Cheryl Robson – “Seize The Day!”

In this #YesSheCan blog, we talk to Cheryl Robson, publisher and founder of Aurora Metro and Supernova Books. Cheryl talks to us about her career journey as a creative, a passion to help amplify other people’s voices in publishing and the challenges she has overcome along the way.

Can you tell us a bit about you and your career?

I began work at the BBC in the film department learning about editing films and graduated to directing short film for the arts slot of a local tv news program.

I left when I had children as it was incompatible due to inflexible working hours and the expectation that you would work weekends and evenings to get a film ready for transmission.

I taught film and video making and creative writing at various colleges and universities, set up a theatre company and ran writing workshops. We produced plays by women writers on a shoestring under the banner of the Women’s Theatre Workshop.

Through running writing workshops we realized there was a need to publish women’s writing and so we reached out to the Women’s Press and Feminist Book Fortnight for some guidance in setting up our own indie press – Aurora Metro.

Ros de Llanerolle and Carole Spedding advised me how to go about publishing our first book in 1990 – The Women’s Writers’ Handbook – which won the Pandora Award for publishing.

Our next book also won an award from the Arts Council so we set off as newbie indie publishers and over 30 years later we have now 300 writers in print, works from over 20 languages in translation and have won numerous awards. You can see these on

I’ve also been a non-executive director of companies I jointly own with my husband in recruitment and financial services and sat on all-male boards. Watching the group-think mentality of men on boards is instructive.

What does a typical day in your career look like?

There is no typical day – but we may do editing, proofing, marketing, social media, bibliodata, contracts, cover design, typesetting, zooms with authors.

What made you choose this career/industry/line of work?

I had worked in TV, film, theatre and academia before choosing publishing. Of all those creative fields publishing was the one that offered more opportunities for women and less sex bias.

“Grit and determination are what you draw on every day to succeed.”

How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?

There are challenges every single day – cash flow, authors not delivering, book sales below expectation, issues with printers, publicists not publicizing, logistical problems, technical problems, technology changes, sex bias, invisibility as a small publisher, lack of brand awareness etc

If any, can you tell us more about how you overcame those setbacks?

Grit and determination are what you draw on every day to succeed. Not for the faint-hearted.

What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?

We have published many landmark books such as for Black and Asian writers, disabled writers, writers for young people, writers in translation and initiated a prize for women novelists called the Virginia Prize for Fiction. Open again in January 2023 for submissions.

Another project is the 5 year campaign to erect a statue of Virginia Woolf in Richmond, which was successfully installed on November 16th.

What do you think gave you the drive and determination to succeed?

Driven by the need to create a more equitable society and to amplify voices from the margins.

“Driven by the need to create a more equitable society and to amplify voices from the margins.”

What’s great about being a female in your role?

There’s always more to explore from a female perspective and collaborating with other women can be energizing.

What is your biggest achievement in life?

My two daughters who are grown up independent, beautiful women.

What is the biggest lesson that you’ve learnt along the way?

Publishing is like gambling on the horses – there are no guarantees and always surprises.

Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?

Many times I have been dismissed, marginalized, talked over and had my ideas stolen by others (men and women) – you need to bounce back from slings and arrows.

Outside your work, what are your favourite hobbies and pastimes?

Cinema and sailing.

Do you have a mantra you live your life by?

Seize the Day!

“Many times I have been dismissed, marginalized, talked over and had my ideas stolen by others (men and women) – you need to bounce back from slings and arrows.”

 What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?

  • Be assertive
  • Don’t hold a grudge
  • Learn to collaborate

Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?

My mother gave me the strength and drive to fight for what I believe in.

What are your key motivators?

Social justice, equality and diversity.

Do you think enough is being done by businesses to address gender imbalance?

Publishing has a greater problem with a lack of diversity than gender imbalance so that is the current focus for change.

What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organizations?

Form or join groups; network; show initiative and take responsibility; change jobs if you encounter sex bias, find mentors, get a support system.

What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?

Practise leading teams and groups, seek mentors and mentor younger people. Understand group dynamics.

What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?

Collaborate and go with the best idea in the room.

If you’re interested in reading more about our Role Models in creative careers, you can read Brodie Taberner’s blog here.

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