I attended a fantastic online event Lisa hosted for the Bloomsbury Institute, part of Bloomsbury Publishing about how to get into publishing, and contacted her after to ask if she’d like to tell us a bit about her career for The Notable. I was inspired by the way she so seamlessly ran this event large online event, and was eager to hear more about her role both at Bloomsbury and her creative side-hustle London Writers’ Cafe. Lisa responded agreeing to have a chat over zoom, and I am so grateful to be able to share some of her advice with you all!
Please note that all views are expressed by Lisa Goll and do not represent Bloomsbury.
Lisa studied at QUT in Brisbane, Australia where she did a degree in Business & Communications. Her degree focused largely on Marketing and PR, however, in her last year at uni she realised that she didn’t want to work in traditional PR as it would probably mean working for an agency with limited choices of clients, sector or industry. She’d always been an avid reader and when it struck her that she could work in books she was quick to write a letter to every publisher in Australia, asking for work experience. Luckily one major publisher based in Sydney replied seeking an Editorial Assistant, and that’s how she got her foot into the publishing door. Lisa believes that ‘exhausting all options is a good strategy’ when searching for your first job, and reminds us that all we really need is one person to say yes.
Though publishing is an extremely competitive industry to enter into, Lisa tells me this is only because it’s such a rewarding and fun field of work. She says that it might be helpful to think about finding a job in publishing laterally and look around for less obvious players like arts organisations where publishing may be only a small part of their larger business activities but, from time to time, they will be hiring publishing roles. Only focusing on the big names for your job applications will limit options, and working first for a firm that has a smaller publishing division within their company can be the stepping stone required to acquire the skills you’ll need to work for the established book publishers.
‘A hobby that exploded’
As well as her role at Bloomsbury, which she loves, Lisa is Chair of London Writers’ Cafe and has been since 2010. She’s always enjoyed writing in her spare time and joined the group hoping to meet like-minded people. Unexpectedly, only six months later, she stepped up to run it, and quickly revived a community that was beginning to languish at the time. Her experience in publishing along with her understanding of being an aspiring writer meant she was the right person for this role. Her professional experience meant she was well placed to provide both inspiration and information for writers, but also give insight into how the publishing process works from inside the industry. Over the past ten years, Lisa has organised hundreds of events for writers with publishing professionals (editors, agents, authors, publishers, etc) and still regularly hosts sessions, workshops and events herself. London Writers’ Café is now one of the UK’s biggest writing communities, with more than 3,600 members, but also one of the most active fiction writing groups in the country. One of their most popular sessions is where writers volunteer to read their writing in workshops for feedback and encouragement from their peers. ‘Writers helping writers is really our reason for being.’
Running this community on top of working full-time has meant a lot of late nights and weekends for Lisa but she says that London Writers’ Cafe provides her with a creative outlet beyond her traditional career where she gets out as much as she puts in and also, ‘writers are the best people.’
In spite of COVID, London Writers’ Cafe has been able to continue with online events and workshops but Lisa is counting down the days to when they can resume face-to-face events.
‘Planning, organising and delivering’
At Bloomsbury, Lisa is responsible for internal events for staff and public events via the Bloomsbury Institute. Company events include arranging events with authors, as well organising activities that help staff stay motivated and create a positive working environment. Events for the Bloomsbury Institute include the one where I came across Lisa, and they are open to anyone to attend. Lisa’s job is primarily ‘planning, organising and delivering,’ so staying organised and keeping track of all her events and projects across the business is essential. She spends a lot of her time making lists of what needs to be done, by when, and for whom. Another part of her role is working on corporate partnerships which means managing the company’s relationship with charities and various other external partners.
‘I’m constantly prioritising and re-prioritising’
Being let down and having people cancel is an inevitable part of organising events. Lisa says that when she first started a guest cancelling would have been devastating, but that she’s since learnt to remain flexible and realises that these occurrences are beyond her control and they no longer break her stride. There’s always another project to move onto and there’s no point (or time!) to dwell on something that hasn’t gone to plan. ‘You have to roll with the punches.’
Lisa says that, for her, remaining organised at all times is essential for managing multiple projects that are almost always entirely separate from one another. Lisa swears by writing lists and setting phone and calendar reminders, she’s ‘constantly prioritising and re-prioritising’ what needs to get done. Communicating constantly with everyone involved is also key.
Another fundamental aspect of the job is ‘managing expectations’. Communicating what you’re going to do for someone, or what they’re going to do for you, and being clear about a standard of work expected and measuring what’s possible against the deadlines is vital. If you’re prone to procrastination or struggle with perfectionism, Lisa says, it’s good to remember ‘done is better than perfect.’
‘Forming relationships has to be a give and take’
I asked Lisa for some advice on networking and how to reach out to people, and she told me to think about exactly what it is that I’d like from someone but also, more importantly, what I could do for them in return. This gives the interaction a clear sense of purpose, avoids running the risk of wasting someone’s time and saves a lot of the awkwardness. She recommends finding something you share in common with the person you want to approach as a way to begin a natural and thought-provoking conversation. Recently, after hosting an event, Lisa received a thank you email describing exactly how the event they attended had made a positive impact on this person. She uses this as an example of how to start a meaningful connection with someone and advises us to seek out the people who have made a difference to us. ‘Be generous with your thank yous. You never know where those kinds of conversations will go.’
‘If you can do just 60% of what a job requires, you should apply for it’
Lisa left a job right at the beginning of the financial crash twelve years ago, and describes her job search following that as the most difficult of her career so far. Instead of putting her CV on every job site, registering with every recruiter and sitting back to wait, she chose to do her own research and approach smaller, more independent companies that might not have had the funds to put up expensive job advertisements. In difficult times, such as the COVID climate we’re currently in, she advises job seekers to think about what skills you may have, and what jobs and companies require these skills. These roles may live in other industries, and if they do, you should think of it as a stepping stone on the road to the role that you actually desire. Only a lucky few find their dream job right out of the gate so be flexible and open to going down a new road. Also, a lot of people read a job advertisement and think that they have to be proficient in everything that the job profile describes. Lisa tells me that the best piece of advice she received while job searching is that actually, even if you only know how to do 60% of what is described, that she should apply for it and see what happens, ‘they can only say no.’
Interviewing Lisa was an absolute pleasure, and I am so glad to able to share some of her wisdom with The Notable!