This is an interview with Kate Kosturski, currently Sales Manager for Europe for AIP Publishing, done by Naomi House of INALJ. This is part of INALJ’s 2020 series on non-library jobs for library workers.
On Sales Manager Work :
an Interview with Kate Kosturski
Q1: Thanks so much for taking the time to help us better understand what Sales Manager work is and how LIS folk can get into this field. First could you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you got your MLIS (if you have one) and what you do?
Currently, I’m the Sales Manager for Europe at AIP Publishing, which is a subsidiary of the American Institute of Physics. I work in a team of three with two of us covering Europe, and our direct manager covering the Middle East and Africa. Some of the countries I work with include the UK, France, Spain, Turkey, Israel, Switzerland, and Poland. The focus of our sales work is on our journal portfolio (27 titles) as well as our Digital Archive of journal content (which goes back to the 1930s). This summer, we will also launch a book program, so I’ve been working to sell that too. I started at AIP Publishing in October 2019 after a nine year career in the Outreach department at JSTOR. At JSTOR, I worked with both US and European libraries selling JSTOR Archive Collections, ebooks, primary source content, and (starting in 2016) the Artstor Digital Library.
I received my MLS from Pratt Institute in 2010 (cannot believe it was ten years ago), and also hold a degree in Government and Politics (with a minor in Communications) from York College of Pennsylvania. Outside of my day job, I am also a comic book journalist, running the social media for Multiversity Comics, and contributing at Women Write About Comics, PanelxPanel, and Geeks OUT. I also am Webmaster/Social Media Coordinator for the Big Apple Knitters Guild.
But most of all, I am an INALJ alum! I worked for this great site for several years putting together the different job resource pages for the US and Canada, as well as supervising some of those teams.
Q2: Now can you tell us how You personally got into doing this type of work?
By accident. 🙂 When I graduated in 2010, I had full fledged designs on working in a library. But as any graduate in the Great Recession of 2008 knows, library jobs were few and far between. It happened that one of the students from the Collection Development class I was a TA for at Pratt was working at JSTOR at the time and she had contacted me indicating that they needed a temp for a short term project organizing a Sharepoint site around a new product JSTOR was launching: selling current issues of journals alongside the JSTOR Archive collections. That was in the fall of 2010, and stayed on for six months doing various small projects while still looking for a full time job. JSTOR itself was in the midst of reorganizing their Outreach team (the first of three department reorganizations in my time at the company) and they found a place for me to come on board full time in April of 2011, working to grow our footprint in Europe.
With Artstor joining the JSTOR family in 2016, I was then reassigned to cover a territory in the southeastern U.S., which itself got further reorganized in 2018 to cover a specific sector of schools in that region (generally smaller liberal arts colleges). When the opportunity to join AIP and get back to working with Europeans came to me last fall – – my “first love” as I said in my interviews – – I couldn’t pass it up.
As for the comics … I had always been a comic book nerd to varying degrees in my life. Around 2017, I was coming off of a lot of committee appointments and leadership service in the American Library Association (ALA) and I was, quite frankly, burnt out of librarianship. (First lesson: job related activities are not meant to be hobbies!) With more free time, I was looking for something to do. Geeks OUT, a group that strives to amplify queer voices in geek culture, was on my radar thanks to a few events. I started volunteering with them and writing for their blog. A new friend that I had also met that spring at a comic shop had seen some of my work and encouraged me to branch out to other sites. I found Multiversity Comics via Twitter and started writing there in the summer of 2017, on their micro review team (around 200 word reviews of current comic books once a week). The Senior Editor noticed that I was really good with sharing my work and the work of others on Twitter, so when the Social Media Manager at the time stepped down at the end of the year, he offered me the job. By building my journalism network, I was able to get featured at other sites, like Women Write About Comics and PanelxPanel.
Q3: What makes this a great field for LIS workers and likewise, what do you think makes LIS workers strong candidates for hiring managers in this field?
The last sales director I worked with at JSTOR said the three most important letters that I could send to librarians were: MLS. He was insistent that we both included that in our email signature files to let the libraries we work with know that we’re part of the family. The fact that I held the library science degree adds a layer of credibility to my sales work. Librarians know I speak their language, understand their issues and concerns around things like budgets, open access, collection development strategy, scholarly communication. It positions librarians who work in sales as trusted partners with the library, as opposed to just looking for that commission check.
Internally, I leveraged that library degree to help educate co-workers. We librarians love our terminology and our acronyms! I still remember one colleague at JSTOR who, during early meetings, would be taking notes on index cards and write down questions that I knew I could answer based on my LIS work, but that she wouldn’t know as an outsider: acronyms, terminology. I would (gently) take the index card from her and write my answer down underneath. She went on to a very successful career at another publisher, so I’d like to think I helped. 🙂
That said, there is still a fair bit of prejudice against the “vendorbraian.” Many folks I know that took this route initially moved on to work in a library. And I will go on record in saying that more than one person active in ALA has said to me that the fact I worked as a vendor definitely worked against me in advancing in leadership roles in the Association, particularly with ALA Council. I can understand being hesitant, as working for a vendor does open up possible conflicts of interest. But I did my best to divorce my ALA work from my job for many years, keeping it more as a personal endeavor than a business one. That would be one very important piece of advice I would give to LIS workers entering this field: professional association involvement can be very difficult if not impossible, unless you stay in channels directly related to your job.
Q4: What is the best way to get your foot in the door or your first job as a sales manager?
Talk up your library degree in interviews. The librarian versus the library vendor conflict is right up there with Capulet and Montague feud from Romeo and Juliet: the two sides just sometimes can’t seem to agree! By speaking the language of the library, you can bring that benefit to both your customers and to your colleagues. You’re that bridge that can help each side understand the other better.
And never discount how previous jobs – – non-library related ones – – can help you. Think about skills you learned in those jobs and how they will translate to a sales job. The folks at AIP were very impressed with the journalism background when I explained to them that doing interviews with comic creators helped me craft good questions to ask business prospects, and taught me to actively listen to find good avenues for follow up questions.
Q5: Finally what are some of the most important skills / certifications / etc that LIS folk can do to prepare them? Any last tips?
A big misconception is that you have to be an outgoing, extroverted person in order to have a successful career in sales. While it does help, it’s not always the case – – that last sales manager I worked at with JSTOR was one of the most passionate people I knew, but also a big introvert! Librarians are excellent at research, so having good research skills to do that due diligence on your customers is very key. If that idea of presenting or negotiating makes you nervous, see if you can find some skills training in those areas.
You may hear folks in sales talk about specific strategic selling classes such as Miller Heiman. We had to do the Miller Heiman training at JSTOR, and while it was interesting in its psychology based approach to sales, it really did not translate well to the library sector. I would not spend time or money on that, to be honest.
Open Access in research continues to be a very hot topic in scholarly publishing. Europeans are the most vocal about it, thanks to Plan S and the OA2020 initiative from the Max Planck Institute, but ideas such as transformative agreements with a publishing component built in to an access component are starting to take hold worldwide. Take some time to read up on Open Access in Europe if you’re looking at a career in the scholarly publishing field.
Kate Kosturski is currently Sales Manager for Europe for AIP Publishing, joining AIP in October 2019. In that role, she oversees a sales territory of around $7 million of annual revenue. Her sales work primarily focuses on journals and books, but also includes work in developing transformative agreements to answer Europe’s call for open access content in research and publishing. Prior to joining AIP, Kate was in the Outreach and Participation services department at JSTOR. She has a master’s in library science from Pratt Institute in New York City, as well an undergraduate degree in government and politics from York College of Pennsylvania.
Outside of work, Kate has a successful side career in pop culture and comic book journalism. She runs the social media for the review site Multiversity Comics, which has over 110,000 views monthly from around the world, along with contributing occasional reviews and interviews. Her work has also been featured at Women Write About Comics, Geeks OUT, and the Eisner Award winning magazine PanelxPanel.
Pronouns are she/her/hers
Views expressed are those of the interviewee and not INALJ or their employer. Photo provided by the interviewee and permission granted to use it for this interview.