Tom Chalmers is an entrepreneur and the Managing Director of Legend Times, a group of five publishing companies he founded. Aged just 25, Tom founded his first company – Legend Press. Legend Press is a publisher focused predominantly on mainstream literary and commercial fiction. He subsequently acquired Paperbooks Publishing and later launched Legend Business, a business book publisher, followed by successful self-publishing and writer workshops companies, New Generation Publishing and Write-Connections.
Tom has been shortlisted for UK Young Entrepreneur of the Year, UK Young Publisher of the Year, UK Young Publishing Entrepreneur of the Year, and longlisted for the Enterprising Young Brit Awards. Tom speaks regularly on publishing and business, and is a Business Mentor for the Prince’s Trust.
You’ve been successful from a very young age in a challenging industry. What advice would you give to someone looking to build their career within book publishing?
I started my own publishing company aged 25 with little experience in publishing and no experience in business – I just had the idea of producing books and seeing them sold on bookshop tables. I often say not knowing any better can be a good thing though. While I have been constantly learning, the industry itself has gone through massive change over the last decade – from online and digital revolutions, supermarket price competition, Amazon, self-publishing through to complete consumer change. I do think we have finally settled into the start of a new dawn, but I would advise anyone starting out to understand the great history of publishing while focusing on the new and future. One of my favourite quotes is from Alexander McQueen – ‘That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition’ – and after a period of change, the time has never been better to do that in publishing.
What drove you to set up your own company?
I worked briefly in books, and then in magazine publishing for 18 months. I then had an idea for a short story collection and decided to launch my own company. I really enjoyed the challenge so decided to quit my job, lie about a car loan to the bank (I only actually learnt to drive this year) and go for it full time. It sounds like a major decision, but at the time it felt like one logical step after another. Luckily, I had good friends and family around me who would fill out the room at launches. They kept me upbeat through difficult times, of which there were many, as I was starting from scratch. There are experiences I would never have had without them and it’s been an unforgettable journey.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned as a young entrepreneur?
To keep learning. The moment I feel I don’t the need to learn any more will be the moment I should stop. I knew very little at the start, and after 12 years I feel like I am still at the beginning of my learning. Last night I was doing research and learning about how corporate training packs work, last week I was learning about the Indian and Australian markets. I have learnt a great deal this year about AI, machine-learning and content curation for a new venture in development.
And this is just the external learning. I am naturally a very stubborn person, and so I have to make a conscious effort to be very tough with myself to question everything I do, find areas I need to improve, ask myself the questions I am avoiding asking. This may sound a little strange, but this often intense desire for constant improvement and knowledge is one of few traits I have found in common across nearly every successful entrepreneur I have met and learned from.
As an owner/publisher, you’re in a unique position – how do you see the publishing industry developing over the next 5 years?
I think it will be a fascinating five years ahead – in trade publishing, the storm winds have now quietened or moved further afield, and publishers are left with a niche market (not a negative – a multi-billion pound niche market) of customers who will continue to buy books. Publishing will hopefully come to better understand them, with marketing more focused and targeted (probably greatly benefitting the digital giants’ advertising revenues, among others), a wider spread of book availability through events and other, non-traditional, spaces, more differentiated and stabler print and digital markets.
For STM publishing, with Elsevier now making 72% of its revenues through its subscription platforms, there will be further embracing of technology and the increasing rebranding of their holdings as content rather than book or journal publishing. This will provide great opportunity for creative development and innovative new technological products.
Which Legend Press book are you most excited about this year?
I can’t pick one book out! Since announcing our strategy last year to double our list year-on-year through to 2020, it has been a very busy and exciting 12 months. Lauren, our Commissioning Editor, has led the creation of an amazing list of novels this year. We had many landmark moments, from major rights deals, new series, sales highs, international growth through to the fantastic buzz of providing a platform to new authors, and we hope this growth will continue for many months and years ahead.
How do you try to use your influence within the industry?
I am not sure I do particularly use my influence within the industry, maybe I should. Instead, I spend most of my time focused on what our businesses need to do, but if I have an influence I hope it is to encourage entrepreneurialism and people not to be scared to think forward and think big – there is much to achieve in publishing’s new dawn for those brave enough to strive passionately for it.