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Tampa Bay startup disrupts publishing industry

Mark Parker



Fred Koehler, an author, illustrator and entrepreneur, launched Ready Chapter 1 to help break the publishing rejection cycle. Photos provided.

The founder of a crowdsourced story analytics platform plans to transform the publishing industry by providing authors with actionable feedback and promoting the site’s top-ranked writers to agents and editors.

Fred Koehler, a Tampa Bay-based author, illustrator and entrepreneur, created Ready Chapter 1 to help prospective writers break the rejection cycle. The software-as-a-service startup’s Peer Critique Forum launched Sept. 27.

Ready Chapter 1 provides a community-driven platform that features storytelling curricula and “a roadmap to publishing success.” Koehler said he spent a decade working to establish himself in an ultra-competitive industry.

“These editors are so busy, they don’t even have time to send you a form rejection anymore,” Koehler said. “You hear nothing. It’s like shouting into the void.”

Koehler said he realized a lack of quality feedback contributed to the rejection cycle. His solution is a peer critique system where a community of writers judge each other’s stories.

Koehler called Ready Chapter 1 a “beefed-up,” tokenized forum. Authors must review members’ stories before they submit a chapter from their manuscript.

He believes that the “flywheel of value” keeps the community engaged. Koehler said there are minimum word counts for responses and a flagging mechanism to prevent people from gaming the system.

“As we find those bad actors, we’ll just boot them from the community,” he added.

Koehler said he bootstrapped Ready Chapter 1 for a year as he built its curriculum. The platform also provides online educational courses to help writers improve and increase their publishing odds.

Modules progress as members work through their novels and prepare for submissions. Koehler said he realized a scoring system’s benefits while conducting in-person classes.

The platform’s community ranks critical storytelling elements, like narrative voice, character development and plot, on a one to five scale. Ready Chapter 1’s software then aggregates those scores and provides averages to the author.

“That level of data – no publisher has access to data like that,” Koehler said. “Our goal is to bring a new level of data analytics to these publishers when we’re submitting stories.”

He said the platform could help editors differentiate between another prospective writer shouting, “Hey, read my manuscript” into the void and someone who belongs to an expansive, peer-reviewed forum. “And by the way, this story has a 4.9 average out of 5 over the course of 200 reviews,” Koehler added.

He said it would take time to convince the major publishing houses to utilize the platform. However, Koehler said small to medium-sized companies are eager for a new tool.

“The first publisher I showed this to, his jaw dropped,” he said. “He’s like … ‘I only got one question for you, and it’s how can my publishing house get access to the top stories on your site? Because essentially, what you’ve done is de-risked our investment in any of this intellectual property.'”

Fred Koehler believes a lack of quality feedback perpetuates the rejection cycle.

Koehler plans to keep the critique forum free for writers. He said Ready Chapter 1’s revenue will come from its Total Story Accelerator product that provides in-depth training on critical writing elements.

Koehler also stressed that writers retain ownership and control over their intellectual property. While Ready Chapter 1 pushes writers toward traditional publishers, he believes the platform would benefit those who self-publish.

“You still need people to look at your stuff and help you figure out what’s working and what’s not,” Koehler said.

He believes people will find critique partners and collaborate offline. Koehler also plans to program the platform’s software to promote reviewers who routinely provide “solid gold.”

Koehler hopes Ready Chapter 1 can break the rejection cycle for thousands of new writers. However, he said his personal goal is to continue writing stories and drawing pictures.

“Hopefully, someday, we’ll find a media company or publisher or somebody who sees this as a valuable asset that can help create a pipeline of great intellectual property,” he elaborated. “And we’ll be able to partner with them and eventually exit.”

Koehler operates from the Catapult Lakeland entrepreneurial co-working space. He frequently visits Tampa’s Embarc Collective and attends pitch competitions in St. Petersburg.

While his passion is writing and illustrating – Penguin Random House and Boyd Mills Press have published several of his books – Koehler also runs a design studio. He expressed appreciation for the region’s business ecosystem that values innovative entrepreneurs.

“For me, innovation is relentless curiosity,” Koehler said. “Big problems that keep us up at night become puzzles solved through iteration and experimentation. And when a great solution is discovered, an innovative mind moves on to the next puzzle.”





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    Carolyn Baldwin

    October 26, 2023at9:58 am

    So proud for you and your work, Fred! You are amazing!

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