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What The Proposal Movie Gets Right About Book Publishing

Emily Wong Posted by Emily Wong, Digital Editorial Intern, Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

What The Proposal Movie Gets Right About Book Publishing

Going into my internship at Berrett-Koehler, my expectations were heavily influenced by my blurry memory of The Proposal. But instead of seeing rows of cubicles and coffee stained dress shirts as the movie portrays, I was greeted by individual open-doored offices and casual attire. Even though this setting is a lot more inviting than I expected, I continued to anticipate menial assignments with little overall significance. On my first day, I attended an Author Day Lunch where a Berrett-Koehler author presents an overview of his or her book, and welcomes the staff and guests to ask questions. My first assignment was to write a blog article on this, and I instantly realized that my expectations of filing and organizing would drastically differ from reality.

Ryan Reynold’s character, Andrew, is technically an assistant, not an intern, but is treated as a lowly member of the company. Although I did not expect (and thankfully was never asked) to make coffee runs for my boss like how Andrew does, I thought that as an intern, I would be tacked on at the end of meetings and be given insignificant tasks. I did not anticipate that my opinion would be sought after in editorial meetings when reviewing book proposals, or that I would be able to meet with authors to ask questions for my blog article or simply out of curiosity.

Berrett-Koehler’s office atmosphere is also not nearly as intimidating as in The Proposal. There was never a mass email sent out warning everyone that “the witch is on her broom,” whenever an influential staff member arrived. Berrett-Koehler is actually relatively egalitarian in the treatment of their staff. During a publication board I attended, staff members went around in a circle to express their thoughts on whether a book idea had their approval or not. A part of me thought the interns would be skipped over, but I instead heard everyone shifting in their seats to see and hear what I had to say. As I considered the book’s marketability, targeted audience, and how it connects with the mission statement of creating a world that works for all, I could see others nodding in support and encouragement.

There is not a lot from The Proposal that corresponds with my book publishing experience, or at least for Berrett-Koehler specifically, except for a genuine interest in books. This trait is more clearly seen in Berrett-Koehler with its policy of free books for staff members from the office’s floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and author days that promote personal interactions. The Proposal touches upon this idea towards the end when Sandra Bullock’s character, Margaret, leaves behind Andrew’s book proposal with a note of praise and promise to publish it. The audience realizes that beneath her layers of stress-induced bravado and cold-heartedness, Margaret really does care about something other than herself—publishing good pieces of literature.

It is important to note that Berrett-Koehler is a smaller book publishing house compared to the New York City one in The Proposal, where an internship may be more similar to Andrew’s experience. With this in mind, Berrett-Koehler pleasantly contrasts the intimidating environment and limited influence seen in The Proposal, by providing a great interactive and inclusive experience for interns.