My Job in Five: Kate Burvill

My Job in Five: Kate Burvill

Describe your role

I’m a freelance publicist for books, exhibitions, and on occasion, films. My main focus is visual arts books, I have a long association with Thames & Hudson and sometimes I work for Prestel, Yale, the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art, as well as others.

What do you like best about your role?

At the heart of my work is the subject of each book, I work with the most amazing authors, artists, editors, curators, photographers, and creative teams – it’s a constantly engaging and challenging learning curve. It’s always interesting to try and pinpoint the ‘usp’ of each project, why this/why now/what’s new etc. and to try and communicate this via the media. I have worked over many years with the same editors, critics and media contacts, as well as brilliant new ones, this too is a real pleasure. In this constantly changing world with so many cuts, people work so hard, and I have great respect and admiration for the way people publish stories so carefully and with thought and attention, often under great pressure.

Which new projects or titles are you working on at the moment?

I am currently working on Spring Cannot be Cancelled: David Hockney in Normandy by Martin Gayford and David Hockney, published by Thames & Hudson on 25 March. This uplifting manifesto affirms art’s capacity to divert and inspire and is based on a wealth of new conversations and correspondence between David Hockney and the art critic Martin Gayford. 

I’m also working on two books that are published in association with major exhibitions for May – a new biography, Barbara Hepworth: Art & Life by Eleanor Clayton (T&H, and major exhibition at The Hepworth Wakefield), and Jean Dubuffet: Brutal Beauty by Eleanor Nairne (Prestel, alongside a major Barbican exhibition). I’m working closely with the respective exhibition PRs to draw all together. Another book is rather less illustrated, but no less interesting is Napoleon’s Plunder and the Theft of Veronese’s Feast by Cynthia Saltzman (T&H/May) - a very fast paced read and totally fascinating – the month of May marks 200 years since Napoleon died and the book explores his extraordinary mission to fill the Louvre with ‘plunder’ of the greatest artworks in Europe – it is a riveting read! My final book this spring is Illuminating Natural History: The Art and Science of Mark Catesby by Henrietta McBurney, published by the Paul Mellon Centre/distributed by Yale in June… it’s a beautiful book, meticulously researched and we aim to bring Mark Catesby to a more general audience.

What skills do you need for your role?

Curiosity. Energy. Ideas. Understanding audiences. Good time management and planning… fast work under pressure, the ability to communicate and engage… nothing works if you don’t understand deadlines! Diplomacy, but also being confident enough to challenge ideas and put new ideas forward. Understanding image rights and the technology around images. A knowledge and active interest in the media and I think ideally real interest, enthusiasm, knowledge regarding the subjects of the projects you are working on. Lateral thinking helps and it is exceptionally important (I think) to see ‘the bigger picture’; how your book or project fits in and why it is relevant now.

What advice would you give to those looking to work in the industry?

The publishing industry is very broad. For those starting out, I’d suggest visits to bookshops (when we can) or certainly online and to publisher’s websites to really look at the books and get a grasp of what each publisher is trying to achieve, and the potential audiences for their books. Focus on which area suits your skills and interests and pace of work – editorial/design/picture research/production/ rights/marketing/press, the skills and characteristics vary so much as does the approach to work. I joined the Society of Young Publishers and went to many events (including a trip to Moscow). It was so good to hear about all the possibilities of publishing and make long term friends and colleagues within the industry.

Regarding the PR industry – again – review the type of projects you like – books/charity/film/culture/FMCG – there’s such a range. Personally, I think it is most fulfilling to work in areas that you enjoy and want to engage with– for me it is essential to work on projects that I have an active interest and passion for. I find this also translates to my work and leads to better results as well as being more fulfilling for me. And if you want to go freelance – I would encourage building up extensive experience and contacts in house first.

How has the pandemic affected your working life?

Thankfully, I’m already set up to work at home so that side hasn’t changed, and I have the space and technology in place. I’m finding it harder to track down editors/media contacts as everyone is at home. I can’t just send a book on spec to an office, everyone has to communicate, and we must be sure to send advances to the right place. Sometimes I can send the PDF and all is fine, but many reviewers/critics prefer to see physical books, and I think we can all be thankful for that – but it does make things harder for now.

How did you get to your current position?

My first job was as a Marketing Executive at St James Press, a reference book publisher based in central London. After a year, I moved to Thames & Hudson as Press Officer working there for just over three years. It was a terrific introduction to publishing I worked on the art books, the commissioning editor was the amazing Nikos Stangos – who was very particular about his authors and taught me so much. I worked on books with by/about many celebrated artists and photographers and my brilliant mentor and boss was Helen Scott Lidgett, a tremendous and generous teacher, helping us to constantly prioritise, forcing us to go out and meet many editors and journalists, encouraging us to wheel our suitcases of colour proofs to endless meetings.

After T&H, I became head of press at Tate, quite a baptism of fire to move from books to this extraordinary institution at a pivotal time for contemporary art. I worked on many shows, Bonnard, Jackson Pollock, the Turner Prize over seven years – including when it was won by Damien Hirst, Antony Gormley, Chris Ofili and more. In 2000 I returned to Thames & Hudson, first as Head of Press, then as Head of Marketing & Media – I love the company -- and it was a joy to return to books. Since 2009, I’ve been very happily freelance. I am very lucky, I know! I'd like to give a special shout out to the wonderful Richard Bucht at Hatchards, Piccadilly, for his help and enthusiasm, and to the brilliant T&H sales team.