By Claude Nougat
Ten years ago, Reedsy could not have existed.
That’s what Ricardo Fayet, a young and enterprising Frenchman, co-founder of Reedsy, told me when we met in October in Matera where he was on one of the discussion panels organized by the Women’s Fiction Festival. It took the digital revolution and the rise of self-publishing to create the need for a start-up like Reedsy, dedicated to providing professional editorial services to self-published authors.
Why the need for editorial support? Simply because the digital revolution has meant that anyone can publish. As Porter Anderson, Deputy Editor of The Bookseller’s Futurebook, recently noted at the Frankfurt Book Fair: “It’s a great thing that everybody can publish a book today, and it’s a bad thing that everybody can publish a book today.”
Presumably “it’s a bad thing” in the sense that too much that is self-published is not of professional quality. It’s just too easy to upload a poorly formatted document full of typos. The Kindle Store alone carries some 3.4 million titles as I recently found out, and the growth rate is exponential. Small wonder that many books suffer from poor quality content and unprofessional covers.
Reedsy means to remedy this situation. It proposes to become the must-go place where serious self-published writers can turn to get professional help and produce a high quality book in this exploding book market.
How? To find out, I navigated their website (still in beta version) at reedsy.com and discovered a user-friendly, visually pleasing site with soft colors and simple design. You can open an account as a writer or as a “freelancer” or both. What Reedsy calls a “freelancer” is a professional with proven experience in publishing — the profile has been vetted by the Reedsy team — who is able to provide services as copy or development editor, book cover designer, illustrator, publicist.
Even though this is early days for Reedsy, the website has been up only since mid-September, the list of freelancers is already quite long, over 100 names, and most are obviously affirmed, experienced professionals. One can filter by genre, which is very useful for a writer looking for specific help to finalize a particular book – whether content or cover – in a particular genre.
The business model is simple: Reedsy takes a 10% cut on services rendered. For the moment, while the website is in beta, the cut hasn’t been activated and Reedsy operates on the funds it has been able to raise from venture capitalists, including the venture arm of DC Thomson, a major Scottish publisher. Reedsy’s team at present is made up of five young men, Ricardo Fayet, COO and his co-founder, Emmanuel Nataf, CEO; Matthew Cobb, Lead Designer; Vincent Durand, Chief Technical Officer and Tony Barnes, Front End Developer. Nataf and Fayet met at business school in France and added Dave McLoed very early to their team, a publishing expert and content marketing guru.
I had a chance to talk to Ricardo Fayet and delve further into Reedsy, how it was born and how it plans to grow. Here are excerpts of that conversation:
Publishing Perspectives: Can you tell us what Reedsy’s role is in publishing?
Ricardo Fayet: Reedsy is the future’s publishing house. We support independent authors in publishing their own work. We want good authors to earn a living wage from their books. We want to help them publish their best work by connecting them with the best freelancers in the publishing industry, and by giving them the best tools to work with. We want to make sure the best freelancers are aware of all the independent authors who want to work with them, and that those authors know which freelancers they want to work with and which ones they want to avoid. And, one day, we want to do this all over the world.
What system do you use to filter the quality of freelancers? Can anyone offer their services or do they need to “prove” their experience and know-how?
One of the biggest ‘value-adds’ of Reedsy is that we create a tightly curated marketplace, a trusted platform where authors know that whoever they contract with is going to do a good job. I’m not saying we’ll never have complaints, as editing and designing is something very subjective, but in that case we’ll act as a mediator and identify where the fault relies.
In terms of how we do it… Well we could say it’s like Coke’s secret formula, but it’s really easy: we ask for their portfolio, check the books on Amazon and Goodreads, ask for certifications and professional associations’ membership (SfEP, EFA, EAC, etc.) and check them, same for potential awards or previous experience with a major publisher. We’re manual — that’s where the curation element comes from, the involvement of real people.
Some marketplaces have tried to get around this with a ratings system — rather than verify people personally, they’ll just wait for a client to have a bad experience and leave a bad review or down vote the freelancer. However, it doesn’t seem all that great if the only way for your marketplace to work efficiently is for some of your customers to have bad experiences — we want to avoid that if we can!
Obviously, we’ll integrate a rating system soon, where the author will have to leave a feedback after transacting and working with a freelancer. But that’s on top of our own manual vetting, which comes in the first place. We feel that this is the only way anyone can guarantee the quality of their marketplace.
I agree with you, that sounds like the best way to go about it. But why call your startup “Reedsy?”
We came up with it like any startup comes up with a name for themselves — via a lot of arguing and throwing around ideas until something clicked. It’s got a bit of wordplay in there — Reed / Read, obviously. Also, how reeds were instrumental towards the invention of papyrus… which is a famous early example of paper… which is what books are printed on… It’s a nice sound too I think.
We then built the logo around the whole reeds and papyrus idea, by taking the Egyptian hieroglyph for “writing” (a reed) and turning it into… a parrot! Makes sense, right?
I noticed you have no women on your team, why not?
It’s a concern, but we’re aware of it and working on it. We’re actually looking for new front-end developers right now, and we want to actively encourage any women who know their stuff to apply.
In your terms of service you say, and I quote “Reedsy shall be entitled to 10% of all payments made through the Platform.” How does that work?
That is right, our business model is to take a cut on transactions happening in the marketplace. We don’t see it as a “finder’s fee” but as a reward for the different collaboration tools and project management software we’re developing. The fee will be 10% of the transaction. However, as we will be using Stripe as a secure payment method, they will take 2.9% of the transaction too. No worries, though — we have a good deal with Stripe that enables us to use them for free for some time, so their fee will only kick in later!
How did you get started, any financing to set up the platform?
We first started over a year ago by simply scouting the industry and talking to authors, editors, publishers, etc. We sought validation on our idea, and got it from almost everyone. We started building a demo with which we approached some investors. We applied to Seedcamp (the #1 accelerator in Europe) in May and they immediately believed in Reedsy. But the story gets better: we were in touch with the venture arm of DC Thomson, a major Scottish publisher around that time too, and they decided to co-invest alongside Seedcamp. They’ve made it possible for us to release this first version of our marketplace only three months after getting funded.
Obviously authors who have created an account on your site contact the professional freelancers through your own messaging system and that is how you monitor what happens (and get the fee). Aren’t you afraid that once the first contact is made, you lose your authors for any future work?
The messaging is just a start. We had so many great freelancers who created a profile that we wanted to reward them by opening the marketplace as early as possible, and a simple messaging button was all it took.
We don’t monitor messages, so right now using Reedsy is 100% free: we only want to start taking fees once we offer some value in the collaboration, and that’s what Reedsy is really about.
We are currently developing a wonderful set of collaboration and project management tools that are going to make all our authors’, editors’ and designers’ lives easier. We’ve already tested them with some, and they are so enthusiastic that they actually want to bring all their clients to Reedsy once we launch that. There’s the answer to customer retention – we’re worth it because we add value to our customers’ lives.
One of the biggest problems for self-published authors is marketing. Book promotion can be a real headache and sucks up time away from writing. How do you see Reedsy helping in this respect?
I’d like to politely disagree with your first sentence. One of the biggest problems for self-published authors is that they think their biggest problem is marketing… Or “discoverability.” The same thing happens to many startups that are not doing well, “marketing” is immediately singled out as underperforming.
We have created Reedsy to solve the discoverability issue… but not through “discoverability.” Through quality. Reaching readers is not just about finding them, it’s about presenting the book when it’s in the best shape possible. The best marketing strategy has always been and will always be word-of-mouth, be it verbal or digital. If you put a book out there that your early readers will fall in love with, then you’ve done 90% of the work. The 10% left are getting the metadata right (so these early readers actually find your book) and/or reaching out to potential beta readers. And you don’t need help for that.
So yes, Reedsy is going to feature some book marketing experts at some point. Some will be publicists (but specialized in working with indie authors), some will be social media experts. They are coming later for a simple reason: how do you “certify” a publicist or a “marketer?” You need to talk directly to them, ask for a lot of testimonials, etc. It’s going to take some time.
And again, our philosophy is that they will be there to “support” the author’s sales, not to drive them. Only the books themselves can do that, through their cover, their story, their blurb, their metadata, etc.
Sounds good. Do you have any rivals in the industry? Who are you competing against and why is Reedsy better?
There aren’t really any direct rivals to Reedsy – that we know of at least! There are marketplaces, but they’re either not as specialized within publishing, or don’t offer much of a guarantee in the way of quality. More importantly, no one has anything like our ambition.
Let’s put it this way. Right now, if you’re an author and you want to go to one place to find an amazing editor, and an amazing designer, and publicist, and translator, and narrator… where amazing doesn’t just mean ‘knows how to fill out a sign-up form,’ but means experience, means testimonials, means qualifications, means being a professional… There’s nothing like that out there.
When it comes to self-publishing, raising the quality of the finished book is just about the most important thing you can do, and it’s a total nightmare for anyone to do it right now. The situation is, for want of a less extreme word, insane. Not as insane as, for example, the glacial reaction times of the major publishers to the rise of self-publishing and ebooks. But still – pretty insane.
Why are we better? Because we don’t just want to paper over the problems in publishing that require a larger restructuring. We’re not just solving a problem for independent authors – we want to remove any distinction between books published by a traditional publishing house and by an indie. That’s the end-point.
Do you see this business as having high growth potential or do you expect to need additional support from investors?
We know Reedsy has a fantastic growth potential and to unlock it we are going to need additional support from investors. The publishing industry is not one where you can “stand still” with a well-performing product because right now it is ever-changing. We will need money to grow and are backed by investors who have the resources to keep supporting us through our different rounds of fundraising.
I know you are a Frenchman who lives in England and Reedsy’s office is in London. Can you tell us a little more about yourself. Where do you hang out, what do you like to do to relax and cool down?
Emmanuel (co-founder) and I moved to London a few months ago because we don’t have a viable market in France, not yet. Since then, we’ve been living in Shoreditch: we love hipsters, hanging out in markets, admiring the street art, etc. This is mainly where we cool down after a good game of football…
A former United Nations director, Claude Nougat is the author of five novels and one collection of short stories. You can read more at her blog or by following her on Twitter @claudenougat. She lives in Rome, Italy.