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Me and My Job: Karen McTigue
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KarenMcTigue
The IPG
Posted by IPG
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1 What is your job title and company? And roughly how many people work for your company?

I am the head of international sales at Yale University Press. I also oversee our rights team and around 17 overseas sales reps and agencies. From our office here in London we handle all sales to Europe, Scandinavia, Asia, Africa and Australasia. The press has around 45 members of staff in its London office on Bedford Square.

2 What are your qualifications and working background, and when and how did you take on your current job?

I have a degree in Art History and a post-grad Diploma in Paper Conservation (oddly the latter has not come in particularly useful in my current role...). I began working in the industry at 16 when I was offered a weekend job at what was then the Arts Council Bookshop, shortly to become Dillon’s Arts Bookshop, on Long Acre in Covent Garden. I then worked my way around various branches of Waterstones for another 15 years. I loved the bookshop environment and having the opportunity to meet so many incredibly talented booksellers who were also musicians, writers, artists and actors—and also the diverse range of customers.
In 2004 I started at Yale as a part-time assistant to the sales director, then Kate Pocock. While my kids were in primary school I gradually took on more responsibility within the department, specifically for our export markets, which I found particularly fascinating—and this is where I am today.

3 What does your average working day entail?

It is a hackneyed phrase, but there is no average day. Every day really is entirely different and that is the joy of the job. I can have a very early start at home if I want to get hold of one of our partners in Australia for instance, or later, if I am heading into the office for a meeting with colleagues. I will have multiple communications with our distributors, sales reps and agencies, on issues like specific order requirements, local promotions and events, customs issues, requests for materials and, of course, chasing customers for payment. There will also be authors to speak with about their various travels, inventory issues to discuss, analysis of our sales patterns and looking for new opportunities.

4 What do you enjoy most about your job?

One of the most enjoyable aspects is the everyday communication with the people I have been fortunate enough to work with over the years. Meeting with our sales teams and customers at the Frankfurt Book Fair is also unquestionably a highlight of my year. It is a rare opportunity to hear first-hand accounts of other people’s lives around the world, and being thanked for putting the right book into a reader’s hands, even if it is via an often quite protracted logistics chain, is an absolute pleasure.
Yale has a tremendous reputation worldwide for an exceptionally broad and intellectually stimulating range of titles, along with truly excellent production values and a buoyantly healthy backlist. We also work closely with our fantastic marketing teams to ensure that all of our significant and positive publicity is as far reaching as we can make it. This all helps to make the job of selling in (relatively) straightforward, as our customers know what to expect from us. Being able to visit customers is also an enjoyable part of the role—as my colleagues will attest I still get ridiculously over-excited to see copies of our Little Histories series on the shelves at Readings in Melbourne or a prominent display of our beautiful art titles on the front table at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.

5 What achievements are you most proud of?

The bookseller in me would say that it is being able to match the reader with the writer. While strategic development and directing growth in sales figures are important, on a personal level nothing beats the direct contact from a bookseller or even a customer, perhaps on the other side of the world, to tell us that we delivered exactly what was needed. Ultimately, that is my job.

6 What are your biggest challenges?

Currently one of our biggest challenges lies in trying to anticipate changes in various markets, given the fluctuations in currencies. Like most businesses we are as yet unsure of the full impact of Brexit on our practices, but publishers are nothing if not flexible. The consistency of good data is a real challenge, and trying to take ownership of it when there are so many threads to clutch at can be very time-consuming.

7 What have you experienced in your job and publishing that you didn’t expect?

I don’t think I came to the job with unrealistic expectations, but I would say that it is unusual in my experience of other industries for roles to be quite so multi-tasked. My colleagues at Yale are really incredibly diligent, putting in long hours to ensure the right result. Friends outside of publishing are often astonished at the level of commitment that we demonstrate.

8 What is the best thing about working for an independent publisher?

Being so close to the bare bones of the business. It is possible to make a direct change without struggling through layers of corporate management. An individual’s knowledge and experience are highly valuable to the creation of a strong, sustainable business—and being heard is critical to that.

9 How do you switch off from your work?

Taxidermy, walking the dogs (usually entirely separate activities...), inventing new cocktail recipes, listening to live music, watching films and competing with my family and friends on Fitbit stats.

10 What advice would you give anyone wanting to start or progress a career in publishing?

Be open to change. Flexibility is pretty vital in publishing. Ask plenty of questions and then really listen to the answers. Almost everyone I have met in the industry has been more than willing to share their knowledge and incredibly generous with their time, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Be prepared to carry a lot of boxes and make a lot of tea.

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