How I Started A $1.1M/Year Publishing Company That Helps Writers

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I’m the Founder and CEO of Paper Raven Books, a publishing company that helps people write, publish, and market books.

Our authors retain the creative vision, legal rights, and profits of their books, and they work with our all-star team through the editorial, design, production, and marketing pieces of publishing a book.

Today, we have over 150 clients who we’re working with in some part of the process, we publish 60 books a year, and we gross $1.1 million in revenue. Our team of publishing professionals has 18 full-time members, who are all remote, doing the work they love, while providing amazing service to our authors, from anywhere in the world.

I’m currently in Texas, with my husband and four children, where I’m able to run a seven-figure publishing company and walk my kids to and from school every day. It’s a win-win for everyone involved!


What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I had no idea I was creating a publishing company! I started out as a freelance editor and writing coach, working with my clients during naptimes and after bedtime.

I had gone from college into a PhD program, with the hope of becoming a professor of Sociology, but I discovered that academia was not for me. What I did love doing, though, was helping other graduate students and junior faculty with their writing—papers, theses, articles, and monographs (academic books).

I left the graduate program after I earned the master’s, learned I would soon have my first child, and thought that freelance editing and writing coaching would be something I could do on the side.

I still had a handful of contacts from graduate school, and I asked them for referrals. With each new client, after I completed work for them, I continued to ask for referrals, slowly growing my client base. After a few years, I had enough work to keep me busy, and there were even times when I was too busy!

It’s not a great idea to build something and then sell it. It’s much better to sell something, first, and then build it.

I remember one family vacation, we’d just had our third baby, and I said, “Yes” to a rush project. I packed my laptop, right along with the swim diapers and floaties. We went to the beach house, and I must have worked instead of sleeping because I got the project done, and we have photos of me and the kids at the beach, but I remember very little of the vacation.

I decided that even though I wanted to keep growing my business, I wanted to add in some leverage—some way to keep clients coming in, without me getting busier with every new client.

I brought in a few fellow editors to work with me on projects. I would sign up for the new client and manage the project, and one of my editors would do the work. It took me a while to understand the ebb and flow of income and cost of goods sold, but I could tell that I was on the right track toward the type of leverage I wanted.

We started focusing on book projects, specifically, because clients were willing to pay good money to have their book manuscripts edited, and it gave us some flexibility in the project turn-around time. I was starting to create a bit of a business model.

After a couple of years, we started having clients come back to us and say, “Thank you so much for helping me finish and edit my book manuscript! It’s still a Word Document. I haven’t found anyone who will help me publish. Could you help me self-publish this book?”

And, of course, I had no idea how to publish a book. I knew how to write a book and how to edit a book, but the only experience in the publishing world I had was as an intern at an academic publishing house. (And that was not an inspiring position, as the go-fer girl!)

So, in 2015, I wrote and published my book and documented the whole process. That book, cleverly titled Start Writing Your Book Today, is still on Amazon and has over 1,700 reviews. We asked a few of our best clients if we could “guinea pig” their book and figure out the process with them.

We charged some money, so we could cover our costs, but we wanted to make it a win-win situation. After we did a handful of books in 2015, we felt confident we could deliver a great experience for writers who wanted to self-publish their books with a professional team.

Now, we’re in our 9th year of publishing books, and we’re continuing to push the envelope of best practices around writing, editing, designing, publishing, and marketing books. It’s a fun, ever-changing industry, and people who love books are simply the best people to work with!

Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.

In a service-based business, you have a lot of flexibility in how you “package” what you do for clients. I’ve changed how I describe, deliver, and price our services dozens of times over the years. I’ll describe a few of the milestones, with lessons learned, in the hopes of giving you some insight into your business.

When I first started out, I charged $18 per hour for my services as a freelance editor and writing coach. I will say that the hourly rate makes it easy to start out when you don’t know how long you’ll need to spend on different projects.

Be aware, though, that it brings up a lot of questions from prospective clients, like, “Well, how much is this going to be?” So, you do end up providing some ballparks, and you may be short or long on your estimates, but you’re just invoicing based on hours. You can track your time, as you go, and work your way toward being able to predict a project price, ahead of time, which clients do prefer.

Because my hourly rate was (ridiculously) low, this way of approaching pricing didn’t give me any real bandwidth to invest in my business (like a website, email service provider, checkout processor, virtual assistant, etc). 100% of my business was referral-based, so I had no marketing expenses, but I also had no real control over when new business came to me. It was a classic “feast or famine” freelancer rhythm.

Once I brought on a few editors to work with me on projects, we priced per word for editorial services, generally in the range of $.02 per word to $.08 per word, depending on the level and intensity of editing. We priced each manuscript separately and took payments, half upfront, and half upon completion.

I discovered that I needed to pay the editor something like 70% of what the total bill was to the client because there were more moving parts and pieces. In addition to the website, email service provider, and checkout processor, I was spending time making the sale, managing the project, and being a resource for my editorial team.

I was also beginning to invest in a blog, where I wrote articles about writing, creativity, productivity, self-editing, and working with an editor. I was not doing any paid advertising, yet, but I was getting a few more clients through people finding my blog, which was helping to grow the business, overall.

Whether we were working with clients in the hourly model or the per-word model, we were always tracking our time. I tracked my time, and all of my team members tracked their time, even when we were no longer using the time to bill clients, and the reason for that was so we could get better at estimating how long different types of projects and pieces of each project would take us.

In 2017, I started “packaging” our services and creating a project price, which we could take as a monthly payment, or for a 10% discount, we could take as an upfront payment.

This was a game-changer for our model because I was finally able to cover all of the expenses that go into a project—the team members doing the work, the team members who were helping with project management, the software and subscriptions we needed internally, and a marketing budget.

We started doing paid advertising, mostly sending Facebook traffic to webinars that I would host, so we could start bringing in more new clients. Over the next couple of years, I did over 100 live webinars. At first, I did live webinars once a week, and eventually, I came to a second live webinar per week. We would drive Facebook traffic to these webinars, I would teach about the publishing process, and I would invite people to apply to work with us.

And, for the last five years, that is still how we mostly do our business: package pricing, paid advertising to webinars, and team delivering the service. Our numbers are just bigger now than they were. In 2017, we spent a few hundred dollars a month on advertising and working with just a few clients at a time, with just a few team members.

Now, we’re spending $20,000 per month in advertising, working with 150 clients at a time, and 18 team members plus a small pool of freelancers. Same model, just slowly increasing over time.

Describe the process of launching the business.

When I first started as a freelancer, I bootstrapped everything, and expenses were minimal. New clients came through referral, it was just me, and no real overhead. I wasn’t spending much, but I wasn’t making much, either—$30,000 a year.

It was good supplemental income while I was mostly at home with my little one, but I didn’t know how to bring in new clients.


After I decided I wanted to grow the business, I committed to live, weekly webinars. I drove traffic from Facebook to webinar registration pages.

I also experimented with FB Lives and just posting videos. These days, I tend to post videos that are 2 to 5 minutes long, tease up the webinar, and ask people to go register for the free webinar. Here’s what a typical video from me will look like (nothing fancy!):


For a few years, I was running my ads and keeping the budget pretty low, around $200 to $500 a month. But, in the grand scheme of bringing in about $5,000 per month in clients, it was all shaking out just fine.

Plus, I was spending money on courses and coaching, since I had no background in this online marketing world. I was probably spending $20,000 a year on my education, which I paid for instead of paying myself.

I continued scaling the paid advertising on my own and doing the webinars weekly (and then twice per week) until we were at around $500,000 a year in revenue.

Then, in 2020, when the pandemic was keeping everyone at home, I took a huge risk. It seemed like such a golden moment for people who wanted to write their books. I hired an agency to start our running ads and massively increased our ads budget. All in, it was $7,500 a month, and about half of that was going on a credit card, which was scary and I can’t say I’d recommend it!

Luckily, it did pan out, and that was the move that got us from mid-six figures into seven figures. I couldn’t keep up with all the ads on my own and run the webinars and take the sales calls and grow the team.

So, offloading ads to an agency was a lever for us to scale. We now spend about $20,000 a month on ads, and we bring in around $150,000 per month in revenue. (Shout out to the Clients Online team and Janak Mehta! Tell him Morgan sent you, and he’ll make sure you work with the best.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

For attracting new customers, the first marketing tool that helped me pivot into the book editing space (as opposed to just general freelance editing) was publishing my book, Start Writing Your Book Today. I still get leads and emails from people who’ve read my book and worked with us.

Create the customer experience that’s going to get results for your customers, and then you’ll be able to find more, just like them.

As we’ve moved into scaling, we’ve leaned heavily into Facebook and Instagram ads, although we’re starting to get into Google and YouTube.

Below is an ad that’s been working well. I try to do short videos that show my face, at least at the beginning, and have hard captions. I do the captions with a software called “Descript.”

The key to the video being interesting is talking about something that people might not have heard before, something counterintuitive or surprising. It’s short, so you can’t go super in-depth, but tease the interesting idea and then invite them to something free to go deeper on that idea.

In my case, the ad asks people to register for a free workshop, which is evergreen, happening at noon Mountain time every day. You can see that webinar registration page here.

One massive shift I’ve made in the webinar, itself, is that I used to ask people to get on a sales call to talk with me about a full-service package, which could be $10,000, all the way up to $40,000. I would make sales, but very few sales, compared to the number of people who would attend the webinars—maybe 1 out of 100 would have a sales call, and maybe half of those would become a client.

Now, I offer for people to get on a sales call to talk about an intro package with a much smaller scope. We review their manuscript, offer our professional guidance on the book, and provide our insights into how we would approach marketing the book. It’s something we can deliver in about 6 weeks, it’s $3,000, and if they’d like to keep working with our team, we credit the $3,000 toward any future work with us.

This smaller package is much easier for a prospective client to say, “Yes” to because it’s less expensive, and they get practical, helpful advice from our team with no long-term commitment. Probably 2 or 3 out of 100 get on a sales call and half of those sign on—which, when you pull that out into thousands of webinar attendees, that quickly becomes hundreds of people saying, “Yes” to this smaller package!

In terms of paid advertising math, we’re currently seeing: 250 webinar registrants per week (at an average of $12.50 per webinar registrant = $3,125 paid advertising per week + some retargeting ad spend), and 3% to 4% of webinar registrants apply to work with us (250 \ 3.5% = approximately 8 applicants per week). Of the 8 applicants, 4 say, “Yes” to the smaller package. That $12,000 revenue per week pays for our advertising and our company’s baseline costs.

Then, typically 2 of those smaller packages upsell into bigger packages, which could be an additional $7,000 to $37,000. (Remember, we’re crediting the initial $3,000 toward our bigger packages.) So, yes, the bigger packages are what enable the business to have a profit margin and room to keep investing in teams, education, and innovations.


How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

As a service-based business, about 20% of our revenue goes to advertising to bring in new customers and 60% of our revenue goes to people—editors, designers, project managers, marketing specialists. That only leaves 10% for any incidentals (software subscriptions, education, etc) and 10% for profit margin.

Our operations have dialed in over the last couple of years. We have a staff that just makes sure projects are running smoothly, with detailed checklists, scheduled Zoom calls with clients, and built-out resources and FAQs to make answering questions easier for everyone.

One thing that did help us streamline operations was that we decided to mostly serve US clients, for the moment. We may go international, at some point, but dealing with Amazon KDP, IngramSpark, and the ISBN registration process in just one country has made publication much easier to simplify for us.

Up next for our company, on a tactical level, I think we can add more online course offerings that don’t require quite so much of an investment on behalf of our team. If even a small percentage of our 250 weekly webinar registrants would prefer a do-it-yourself course or group calls through the publishing process or book marketing trends, that could help us generate more revenue from the same number of leads.

On a bigger brand level, we are attracting authors who are more entrepreneurial and interested in taking their book sales to a whole new level. We’re integrating Amazon ads, and I have massive plans for a bookstore (online and eventually in-person) that would help our authors sell directly to their readers. Even if they set up funnels to our store, they’d get a great revenue per book sold and would retain the customer information—neither of which you get from a current bookstore!

I have big plans for Paper Raven Books to shake up the book world, and we’re just getting started!

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

If you’re wondering about the course thing and saying, “Why don’t you just sell a course,” there’s a backstory to that. There was a time in my business when I thought that selling a digital course would solve all of my problems. I spent years trying to get a digital course to sell well and consistently.

But it’s not that easy to get people to buy a digital course, you’re still spending a bunch of money on ads, people want refunds, they have questions, and they want all they can get out of you for a couple of hundred bucks.

When I finally realized that people were willing to pay way more money just to have help publishing the book, we doubled down on done-for-you services, and that’s been so much better for the business. Plus, I get to help amazingly talented publishing professionals work with dedicated authors—a total win-win-win!

I’ve learned that it’s not a great idea to build something and then sell it. It’s much better to sell something, first, and then build it. And be flexible with whether it’s a service or a product or something in between. Create the customer experience that’s going to get results for your customers, and then you’ll be able to find more, just like them.

Ask for testimonials, ask for referrals, and don’t be afraid to ask for money, especially when it’s a valuable product or service that people truly want.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

For our business:

Basecamp for project management.

Zoho for sales pipeline management.

Zoom for webinars, sales calls, and meetings. for quizzes and lead generation.

Aevent for evergreen webinar funnel.

Siteground and WordPress for the website.

Descript for video editing and captions.

Google Drive for document and spreadsheet sharing.

Tools we used when we were a smaller company: SamCart for checkout pages, ConvertKit for an email service provider, Acuity for calendar scheduling.

Circle for hosting our private communities.

For authors:

Publisher Rocket for running market analyses on book ideas.

Scrivener for writing first drafts of books.

Grammarly and ProWriting Aid for editing book manuscripts.

99Designs for book covers.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Ryan Levesque (author of Ask and Choose) has been incredibly influential in my journey. I worked with him in his ASK Method coaching program for six years and learned everything I know about digital marketing from him and his business partner, Richard Cussons.

A few books that I would consider “required reading” for anyone who is selling online:

Ask by Ryan Levesque

Choose by Ryan Levesque

Influence by Robert Cialdini

No B.S. Price Strategy by Dan Kennedy

$100M Offers by Alex Hormozi

A few podcasts that I return to, again and again:

Perpetual Trafficwith Kasim Aslam and Ralph Burns

Deep Questions with Cal Newport

The Creative Penn with Joanna Penn (for authors)

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

If you feel a deep, irrational desire to jump into the entrepreneurial game—do it! You’ll always regret not trying, and the sooner you jump in, the sooner you’ll figure out how to swim.

Building a business isn’t easy. Building a business is worthwhile. Keep your eye on the vision you have for your success, both in business and in what the business will make possible for your life. Be willing to pivot, keep your eye locked on the vision that you’re striving for, and have faith in yourself.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

I would be happy to talk to a Direct Response Digital Marketer who would be interested in a specialist role that would oversee the rollout and optimization of webinar funnels, email campaigns, and sales letter campaigns. I currently serve that role in the company, and I’m not the easiest person to work with, but if you understand those high-level webinar stats I shared above, and you know what that funnel probably looks like and some ways to optimize, I could be persuaded to hire seasoned funnel specialist.

I’d want to know that you have the chops (bring your best funnel case studies with you), and I’d be happy to talk.

And if you’re interested in being a book editor, we actually might have some openings in our certification program that would help you become a professional book editor and grow your own editorial business, with our support. There’s an incredible amount of opportunity to work with eager, dedicated writers, and we need more great book editors!

For any of these interests, please provide your information here.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!


Morgan Gist MacDonald,
Founder of Paper Raven Books

Want to find more ideas that make money?

Hey! 👋 I’m Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.

Get our 5-minute email newsletter packed with business ideas and money-making opportunities, backed by real-life case studies.

Source link