Christine Jaeger was a journalism major in college; now she’s the Senior Director, Trade Sales at Macmillan Publishers. Here’s how she got there.
By Stephen Lovely
To hear her tell it, Christine Jaeger’s career path in publishing kicked off with a “happy accident:” After landing a job as the assistant to Tor’s associate publisher, Jaeger was encouraged to think about a role in sales. Without knowing exactly what that entailed, she decided to make the leap, and she’s been moving up ever since.
It might have been chance that connected Jaeger to her first position in sales, but it took more than that to build a career in publishing. Her fit into the sales team was natural for someone of Jaeger’s passions: She’s always been an outgoing “people person” and a “big reader,” a trait that she inherited from her mother.
Jaeger is now in a position to give advice to those who would follow in her footsteps in the publishing industry. So, naturally, we asked — and she was kind enough to share details about her career in sales, her proudest moments with Macmillan, and her enthusiasm for sharing good books.
Were you a big reader growing up? Did you have any favorite authors or books?
Yes! I was always a big reader. It didn’t hurt that my mother worked at our local public library and that she’s also a big reader. My early favorites were the books in the Little House on the Prairie series, and I quickly graduated to other authors, like Lois Duncan and V. C. Andrews. But once I discovered Stephen King in sixth grade, I became a reader for life.
What was your first job in publishing?
My first job in publishing was at Macmillan, which is where I still am more than 23 years later. I started at the Tor Books imprint as an assistant to the associate publisher. It was a great first job, because I interacted with all of the publishing divisions and learned a ton about publishing.
What drew you to the publishing industry?
Mostly, I got here by accident! My degree is in journalism, and I initially wanted to look for a job in public relations. A friend of mine worked at Macmillan and suggested I apply for a job as a publicity assistant. I had the interview two weeks after I graduated. They turned me down for that job, but they passed my name on to the associate publisher, who hired me. I had not considered publishing as a field — it was so far from my mind that I did not even include my college job at the bookstore on my application, which was a mistake!
What inspired your move to sales?
For me it was a happy accident. I love sales. It’s so great to be able to talk to my buyers about the books that are coming out and get them excited for our titles. My first supervisor had a sales background and, believing I had the skill for it, suggested that I go into a sales role — even before I knew what that meant!
How is your current role different from past positions you’ve held in publishing?
I have been lucky to move up through the ranks of the sales department. My first role was as a local field sales representative in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. It was a fun two years of putting more than 60,000 miles on my Jeep driving to local stores. I encountered many different personalities, and I learned to think on my feet! My next positions were in national accounts, where I was selling to the larger retail chains. This meant fewer miles on my car and more airline miles flying to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to sell to Borders and Waldenbooks. Since 2002, I have been working with Barnes & Noble, which, until our recent move downtown, was only five blocks from my office. Now I can log subway miles heading uptown to meet with them.
How would you describe your role at Macmillan?
My role has changed a bit recently. I sell Tor and Forge books directly to Barnes & Noble, one of our biggest customers. I also work with publishers on book acquisitions, print decisions, marketing, pricing, and more. It has been interesting for me to see a different — and bigger — view of the publishing process than just selling. I’m enjoying my new job.
What’s a typical workday like for you — or isn’t there one?
There is not a typical day, which is one of my favorite things about my job. On any given day I could be preparing for an upcoming sales call, following up on account requests, attending marketing meetings to make plans for future publications, or meeting with authors. There is a lot of variety from day to day and week to week.
What was the proudest moment you’ve had at work?
It is always exciting to see the books I love and have advocated for do well. I was an early and avid supporter of The Silent Patient, and it has been amazing getting Barnes & Noble to support the book and seeing the great sales results one year later. There are many examples of authors I love and have supported, and it’s always great to see them succeed. For me professionally, it was a great honor to win sales rep of the year awards from Barnes & Noble twice. Since this recognition is from the buyers, it means a lot to me.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to end up in a position like yours?
You have to like to talk! And you have to love books, too.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into the publishing industry in general?
Have a passion for books. Focus on your communications skills, both verbal and written. Be a people person. And always look to develop yourself: Publishing and books are about exciting new ideas, and you should always be on the lookout for those.