Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Interview with Anne Walls and John Singleton, WordHustler
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
Anne Walls and John Singleton are co-founders of WordHustler (www.wordhustler.com), a local Hollywood startup looking to help writers connect with publishers. WordHustler launched in May of 2008 in a beta. We caught up with both Anne and John to learn more about the company.
What's the whole idea behind WordHustler?
John Singleton: WordHustler is a service that empowers writers to get connected with people who publish or produce their work. we do that by eliminating the hassles of the traditional process of submissions and paperwork for writers. Writers can log into our site, upload their project, and select from over 4,000 markets, and send their work out to the world physically with a single click. Our submission technology is what powers Scripped.com, who you interviewed earlier. In their case, people write their scripts on a web site, and when they're done, they can submit them to contests with a single click. It's then transferred to our system, and out into the world. The big thing, is that once it's all done, submitting your work is only half the battle. If you're doing freelance writing, have a story you're trying to sell, there's a whole process of finding out where you're doing well, not doing well, and what responses you have received. Even the most organized writers have difficulty with the process. Our system is totally integrated, and once your work goes out there, we can track it all.
What kind of writing and writers are you targeting?
Anne Walls: Everything. Adding to what John was saying, we're trying to be the ultimate place for writers. We're also nurturing writers through the process, because we're both writers ourselves. We thought--why isn't there something like this exist? We wanted a place where writers can learn how to write a query, a cover letter, submit it, and track it through the whole process. We also didn't want to make it a time suck or a money waster, so we don't charge for membership, and it will always be free. It's also a place where people can come and make a wish list. For example, for one day when you finish your book, you can submit it here, or there--and put those all on your wish list. In terms of the market, we cover everything, but the big areas are contests and publications of every kind, literary agents, and also some Hollywood agents. However, they're a bit harder to reach because they don't accept unsolicited screenplays. If our users run into a predatory publisher, or an agent charging fees, they can include that into their comments. People can write comments and rate publishers, which we vet very carefully.
John Singleton: In reference to contests--one thing about our technology--is we have the only system like this on the web. If someone has a contest form in PDF on a web site, we can fill that out and track that submission. Our system allows you to fill out that form, digitally, for any contest, and sign it, all without touching our hands. It's something that is really neat which we invested in, which we've never seen anywhere else. So that contest form is filled in very neatly, professionally, and you can put your signature in directly, or even put that signature on your cover letter. It's all white labeled, so it doesn't say you're using WordHustler. It makes the process better, more time efficient, and more professional--publishers are not receiving 50 pages written on tree bark.
You mentioned earlier you don't charge--if so, what's the business model behind the site?
John Singleton: Basically, we have a 3-fold strategy for monetizing the service. We don't charge for markets, but what we do charge for is physical printing and submissions. We have a rate table, which you can see on our web site, but we basically look at the size of the submissions--ranging from a query letter, to an 800 page manuscript. A query letter is only 99 cents, which is a fantastic deal, which is basically free because it includes shipping. We are dealing with postage and printing, and we charge for that printing and shipping. The other way we monetize, is we run ads from Google, ads from our partner Scripped, and are also launching a digital membership in the new year which will combine both print and email submissions for a monthly membership fee. However, the service will still always have a free membership, with a la cart print submissions.
Anne Walls: We launched in soft beta in May. We also offer services for international writers, almost a virtual office. For example, if you're living in Canada, it's sort of a pain to send to an international tournament, and you can use us as a liaison. It's also cheaper than writers doing it themselves. For a full size script, 120 pages, shipped, and printed, it's $12.00 and it includes tracking. It costs a little more than if they just went to Kinko's, not including buying and envelope, finding out how to track the submission, finding the listings for the market, etc. We are trying to keep it competitive.
What are your backgrounds, and how did you decide to start WordHustler?
Anne Walls: Our backgrounds are different, and complementary. My background, is I'm from Los Angeles. I went to UCLA, and majored in English, and then worked in Hollywood for ten years, for companies such as CAA, Paramount, and Judd Apatow. I'm a writer and screenwriter, and most recently had a TV show on Fox, Saints and Sinners. My background is in Hollywood, and I've started to get into the print industry. I head up the PR and marketing stuff right now, plus I assembled the database from scratch for our site, including vetting all the listings and all that stuff.
John Singleton: I came at writing a little late in the game. I started my career as a technologist, as a software engineer. I worked for Ernst & Young, Computer Associates, and eventually ran my own consulting company. I had lots of international projects in China. Somewhere along the line I got into writing, and got immersed in that world. Time went on and on, and I began transitioning to be a full time writer. I was putting technology away, even though that's what I had done for almost a decade. One day, Anne and I were talking about the challenges of submitting stuff. As the story goes, we had both sent out something--she had sent some short stories some places, I had sent some to other places, but in both cases, months passed and we heard nothing. Publishing is a notoriously slow business. Finally, we started getting letters back, where they might be form rejections, and we couldn't identify where they came from, what went to them, and when we sent it. With my technology background, I sort of realized that this was something that could be done--and why hadn't anyone done this?
Anne Walls: It was one of those light bulb moments. What John and I have done is we've built 100 percent of our technology and our submission system from scratch. And, we've been able to start the company for little or no cost, and to run it for little or no cost. We launched six months ago, and we now have 2,000 members, and 6 million words submitted. It's a great thing to have writers for clients, because they are our advertising. They talk about us in their blogs, they give us feedback, and they're very vocal. We get to dialogue with people who totally love the service, in a very grass roots way.
How's the company funded? Did you bootstrap this or get some funding?
Anne Walls: It was bootstrapped, in a manner of speaking. We had some small friends and family funding. We've just finished our projections up to 2012, working with a consultant, and we're about to go--in this lovely economic climate--after an angel or venture capital funding. All systems are pointing to go, and we have regular clients, and we want to take it to the next level, including advertising widely and really hitting international people.