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
“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
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
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
“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.”