The pioneer who grew a global publishing brand from her bedroom
search

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

The pioneer who grew a global publishing brand from her bedroom

Publishing entrepreneur Judy Piatkus tells Kari Colmans what it's like to work with Mary Berry, and why she's now writing her memoirs despite not being a writer

Despite recently putting pen to paper for her memoir, Ahead of her Time, serial entrepreneur and former global publisher Judy Piatkus claims she isn’t a writer. 

Having launched Piatkus Books in 1979 from her spare bedroom, at a time when there were few budding businesswomen, Piatkus taught herself how to become a successful publisher without any formal training, education or backing, while also raising three young children.

“I simply can’t see myself as a writer, I just suddenly felt a need to write,” smiles Piatkus as we chat, discussing whether her outfit is Zoom-appropriate, something we never thought we’d be saying two years ago. 

“I now understand why so many people choose to write later in life, trying to make sense of things,” she adds. “I like to put words on paper to help organise my thinking. I now have the perspective of distance.” 

Long before the bestseller charts were packed with mind body spirit, business and relationship books, Piatkus created a platform for new voices and leading authorities and experts in their fields, including internationally bestselling authors Jon Kabat-Zinn, Mary Berry, David Allen and Brian L Weiss. 

Her memoir details how her combination of financial risk-taking, transparent approach in business and courage to tackle new subjects in the marketplace rather than follow trends led Piatkus Books to become a leading independent publisher. 

Piatkus’ success derived in the most part from her pioneering attitude. Of all her achievements, she is most proud of this: “We opened people’s minds to new ways of thinking in so many areas,” she says. “We raised people’s consciousness.” 

She fondly recalls working with national treasure Mary Berry on her first cookbook, Fast Cakes, in the 1980s. In one particular recipe for cherry cake, the printers accidentally left out the key ingredient of three eggs and they were inundated with phone calls from frustrated readers whose desserts may have been fast but were a long way from star baker material. 

Mary Berry

“She was the most professional of authors to work with,” Piatkus says. “Together we made a good team.” Having recently printed (elsewhere) an amalgamated version of her first two Fast cookbooks, Berry has just sent Piatkus a copy inside which was a lovely personal note.

In Piatkus’ book, there is also an entire chapter dedicated to the American romance novelist Nora Roberts, who at the time was one of the most successful authors of women’s commercial fiction in the world. 

Highly prolific, each novel she wrote became a new American bestseller.
Roberts’ US agent, feeling that she wasn’t as well known in the UK as she wanted her to be, was looking for a new home for her. That home became Piatkus’ publishing house. 

Novelist Nora Roberts

We also chat about the collaboration between Jewish cookery writer Evelyn Rose and Sula Leon for their book, Master Class. While it wasn’t marketed as a Jewish cookbook, all the recipes were kosher and a huge hit, especially in London and Manchester.

Growing up in a traditional Jewish household in north-west London and having spent time in Israel as a teenager, Piatkus’ heritage has always been important to her. 

“Because we were so successful publishing Forged in Fury by Michael Elkins, the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent, within the first few years of the company’s existence, we were offered a lot of books of Jewish interest – general non-fiction by Jewish writers and frequently Holocaust literature and novels with Jewish characters written by Jewish authors,” she says. 

“Because I understood the market, it was always a pleasure to publish books of Jewish interest. After a couple of years, we were beginning to build a solid reputation for books of Jewish interest, in addition to our list of titles targeted at women. We were creating our own niche in the marketplace and began to be offered an increasing number of projects via literary agents and American publishers, as well as suggestions for new books from authors themselves who had read and heard about our books.”

During a year in which many people turned to books to provide comfort, Piatkus’ memoir provides an insight into the building of a company and a brand identity, and what enables a team and a business to succeed. 

With the career landscape rapidly changing, Piatkus details her learning experience as an entrepreneur – the triumphs and the pitfalls, how to reinvent through lean times, learning to be both a publisher and a managing director while also being a doting, hands-on mother – and how it felt to overcome obstacles in order to build up the career she wanted.

Self-help guru David Allen

Piatkus credits a large part of her success to her even temperament.
“I am both left- and right-brained,” she laughs. “Both practical and creative. I am able to create while at the same time measuring risk, staying focused and persevering with my goal.” 

She is also very vocal about how much more needs to be done to encourage women to keep pursuing uninhibited success in the workplace. 

“There have been massive changes since I started out, but there’s still a way to go,” she says. “We need to get to a point where it’s no longer a conversation topic. We need to continue to work on shifting attitudes in the workplace and getting more women on boards in companies of all sizes, with their talents represented at the heads of companies. 

“Fathers have a huge role to play in this: to encourage their daughters to smash through those glass ceilings.” 

Piatkus can’t help but keep busy. Even during the various lockdowns, she launched a virtual initiative called Conscious Café, which brought people together for interesting conversations on personal growth and development. 

And while she is now taking a small break, she is debating a second book.  “I’ve already written chapter one. Perhaps one morning I will just wake up and write chapter two.” Something tells me it’s written in the stars. 

u Ahead of Her Time: How a One-Woman Startup Became a Global Publishing Brand by Judy Piatkus is published by www.watkinspublishing.com priced £14.99. Available now

 

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...

Engaging

Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.

Celebrating

There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.

Pioneering

In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.

Campaigning

Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more:
comments