Lisa McMurtray

Lisa McMurtray


Be open to opportunities that you may not have anticipated, and don’t feel tied to one career path—especially one that may feel chosen for you rather than by you. Try different career options and take internships if possible.

MSU Degree(s):  

B.A. in English, 2010  

M.A. in English with an Emphasis in Creative Writing, 2012 

Other Degree(s): 

M.F.A. in Creative Writing, 2015, Florida State University 

Current Position:  

Associate Editor  


University Press of Mississippi 


When you graduated with a degree in English from MSU, what were your plans for your future?  Has your career path mostly realized those early plans, or have you discovered new plans and goals along the way? 

When I graduated from MSU with my Master’s, I initially planned on attending a PhD program and working in academia, preferably teaching creative writing. I was accepted to Florida State University’s PhD program in English with a focus on poetry, but ultimately decided that a career in academics was not for me. I graduated with an MFA in creative writing from FSU in 2015.  

For the longest time, I was uncertain what I wanted to do with my degree, but an early class in publishing my first year at FSU—coupled with a meeting with another student who had previously worked as an assistant to a literary agent—sparked my interest in publishing as a possibility. When I returned home to Jackson, MS, I was informed that there was an internship available at University Press of Mississippi that would allow me to get a better idea of a career in publishing. I jumped on it. I joined the Press that fall, and by October, I was a full-time staff member.  

While I did not foresee a career in publishing when I was at MSU, it is career that embraces the things I love about academia while also allowing me to help shape scholarship in a more structured, traditional career.  

What is your current occupation, and what does your work mostly consist of? 

I am currently an associate editor, which means I acquire 15-20 books per year in the following areas: biography and memoir; Caribbean studies; ethnomusicology; and women's, gender, and sexuality studies. I, along with the rest of the Acquisitions department, am responsible for bringing new books to the Press; managing projects, including peer review, issuing contracts, securing board approval, and maintaining all correspondence for each book; developing new series, working with authors all over the world, attending conferences, and more. We are the front end of publishing and oversee every aspect of a book before it is sent to copyediting and production. Typically, I am working across several seasons and managing projects at every stage—from proposal to published book.  

Which skills that you learned as an English major do you use most in your job? 

This job requires a lot of writing, not just when speaking with authors or peer reviewers, but also preparing materials to present to our board and full staff and writing copy for our catalog and the back of books. It is also extremely helpful to follow trends in academia by reviewing a variety of journals, reading articles and books published by other presses, and tracking Twitter. The critical thinking taught during my English coursework is critical to helping me as I review proposals and revised manuscripts and when I discuss book projects with authors. Even though I do not acquire books analyzing literature, the skills I learned when engaging scholarship transcend subject areas.  

What additional skills did you need to learn in order to do your job, and how did you learn them? 

I’ve learned a lot about my job by learning from others, particularly my direct supervisor and colleagues in Acquisitions. Publishing is a career of mentorship, and learning from someone else is essential, especially since knowing the history of the Press and of publishing trends in general helps you adapt to new challenges and anticipate future trends. Connecting with other people in the publishing industry, either through social media or through organizations like AUP (Association of University Presses) or conferences is also so helpful in thinking about how the industry works as a whole and the ways in which you can improve areas of your own work where someone else excels. These skills range from how to build a subject area list to the best ways to manage peer review to when to send a contract to be competitive in the field. 

Other work, like basic office work, professional correspondence, software proficiency, and public speaking come with time and experience. Basic office skills are transferrable anywhere and are always helpful in any job you may be doing. Because this was my first office job, I learned a lot of these skills on the go.  

Are there common misconceptions about your career field, which current English majors might share, that you have learned the truth about?  

Publishing is incredibly diverse, and academic publishing can be very different from commercial publishing. For example, we do not publish poetry and fiction. The scale between University Presses like us and large commercial publishers is also wildly different; We have (at this time) twenty-four full time staff members and publish approximately 96 books a year. Penguin, on the other hand, has more than 10,000 staff members and publishes approximately 15,000 books a year. So our goals and audiences are a little different, as are the types of books we publish.  

You also don’t need to be an expert in the fields in which you acquire. Instead, you need to be willing to learn new fields and adapt to what the press needs from you. Because university presses rely on peer review, we have the privilege of working with experts in a variety of fields when assessing projects. We are first and foremost facilitators and bring our experience in publishing above everything else to each project. 

In what ways does your career enrich your life and help you to achieve your personal as well as your professional goals?   

As a part of a scholarly not-for-profit based in Mississippi (and supported by Mississippi’s eight state universities, including MSU) the work we do can be incredibly rewarding. We publish books that tell stories of scholarly and social importance that impact our state, region, nation, and world. We have the unique honor of exploring the complex and complicated history of the state while recovering lost history and suppressed voices. It is our goal to promote equality, inclusivity, and diversity in the books that we publish and the stories we highlight, and in doing so, we can make a positive impact on the state and in scholarship in general.  

What advice do you have for undergraduate English majors right now who might want to follow the career path you did? 

Be open to opportunities that you may not have anticipated, and don’t feel tied to one career path—especially one that may feel chosen for you rather than by you. Try different career options and take internships if possible. If you are interested in publishing, I highly recommend taking an internship since they are available 2-3 times a year all over the country. Forty-two US states (plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico) have university presses, so there are a lot of options no matter where you are, and the skills you learn are transferrable anywhere, even big commercial presses. We’ve had interns go on to work in publishing all over the country, pursue advance degrees, or change career fields entirely. There is no right career path to choose, and there are more options available to you than you might think.