Adam Wahlberg helped build a Minnesota-based publishing powerhouse that makes millions of dollars and operates in all 50 states.
But now he’s stepped away from corporate life to embark on what he calls “an unabashedly earnest effort around important issues.” That effort, Think Piece Publishing, launched last week. It’s focused on digital sales of essays and books by authors with hard-won wisdom gained through personal experience, a concept Wahlberg calls “singular voices on social issues.”
Wahlberg spent 14 years as executive editor of the legendary and lamented magazine Minnesota Law & Politics. In that job, he helped create Super Lawyers, a niche professional publication that succeeded beyond anybody’s expectations. When Thomson Reuters bought Super Lawyers three years ago, Wahlberg went along as editor-in-chief.
But the transition from a fun-loving, locally owned company to a buttoned-down global giant was a tough one. And after covering lawyers for nearly two decades, Wahlberg was ready for a change.
The spark came in a conversation with Martin Kuz, an old friend and journalist who’s been covering the war in Afghanistan for Stars and Stripes. Kuz said he wanted to write a book on PTSD but probably couldn’t do it unless he got some kind of grant or fellowship.
“I said, ‘We’ll just put it out,’ ” Wahlberg recalls. “And then I immediately followed with, ‘What the hell am I talking about?’ ”
But the idea stuck with him. Modern digital publishing tools, he realized, have made the playing field much more level.
“If you can find authors who fit your mission,” Wahlberg says, “you don’t need anyone’s permission to publish.”
His first publication is now available on Amazon Kindle. “I Was A Stranger to Beauty” recounts author Caroline McGraw’s experience growing up with her autistic brother. Other works are in progress from Mark Siegel, a writer who blogs about his life with a spinal atrophy disorder, and St. Paul author Andy Steiner.
Wahlberg is funding the venture with his own savings. He didn’t own a piece of Super Lawyers and didn’t get any severance when he left Thomson Reuters, but he says he has enough capital to last a year or two.
And Wahlberg may have a big break coming.
In recent months, he was contacted by the agent for Janet Burroway, a well-known writer and author of a standard textbook on fiction writing that’s used in hundreds of writing programs. Burroway had an unpublished manuscript about her son, who went to Iraq as a military contractor, developed PTSD and later killed himself. The agent offered Wahlberg the chance to publish the book, “Losing Tim.”
“I tried to beg off,” Wahlberg says. “I told him, ‘Don’t you understand? I’m just one guy. I don’t know if I can take on Janet Burroway.’ ”
But agent and author liked Wahlberg’s editorial focus and his digital business model. Wahlberg scraped together enough money to pay Burroway an advance, debating whether he’d need to sell his car in order to do so. Burroway’s book is expected to be available in the fall, perhaps as early as September.
Wahlberg plans to spread the word about Think Piece through social media channels and alliances with advocacy groups. If he were to publish a book about cancer survivors, for example, he’d seek visibility and perhaps financial sponsorship through nonprofit groups working on that issue.
“I’ve never had an entrepreneurial idea in my life,” Wahlberg says. “But this was one I couldn’t shake.”