Internship shows Wichita State student new facets of publishing world

At least once a week, Jeff Sawyer read “My Father’s Dragon” to his daughter. 

“That was one of my core memories,” Denae Sawyer said. “He would always read it to me and do the voices. Books and reading and the imagination and the storytelling of it has always been a part of who I am.” 

That love of reading led Sawyer to seek — and earn — an internship last spring with Dzanc Books, a non-profit publisher of literary fiction and non-fiction. Sawyer, who is working on a master’s degree in innovation design at Wichita State University, spent the spring semester interning remotely for 20 hours a week. 

Her work consisted of reading and researching to determine if the manuscript fit Dzanc’s standards and sensibility. She also evaluated the potential audience and marketing strategies. 

“We would sift through and pick one (manuscript) that especially spoke to us,” she said. “We would start developing a really, really generic portfolio of — what is the story about, what makes it good, what is the audience, what is the marketability?” 

Understanding the needs of the publishing house is one of the benefits of the internship. Wichita State’s relationship with Dzanc, located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, started roughly 10 years ago. Dr. Darren DeFrain, chair of the Department of English, said more than 50 WSU students have interned with the publisher.   

“A lot of the students maybe don’t share the aesthetic of the press, personally, in their reading tastes,” he said. “It’s a really great exercise to think about what’s good for the press when evaluating these texts.” 

Sawyer, who graduated from Wichita State with a Cohen Honors College degree with concentrations in English, marketing and innovation design last spring, views editing as a possible career. The internship introduced her to the publishing industry’s variety. Publishers work with fiction, non-fiction, textbooks and other genres. It takes a team of editors, artists, photographers and marketers to bring the book to the public. 

“I completed the internship and realized there are many creatives in the process,” she said. “It was cool to see how interactive and communicative an editor’s role is, which drew me more to possibly wanting to get a job.” 

When DeFrain met Sawyer and learned of her interest in book editing, he steered her toward Dzanc. Dzanc publisher and editor in chief Michelle Dotter is helpful guiding students interested in the career, DeFrain said.  

“They all seem to really get a lot out of it,” DeFrain said. “I think a lot of them haven’t really thought about how that book gets in your hand. There are so many steps that go into this. The editorial process is such a big part of what ultimately gets out there.” 

The internship also taught Sawyer works skills that are important no matter the profession. Her advice to students is to jump into opportunities to work in the real world. Internships can guide people toward careers or provide information that pushes them in a different direction. 

Sawyer learned how to work from home and manage her time. The role of editor required her to tell an author that the manuscript wasn’t suitable for Dzanc. One story possessed a fascinating theme, weighed down by a boring lead character. Sawyer explained and offered constructive criticism, while respecting the author’s investment of time and effort. 

“It was interesting to learn how to professionally communicate with others,” she said. “It truly is what you say and how you say it, that was a big takeaway.” 

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