling me. I love English and books. We’ve been given so many books. There’s just stacks of them. It’s wonderful.”
Each of the three students has a different career goal.
Santo, for example, is a writer and is interested in production and design. Goodwin said marketing and publicity appeals to her. Eisenbraun wants to be a book editor.
Although Santo and Goodwin are ambivalent about living in the city, Eisenbraun dreams of a New York City publishing career. After graduation in May, she plans to move back home to Wall, S.D., and work to save money for her big move. She’s already had internships at the University of Nebraska Press, the Prairie Schooner and an independent publisher in Pasadena, Calif.
Her parents are supportive of her dreams, she said.
“I’ve been a book nerd for a long time,” she said. “I’ve taken lots of English classes, but I tried different fields. When I landed on English, my mom’s exact words were ‘I wouldn’t have expected anything different.’ They knew I wanted to go into publishing before I even knew.”