BookTech Award Showcase: Write-Track

BookTech Award Showcase: Write-Track

“Running a startup is much like writing,” Write-Track's Chris Smith says to Molly Flatt. In her final article of eight profiling our new FutureBook 2015 BookTech Award contenders, the author-discipline tool is at issue. As Flatt notes, "Productivity tools can be notoriously self-defeating." Can Write-Track's quantified-experience offer woo writers out of the Facebook trailer park and back to work? Time will tell, as it will for Write-Track's funding search. Evans tells Flatt: “Persistence is what counts.”—Porter Anderson

“The winds of change are blowing,” announced Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), on Monday’s Author Day, the first event in The Bookseller’s week-long FutureBook festival. “There is a power shift moving towards authors, which means as writers we have to claim the responsibilities as well as the freedoms. We have to step up to the plate. We have to actually do the work.”

Ross was talking about the opportunity that the digital space affords writers to reject old publishing models, lobby for fairer terms, and design their own career paths. But there’s another, more fundamental type of work that technology has revolutionised for writers—the very act of getting words onto the page.

“The ‘just do it’ philosophy of NaNoWriMo is always inspiring,” says Chris Smith, digital marketing consultant and co-founder of Write-Track, a new writing productivity platform that is one of eight finalists pitching for the title of BookTech Company of the Year at Friday’s conference.

“We’ve also always loved the work done by 99u/Behance to support creative productivity. We admire online writing platforms like Wattpad, Movellas and iAuthor, and there are lots of exciting new companies developing writing software—Scrivener is the most established but Novlr, Blank Page and Poetica are doing great stuff.”

His co-founder Rebecca Evans, who works as head of innovation for international management publisher Emerald Group, is a self-confessed “NaNoWriMo addict”. It was while managing a writing school that she observed the correlation between successful writers and highly disciplined writing habits.

“Writers, like many creatives, rarely struggle to find ideas,” Smith asserts. “But they do suffer from self-doubt, a lack of confidence, a lack of persistence. They procrastinate, feel bad about their writing and become locked in a negative spiral. The idea for Write-Track started to take shape when we realised that we could apply ‘trigger, hook and reward’ systems already at work in products like Fitbit, Nike+ and RunKeeper to a creative discipline.”

Write-Track locks its users into productive habits through four core elements of behavioural change design: goal setting, tracking, community support and reward.

First, the website asks users to chunk their long-term dream project into smaller goals and set flexible targets, such as writing for a particular amount of time or writing a certain number of words. Then, they add stars to a calendar to easily and graphically track their progress, logging time spent, word counts and feelings. Email reminders are on hand if they need a nudge, and support and cheerleading is provided through an on-site social network.

“Our site design is based around established theories first formed by BJ Fogg, director of Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab, which were then applied to product design by Stephen Wendel and Nir Eyal,” Smith says. “Persuasive technology can get a bad press—we’ve all been there, checking our Twitter feed and Facebook for likes, having to do another level on Candy Crush—but it can be a force for good.”

The science behind the service was further informed by both research conducted jointly by Evans and Leeds University’s School of Computing and Creative Technologies, as well as a peer-reviewed paper.

But however robust Write-Track’s theory might be, productivity tools can be notoriously self-defeating. (Slack, I’m calling you out.) Surely it will be all too tempting for those procrastinating pen-monkeys to spend more time fiddling with stars or moaning about plot points with their peers than knuckling down to the lonely, unrelenting grind of actual work?

“We agree!” Smith says with a laugh. “However, there was quite a buzz when we started beta testing last year and we very quickly got our first thousand users, which gave us a decent base to measure how it works. Some users have been testing different versions of Write-Track for 20 months with no drop-off. Some have achieved tens of goals, others track five to seven times a week. We’ve had writing prizes won, poetry published, plays and short stories completed, and now we’re getting our first novels not just finished but getting publishing deals.”

Write-Track’s business model is centred on “a three-stage customer journey based on a freemium model with the value of purchases growing at subsequent stages.” Users will be hooked into the product through a free app, offering a short micro-learning course to kickstart their writing. At the end of the course they’ll then be able to buy the fully functional tracking product for “about the same cost as a cup of coffee.” The hope is that regular users will also buy ‘boosts’—higher-value premium in-app purchases such as expert guides, audio exercises, richer data tools and extra resources for writing groups and buddies.

“Our focus now is on getting investment so we can develop new features, scale, and turn this idea into a successful business,” Smith says. No easy feat with both him and Evans juggling demanding day jobs; but he says he knows the only way forward is to take his own advice.

“Running a startup is much like writing,” he says. “Persistence is what counts.”

The BookTech Showcase (#BookTech) is a new element of the FutureBook Conference. Hosted by tech and culture journalist Molly Flatt, the session invites eight book tech companies to take part in a live pitch-off for a panel of industry and tech experts. A real-time vote will then determine the winners of the bronze, silver and gold FutureBook Awards. The overall winner will be named The FutureBook BookTech Company of the Year 2015.

The judges of the showcase, who will interrogate attendees from the selected book tech companies, are Hannah Telfer, Group Director of Consumer and Digital Development at Penguin Random House UK; Dan Kieran, CEO and Co-Founder of Unbound; and Eileen Burbidge, Partner at Passion Capital and one of the UK’s most influential tech venture capitalists.

In Molly Flatt's series on the contenders (in order of publication):

Here is the FutureBook Conference site.

Main image - iStockphoto: AnswerHo