If you want a big-time, hotshot career, you have to know how to talk to the press. You might think, “Who cares? No one ever calls me.” But one day, in your climb to the top, the press will call. Maybe your name will be in a press release. Maybe your company's PR director will field a question only you can answer. And if you are useless on the phone the first time, you will not get a second try.

That's because a reporter just wants to get her story written and she is calling on you to help. If you do not give good quotes, if you do not give intelligent, on-topic input, the reporter will decide you are a waste of time and she will avoid you. If you are very helpful, she will call you again for related topics. If you're really good, other reporters will see your name in print, and they will call, too.

Now that I'm the press, I realize all the stupid things I did when I was the public, trying to get my company in the news. Here are things I wish I had known:

Talk in sound bites. The LA Times is not going to run a four-paragraph quotation from you. The newspaper will run one or two sentences if you're lucky. So say something short and snappy – intelligent and informative with a hint of cleverness is most likely to get you quoted. Funny is good. Then a reporter with a dry, boring topic, can sound witty just by quoting you.

Be fast. If you get a message from a reporter, call back immediately. She probably needs to get the story written that day. But even if she's not on a tight deadline, she has called many people who might get to her before you and make you redundant. Also, if she knows you call back quickly, she's likely to call again, when she's in a pinch.

Spell your name and reiterate your title. You will be misquoted, and you will have little recourse because frankly, that's how the press works. But you can control whether your name looks right in print. And make sure your company name is spelled correctly, too, so that your boss doesn't think you care more about your career than your company.

Be newsworthy. You want the press to be your PR machine, but the press wants you to have a story. So if you want to plug something while you're on the phone, make it sound like news. Every time I talk to my dad's friend Sarah, she has another idea about how I could write about her in my column. She has told me about her company, her ads, and her products. But when it comes to Sarah, the only thing that's newsworthy is how annoying she is.

In contrast to Sarah, I worked for a guy who built his career on talking to the press. I didn't know this about him until we were at the airport, ready to get on the plane, and someone from the Wall Street Journal called him with questions about our government sales. He talked to her while everyone else boarded. He talked to her while we heard the last calls for standby passengers. After the plane took off, he told me, in his impeccable sound-bite form, “It's cheaper to buy a new plane ticket than to buy space for yourself in the Wall Street Journal.”

My husband and I always thought he'd be the stay-at-home parent, so I am shocked that I am the one changing diapers all day.

When we were dating, I was making a solid, six-figure salary in the software industry. I had already founded two companies and cashed out of one. He was a video artist and traveled to festivals all over the world showing arcane art on activist topics. He planned off-beat things to do on our dates; I would pay for them.

I was rising so fast in my corporate career that a business magazine paid me to write about my ascent. I ended up making as much money writing as my husband made at his day job. People asked me if I resented having two jobs and subsidizing my husband's career as an artist. Actually, I didn't mind at all; I loved to work, and he agreed to stay home when we had kids. I thought I was one of the lucky women who could blast through the glass ceiling and have kids because I had a husband who would take care of our home life.

We planned to get pregnant at a time when I would not disrupt my career, but in September 2001, our designated family start-date, both my husband and I got laid off. I got pregnant anyway. As my belly grew, I continued my freelance writing career while he volunteered in non-profits, and we lead a bohemian life with corporate savings. But by the seventh month, I missed the structured, team-oriented atmosphere of work. I was editing my resume the morning I went into labor.

When the baby arrived, I planned to get a full-time, office job right away, but after only a few weeks of sleepless nights, my husband got a job offer. He wasn't even looking, really,— he was doing things like soothing diaper rash and assembling the breast pump. But one of the people he met through volunteering got him an interview at a top-notch human rights organization. The job offer was for his dream job, so we decided he should try it.

Now I would be home with the baby, alone. For those of you who haven't had a baby, let's just say that going to an office is about a thousand times easier than dealing with a newborn. With a newborn there is no schedule, no break, and no performance review to let you know if you're screwing up. So naturally, I wanted to be the one with the job. I tried to be happy for my husband. I tried not to hope that he would hate his job and quit.

During my first week as a stay-at-home mom, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't write and I couldn't figure out how any adult can stay home all day with a baby who can't talk. So I hired a babysitter for a few days a week and I went to an office to write and look for a full-time job. But I never got around to the job hunt because I missed the baby while I was away — I missed his smile and the way he stares at his hands like he's not sure if they're his.

People often describe their family life in terms of earning power: The spouse who has the higher earning power is the one who works. This is logical, but it doesn't always work out that way.