Do we remember ‘anonymous?’ An interview with the INTERN
Ten months ago, an anonymous publishing company intern started a blog called INTERNspills, which revealed secrets prospective authors rarely hear. The blog started like this: ‘Hot tip: The “acquisitions editor” whose name you found in Writer’s Market doesn’t exist.’
The site is a hit, not only with people striving to sell the Great American Whatever, but also with people in the publishing industry itself. Last month, I had the chance to meet the author, who goes by the superhero handle INTERN, and she got me thinking about writers and their legacy, another form of memory. What happens to the memory of anonymous bloggers? And do they care?
You are anonymous on your website for very practical reasons I know, but does that make you feel less attached to the project than if your name were on there?
It depends on what you mean by ‘attached.’ INTERN thinks about her blog and the little world that’s sprung up around it all the time, even when she’s busy doing other things as her “normal” self—sometimes it feels like her ‘INTERN’ identity has become almost as important in her day-to-day life as her ‘personal’ identity.
This is even more true now since INTERN’s livelihood largely depends on revenue from her blog—so it’s more than just emotional attachment.
Not having a ‘real name’ on the blog only makes INTERN less attached to it in the sense that she could pull the plug on it any time and nobody in her “real” life would hassle her about it.
I know you are a writer who’s about to be published. Do you have the normal desire of a writer to be remembered, to have your words live on beyond your natural life?
No. INTERN doesn’t feel that at all—are you sure it’s a ‘normal’ desire? Maybe INTERN is too much a child of the internet age—it just doesn’t occur to her that anyone will be reading her book (or her short stories or her blog archive, or whatever) in ten years, let alone beyond her predicted lifespan of 86 years. Maybe it’s different with novels (INTERN’s forthcoming book is not a novel).
Also, INTERN is pretty critical of her own writing, and is pretty sure she hasn’t written anything worth remembering yet.
Yes, I think it is fairly normal to want your words to outlast you, although perhaps not of all of them. There’s something magical about Rachel Carson or Truman Capote or Joseph Mitchell’s work living on in the collective memory, perpetuated by their words.
Ah. Yes, there is something magical about having all those words live on, but that’s not necessarily because the author sat down and said ‘I am writing with the express purpose of achieving eternal life!’ — the longevity is just a side-effect of good writing. It has more to do with the world’s response to the writing than with the writer’s intentions (in INTERN’s humble opinion).
So why do you write?
INTERN doesn’t have a neat or quotable answer as to why she writes. In the case of her forthcoming book, she wrote it because she was kind of dumbfounded that it didn’t exist already. In the case of her fiction and poetry: realistically, INTERN probably writes because writing has always yielded more positive strokes for her than any other pursuit—much as a rat will keep pressing the button that gives it the most candy. Not to say that she doesn’t also love the craft and everything, but INTERN tends to favor theories of rathood over theories of romance when it comes to explaining her own behavior.
When we met, we talked about the diminishing returns of an anonymous project when the author is revealed. Is that the primary reason you are considering never revealing your name? Or do you worry that you might confuse the narrative of the rest of your career if you throw this blog into the mix?
A pinch from column A, maybe a single grain from column B.
The primary reason INTERN does not reveal her name is because 99% of the fun and excitement and mystery of the blog (for herself and supposedly for her readers) comes from being the EveryIntern—not ‘Wanda Jones, intern at Random House’ or wherever.
INTERN is a very neurotic and shy person in real life, and if she kept a blog as ‘Wanda Jones’ she would find it much harder to take risks and deal with the usual internet hazards like trolls in the comments section. If a troll left a nasty comment on Wanda Jones’ blog, Wanda Jones would probably cry. If a troll leaves a nasty comment on INTERN’s blog, INTERN can say ‘whatever, yo!’ and just delete it—the anonymous persona allows a normally shy and apologetic INTERN to borrow these traits of confidence and imperviousness, without which the INTERN blog could probably not exist.
As for the rest of INTERN’s ‘career,’ INTERN thinks having the blog associated with her real name would only be a plus. But that’s not a sacrifice INTERN is willing to make.
Okay, let’s say the blog stops some day, theoretically when you cease to be an intern. I still have the sense you want to keep it a secret. But what if Wanda Jones becomes that confident, forthright person that INTERN already is, what’s then the purpose of hiding her name? Doesn’t the need for mystery end with the blog’s life?
At that point, it’s not so much about a ‘need’ for mystery as a love of magic. It’s way more appealing to INTERN to slink off in the night than have people stalk ‘Wanda Jones’ on Facebook.
You have monetized your blog presence very well and simply. What made you decide to start looking at manuscripts as the INTERN? You mentioned placing ads on the blog might cheapen the project — why do you feel that way?
INTERN put up the sidebar offering her manuscript critiquing service on day one. She got her first client in the first week the blog was up. INTERN really, really loves editing and critiquing manuscripts, and it turns out that lots of people want their manuscripts critiqued—so it’s been a happy situation from the start.
Offering INTERN’s services (as opposed to putting up ads or asking for donations) is much better for INTERN because it works her brain and passions, deepens her relationship with readers, and gives her real, useful experience and contacts. Getting revenue off advertisements has no intellectual or emotional benefits for INTERN—working with readers’ manuscripts makes INTERN feel like she’s really making a difference and using her brain.
As for the last question: INTERN thinks Google Adwords ads look cheap. And that’s just that!
You’re right, it does look cheap. What kinds of writing are people sending to you?
INTERN works with a ton of YA and MG manuscripts. Next in line are literary fiction and ‘women’s fiction.’ INTERN also really enjoys working with non-fiction manuscripts and book proposals, but gets much fewer of those than fiction manuscripts.
We discussed the industry that has built up around the desire to be published. It’s very lucrative, but somewhat troubling too. How do you approach that issue when you look at someone else’s work — are your brutally honest? Are you able to say to someone, ‘This is nowhere near ready to be published?’
Just to be clear: Manuscript critiques are by no means ‘very lucrative’ (at least for INTERN). As INTERN mentioned when we spoke in your class, INTERN does manage to pay for a substantial part of her criminally low living expenses through critiquing gigs, but she also has other gigs (tutoring, life-modeling, etc) that cover the gap. And again, INTERN is insanely frugal. Most normal people couldn’t support themselves on the kind of money INTERN is making off her blog and assorted gigs.
Anyway, to answer your question: What’s troubling about it? INTERN’s readers are perfectly intelligent and aware of the fact that they are purchasing an honest and thoughtful critique of their work by a young publishing intern—and that’s exactly what they get. Nobody’s getting tricked. INTERN makes no bones about a manuscript’s readiness to be submitted: if it ain’t cooked, it ain’t cooked. INTERN’s clients are paying her to be honest—it would be absurd to be anything but that.
Things like vanity presses, fake agencies and fake ‘contests’ that prey on would-be writers and offer false promises are troubling. Getting your manuscript critiqued by someone who is earnest and committed……not so troubling.
Why all caps by the way?
INTERN INTERN INTERN INTERN INTERN!