Urbantopia Books is an award winning publishing house dedicated to publishing culturally and socially diverse books, for readers of all ages.
Based in Essex, Urbantopia Books was founded by Ola Laniyan Amoako in 2009 and employs a team of five.
The company’s aim is to diversify the books found on shelves in homes, schools and libraries.
Urbantopia Books was a Smarta Awards winner in 2010 and was named Creative Business of the Year at the Precious Awards that same year.
Why did you decide to start your company?
I was frustrated by the sheer lack of diversity on bookshelves in shops and on shelves in schools and libraries.
I have a teaching background and started my career in Hackney. I found myself annoyed at the lack of culturally and socially diverse books available to older children, especially boys from socially deprived backgrounds.
What was your career path prior to starting your first business?
I completed a degree in Psychology; I thought I wanted to be an occupational psychologist so I did a masters in Occupational Psychology. Although I came out with a distinction, I found the course very boring and figured that was not the career for me.
I got a job as a recruitment consultant for teachers, which I hated. However, when I visited a few schools I found myself falling in love with the environment. I researched teaching and completed my PGCE.
I started off as a primary school teacher in Hackney and within five years of teaching I became deputy head in a primary school in Essex.
I love working with children but hate the restriction of school so yet again I found myself slowing getting bored of my career.
Did you always know that you would start your own business?
No. I never thought I would go into business. For many years I had seen my mother and sister lose a lot of money in attempting to start new businesses, and that really put me off.
Everyone in my family was pleasantly shocked when I decided to start a business.
What steps did you take to launch your business?
First of all, I did research on the publishing industry. I spoke to other business owners, especially my sister on how to start my own business.
I did a bit of networking. I saved up money and investigated ways of raising additional funds. Then I closed my eyes and just took the plunge.
What are you working on at the moment?
We have new and exciting titles coming out. “Moments of Us” is an amazing story about a woman forced back into her past when her daughter discovers the identity of her biological father. It is a brilliant read and I can’t wait for publication, which is February 14, 2012.
We also have a teen book about a young girl falling for a traveller “Love on the fairground” and a new children’s book “Klutzymatosis.”
In addition to this I am currently working on turning one of my children’s stories into an animation series for television.
Can you describe your typical working day?
The truth is that I don’t have a typical day. Each day is always completely different depending on the time of the month and year.
But, an average day would start with dropping my son off at nursery at 8.15am. I arrive at school at 8.30am. I work with teachers, children and generally have too many meetings.
I leave work at 4.30pm, pick up my son, cook dinner, play with my son and put him to bed.
Then I start my Urbantopia work day. On Fridays and Saturdays, this starts at 11pm and runs until 4am. On other days it starts at 9pm and finishes between 12am and 1am.
During this time I check emails and answer queries. I sort out pending contracts and send them out. I deal with money issues, chase payments and make payments. I inform shops, agents, libraries about up and coming titles via phone or email.
I work on marketing campaigns for the season and month, starting work on the paper campaigns then the email campaigns.
I package and send out orders. If a new book is being developed then I liaise with my graphic designer, typesetter, proof reader and printers, depending on the stage of publication.
Finally, I catch up on reading new submissions.
How do you maintain a work/life balance while running your business and maintaining your career in education?
My son calls me an owl due to the fact I get most of my business work done from about 11pm to 4am on a Friday and a Saturday. During the week I do my business work from 9pm till about 1am.
I try to maintain the balance by working throughout the night when my family are in bed. That way I don’t feel like I’m neglecting them.
Working in education is a big bonus because of the regular half terms and holidays. I get to stop school work and focus on my family and the business without neglecting my career. Overall, I balance my life by dividing my time and sleeping very little.
From September onwards I will be going part time, this should allow me to spend more time with my son and my business. Hopefully with this new plan, I will get some more sleep and live a more balanced life.
What have been the highlights of running your own business?
Having full control, getting the recognition from national press and just doing something that I am really passionate about.
What is the hardest part of running your own business?
Having no one to share the stressful times with and not having enough time to watch television.
What has been your biggest triumph so far?
Winning the Precious and Smarta awards.
What, or who, inspires and motivates you?
I am inspired by a range of people, particularly people who have been successful in their field through sheer hard work such as Sir Alan Sugar, Oprah, Sean Combs and the Mascolo brothers, founders of Toni & Guy.
I read a lot of stories about people who started out with nothing but a dream but with hard work and perseverance they succeeded. When I read those stories, I think if they can do it, so can I.
Those close to me who show real belief in what I am doing motivate me. My sister is a big motivator. She is my business rock, my business consultant, my listening ear and my tears cloth. Without her, I wouldn’t be running my own business.
My mum, my son, my best friend and my husband keep me motivated.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a publishing business?
Do your research and be prepared to work hard. It is not easy but if you have a passion for it then the hard work will be fun.
Fast forward five years, where do you think your business will be in 2016?
Urbantopia Books will be one of the most respected publishing houses dedicated to diversity. When people think of the word diversity in publication, they will instantly think of Urbantopia Books.
We will be a brand name that many production companies approach because we will be publishing award winning quality titles.
Ola, is there any other information you’d like to share?
Please check out my other site, The Tooth Collectors, which has lots of resources for parents – www.toothcollectors.com
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Ola Laniyan Amoako was interviewed by Octavia Goredema, founder of the Twenty Ten Club.
Do you have a question for Ola? If so, please feel free to post a comment below: