Writer.ly founder Kelsye Nelson is taking the wraps off her new book publishing marketplace today, presenting to more than 600 people at the Founder Showcase in San Francisco. It’s a big day for Nelson, a former vice president at online ticket vendor Brown Paper Tickets and founder of The Seattle Daylight Writers, a 400-person writer group.
We caught up with Nelson for this edition of Startup Spotlight to get a better sense of how Writer.ly — which has developed a marketplace for authors to get connected with book designers, marketers and editors — is going to try to shake up the publishing world.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Writer.ly provides a marketplace to connect writers with the experts they need to successfully publish and market their books. In the same way a business might find a developer on eLance, writers post biddable job requests on Writer.ly to find the very best copy editors, book designers, ebook specialists, marketers, etc.
Inspiration hit us when: As the creators of The Seattle Daylight Writers we watched our peers succeed or fail in their publishing endeavors. We realized there must be a more effective way for authors to publish quality works and get them sold. Our direct experience— my background as a marketing executive and Abby’s background as a best-selling author — showed us that with the right help, any author can achieve their publishing goals. From discussions lingering after writing group, the idea for Writer.ly was born.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: We are currently seeking an angel seed round to enable us to iterate our beta and improve our market reach.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: We give writers power and control. Almost 1500 writers have signed up for our beta, demanding for a one-stop resource to find the services they need and still retain control of their books. They want more choice than the bundled services offered by Lulu and Amazon’s Create Space. Many are frustrated by new alternative publishers that still control the revenue, the marketing and sometimes even the copyright.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Getting involved in the local startup community. This led to us being accepted into and graduating from The Founder Institute incubator program, from which we graduated this year.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Not sticking like glue to our offshore team. When working with a team across globe, we learned to be very specific, detailed and clear in our requests. We learned to say what we want, describe it in writing, draw it and then say it again. Mistakken assumptions in common understanding lost us an entire month on our BETA development.
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg, Jobs or Bezos in your corner: Jobs. Because user experience is going to drive our success. If our site isn’t intuitive, there will be no incentive for writers to see the value in our services. A little Zuckerberg though too. Connection is everything.
Our world domination strategy starts when: We take the stage as one of eight finalists in the Founder Showcase pitch competition November 7th.
Rivals should fear us because: No need for fear. We play well with and even support many of our “rivals.” Those publishing their ebooks through Amazon’s CreateSpace can still come to us for a cracker-jack marketer. Those using services like Lulu to print their books can come to us to find a brilliant cover designer, or editor with direct experience in their genre. Even traditionally published authors come to us to round-out their publishing team with services and knowledge that their publisher failed to provide.
We are truly unique because: Our product comes from very personal struggles in the industry we’re trying to serve. Beyond building a successful, profitable company, our goal is to change the publishing industry for better. Success for Writer.ly not only means success for our team, but success for the hundreds of thousands of writers who dream of getting their books in the hands of readers and their stories heard.
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: Set-backs in beta development. As pseudo-techies, we rely on outsourced technical services to develop our site. We had to scrap our entire first beta due to critical mistakes made by the technical firm. We had to start from the very beginning and build our site again from scratch. An upside of this is that we gained very intimate knowledge of all our site process, flow and capabilities. To be honest, this second version is much better than our original.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Build with a buddy. Having a co-founder you trust, respect and enjoy transforms the endless struggle of building a start-up from something overwhelming and frightening, to something entirely possible and incredibly fun. While building a startup, you encounter a hundred different crucial decisions every week that you may or may not have expertise or experience regarding. Having a strong partner to talk things through with frees me from stalemate and helps me focus on finding solutions and answers.