Reedsy: Bending into digital self-publishing

Reedsy: Bending into digital self-publishing

In the graphics for Reedsy, you sometimes spot "cattails," as we call them in the sea islands of South Carolina. Reeds.

And so, one goes into an interview here hoping that the cutesy name for this new company isn't the misspelling of "read" that one worries it just could be.

Big relief: "The name is meant to refer to reeds," says chief operating officer Ricardo Fayet when pinned down on the matter.

"We thought about reeds while thinking about papyrus" -- and who among us doesn't think about papyrus? "And the story is also connected to our logo," Fayet says, "for which we use the 'reeds' heiroglyph to create a parrot."

"So Reedsy is a cutesy name and a cutesy logo," Fayet says, good sport that he is. "But we have put a lot of thought into it."

ParrotAnd just on the off-chance that the naming of the company had all been a terrible mistake, Fayet and his associates would soon find themselves set up with a number of editors ready to help.

The company has just started inviting a curated list of editors and designers to join the Reedsy marketplace.

It may surprise some that this start-up working from IDEALondon, Shoreditch, is only now starting up.

The players -- most visibly Fayet, along with "chief everything officer" Emmanuel Nataf; lead designer Matthew Cobb; and chief technical officer Vincent Durand -- have been a presence in The community's #FutureChat sessions via the @ReedsyHQ handle, as well as at book fair events for months. Only now, however, has the call gone out for a first wave of participation.

Reedsy was founded just this year. Since May, they've been with micro-seed investment fund Seedcamp, which is backing them in a 50-50 split with DC Thomson Ventures. It's in the July announcement of that funding that you get a sense for the reach of ambition here. DC Thomson's Nick Verkroost is quoted saying:

Consumer reading habits are changing. In the UK alone, self-publishing accounts for 20% of all ebooks and as barriers to entry come down the market is only going to accelerate. This new approach to reading needs a new kind of publisher – we believe that Reedsy could define the next generation of publishing.

Of course, because many self-publishers don't use ISBNs -- as covered in The FutureBook's #FutureChat --  it's not known whether self-publishing accounts for 20 percent of all ebooks. No one knows how many ebooks have been self-published. They cannot be fully counted. But what's clear from the commentary attached to the backing is that the money sees stark opportunity in Reedsy, the first line of the investment statement reading:

The platform, which will launch soon, is looking to disrupt the publishing industry. 

"The next milestone," Fayet says, "is opening up the site to authors. They're going to be able to see the freelancers on our marketplace and message them directly in around two weeks."

And when they message those freelancers, they can set a price to work together. Initially, freelancers and authors will handle financial transactions, contracts, and collaboration off-site. But contract and payment systems are expected to be functional on the site in October, Fayet says.

Reedsy will take 10 percent of each transaction. "We're taking a cut because we actually [intend to] add value to the collaboration" between author and freelancer, "not as a finder's fee."

A digital town square: "Enabling direct contact"

Ricardo Fayet
Ricardo Fayet

While the digital dynamic may be hailed by many writers as a fast monorail to gatekeeper-less self-publication, that "Huzzah!" heard 'round the world has also been met by "Huh?" from many readers encountering seriously questionable quality in self-published output. From the vagaries of ill-conceived storytelling to glaring problems of typos, layout gaffes, formatting howlers, and unfortunate book covers, the self-publishing sector has found itself saddled with myriad problems that smack of amateurism and are routinely addressed by publishing-house staffers.

And yet, self-publishing authors ready to engage professional "publishing services" to render their work properly don't always find it easy to locate the specialists they need. Gradually, we've see lists and databases coming together. For example, North Carolina-based author Elizabeth S. Craig compiles an eBook Services Professionals list of providers, and there are others, of course. As editor Carla Douglas in Kingston, Ontario, points out, various editors' organizations may make their membership lists available, and MediaBistro's GalleyCat from Jason Boog carries a Best Book Editors on Twitter lists (along with a literary agents list and others).

Reedsy's lists of invitations to editors, in fact, has been put together, Fayet says, from the directories of the Editorial Freelancers Association, the Editors' Association of Canada, and so on.

Emmanuel Nataf
Emmanuel Nataf

"It's not as difficult as people think it is," Fayet says, "to find an editor, even a good editor. What's difficult is finding the right one for your project among the thousands of people out there. That's where having a good, powerful marketplace is important."

Only time will tell whether the ability to search out such freelance service providers on a site like Reedsy, talk over a project, haggle over price, and do a deal will get writers past the "yes but I can't find one" stage. The organiser of an autumn conference of traditionally published authors told me that many of the membership feel clueless when it comes to finding their own editors, designers, marketers and translators for self-publishing efforts.

There are ironies here. When she spoke at Writer's Digest's Annual Conference last month, Texas -based author Shanna Swendson said that when Random House's Ballantine dropped her series, she was able to hire the same editor and designer the publishing house had used. She continues the series today with that team, now self-publishing it with the support of Nelson Literary's NLA Digital programme in Denver.

But while published authors like Swendson might do well to simply ask their traditionally employed editors and others if they can also work freelance -- or for good recommendations -- the idea of a center for discovery and transaction with these professionals has what Fayet and his colleagues think is their advantage.

"Reedsy is about enabling direct contact between the author and the freelancer," Fayet says.

One-on-one: "Author-editor collaboration"

Matthew Cobb
Matthew Cobb

"We’re going to allow freelancers to band together in 'agencies' or 'companies,' but they will still all need to create an individual profile on our marketplace. We might make an exception for two or three-person companies where these people do the job together, but they’ll have to specify that." And, in other words, companies will not be part of these listings. Reedsy is a transactional center primarily for individual freelancers.

While starting now to register editors and designers -- you can see an example of a profile page here with Boston-based editor Rebecca Heyman -- Reedsy will add "marketing and finally audiobook and translation services [freelancers] to the marketplace" in the late autumn, Fayet says. "Not formatting and distribution. We're currently thinking about also doing print through the marketplace, or through a partnership, but it’s too soon to say."

What's ahead, Fayet hints, in a second stage of the company's development will render it "more than just a marketplace. Our project management and collaboration tools will help authors and freelancers work more efficiently than they do today."

He shares a planning document that shows "collaboration tools" in the pipeline, perhaps for late this year, with such capabilities as cloud-based manuscript storage for version-tracking and backups and centralised queries, price quotes, and messages access.

"Not Before 2015" is a suite of features that includes a "cloud-based collaborative writing tool" with direct-publish capacity for major platforms and online stores.

This is what team leader Nataf calls "a purpose-built ebook editor to make author-editor collaboration easier than ever." Automated distribution -- "kind of Smashwords-like...but with a simpler process" -- may come into play at that later stage, as well.

Another interesting note from the planning document, for those who might want to consider using Reedsy for some but not all processes:

There is an opt out at almost any point on Reedsy. You can come to find and work with an editor and then export back a Word document and do the rest yourself. Or export the electronic files and do the posting yourself. We’re not only about offering the possibility to do everything in one place, we’re also about flexibility.

Hanging out a shingle: "Absolutely no exclusivity requirement"

Vincent Durand Reedsy
Vincent Durand

It's rather telling, that emphasis of "absolutely" when I ask Fayet whether freelancers must work exclusively through Reedsy. Requirements of exclusivity are creating difficult, sometimes bitter decisions for many in the often rancorous ranks of self-publishing these days, particularly in the launch of Amazon's Kindle Unlimited subscription service, which requires self-publishers commit to the exclusivity agreements of KDP Select.

So the vogue at the moment is to say "no exclusivity" loudly if one can. Understandable.

The next question, however, for Fayet, then, is what if an author comes to Reedsy, spots the perfect editor, does a deal with that editor -- and never tells Reedsy? Then Fayet and his associates are cut out of the deal.

Fayet says, "We’re not worried about people going off of Reedsy once we’re capable of handling payments ourselves [in October]. We’re confident that the package we’ve put together for authors and editors is going to mean we’re irresistible."

The irresistible Reedsy will provide "a pre-existing menu of services," Fayet says, "but more as a guideline than as a limitation. When requesting a quote, an author will tell the editor or designer exactly what they’re looking for. The author and the freelancer set the price together --the editor responds to the author’s enquiry with a quote, and they finesse the terms between them until they both reach something agreeable."

The company's e-commerce operation will handle multiple currencies, Fayet says. "You could say that we don’t expand into new countries so much as into new languages. We’re launching supporting British English and American English, and we’ll be expanding to support Spanish, German, and so on."

Accredited Freelancers: "Reedsy-certified"

One of the things Fayet anticipates will be an attraction for many writers will be a pre-screening process of self-publishing service freelancers who register with it.

"First thing we’re going to check is the portfolio" of a registering freelancer, he says. "The way you set up your portfolio is you paste the Amazon or Google Play URL of the book(s) you’ve worked on as a designer or an editor" into Reedsy's application. "And that’s easy for us to check.

"We don’t certify, ourselves," he says, "but we confirm what people have told us -- they’re ‘Reedsy certified,’ if you like. In terms of work experience, if they say they have worked for a publishing before, we’ll ask to see a contract. We can check certifications with the professional associations. And of course if we find any evidence of forgery" of an application "that editor will be off the marketplace immediately."

Relationship parity: "Not a bidding marketplace"

When asked if Miral Sattar's New York-based BiblioCrunch might not be a fairly direct competitor to Reedsy, Fayet says he sees two differences between his company and that one, which also has project management tools and interactive contact with freelancers.

"The first difference is that there's no fee to be on our marketplace or to look for freelancers on it." Reedsy takes its 10 percent only from actual work bought and paid for, in other words, not for offering services on the site or for looking for them.

"The second one is that we’re not a 'bidding marketplace.' The problem with bidding is that you end up getting answers from hungry freelancers rather than from good ones. On Reedsy, authors will have to do their research to find the right people for them, and contact only the ones" who seem persuasive.

"For us," Fayet says, "being a good marketplace means being as attractive to service providers as we are to clients.

"From the beginning we’ve had this idea of having parity in the freelancer-author relationship. Authors judge providers on their work, not their price. And freelancers don’t compete for business."

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