Sunshine Abroad

The trials and rewards of French translation and beyond

RIP André Schiffrin

André Schiffrin, a pioneer of independent publishing, has passed away.

There's a NYTimes obit, but I like this one from Melville House better.

This man left a profound imprint on the entire world of publishing, in more ways than I could possibly list. But most importantly for this translator's story, he founded The New Press with Diane Wachtell (now its executive director). The two of them decided that it was important to publish good books as an independent press, but they also decided that it was important to help young people get into the publishing industry. Hundreds of people have gone through their internship program, starting with the woman who first got me interested in translation, Emmanuelle Ertel.

I got my turn from Nov. 2011 to Mar. 2012, and it's the reason I know anything at all about how publishing works. It's why I had the opportunity to receive guidance while writing my first reader's report. It's how I found the contacts to get my foot in the door at a rich handful of other publishing houses and agencies. It's how I've gotten jobs, and learned how to act as a writer and translator so that your editor (and managing editor and accountant and production head and everyone else) doesn't hate you.

I also was privileged enough to work a couple of TNP shindigs that André and his wife hosted at their apartment in New York City. Even if I hadn't known the man, his penthouse apartment would have been legacy enough. There were no walls. Well, no bare walls. Every single wall -- including part of the kitchen, and except for the formal salon -- was made of bookshelves. Sagging bookshelves, crammed with everything he ever wrote or edited or studied or published or enjoyed, in several languages. My then-fiancé was so impressed that it's become a permanent part of our dream house.

So, André, although I knew you for a very brief time, and although you probably didn't remember my name (but you would have remembered that I spoke French), and although we weren't close colleagues or good friends or even from the same era, you have my deepest gratitude and utmost appreciation for everything you did for me and for all of us in translation and publishing. Thank you. Rest in peace.

The Threat to Publishing Internships

Two unpaid interns sued Fox. And won.

Yep, it's true. As this Washington Post article describes:

"a federal judge in New York ruled this week that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated minimum wage and overtime laws by not paying interns who worked on production of the 2010 movie 'Black Swan.'"

Now of course, this ruling could get overturned by a higher court. Don't think for an instant that Fox won't appeal the ruling.

But for the moment, let's discuss another facet of the ruling; namely, the current legal test for employers to determine if their interns can go unpaid (from The Atlantic, emphasis mine:)

  1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to training which would be given in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern; 
  3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;
  5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship;
  6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

On first glance, these criteria seem entirely reasonable. But then we have internships with publishers. If employers are required to gain no advantages from the interns' work, then would interns be allowed to use and hone their writing skills in such a position? Because in a good publishing internship...

  • an editorial intern learns to write cover copy, reader's reports, and sales blurbs
  • a marketing intern learns to write pitches
  • a development intern learns to write grant proposals, for the non-profits

And what about other creative internships? Journalism, graphic design, anything with creating copy or images. It's all fine and well to have interns practice creating such things, but it just makes more sense to let them practice on real projects. Higher stakes, more realistic working environment, and undoubtedly better guidance, as their work reflects directly on their boss. 

Unpaid internships are unquestionably abused by some employers, but the line between useful and exploitative is a bit murky. By these criteria, the only unpaid internship I ever worked would have been illegal. Except it was not only the best job I ever had, but it gave me an invaluable wealth of experience and connections for the publishing industry. You can't get that in many places. 

Granted, the only reason that internship at The New Press was unpaid was because I worked it after the economy crashed, when they almost had to shutter their entire press. But they didn't. They still hired interns, gave them a travel stipend, and fed them lunch once a week for a seminar. And they were committed to starting to pay interns again as soon as possible.

As it happens, they've delivered. If you're looking for a publishing internship in NYC, go apply here

Go little guys!

(Slightly OT)

In my spare time (haha), I work at a small, non-profit publishing house, The New Press.  They're really cool, see here:

It's not often that one of our books pops up on any bestseller list.  Let alone the New York Times' paperback non-fiction shortlist.  But after The New Jim Crow started with a modest print run of 3,000 back in 2010, here it is now at #5 on the bestseller list, for the second week running, in the company of Tina Fey and Malcolm Gladwell:

Go Michelle Alexander, go The New Jim Crow, and go The New Press!  We may be small, but we're playing in the big leagues now.