LUCY McCARRAHER started her first publishing company while she was still at university and has worked in publishing and the media ever since. She is the Founder of Rethink Press, the UK’s premier hybrid publisher of business books. Lucy is the author of 13 books – three novels, four self-help books and six books on writing, including A Book of One’s Own – a manifesto for women to share their experience and make a difference, and Bookbuilder (with Joe Gregory). Lucy is the Founder of the Business Book Awards, and Host of the ABOO – A Book of One’s Own online support and mentoring group for women authors and aspiring authors. She is the UK’s most experienced business book mentor and has mentored over a thousand entrepreneurs, experts and business owners to write and publish their books.
Great to have you with us Lucy! What is Rethink Press?
Rethink Press is currently the UK’s biggest hybrid publisher of business and self-help books. We specialise in books which build the businesses of entrepreneurs and expert authors. We provide a publishing service much like any traditional publisher but for authors who might not attract a traditional publishing contract as their market may be quite niche or is not looking to be a bestseller in terms of retail sales.
We have a very robust production process and business model in which we charge authors for the production process and publication of the book, and then give them a much higher royalty than the average traditional publisher (roughly four times). One of our main USPs is that we give our authors advice and knowledge about how to use their book to leverage their business and consequently, our authors make the return on investment through building their businesses using their book.
How did Rethink Press start and how did the team come together?
I founded Rethink Press with Joe Gregory in 2011. Joe had a publishing company called Bookshaker which was very similar in ethos to Rethink but it used the traditional business model. I started working for Joe as his Commissioning Editor and we agreed that a better model was needed to make more books more viable for publication.
We started Rethink Press to see whether there would be an appetite for entrepreneurs and expert authors to pay up-front for the publishing of their books on the understanding that we would be able to produce high quality books for them and they would be able to build their authority, influence, profile and their business.
The business developed organically, and by the end of the second year we both became solely invested in Rethink Press and went into partnership with a company now called Dent Global, which runs the Key Person of Influence entrepreneur accelerator. I became the Publish Mentor on this programme, teaching hundreds of entrepreneurs how to write their books.
One of the unique aspects of our business is that we have a coaching team, which means many authors start their journey with us right from their draft ideas. For many of these entrepreneurs, transferring their ideas onto paper may be tricky and our coaching team provides them with mentorship and help in the writing of their book. We have twelve writing coaches who work with authors on a variety of things from our Bookbuilder program (a group writing program) to one-to-one ghostwriting (what we call a Booksmith). Most of our authors go through both the writing and publishing journey but roughly 30-40% come to us with manuscripts to be published.
And are your authors global?
We are global but the majority of our authors are UK based. We have Commissioning Editors in North America and Australia, but we have authors from all around the world. Our next largest geographical area is Australia, then Canada and the US, but we have published authors from 20 countries.
Are there any new titles you’re particularly excited about coming out?
We’ve had a number of excellent titles recently, particularly by women about leadership, and my personal mission is to encourage more women to publish their business books. I think one of the pleasures of being able to publish in the way that we do is that we get such a wide range of authors who run companies and businesses covering all sorts of areas from high tech to individual one-to-one self development and everything in between.
How do you tend to market your books for Rethink Press?
We focus on helping our authors to get their books out into their market, into the hands of their prospects and clients, more than selling a high number of retail copies. Our publishing package includes running an Amazon Bestseller Launch with them, and providing them with social media graphics and working with them on content. We have PR partners who can take this further for authors who want that kinds of visibility. But we mostly work with them to get their books out to the right people so they are marketing their business through their book.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the Bookbuilder program and how you're involved in it?
I’ve been mentoring entrepreneurs to write their books for a good few years now and Bookbuilder incorporates everything that we know about how to get a book planned and written. It's a 90-day online, group program, starting with a very intensive couple of weeks positioning each book to the author’s market, and then we have bespoke in-house software for planning books, and other supporting assets. We do detailed advance planning with every author so they start writing from a detailed contents page and a complete overview of their book.
Then I take them through the Rethink ‘WRITER’ process:
This takes around 12 weeks and is a very structured and supported way of getting your book written. Even though the process is online, going through this in a group is additionally supportive as most people on the programme are first-time authors and writing a book can be an emotional process. From my own experience, I know it’s a very personal journey and it’s very easy to lose confidence in your own work. The group allows you to realise it's not just you, and you are not alone in this experience; and I'm there to further encourage the authors to persevere.
Can you tell me about your own books and your journey as an author and a publisher?
I started publishing a national monthly performing arts magazine when I was still a student in Australia. We ran this magazine for eight years and it was incredibly hard work but an invaluable experience. When I came back to England I spent a number of years in the TV industry, both on camera and also writing scripts and producing.
I then became a work-life balance consultant and wrote and published my first book called The Book of Balanced Living. After that I wrote three novels, where I was shortlisted in a competition and Macmillan published my first novel. I then wrote a self help book, The Real Secret, which Joe published, and then I went back into book publishing with Rethink Press.
What are the Business Book Awards and how did this lead to you writing A Book of One's Own?
The Business Book Awards started in 2017 - I was working on some incredible business books at Rethink Press but found there was no place in which they could be celebrated, especially the huge diversity of books from authors with a niche market. So I got together with Thinkfest, a really amazing events company, and we started the Business Book Awards. The first awards were in 2018 and we had 150 entries and 11 fantastic winners - but every single winner was a white man. I couldn't pass over this, and checked back to the start of the process, especially since we had an equal panel of 10 men and 10 women judges and what we thought was a very open entry list. We felt perhaps the way in which we phrased the awards may have put off women and diverse authors so I decided to interview 50 female authors and find out if they had gone through any issues in the writing and publication of their books compared to their male counterparts. They told me about barriers and challenges, which can be summarised in the 6 C’s below:
I put this research and information into a book called A Book of One’s Own and started a Facebook group for aspiring and successful female authors, which has grown exponentially - we now have over 1,700 female authors and aspiring authors in the group. I provide women-only mentoring groups, encouraging women to write their books, and and we have just had the 5th shortlisting of The Business Book Awards, where the shortlist was perfectly gender equal, with 58 female authors and 58 male authors.
I know you also support women across the globe by supporting migrant families and Ugandan women. What work do you do here?
We work with an organisation called B1G1, a fantastic charity which coordinates projects all over the world. The projects we have chosen are particularly related to education, learning and the provision of books but also aimed at women and families. We’re able to link our business success measurements (such as how many people attended the Bookbuilder program, how many books we publish, how many Amazon bestsellers we have) with the amount we donate to the different projects each month.
Just jumping back, you mentioned your interest in the work-life balance, how do you think this is playing out in the publishing industry and how do you think that publishing has changed since you first started in the industry?
Publishing is a majority female industry, though we certainly need more women in more senior roles. I think it is something which needs to be addressed by every company and publishing business but I think it’s getting better. There are issues with diversity as well; publishing is a very ‘white’ business so most companies and businesses are addressing that now. I think the pandemic and everyone moving online has probably helped that a bit.
At Rethink Press, our team is international and we are all working remotely because of the way we started as a small business and grew organically. Everyone working with Rethink has the ability to manage their work-life balance around working at home and working online. I hope that the gains made across the industry through the pandemic show everyone that flexible working is efficient and cost-effective, and that this will open the door to a more diverse workforce.
What would you like to see changed in the industry?
There is still quite a widespread view that hybrid publishing (book production is paid for by authors) is not as good as traditional publishing and I really reject that view. I want to educate people to see that every publisher makes money from their authors and their work, it doesn't actually matter whether the author is paying for the publishing services and getting a bigger royalty on sales, or the publisher invests up front and then takes the lion’s share of sales income. The business model is not important: it's the quality and the professionalism of the publishing process that counts. This includes being able to support different kinds of authors, who may not have high retails sales, and allowing them to have great books, and helping authors to reach readers who will get value from their knowledge, and use their books in a way which is most helpful to them.
In terms of the digital space, you mentioned that Facebook has been successful for your group, do you find for yourself and for Rethink Press that social media has been helpful in promoting your books?
Absolutely, and a book is a great asset to promote on social media. Some people, who tend to be women, don't like to big themselves up, but it's much easier if you have a book to use to do this. Books and social media make a very good partnership for promoting the book itself but also helping the author promote their own profile and authority.