Should I self-publish or go the traditional route? This is one of the most common questions authors ask. And for about 97 percent of writers, the answer is obvious: Self-publishing is the way to go. Traditional publishing is notoriously outdated and only available to a select few who can jump through all the hoops (sending out query letters, finding and securing the right agent, selling the book to a publishing house, and so on).
As a result, there was a 40% increase in self-published titles in 2018 compared to the year before, which equates to 1.6 million self-published books. And those numbers have continued to rise over the last couple of years. But self-publishing a book isn’t as easy as Amazon makes it seem. For a book to be successful, it needs to be edited properly, have a well-designed cover, be marketed and distributed, and so on.
Publishing Push helps authors professionally self-publish their book by assisting in proofreading, copy editing, book cover design, illustrations, marketing, and PR. The book they produce for authors is indistinguishable from something created by a Harper Collins or Penguin Random House.
Over the past ten years, Publishing Push has published more than 3,000 books by 2,000 different authors. The company currently generates $60,000 in MRR and is on track to do $75,000 MRR by the end of the quarter – achieved with a small team of seven full-time employees and a handful of freelancers.
The Road from Lawyer to Agency to Publisher
Patrick Walsh, the CEO and founder of Publishing Push, was originally a lawyer. Early on, he concluded that law wasn’t for him. He says, “One of the law partners actually sat me down once and openly said ‘I don’t think this is for you,’ and he was right. He encouraged me to change directions while I was still young and start my own thing at some point.”
So Patrick left law – and the UK – to work for the digital publishing company TrendHunter in Toronto, Canada. That was his first brush with the publishing industry and he was able to learn the ropes on the job. After six months, Patrick came back to the UK and started consulting for companies using what he had learned.
He set up a generalist agency that helped clients with their marketing strategies. “But that was just such a grind. It was extremely hard to get customers because we were so general; the we-do-anything shop. Then, out of the blue, I had a few authors asking me if I could help them with marketing their books and that sparked an idea,” he says.
Patrick discovered that no one offered digital marketing services for the publishing industry – even though it’s one of the most challenging aspects of the space. People will often self-publish a book and then not know where to go from there. So he niched down the agency to aid publishing companies and independent authors with their marketing strategy. That’s when things took off because suddenly the company had a clear message. In 2014, Patrick officially launched Publishing Push.
However, the company encountered an unforeseen obstacle. Patrick says, “The challenge with simply marketing books lies in the fact that authors would come to us with previously-published books that weren’t very successful. And if the original launch hadn’t been good, you were basically trying to resurrect a book.”
“It’s that much harder to market a book that has gotten off to a bad start than marketing a freshly-published book. That’s why I decided to shift from offering solely marketing services to incorporating the entire publishing process,” he says. The new proposition was that Publishing Push was a complete end-to-end service that authors could use to get their finished book published and out into the world.
The other reason Publishing Push decided to offer a complete publishing service is because there was a clear gap in the market. According to Patrick, there were many “hybrid publishers” in the space that were charging authors thousands upfront and then also taking 75 percent of their royalties.
“This just isn’t fair to authors, especially after they’ve spent so much time and effort into getting their story down. My view has always been that if you go the traditional route then, of course, the publisher is entitled to royalties as they’ve taken the risk and paid for everything. But if you are paying a company to publish your book, then I don’t see any reason why the publisher should be entitled to royalties,” he says.
Publishing Push helps with every step in the publishing process while allowing the author to retain 100 percent ownership of their book and their royalties. On top of that, authors can log into a dashboard where they can see all their sales and royalties coming in, adding transparency where there previously hasn’t been much in the publishing industry.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Marketing Basket
Publishing Push approaches its sales and marketing very differently from the competition. Patrick says, “We set ourselves apart from our competitors by having passionate people who truly want to help authors, not just a sales team. We see other companies who just cold call people all day, badgering them about publishing their book. Our approach is much more organic. We say: Here is a bunch of free information – come find us if you would like our help.”
In the beginning, Publishing Push relied heavily on Twitter to get the word out about their business. Patrick says, “Back then it was just really easy to engage with potential customers on Twitter and convert them. Twitter was extremely powerful and we got a huge amount of customers through that channel. In fact, we didn’t pay for any advertising during our first year in business.”
While it did help them a lot in those early stages, it also led to one of the biggest lessons Patrick learned. “Because we relied so heavily on Twitter, it was a real problem when its effectiveness started to decrease. That put us in a tight spot, as it was the only channel we had. I learned that it’s important to diversify our marketing channels so that we’re not reliant on just the one to bring in all of our business.”
Since then, Publishing Push has tested out a variety of social media channels, including Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Youtube. LinkedIn has proven to be very effective because it’s a hub of professionals (and a lot of them are writing a book). Alongside that, Google and PPC campaigns have provided the company with a reliable return on investment.
The Good and the Bad of Starting Your Own Business
When Patrick started Publishing Push, his goals were humble. He says, “When I left university, I remember looking at graduate schemes. I felt like I would have to sell my soul to work at a law firm from seven till seven and maybe get paid £22,000 ($30,000) a year – if I was lucky. And I’d have to commute into London every day. A lot of my friends were taking that route, so my initial goal was just to earn the same (or maybe a little more) than if I had gone with a graduate scheme.”
It took Patrick only eight months to reach that goal. He didn’t get another job in the meantime and was living with his parents, so he was motivated to make it work. From there, he set bigger and bigger targets for his business.
Patrick considered external funding to accelerate growth but was resistant to the idea. “I suppose that because I’ve had this business for so long, 10 years now, it’s a part of my identity. So I was reluctant for someone to come in and change anything about it. But I still considered it, because for so long that was the benchmark of success, that’s what the press was covering.”
“I talked to a few people at the time about taking on funding, but discovered that they wanted a high percentage of equity for the money. It was important to me to retain as much of the company as possible, as well as be able to keep the money the business was generating. Luckily, I came across online communities with entrepreneurs who were also bootstrapping their business and realized that you don’t have to take outside money to be successful,” Patrick says.
One of the challenges that comes with bootstrapping, however, is toeing the thin line of when to grow your team and when to hold off. “Hiring is a big challenge for us. Only when our staff is at complete capacity, do I hire another employee. People might look at it like trying to squeeze all the money you possibly can out of your current employees.”
“But when you’re not venture-funded, you have to be even more conscious about money in versus money out. So, I’m always making sure that we are busy enough to justify hiring that next person, committing to that next expense, and can grow additional revenue out of it.”
Patrick did hire his first employee for Publishing Push pretty early on, but only in a part-time position at ten hours a week to help with some admin. That person ended up leaving to pursue her own writing and Patrick hired Kim Boorman to manage the marketing campaigns. It was just the two of them for a while and she’s still with the company to this day as a key team member.
Turning to today, Patrick says, “We just brought on someone new recently, Linda. She used to be the Global Marketing Director for Madame Tussauds but left that job to focus on her family. When she decided to go back to work, Linda struggled to find a job that wasn’t full-time, even though she’s incredibly talented and well qualified.”
“I think bootstrapped businesses can leverage this by hiring extremely qualified people on a part-time basis. You most likely can’t afford to hire this top-level individual at 40 hours a week, but you can benefit from their talent for a limited amount of hours. For example, Linda only has 20 hours a week available and we can afford to hire her for that time – it’s a win-win,” he says.
“I was listening to this podcast, My First Million, and they were talking about a huge opportunity to hire skilled people, women especially, who are coming back after some time away from the job market. This has actually happened a few times at Publishing Push and I wasn’t even conscious of it until I heard that podcast.”
One of the things Patrick enjoys most about running his own business is being able to build a dream team. He says, “I love being able to give people a positive work environment because I experienced so many terrible bosses and companies in the past. Everyone on our team is passionate about books and loves working with authors. It’s exciting that, together, we can deliver something that’s better than the alternatives out there.”
The Pandemic Brought About a Writing Storm
Publishing Push, as well as others in the publishing industry, were one of the fortunate few to experience the positive side of COVID. With almost everybody stuck at home, people found the time to write – and write they did. Literary agents were getting a hundredfold more submissions a month than before the pandemic. Patrick says people were calling them to say: “I’ve had this book idea for ten years and I’ve finally got time to finish it!”
This month alone, the company has had more than 400 inquiries of prospective customers who are interested in publishing their newly-finished book. Patrick says, “And now that we’ve been around for a while, we have authors coming back to us to publish their next book (some are on their fourth or fifth book). Even after ten years, Publishing Push is still as motivated to help as many customers as possible publish their books and become successful authors.”