Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

Full-Time Marketer, Part-Time Student: An Interview with Alaina Waagner

Sometimes, I think we all miss school a little bit. Maybe it’s having the opportunity to research something that interests you, or just having a group setting to discuss something in an academic way. Alaina Waagner actually took herself back to school after a few years off to get a masters in business all while working full time at Penguin Random House. She took the time out of her very busy schedule to tell Trendsetter what it’s really like to have a full time job and school at the same time.

Alaina Waagner works in the marketing department of the Random House Publishing Group. She is a graduate of the University of Florida, and is currently pursuing her MBA at Baruch’s Zicklin School of Business. She lives in Brooklyn, loves travel, and can usually be found petting stranger’s dogs on the street.

Describe your current role at Random House:A Waagner

I am an assistant marketing manager at the Random House Publishing Group. If you looked at my resumé or LinkedIn, it’d tell you that my job involves a lot of things like consumer insight research, testing out new digital vendors, and platform evaluation. In simpler and more realistic terms, my job is to communicate with consumers and booksellers and relay their thoughts and information to editors and authors in a way that informs the way that we talk about and sell the book. I do a little of everything, from writing copy for e-newsletters to planning social media campaigns to doing book mailings. And of course there are a lot of meetings. Meetings with authors, with agents, with publishers, with sales. Marketing involves a little bit of everything, and it’s crazy busy in the best way possible.

What master’s program are you in currently?

 I’m in a part-time MBA program at Baruch’s Zicklin School of Business, but I haven’t decided what I’m going to specialize in yet.

What made you want to go back to grad school?

My educational background is very liberal-arts and soft-skills heavy (aka I majored in English) — when I got into publishing, I originally imagined that I’d work in editorial. Landing in marketing, however, turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. I decided to go back to graduate school to help me develop more of those “hard” marketing skills that I missed out on in my undergraduate years. While not all of my classes are focused on things like analytics, taking courses across business disciplines has already given me a much broader view of the industry and how management operates in general.

What’s your class load like?

 Baruch’s program is 57 credits for most specialties, and I’m trying not to take more than two classes in any given semester in order to give myself some breathing room. This usually translates to class two nights a week for about 4 hours. I also took a microeconomics class during the January intersession, though, which is an abbreviated, 3-week “semester” that allows you to take an intensive course to get it out of the way. That was certainly a challenge. At this rate, I’m likely to complete the whole program in about 3 years.

Did you always want to go to grad school? Or was it something that came up later?

 I’m actually not sure! My parents heavily encouraged me to go to graduate school right after undergrad, but in hindsight, I’m so glad that I didn’t. I would have ended up with a master’s in English Literature or something similar, and a career track in academia and teaching that I’ve realized would not suit me at all. I think once I moved to the city and started working for a living I appreciated so much more what you can learn in an academic setting and how that can be more directly useful in your day-to-day career. When I figured out what I enjoy most about my job, I started thinking about programs that would give me the skills and credentials I needed to continue to grow.

How will having a master’s degree affect your current job?

I think it’s going to depend. I don’t necessarily see myself staying on the imprint-specific side of marketing, or even in marketing as a discipline. The great thing about the MBA is that it’s allowing me to expand a bit and take a look at other business angles that might appeal to me in the future (for example, I found my accounting and statistics classes weirdly satisfying, but I don’t know that I want to do that as a career full-time) while also strengthening my skills on the marketing side.

What is it like working full time and going back to school? Do you have any free time? Do you get enough sleep?

It’s definitely not easy! More difficult than the workload is convincing myself to go to class after I’ve already worked a full day, especially when the professor doesn’t count attendance. I usually dedicate a full day — Sunday — to catching up on reading and homework, which is usually enough to keep me up to date. What I’ve found, though, is that I feel so much busier since I have to limit my social interactions to just a couple of days a week — and since I have a hard time saying no, I frequently overschedule myself trying to fit everything I want to do into those limited days. I’d probably be healthier and less stressed if I gave myself some time off, but I also perform best when my time is rigidly scheduled and I don’t have much room to lie around and do nothing. Luckily, that tendency has been extremely helpful for my success in the program.

Is Random House helping you in any way during this process?

Random House has been incredibly supportive. The tuition reimbursement program that they offer is one of the major reasons that this has been financially feasible for me; additionally, my boss completed her MBA a few years ago, and thus understands exactly what the program requires. She encouraged me to apply to the program, and has been very flexible about allowing me to take a few hours to study when I need them before an exam or to get feedback on a project that I’m working on. It’s difficult to imagine having the capacity to do this in a less supportive environment.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 4/4-4/8

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

Barnes & Noble is preparing to open four concept stores in 2017, including one in Westchester County, NY.

Lena Dunham and her Lenny Letter Co-Creator Jenni Konner will start their own Lenny imprint at Random House.

Actor Sir Ian McKellen has pulled out of his memoir deal, and returned advance to the publisher.

Amazon ended its affiliate program in Louisiana after legislators passed a new tax law that allows the state to tax business without physical presences there.

Almost 300 children’s book authors and illustrators wrote an open letter to support the LGBT community in North Carolina after the passing of the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 3/28-4/1

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

DC Comics announced that four of their comic books will be written by four different renowned YA authors.

MIT Press, Princeton, and Yale Presses are combining their sales forces into one.

James Patterson will donate $1.75 million to school libraries across America for the second time.

Candlewick Press will launch a “design-driven” imprint this fall.

Buzzfeed Books is starting a new newsletter aimed at YA only.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 3/21-3/25

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

New York City’s Department of Education has revised its proposed ebook deal with Amazon to address concerns from the National Federation of the Blind.

Denver independent bookstore Tattered Cover was targeted by hacktivist group Anonymous for not standing against the city’s camping ban.

James Patterson is writing shorter, cheaper books to appeal to audiences that don’t usually read.

Scribd is now a credit-based service, instead of an unlimited one.

Over 14,000 authors will be paid 6 million pounds after a manual error was made by the organization that pays UK authors when their books are borrowed from libraries.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 3/14-3/18

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

Now that the mass market paperback of To Kill a Mockingbird will be discontinued, HarperCollins is selling the book at a discount to schools.

The Authors Guild’s case against Google’s library scanning program will head to the Supreme Court.

Barnes & Noble redesigned their website.

Audible added a sharing feature to their service where listeners can share passages of ebooks.

Amazon began cracking down on a scam that puts the Table of Contents at the end of an ebook that would make the book appear to have been read to the end.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 3/7-3/11

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

Publishers are petitioning the White House and Congress to end the Cuba trade embargo for books and educational materials.

Barnes & Noble Education announced it will replace its digital textbook platform Yuzu with VitalSource.

The Supreme Court denied Apple’s appeal in its ebook pricing-fixing case, ending the legal battle almost 6 years after the investigation began.

The book blog Bookslut is shutting down after 14 years of author interviews, book reviews, and columns.

JK Rowling faced backlash for appropriating Native American legends in the first installment of her “History of Magic in North America” series.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 2/29-3/4

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

Perseus Books Group has reached agreements to sell its publishing line to Hachette Book Group and its distribution line to Ingram Content Group.

We Need Diverse Books and Scholastic extended their partnership for diversity-specific flyers for the Scholastic Reading Club for the 2016-2017 school year after positive responses from teachers, parents, and readers.

Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and Google’s parent company Alphabet are filing amicus briefs to support Apple’s decision to deny the FBI access to a terrorist’s phone.

The technology news site CNET has begun publishing short fiction.

Amazon removed encryption from its tablets, prompting some complaints from customers.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 2/22-2/26

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

The theme for this year’s Banned Books Week will be diversity.

Simon & Schuster announced they’re starting an imprint for children’s books with a Muslim theme.

Hachette is suing former Sony Music executive, Tony Mattola, for not returning the advance for a book he ultimately never wrote.

A debut YA novel about the Black Lives Matter movement went to auction between 13 houses before being purchased by Balzer + Bray.

President Obama nominated current CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, Carla Hayden, to lead the Library of Congress.

Bonus video: Here’s a video from the White House introducing Carla Hayden and explaining why she’s Obama’s choice.

Trendsetter Roundtable: What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund

Reading to yourself has often been described as having a movie in your head, but as Peter Mendelsund, author of What We See When We Read (Vintage, 2014) would say it’s so much more than that. Mendelsund is the associate art director of Alfred A. Knopf and art director of Pantheon Books, so he’s definitely the right person to write this book. He’s created some of what I would argue to be some of the most famous and visually striking covers in recent years. Samantha and Jennifer sat down to talk about what they saw when they read this book in particular and what they learned from reading it.

Peter Mendelsund's redesigns of classic James Joyce covers

Peter Mendelsund’s redesigns of classic James Joyce covers

Samantha: Peter Mendelsund, What We See When We Read, roll tape. So! Here we are, having both read What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund a little bit ago. So to start out generally, what surprised you about this book?

Jennifer: I think what surprised me most was how similar everyone’s reading experiences are. Here I am thinking I’m a special snowflake, but really our brains all work in very similar ways. What was surprising for you?

Samantha: I definitely want to come back to your point because that was really interesting for me as well. But I think the thing that kind of wowed me was a little aside that he made about how we all skip around the page when we read. We don’t read all the words perfectly in a row. I knew I didn’t, but I too thought I was a special snowflake.

Jennifer: I’ve always had that problem. I think I notice it the most with comics. I’m always ruining the plot by looking at the last image of the page when I’m supposed to be focusing on the first.

Samantha:It’s funny to think our brains just can’t handle reading properly. But I’m glad you brought up comics because that was very interesting to me as well. Mendelsund was talking about how comics and graphic novels kind of flip the script when it comes to what we see when we read because, well they provide that for us. There’s very little to leave to the imagination. We already see Batman punching someone, we don’t have to conjure up the image on our own, which again. I didn’t think about. I guess for me that’s the great success of this book. He kept bringing up stuff that blew my mind that was probably fairly obvious had I taken the time to think about it.

Jennifer: Another thing that surprised me about the book were all of the images. I mean obviously, Mendelsund is an associate art director and art director and the book is about what we SEE but for some reason, I wasn’t expecting it to be as image heavy as it is. And it was a delightful surprise! (Side note: Because the book is so image-heavy, I recommend reading the print version. The ebook doesn’t do it justice!)

James Bond from The Composites, used with permission

James Bond from The Composites, used with permission

Samantha: Yes! As much as I’d like to pat myself on the back for reading a 400+ page book essentially about a philosophy of reading, there are a lot of images so it goes very fast. I did like how he tried to illustrate some of the phenomenon of seeing while reading. Like when he really pulled apart the physical descriptions of characters Anna Karenina, he really highlighted okay here’s the very little that we’d actually know for sure about this person. It reminded me of that blog, The Composites, in which the blogger takes those descriptions and uses a police sketch artist program to come up with the faces of book characters.

Fun fact: James Bond looks nothing like what I thought he would given Ian Fleming’s description of him.

Jennifer: Interesting, considering Bond has been type-cast consistently since the movie franchise started. But yes! He points out that everyone’s vision of a character/scene/thing is so different, because most authors only give you bits and pieces of what they look like and then you fill in the rest. My favorite example was when he asked the reader to picture a seahorse and then pointed out that everyone’s seahorse will be different, i.e. it might be a cartoon or a realistic one or some other style entirely.

Samantha: Yeah. That goes back to the first point you made about how we all see very similarly when we read. It’s just the little details that are different. He wrote about a book mentioning a dock, and how sure, we’ll all imagine a dock, but most likely we’ll all imagine a dock we’ve seen before, so the imagined docks will mostly all be different, but very much informed by reality. It’s all so crazy and interesting. I think an alternate – and ultimately less classy – title for this book could have been This is Your Brain on Reading. Or This is Your Brain on Books? This is why I don’t come up with book titles.

Jennifer: Two other sections I really enjoyed were the one about authors who sketch out scenes of their writings and the one about those who would draw out maps as visual guides, mostly for their own use rather than for readers.

Samantha: That was so interesting to me. I’d never heard of that before. Outlines, sure. That makes plenty of sense for an author, but very cool to think of an author really drawing themselves a map of the book that was just for them, not like a fancy endpaper for the beginning of the book. Yet another thing I learned from this book.

Something I wondered while reading this though, who do you think the audience of this book is?

Jennifer: I think the audience of this book is anyone interested in psychology, philosophy, or books in general (a.k.a. publishing people such as ourselves). When I finished this book, I recommended it to two people: a friend who loves all things nonfiction and bookish and another friend who studied psychology in undergrad and is always looking to learn more about how the brain works.

The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, another design by Peter Mendelsund

The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, another design by Peter Mendelsund

Samantha: Well what a perfect answer. I wasn’t really sure who the ideal reader for this would be, but I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head.

Jennifer: Well shucks, thanks. Continuing that thread, why would you recommend this book to our Trendsetter readers?

Samantha: Well I think it’s just a fascinating read for people who care about books, and it’d be doubly fascinating for someone who aspires to work in the art department of a publisher, given the fact that Mendelsund has created some of the most notable and striking covers in recent publishing history.

Jennifer: Agreed! It’d also probably be interesting for someone interested in editorial. They can get to know what details readers might pick up on when they read and they can appreciate the cool layout work that went into making this book.

Samantha: Oh that’s a good call too. Great! Well, go forth and learn about what our brains do when we read, Trendsetters! We both enjoyed this thoroughly.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 2/15-2/19

number_5_orangeEvery week we recommend 5 publishing news stories that young book professionals should read to feel more connected to what’s going on in the industry. There are only 5, so even if you weren’t able to read a thing all week, these should help keep you in the know.

In 2015, US bookstores reported an increase in sales for the first time since 2007, and it’s thanks to female authors.

Scribd is dropping its unlimited ebook subscription model, and will announce a new hybrid model next month.

Sixty independent bookstores opened in 2015, continuing the trend of 2014.

The federal appeals court upheld its ruling that Apple conspired with five publishers to raise ebook prices.

To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman author Harper Lee died this week at age 89.