Family Friendly Business: Judy Piatkus

My name is Judy Piatkus and, as well as being an entrepreneur, I am a wife, mother and grandmother.

I have been living with my husband for thirty five years and we have been married for thirty of those years. Together we brought up my three children from a former marriage. My older daughter Sonia has disabilities and has lived in a home for people with special needs for many years.

My background is book publishing. Before I founded my first company I had held some junior secretarial positions in publishing. I had always wanted to be my own boss so when I set up my first business venture, it was a dream come true.

I was in my early 20s when I founded my first publishing company with a business partner. We worked together for four years and built a small niche business, selling reprints of popular out-of-print books to libraries.  We then decided to go in different directions and with the money I made from selling my 50% of that company to my partner, I had sufficient capital to start again, this time on my own. I launched Piatkus Books from my bedroom, when I was pregnant with my second child.

Over the next two decades, the company expanded and we became known for publishing popular fiction and a wide range of non-fiction. We were pioneers in the area of personal growth publishing and were also known as risk-takers in the publishing trade as we published many books that the larger publishing companies were hesitant about as they didn’t understand those markets as well as we did.

I loved the freedom of running my own company. I am happy taking responsibility, making decisions and solving problems.  Above all, for a woman with children, it is wonderful to be able to set your own hours and organise your life in a way that works for your family as well as the people in your workplace.

Some aspects of running a business are always difficult though. You have to understand the finances of your company and you have to pay attention to your cash flow every day as well as creating budgets and setting sales goals. Choosing the right staff to work alongside you is key. Every employer gets that wrong sometimes and it’s really hard to let people go if they are not right for their position. Being a publisher also meant that we had regular meetings once a week to decide on book covers. A good book cover is key to a successful sale but sometimes it was hard to judge. It was especially difficult if we were happy with a cover and knew that booksellers would like it but the author wasn’t keen.

As the years went by and the business grew, we published many wonderful titles and some of them are still being sold in bookshops all these years later. Some of our famous books included Fast Cakes by Mary Berry, Colour Me Beautiful by Carole Jackson, Flowers in the Attic by V C Andrews and the Bridgerton series by Julia Quin. We published the classic books on mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn and were the first publisher to produce books on detoxing and decluttering. We were frequently ahead of our time.

I had always had an exit strategy. I knew that I would like to sell when the business achieved certain goals because then I would have enough money to retire on. I hadn’t saved very much over the years as book-publishing is a low-margin industry. I had wanted to remain independent and, as the company grew, I had managed without taking on outside shareholders. In 2006 we realised that the industry was about to change completely as people would start using hand-held readers and download their reading material.  We knew we would have to reinvent ourselves and so it made sense to sell. 

I loved being a publisher and, after I sold the business, I loved not being a publisher.  For many years I had looked after the company and overseen everything that happened there.  Now I wanted adventures and to experience what else the world might have to offer.

Over the years whenever I spoke about my business, people always asked me how I managed to build a company and bring up a family at the same time. To answer those questions, I have just written my business memoir, Ahead of Her Time: How a One-Woman Startup Became a Global Publishing Brand. I wanted to share the secrets of what it is like to build a business and to look after your family at the same time. It isn’t easy but I do believe that if you have the will to do it, you will always find a way because starting your own company is one of the most exciting things in life that you will ever have the chance to do.

Ahead of Her Time:  How a One-Woman Startup Became a Global Publishing Brand by Judy Piatkus is out now from Watkins. 


Judy Piatkus is an entrepreneur, publisher and business coach specialising in conscious leadership. She founded Piatkus Books when she was in her 20s and grew the company to become an international brand, before selling it in 2007, just before the global financial crash that she had shrewdly foreseen. She is now a keynote speaker and a coach and mentor to start-ups. In 2011 she founded Conscious Café, a network that brings people together for connection and discussion.

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