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Story of a start-up
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Posted by IPG
Zeshan Qureshi, founder of his own medical books specialist, on his transition from doctor to writer to publisher
I began working as a doctor in 2009, but despite six years in medical school I felt grossly misled and underprepared. My life revolved around administration and reporting rather than empathising with the genuine difficulties patients were suffering, and learning those new skills from scratch was hard. And there was no gratitude. If I did well I was merely meeting expectations, and if I failed I was letting everyone down.
But one task was different: teaching. I sensed that the medical students I taught appreciated my efforts and left knowing more, and that inspired me to set up a local teaching programme with colleagues who were also just starting out as doctors. It soon expanded to the point where we had nearly 2,000 voluntary attendances in a year.
Writing a textbook about passing clinical examinations seemed the next logical step. I rationalised that while it would take a lot longer to produce than a tutorial, it had a far greater reach. Initially it was met with resistance. We were told that we were too junior to be teaching; that we should focus on our exams; and that anything we wrote would just be cheats’ guides. Publishers weren’t interested, so we distributed a prototype of revision notes locally in one medical school, and it was so popular that nearly the entire year group bought it.
We then started writing properly, with a team of junior doctors and medical students and experts to ensure factual accuracy. We worked tirelessly while doing full-time jobs—in our lunchbreaks, evenings and weekends. There was no blueprint or project plan—just the knowledge that we would work out what to do as we went, and that what we produced was very likely to be popular. We learned along the way, finding printers, illustrators, photographers and graphic designers when we realised they were needed.
Our first book came out in 2012. I started by going to medical schools, selling books out of the back of my car, and people liked it. Our blind faith paid off. It was the bestselling medical book on Amazon for six months, and has sold 14,000 copies.
Now I had to make a decision: did I want to be a self-publisher, or did I want to start a publishing company? We chose the latter, because it would give us greater academic credibility and a professional team that would increase my capacity for production. But while it was clear that I could produce an economically viable textbook, I still had no business or publishing expertise. So the next challenge was working out how to professionalise the publishing process and gather a team with skills and experience that I didn’t have.
On a limited budget and without loans, it seemed pragmatic to work with freelancers and partners. I’ve found experiential learning very positive in medicine, so I produced a textbook with Elsevier, to understand its processes and work out what was relevant to my publishing needs. I talked to as many of the people who were involved in my book’s production as possible.
The first partner I found was my distributor: NBN International. I discovered the company through a recommendation, found I had a good relationship with the team, and liked that they were paid per book distributed—in other words, based on success. I found others, like graphic designers, proofreaders, marketers and printers, through internet searches, reviews of samples and small tasks escalating to larger ones. When things didn’t work out it was easy at first to blame the other party, but I realised that sometimes I hadn’t formalised the process enough. I’ve learned to put clear contracts, briefings and reviews in place, and to recognise when things, for whatever reason, aren’t working.
The selection and development of future textbooks were at first based purely on my own reflections and informal conversations with friends and colleagues. But the process of consultation evolved and became much more formalised through focus groups and social media, and as brand recognition and sales grew, we started receiving textbook proposals too.
So, our Unofficial Guide to Passing OSCEs became the foundation for a publishing company, which now has eight titles and sales of more than 40,000 copies. Our latest book, The Unofficial Guide to Radiology, has just won the Young Author Award at the British Medical Association’s Medical Book Awards—and now we have joined the IPG we look forward to going from strength to strength!
Zeshan Qureshi is founder of the Unofficial Guide to Medicine.

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