Michigan State University
Michigan State University
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Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures
Department of Writing
Rhetoric & American Cultures

PW Alum Cailin Ashbaugh’s Journey to Sarabande Books

PW alum Cailin Ashbaugh graduated from Michigan State in May of 2016 with degrees in Professional Writing and English. Two years later she found herself working as a development coordinator at Sarabande Books. This leap was made by hard work and determination, and Sarabande wasn’t the only stop she made along the way.

After graduation, Cailin stayed in East Lansing, working in a grocery store while applying for jobs left and right. When nothing immediately panned out, she decided to pursue an unpaid internship. She applied to four publishing organizations, and two responded: Milkweed Editions and Sarabande Books. Cailin accepted an internship with Milkweed at the beginning of 2017 and one at Sarabande from August to December of the same year. Meanwhile, she worked various temporary jobs to earn money, as both internships were unpaid.

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For Cailin, the biggest benefit of the Sarabande internship was an unexpected change of direction for her. When she was in college, she said, “I wanted to edit books. That was what I wanted, so that was what I really focused in on.” At the internship at Sarabande, though, she worked mainly with fundraising. She discovered that she “really liked Excel sheets” and really enjoyed doing development and fundraising work. In fact, she says that if she could go back and tell herself anything, it would be this: “Don’t be so caught up on a single endgame, and be open to more possibility.” At Michigan State she focused on publishing and editing, interning at Fourth Genre and working on The Offbeat. Now she says she wishes would have taken a grant writing course and done some more things outside that specific focus.

Shortly after Cailin’s internship ended, Sarabande’s development coordinator left for maternity leave, and Cailin was asked to fill the position temporarily. “The end of the year is the biggest time of year for nonprofit donations. I stepped in and coordinated the fundraising campaigns, just for the end of the year,” she said. When the development coordinator returned, Cailin took on an assistant role. Currently, she helps coordinate and maintain Sarabande’s donation platforms and helps keep track of the myriad things that come along with fundraising and donor development. She’s also training Sarabande’s current intern in “a little bit of everything” and helps edit the Sarabande website by proofreading and checking formatting on the different pages.

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Every day is a little different for Cailin, depending on what she’s currently working on. In a typical day, she checks donations first thing in the morning, and if they have any she processes them and puts them into the donations management platform and makes sure a thank-you letter is sent off. Then she starts in on whatever project she has for that day. Recently, she’s been doing a lot of donor analytics, which includes analyzing data that Sarabande gets from their donors, where those donors are from, and areas where Sarabande is or isn’t getting money and needs to focus on more. Sarabande has small staff, so there’s a lot of communication and sharing of work between people. “We’re all great,” Cailin said. “There’s a lot of support, and if you need help with something, we’re going to figure it out.”

Cailin’s career path may have taken a somewhat unexpected turn, but she’s happy to have found a place into the book publishing world, contributing her time and talents working for a well-respected independent press. She’s also maintained her love of writing and reading and currently serves as production manager for the online journal The Birds We Piled Loosely.

Written by Sydney Wilson

Photo provided by Cailin Ashbaugh