Authorfy uses online videos and teaching resources to bring young readers closer to writers and their books.
Authorfy is an online platform that connects children's authors with schools. It helps schools promote creative writing by providing videos, worksheets and activities based on an author’s books, as well as featuring a ‘parent page’ and teacher newsletters, along with click-through links so users can buy the books.
"In a time of strict tests and curriculum guidelines, when time for creativity is a ‘luxury’ most teachers can’t fit into busy schedules, children are spending more time online than ever before, and one in five primary students leave school unable to read at the expected level," says founder Mel Taylor-Bessent. "In addition, the education industry is in turmoil - demolished budgets, bigger classes, growing expectations and fewer hours to plan lessons put a huge strain on primary school teachers.
"Publishers are turning to technology and the Internet to promote books in a way that appeals to the YouTube generation, and one of the ways they’re doing this is via ‘influencers’ such as Zoella and Lucy Powrie (YA / teen bloggers). We want to become ‘the’ influencer for children’s books and provide a one-stop platform that brings readers and writers closer together."
Mel Taylor-Bessent launched Authorfy after running creative writing company, ‘Little Star Writing’ for the last five years.
"After creating a series of workshops that promoted creativity, boosted confidence, and offered children a chance to write without the pressure of the curriculum or the fear of ‘getting it wrong’, I recevied an influx of requests from schools all over the country that led to the creation of Authorfy," she explains. "It's a way to share LSW’s teaching approaches, methods and guidelines with any teacher, anywhere in the world."
Five authors – Cressida Cowell, Laura Dockrill, Abi Elphinstone, Piers Torday and SF Said – have been appointed as official “ambassadors” to promote the business.
What's the gap in the market?
And with almost 400 libraries closing between April 2011 and April 2016, the number of independent bookshops falling for 11 consecutive years, and restricted budgets limiting the number of author visits in schools, Taylor-Bessent believes that there are fewer ways to get quality children’s books into the hands of children.
"What’s more," she says, "there are fewer ways to tell children about books in the first place. In June 2017, we questioned 600 children aged 7-11 for our ‘What Children Want’ survey and the results were eye-opening. We asked students what books they had read over the last year, and with 59% citing ‘popular’ books from authors such as David Walliams and Jacqueline Wilson, 19% citing ‘classic’ books their parents recommended such as Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, and 18% citing books we had introduced them to in workshops, only 4% said they had read anything else. How then, in a world where children favour YouTube over TV, books and films, can we introduce them to new authors, genres and books in a way that appeals to them?"
Taylor-Bessent believes the answer lies in six-minute cinematic videos from bestselling children’s authors. According to Ofcom’s ‘Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes’ from November 2016, ‘youngsters aged 5-15 spend around 15 hours each week online’. In addition, ‘kids under 8 years old spend 65% of their online time on YouTube’ according to Family Zone’s ‘2016 Connected Kids: Social Media Snapshot’. "Paired with the fact that teachers had less time to plan lessons, and much less time to squeeze creativity into the curriculum, an online platform that offered pre-prepared lessons and interactive, engaging videos seemed to be the obvious answer," Taylor-Bessent says. "We can now share our learning resources and introduce children to more books and authors than ever before, and it’s done in a way that engages students, supports the publishing industry and offers value for money."
Success so far?
After a trial term with 50 schools, Authorfy officially launched six weeks ago. "We are already very pleased with our progress," Taylor-Bessent reports. "We are particularly proud of the quality of the Author Masterclasses, that we’re working in partnership with the entire children’s publishing industry, and how receptive children have been to the platform. Watching a class of 30 students become completely entranced by an Author’s Masterclass and actually be excited to complete activities and write their own stories is the most rewarding thing we could wish for. We can’t wait to see this on a larger scale and have children all over the country run into classrooms, eagerly waiting to see which Author Masterclass they’re using for inspiration."
The team has brought forward the launch of their ‘Authorfy at Home’ service due to demand from home-schoolers and parents.
"Teachers have a huge amount to fit into their daily schedule, and with other online platforms offering cross-curricular resources that fit neatly into their timetables, Authorfy may not be top-of-the-list when it comes to curriculum-based needs," Taylor-Bessent admits. "For this reason, our activity packs are suitable for all KS2 children and can easily be linked to the curriculum and the needs of the class if teachers wish."
Authorfy's other biggest challenge is encouraging children to read and write for pleasure when outside of school. "When we asked students if they’d watch an author’s YouTube channel, only 38% said they ‘might’, and when we asked ‘why?’, the overarching opinion was that ‘authors aren’t interesting’. For this reason, one of our biggest challenges is to change the perception of authors."
Taylor-Bessent aims for teachers to use Authorfy all over the world, and children to view the Author Masterclasses as being just as entertaining as other videos found on YouTube. She plans to launch KS1 (‘Early Readers’) and KS3 (‘Young Adult’) versions of Authorfy in the near future; launch Authorfy Book Awards; and set up an Authorfy Tour where authors travel the country, performing to several schools at once. "In short, we want to revolutionise the education and publishing industries forever," she says.
Advice to other publishing entrepreneurs?
"Publishing is one of the friendliest, most passionate, most supportive industries in the world, and we all have the same goal – to creatively produce something worthwhile, meaningful and everlasting. Prove that you have the same passion and goals (and a unique idea to boot) and you’ll go far."
Authorfy has been shortlisted as one of six finalists for the BookTech Company of the Year Award. To watch the team pitch live for the award, book your tickets for the FutureBook 2017 conference now.