Musings of an Introvert Publisher, Part 1

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Gary Krebs, vice president and group publisher at McGraw-Hill Professional. Krebs is an animated storyteller, an engaging conversationalist, and—I bet you didn’t see this coming—an introvert.

Krebs has lots of compelling things to say on the challenges of being an introvert executive in the pressure-cooker world of publishing, on how he engages and persuades introverts and extroverts*, and on how to succeed if you’re an aspiring author. I thought you would find his insights fascinating, so I asked him if he would expand on our conversation, which he did in this three-part interview. Full disclosure: McGraw-Hill published my book, Self-Promotion for Introverts®.

NA: Most people who are not in the publishing business probably don’t know what a publisher actually does. You lead the business acquisitions team at McGraw-Hill Professional. What does that entail?
GK: I establish the vision and strategy for the group and our title list for both print and digital products. Our editors work with agents and authors to “acquire” or “sign up” books; the authors write the books and the editors shape and develop them through production to bound printed book and ebook. My role requires a great deal of communication—everything from creative direction to sales presentations to reminders about processes and deadlines. I also acquire a few select titles myself.

NA: What has been your career path?
GK: In my 23 years in the business I’ve been publisher at The Globe Pequot Press and at Adams Media as well as editorial director at MacMillan Publishing—which then included the Alpha Books imprint, mainly consisting of the Complete Idiot’s Guide series. I began my publishing career in college working as a production editor for a book packager and then at Facts On File, where I worked up the ladder first in acquisitions and then as US editor of The Guinness Book of Records.

NA: Many editorial jobs seem to be a good match for introverts because we’re detail-oriented and adept at concentrating deeply on the task at hand. What did you do in your early days, as a production editor?
GK: I would sit at a desk all day correcting manuscripts and galley proofs.

NA: How did you like performing those tasks?
GK: There was something appealing to that for me in the sense that I was deadline and detail-oriented and liked being able to function independently and with minimal stress. Yet I was missing something. I felt the burning need to create things and have a tangible result—such as strong sales—from them.

NA: How did you get to the next level?
GK: Being an acquisitions editor seemed to fit the bill, and I studied how experienced editors approached this. In order to become an acquisitions editor I knew I had to “throw myself out there” and learn how to persuade and sell others. I needed to develop greater confidence, even when I knew nothing as a junior editor.

NA: How did you build up your confidence?
GK: This was not such an easy transition for me. I had to network to make agent and author contacts and learn how to schmooze in new social settings with people I didn’t know—something I still work to overcome. I suppose it was ambition, creative drive, and a “need to make things happen” that made me overcome my natural inclinations. The more sales successes I had with original book ideas and partnerships, the more incentivized I became to acquire even bigger books. As I moved up in various positions, I found greater opportunity in management roles. To my surprise, I found I enjoyed it—especially being a coach and mentor to young editors.

NA: What did you want to be when you grew up?
GK: My childhood dream was to become a writer—and that career began in the form of writing stories on the walls of my basement in Queens. I did not think about it at the time, but looking back I see myself as having been “an introvert who was an extrovert among introverts.”

NA: What do you mean by that?
GK: I loathed being in big groups—I admit to having been reserved at big social gatherings. But among my small group of friends I liked to be the center of attention and make everyone laugh. Alternately, I was the clown—the guy who ate the crayons, or the comedian—the wiseguy who made someone else eat the crayons, in that small group. I wrote a lot of stories as I grew up, many of which were published in school and camp literary magazines.

NA: How did you proceed as a budding writer?
GK: I felt my dream was validated when I received a scholarship to NYU’s Dramatic Writing program, which was a wonderful experience. I had some close calls with my plays early on, but nothing specific came to fruition. Coaxed by my mother into employment—she refused to take home a starving, unemployed writer—I entered book publishing full-time right after college. It was a good fit, as I have always loved and treasured books and reading.

NA: Did you find other outlets for your writing?
GK: I’ve continued writing on my own. In the mid-1990s, while employed full-time, I wrote The Rock and Roll Reader’s Guide, a critical bibliography of books by and about rock stars. It took three arduous years of research and writing in my spare time during the evenings, weekends, holidays, and vacations—but somehow I made the deadline. The experience was both rewarding and frustrating. The book largely received favorable reviews and it was a great learning experience to be on the “other side of the publishing spectrum.” But ultimately, I want to see my creative work published or produced—something I continue to work on in my spare time.

NA: Say more about how you relate to being an introvert.
GK: People who don’t know me well often assume I’m an extrovert because once I’m comfortable I can become garrulous and enjoy making people laugh. I’m a talker. Interestingly, when I take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®, I come up as an INFJ. Interpretations I’ve read indicate that people with this profile are indeed often mistaken for extroverts because of the need to communicate.

NA: I’ve noticed, like plenty of us introverts who refuel more through our downtime than through our social time, you come across as quite outgoing.
GK: Even today, although I love to perform and convey my passion for what I do through presentations and such, I continue to battle my introverted and somewhat sensitive side.

NA: What are you like when you’re not at work?
GK: In my personal life the introvert side always takes over. If I have a choice at home, I prefer to spend time just with my family, write, read, do work for my day job, or catch a baseball game on TV. My wife, who is very social, usually has to work hard to convince me to go out in social settings, especially big parties. Even though I drag my feet at first, I ultimately have a good time when going out with close friends—one or two other couples. I’m not particularly happy at big parties or social events and groan about them for weeks before and after.

In the second part of this interview, Krebs reveals how he encourages his staff to think and act like salespeople and not to be afraid to respond confidently when being grilled. And if they’re not fully confident, he urges his staff to act like they are. He also shares lessons on raising your visibility for introverts and extroverts alike. Join us here next week for more.

*Also spelled “extraverts” by Carl Jung and the communities of the MBTI® and other personality assessments such as the Five Factor Model.

Top photograph: Gary Krebs, McGraw-Hill

Copyright 2010 © Nancy Ancowitz

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