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Lakeland startup makes tech-driven advances in publishing field

A husband-and-wife team seeks to help authors and publishers come together quicker — and with markedly improved books that will sell more copies.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. May 29, 2024
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Sarah McGuire and Fred Koehler founded Ready Chapter 1 in 2022.
Sarah McGuire and Fred Koehler founded Ready Chapter 1 in 2022.
Photo by Mark Wemple
  • Tampa Bay-Lakeland
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Imagine you’ve finally finished that manuscript that has been bouncing around in your mind for years. You send it off to a publishing company in hopes of landing a deal and wait months to hear anything, if you even get a response at all. Fred Koehler and Sarah McGuire, a husband and wife team and established authors, are all too familiar with this process. So in 2022 the couple co-founded Ready Chapter 1, a Lakeland-based startup that, using data analytics, aims to predict a New York Times bestseller before it even hits the shelves. 

The data comes from a surprising source: other authors and agents on an online platform who give and receive feedback based on metrics in a rubric developed by Koehler and McGuire. The platform has a membership tier model that at the pro-level includes extra forum features, agent contests and access to the Total Story Accelerator education suite. The company says it has 2,000 writers on its platform; it declines to disclose revenue figures. 

Ready Chapter 1, a member of Catapult Lakeland and Embarc Collective in Tampa, has already raised $500,000 from investors — primarily the Lakeland Venture Group that funds Catapult Lakeland. Funds are primarily being used to round out the development of the platform and fund community outreach and go-to-market strategies. Koehler writes via email, “Our investors want to see a win for a Catapult company, especially as we build bridges with tech communities from St. Pete to Tampa to Orlando. Personally, I won't be satisfied until we've 10x'ed their investment while creating real opportunity for writers everywhere.”

A helping hand

Authors can find patterns in the rubric feedback they receive to continue to hone their craft. For fiction writing, the measurements include narrative voice, character development, plotting, description and dialogue. The process involves assigning a numerical value of 1 to 5 for gut-level statements such as ‘The characters are developed, complex and reliable. I care about what happens to them’ and can be followed up with a descriptive critique for constructive criticism. The process is much speedier and more thorough than one might traditionally receive from a publisher.

Ready Chapter 1 recently raised $500,000.
Photo by Mark Wemple

“Some publishers don’t even send a rejection letter. Just no reply means no,” McGuire says, “There's nothing worse than sending out your best, not hearing anything, and then not even knowing how to improve.” 

This is due in part to the sheer volume of work publishing companies receive in a year and the process in which it is reviewed. 

“The system for reviewing work hasn’t changed in 100 years. It’s literally teams of interns who are reading through the unsolicited manuscripts that land on these publishers' desks,” Koehler says, “It’s really this kind of archaic process of determining whether something is good that came in, and you're only getting one or two data points from a couple of different interns to know if it's something you want to look at further.” 

The go-between

Ready Chapter 1 isn’t only for authors, but also plans to unburden the publishing industry. Koehler adds, “I'm bringing them a manuscript and saying, well, here's one that has 300 data points that point toward this being a market-ready story. And all of a sudden, the light bulb goes off for these publishers, and [they say] ‘oh, my goodness, how many more stories like this can you bring us?’”

Contests are part of the business model at Ready Chapter 1.
Courtesy image

Bushel and Peck, a publisher based in California is one such company that has taken interest and partnered with Ready Chapter 1. David Miles, who co-founded Bushel & Peck with his wife Stephanie in 2018, was interested in one of Koehler’s manuscripts when he learned about the startup. “What I love about it is it takes a lot of the guesswork out for publishers of whether or not a book is going to resonate with readers,” Miles says, “As a publisher, you do a lot of work, editing, developing, packaging and preparing a book for publication. But you do all of that without ever really knowing [if] people are going to like this book.” 

He cites the measurable data and swath of feedback that illuminates what readers are interested in. Currently the two companies have teamed up to create a contest that will guarantee one winning author a book deal. 

In addition to the subscription model from authors, Ready Chapter 1 receives a percentage of upstream advances and downstream royalties based on licensing deals with publishing partners.

Along with revenue stream will come an even bigger goal: to bridge the communication gap between writers and publishers. 

“Our goal is we want writers to thrive. We want them to have the tools they need, create the stories that they want, or do the stories that they already have justice, and we want them to have access to the folks who can help them get those stories out into the world,” McGuire says. “We want publishers who are looking for good stories to also be able to find those things out. We've been there, we've done that, and we want to see people thrive, we want to see them do well. And that's because, boy, it can be tough out there.”


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