Industry Insights: Lizz Burrell
By Elizabeth Guess, Aimee Whittle, Leyla Mehmet and Chloe Francis
Tell us about your journey into publishing. What was your experience of completing a Publishing MA and applying through Creative Access?
After I graduated from my BA in English Literature, I struggled to get interviews for editorial roles. I had no experience and, after months of unsuccessful applications, was faced with the reality of how competitive this industry is, especially editorial. I did a Publishing MA to gain more knowledge about the industry. Publishing can be quite opaque: I look back to last year and see how much I still had to learn about the industry and the publishing process. During that year, I began working as an admin assistant for Suzanne Collier at Bookcareers. I also did two weeks work experience at Penguin’s Viking imprint, my first in-house editorial opportunity. Fast-forward to summer 2020: COVID-19 dashed my hopes of summer internships, university libraries were closed and my dissertation was staring at me with malicious intent. I applied for roles throughout the year and it wasn’t long after submitting my dissertation that I was offered my current role at Head of Zeus. I applied through Creative Access and had a group interview with the Creative Access team as well as two interviews with the Head of Zeus team. In the second round of interviews, I was also given a short proofreading test.
You are a Publishing Assistant at Head of Zeus. What are your typical responsibilities?
Like most entry-level and junior roles in the industry, my job is admin-based but I get to do lots of editorial tasks too – I take minutes in meetings, update our title database, answer queries from authors, shepherd manuscripts from copyedit to proofread to production, help write copy and update metadata along with a whole host of other tasks.
What advice would you give to publishing hopefuls and early career publishers navigating the industry that you would have liked to have known before beginning your own career?
I knew that getting into the industry was competitive, but I didn’t quite realise how competitive until I started applying. I once had a rejection from a job at Penguin which had over 600 applications. Try not to be disheartened by rejections, the repetitive writing of cover letters is what helps you to improve them and you will get better over time. Seek out connections from within the industry: the SYP (Society of Young Publishers) run great events and you can reach out to people on social media for advice. Finally, a lot of roles include proofreading tests as a part of their application process, some of which are timed. Don’t worry if you don’t finish it. What they really want to see is accuracy – there was another role I was shortlisted for that I didn’t get because I missed a lot of errors in the proofreading test. I panicked and rushed it, thinking that I had to finish the whole thing. It’s much better that you don’t complete the test, but catch all the errors in the section that you did.
Could you talk to us a little bit about your masters dissertation and your findings?
Initially, I was going to write my MA dissertation on a completely different topic, but then #PublishingPaidMe happened and I decided to explore race and inclusivity within the industry. I interviewed authors, agents, editors and people in marketing to find out their perspectives on “Racism-20” and whether they thought this was a pivotal moment for creating change. Results were mixed – those who had been in and around the industry for longer noted that moments like this had happened before. Current affairs have prompted conversations about diversity in the industry several times and there is always an uptake in initial enthusiasm, but after a while things die down and it feels like nothing has changed, some felt like this was another iteration of that same cycle. Others felt more positive: that social media, activism and the need for corporate accountability have meant that issues of race and inclusivity cannot and will not be shut down anymore, that now everyone understands the need for a wider range of voices in the industry and will strive to make that happen. To read more about the topic, take a look at Spread the Word’s Rethinking Diversity in Publishing Report which discusses the same issues in more depth.
Are there any projects you are working on at the moment that we should be looking out for?
Head of Zeus is publishing Lolá Ákínmádé Åkerström’s In Every Mirror She’s Black on 28 October. It’s just come out in the US and I’m super excited to see all the enthusiasm about it online. Lolá’s novel is about three Black women who find themselves relocating to Sweden in search of a new beginning, but struggle to find "home" in a white-dominated country that refuses to see them beyond the colour of their skin. I got to read this when it came in on submission and I absolutely loved it; Lolá’s characters are nuanced, fully-formed and relatable – this is definitely a book to look out for!
You can find Lizz on bookstagram at @readingismyfirstlove, and Twitter at @lizzburrell.