All throughout college I have been told to get an internship, get experience and build my network. If I do this, I was told I would have a better chance of getting employed after college. I always thought that an internship would be just that: something to do and put on my resume.

But I never realized how much an internship could actually change my life.

All throughout college and high school I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in book publishing. I am that nerdy friend who loves to edit all her friend’s papers and finds joy in adding an oxford comma or semicolon to a sentence.

Finding an internship in book publishing, though, wasn’t exactly easy, especially when I was only looking in the Boston area. I poured over all the resources in the Center for Career and Experiential Education, searching and other websites. I applied to anything that looked remotely like what I wanted. Not getting many results, I started to do my own research. I went to every Boston publishing house’s website and contacted someone about an internship. I must have sent over 50 emails expressing an interest in a summer internship.

I wasn’t getting much returns on my inquiries, though, and I was beginning to lose hope. It was starting to look like I was going to have to continue working at my monotonous summer job. Then an e-mail came through. “Let’s try to set up a call for this week,” it read. I was ecstatic. Finally, all my hard work was about to pay off.

Two months later I began work at my summer internship: Quarto Group, a publishing company located in Beverly, Mass.  It sucked big time that my internship was unpaid, but in some ways, I actually preferred it. Two days a week I commuted an hour one way from my sister’s apartment in Watertown, Massachusetts to start my day at work at 9 a.m. There, my supervisor would give me tasks to do throughout the day.

Since I wasn’t paid, though, I could leave whenever I finished my work or when I wanted to. While this might make it seem like I was being taken advantage of and forced to do menial jobs like copying, I believe it was actually the best thing to happen to me. My supervisor wasn’t concerned with constantly making sure I had something to do to make sure they weren’t having me just sit around. In fact, I didn’t use the copy machine once my entire internship. Instead I was doing jobs that were truly preparing me for a future in publishing.

I interned within the editorial department under a project manager who was in charge of all the books Quarto was working towards publishing. They gave me a little cubicle-desk space – not an ugly cubicle, though, like a fancy, modern cubicle – to work at. The first couple weeks I only worked directly with my supervisor, sometimes asking the other project managers around me questions about what I was doing.

I found myself leaving the office very early each day – sometimes as early as 1 p.m. For driving an hour one way each day, I was getting very disgruntled with all the gas I was uselessly wasting. Then I discovered something amazing: if I wanted to stay later, I just needed to have more things to do. I started to ask all the other project managers and acquisition editors if they needed help on anything throughout the day, usually getting an extra hour or two of work. Some days I worked so late that my supervisor would come over and comment on how late I was staying. Needless to say, I was in love with everything that I was doing and wanted to stay as late as possible just to do more.

It wasn’t my dream internship, as I was working predominantly with cookbooks, self-help books and art books. But I couldn’t be happier about it. In my internship, I helped edit the manuscripts, sent information to the Library of Congress, contacted artists to use their artwork in future books and even modeled sweaters for a knitting book. While some of my jobs weren’t very interesting – I spent three days looking up metric conversions for a cook book! – I was extremely gratified by everything that I learned and did.

I left my internship with skills to help me in my future publishing career as well as two letters of recommendation. Those two letters make everything I went through, the one-hour commute, gas money, metric conversion, worth it.

So, go out and put your summers to use. Find an internship, even if it’s unpaid, because a letter of recommendation from someone in your desired industry can go a long way in the application process. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.

Lianna Blakeman | Cigar