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Monday, June 9, 2014

Q&A with Carin Siegfried part 1: My Career in Book Publishing

My book, The Insider's Guide to a Career in Book Publishing, comes out next month. While I am eagerly waiting for it (I'm sure you are too!), here is a Q and A I did recently.

These questions come from my intern, Hannah, a very recent college graduate who wants to get into the book publishing field, so she is the perfect questioner. We're starting off with questions about my own career and its trajectory:

o   What is the most important lesson you’ve learned throughout your career?
Think before I talk! (or email.) I am impatient and have been known to do stupid things like ask the VP of IT in a big meeting of two departments with 50+ people in attendance, why he kept lying to us about when a new program was going to be ready to be used (in my defense, he'd been saying it would be ready "next month" for over two years. And I was young.) And at a later job when I was very frustrated with a co-worker I had to work with a great deal, my frustrations came through although we mostly emailed. I decided not only to wait to respond to her, but I had to figure out a real way to be nicer. My eventual plan was to pretend that instead of emailing Ms. Incompetent, I was emailing my best friend who had just made this giant mistake/screwed up a huge order/neglected to do anything I had asked her to do all week. It completely changed my tone and our relationship improved (although her follow-through did not) and most importantly, my boss noticed.
o   Do you have any major career goals for the future?
In my interview at Baker & Taylor, I was asked the not-good interview question, "Where do you see yourself in five years?" I said, "Well, if you had asked me five years ago, I'd have said I was going to be in New York working in editing, for the rest of my career. Instead, I am in Charlotte, interviewing for a job in sales. A few years before that if you'd asked me, I'd not have had any idea what I'd be doing, but I would have been certain I'd never move to New York. One thing I've learned is that I don't know where my career is going next. All I know is that it will involve books." I got the job. My answer is the same today. If you'd asked me during that interview if I would ever own my own business, I'd have laughed at you. And yet, here I am! This industry is unpredictable and I've learned to be flexible. My major career goals are to continue to have a career that makes me happy and pays the bills.
o   What was the biggest risk you took in your career?
It might have been quitting my job in New York City and moving to Charlotte without a job, just an excellent contact in HR of Baker & Taylor, the second largest book wholesalers, and the knowledge that people with my background and skills in this industry aren't common in this area.
Or it might have been after I got laid off when I turned down a job offer from Ingram Book Group (which involved relocating and I own a condo and it was the bottom of the real-estate market) and instead opened my own business, something I always said I wasn't the least bit interested in doing. While I don't relish all of the jobs that come with owning your own business (HR and bill collecting!) I do greatly enjoy the benefits and it's been much more successful more quickly than I had hoped. That's mostly due to the power of networking. You never know when people might be a help to your business or career.
 o   Which phase of your life was the most influential in your career?
I definitely learned the most during my five years in New York working in editorial at St. Martin's Press. St. Martin's is a company know for dumping you in the deep end (meaning, you don't get a lot of guidance and will have a lot of responsibility right away) but that's what I wanted since I wasn't coming straight out of college. I learned a lot of what to do and what not to do from my boss. I'm glad I worked in a house where books weren't put on a pedestal and worshiped, instead we were encouraged to see them as products and this as a business. (Everyone who sticks around in this business comes to this realization eventually, It's just nice to have that band-aid ripped off right away as it always hurts less that way.) St. Martin's also isn't known for its big advances, so the big, high-profile books went to other houses. We had to think differently, and a little more creatively, to get more bang for our buck, which is also a good lesson to learn early.
Wow, these questions were hard! I haven't had to think that long and hard about my career past since my last job interview! In two weeks I will answer more questions from Hannah, about the writing of the book. Stay tuned!

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