SPS-390: How to Sharpen Your Story – with Kristina Stanley

Many authors know the intimidating feeling of editing a first draft. Fictionary is a tool that can help with that feeling. Kristina Stanley, a puzzle loving author and developer joins us for a chat about Fictionary, and how it can help writers see a clearer narrative progression after that first draft is finished.

Show Notes

  • Kristina’s love of editing
  • Tackling the first draft
  • The Skeleton Blurb
  • The uses of Fictionary
  • Fictionary and AI

Resources mentioned in this episode:


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How to Sharpen Your Story - with Kristina Stanley

Speaker 1: On this edition of the Self-Publishing Show,

Kristina Stanley: Whatever happens in that scene is either moving the protagonist closer to or farther away from that main story goal. And if it's not, doesn't belong in the book, there's another, let's go or rewrite it because you know your blurry, we know the story goal and either closer or farther. It's, it's really simple when you look at it from a, a structural point of view of how to fix your book.

Speaker 1: Publishing is changing. No more gatekeepers, no more barriers. No one standing between you and your readers. Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join indie bestseller Mark Dawson and first time author James Blatch as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success. This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello. It is the Self-Publishing Show with me James Blatch.

Mark Dawson: And me Mark Dawson. We

James Blatch: Should look, we should look exhausted because this goes out after our conference, but we're recording it before the conference. So what you look, yes, I think we're both exhausted at the moment. Anyway. Buta,

Mark Dawson: I'm pretty exhausted. It also quite, it looks like quite sweaty. Just looking at my, we're wearing a white t-shirt. I'm just taking a dog for a walk. It kind of looks, I dunno, a bit damp, but cool. We

James Blatch: Took, we, I say we jilt at the dogs for a walk at seven o'clock this morning. That's the time

Mark Dawson: To walk your dogs. I, well tomorrow I, I may do that because obviously I've got kids to get to school as well and get up. So if I do, I have to get up by about six o'clock, which I might do because I think it's going to be 28, 29 here tomorrow, which is if you wear fur nine,

James Blatch: Quiet, quiet, hot. Our American friends. And I have the weird thing in my house now of my son getting up at seven 30, getting dressed and then leaving and driving himself to school, which is a very strange thing.

Mark Dawson: So I imagine that,

James Blatch: Yeah, the only thing we have to do is to shout at him a couple of times to make sure he is getting up. But I think he would probably, even if we didn't,

Mark Dawson: We're not there. Yeah. Well I say this as we record this on Saturday. My son Samuel and I, Sam was going to his first ever concert.

James Blatch: Oh.

Mark Dawson: He's going to see Depeche Mode tricking him.

James Blatch: Of course he is

Mark Dawson: So he's he doesn't quite, I think he, well it's very hard to imagine from his perspective what that would be like. There have 70,000 people there. So, yeah. So we'll see. That'll be fun. We're going to, it's such a busy, I mean that Saturday night I'm staying in London with Samuel Sunday, I come back, this is all kind of ha have a do the passe. This goes out, we've got, got dinner on Sunday night, then we've got a dinner on Monday night. Then we've got the conference on Tuesday and Wednesday. We've got an event on Wednesday night. So I'll get home on Thursday, I'll just be exhausted. But

James Blatch: And just after that on the, on the, so I'm coming back here. S Cecil Mecca's coming over, she's going to come over to bla towers on, on the Wednesday night. And then Thursday I think we both drive to Heathrow Airport and I'm off to the Mastermind where you came in New Yorker, organised by Craig Martel. So yes, it is, it is busy time. And then July I'm having some time off, which I cannot for, I have to tell you. I'm going to see the Grand Prix Day at Wimbledon, two days at the Grand Prix, and then Meka back to Meca for the third time this year. But with my family.

Mark Dawson: Yeah

James Blatch: And I say days off, you know, we don't really get proper days off, but we get times where you're just going to do the bare minimum in the morning and then the rest of the day is yours. That's kind of, I, I'm just going to start, I'm going to tell you now, I'm going to start drinking about midday. So if you want anything done during July, that

Mark Dawson: I don't, I don't do that. I just work I don't nine to five. I I, yeah, that's especially the moment. I just have time for anything else. So,

James Blatch: Well, on holiday I'm talking about,

Mark Dawson: Oh wait, holiday. No, we're going to wait for two weeks in July, but I'm going to, I am, I have said I'm going to be working in the morning.

James Blatch: That's what I've said. Yeah. Yeah.

Mark Dawson: Just, I'm going to get a couple, I want to get, as long as I get my words in, that's the main thing. And then I, I can relax a bit, so I'll, I'll do an hour or two in the morning and then, then no work after that.

James Blatch: That was the point I was making. When I'm on holiday, I'm going to work in the morning, but if you want anything from me before midday is probably the best.

Mark Dawson: Yes. Yeah.

James Blatch: Good. Okay, look, let's move on to our interviewee. But I'm going to give a plug for the digital sessions of the conference. I'm sure the conference was absolutely fabulous. So I'm confident in that. Cause we've dotted every I and crossed every t and we know it's going to be that way. And one of the speakers is going to go down really well is Kristina Stanley from And she is a story, she's an editor, development editor. She's a story aficionado. And that's what she's talking to the conference about. And you can hear her on the digital sessions for the conference. If you haven't signed up already, head off to self-publishing But let's talk to Kristina about story and it is kind of the engine of everything we do, isn't it? So here's Kristina, mark and I will be, will be back for a quick chat at the end of the interview.

Speaker 1: This is the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Kristina Stanley from Fiction, welcome to the Self-Publishing Show. Great to have you here.

Kristina Stanley: Hi James. Thank you very much for hosting today. I'm excited to be here.

James Blatch: Yeah. And we're joining you from Canada today, or you are joining us from Canada, I should say.

Whereabouts in Canada are you?

Kristina Stanley: I am in a small, small town called Inverary, which is kind of halfway between Toronto and Montreal, if you know those two cities. And I know a lovely Lake

James Blatch: Inverary. It sounds like a Scottish borrowed name. Like so much of a Canada has Scottish, Nova Scotia, new Scotland and all that. Good. Okay. Well look, let's talk about story structure. Cause I know this is your passion and we'll talk about fictionary, which is a sort of tool that you've developed. In fact,

let's talk about you first of all cause it's an interesting combination of the two things that you are somebody who's into story structure editing and so on. But also you have a bit of a coding background or development background?

Kristina Stanley: I do, I do. I have, my degree is in, in computer mathematics. And so I love puzzles. Right to me math is just a puzzle. You have to figure it out. It's just a mind, mind candy of doing things. And so my first career was high tech. I worked for, if anyone remembers Nortel, and I worked all over the world in Japan and in Germany. And when I finished with my high tech career, I decided I would write an novel and thought, oh ha how hard can that be ha ha We all know. Very hard, very hard. So I switched and, and became a writer and, and I had some good success. I I got an agent, I had a publisher in Canada and also a second publisher in Germany. My books did well. But what I discovered in this whole process is I really love the process of editing again, because it's a huge complex problem. And it's mind candy to solve the puzzle. And that's the part I love. And so I created business dictionary around editing stories at the structural level just because I had a huge interest in it, more so than actually writing a novel.

James Blatch: Yeah, that's interesting, isn't it? Cause I would say most s authors would save that bit after doing a messy first draft, knowing it needs to be fixed, rewritten, and the story structure sort out is probably their least favourite moment in the process. But for you, that's like, oh, I love, I love to solve this problem.

Kristina Stanley: Yes. And so my goal right now, I'm trying to change that perception because I believe once you've done the first draft, really creative moments come from editing. If you have a structure to edit around that, it becomes a really fun part of the process that you love just as much as writing, because you are still writing and you're still creating a story. It doesn't have to be this onerous task that you dread doing. It can be a really exciting part of the process. And I'm dragging people along with me and people are discovering it for themselves that, wait a minute, this is actually really creative and it is actually fun to do. So I want that, that I want that thought to go away and people should come over to Editing is fun.

James Blatch: Yeah, editing is fun. There you go. Sounds like a bumper sticker. Yeah. So that's and that we should underline how important that part of the process is. And we sometimes complain about the traditional publishing world that could take two years or 18 months, whatever, to, to get a book out. But that 18 months has spent going over the book and over the book and, and reworking the story and bringing out some strengths and, and losing the weaknesses and so on. And, and obviously they've been doing it for 200 years. They know what they're doing. And so woe be tied us if we, we get lazy at this point and think, well, I can't really be bothered to rewrite it, I'll publish it like that. That's, that's the difference between good and great in, in indie writers. Right. The ones who rewrite.

Kristina Stanley: Yeah. You know, and I had an author friend who once told me, the moment she thinks that's good enough, she takes a step back and says, she knows it's not good enough. She's trying to convince herself, well that's good enough and a publisher won't let you do that. Right? They will go, it's actually not good enough. So you have to do it. And so we're trying to find ways for, to help writers see that in their own writing. And so they have that thought, that's not good enough. It needs to be better. And so they can too. I mean, there, there's so many great books out there and there's no reason everybody can't write one.

James Blatch: Yeah. Okay. So we're going to talk about fictionary itself, which is a, a tool to help you with this process. But before we get to that,

can you give us some general tips on what we sh how we should be approaching this task?

Kristina Stanley: Mm-Hmm. Sure. So here's the thing, when you have a first draft, you've got 60, 80, 120,000 words. It's a blob. There it is. What do you do with that? And I know personally I went, you know, I'll read it and read it and read it and then you don't know what to do with them. Like what do you do? And so I believe you need to take a step back as an author and do hands-off, read through when you're d when you've got your draft, just do a hands-off, read through. And during that hands-off readthrough name, every single scene in three words or less. And this is gold for a writer. What it does is it gives you an after draft outline so you remember what you wrote, which seems odd because you wrote the book. But 80,000 words is a lot and can't remember everything.

Two, if you can't name a scene in three words or less, it's probably not focused. Wow. And so it needs work and you just go, that scene needs work. Don't do anything. Just that scene needs work. Because I can't name it three, if you can't name it, you probably don't know why it's in the book. What's the purpose of that scene? And so it's, it's a just a little step. It, well it's a big step because you gotta read your whole book and then think of a name. But it's crucial to then moving forward with a full structural edit of your novel because now you're knowing where you're starting from and if your story even makes sense. Because when you read your C names, you'll go, oh, what is that? Yeah. Why did I put that in there? Well, that's in the wrong place. That's not what I meant to do. I got carried away writing my draft and wrote some lovely scene but isn't related to my story.

James Blatch: So without getting into the minutia of rewriting, you have this global view of your, of your manuscript and hopefully an idea of which parts are working, which parts aren't working.

Kristina Stanley: Yep. And, and, and the the key is don't revise. Make yourself read

James Blatch: It. God, that's so difficult though, Kristina. I'm really, I can't read my book without going back and typing over.

Kristina Stanley: But what happens is, when you're reading it, if you read it with the view of I'm not changing everything, you stop looking at I don't like this sentence. Yeah. I don't like that word. You stop that. You just read what is in this scene and how do I name it? And then that way it gets you through the whole book and you don't end up rewriting the first scene, which happens a lot to authors. You rewrite the first scene over and over and over and over and over again and never get to the rest. It stops that circular, I'm stuck here. Problem. And it gets you kickstarted move forward and now you have a place to move forward from.

James Blatch: Yeah. A good tip someone gave me is to stick it on a kindle so that you can't, can't start typing, read it on a Kindle. And in your case, I guess we'd need to make notes somewhere in a spreadsheet or something of the scene names, but separate from your manuscript so you're not

Kristina Stanley: Yeah. And so inside fictionary in the software, there's a place to write the scene name.

James Blatch: Right. Okay. So you

Kristina Stanley: Just do that. You only do that. You just read, write the scene, name read, and then it lists the whole thing out for you on the side and you can see your story grow. So it does take a bit of self-discipline not to actually edit. But, but once you get the hang of it, you can do it. Totally do it. Yeah. And when you know, the information you're going to get at the end is gold for your story and making it stronger, it's totally worth it. It's just worth that time.

James Blatch: Yeah. And I suppose we're, what we're doing is we're basically doing a structure develop development, structure, edit, what do you want to call it? Ourselves. And one way of imagining it is in the trad process, 50 years ago that would've been another editor's job and you would've got notes back for rewriting so they wouldn't that, that that person who's doing that edit, that revise that read through and working out what needs changing, they would not be in a position to rewrite any of it. That's, they shouldn't be the same process. So that's a good way.

Kristina Stanley: Exactly it. So then the next high level thing, before you do any revising, you're going to hear this slot from me, is you write a skeleton blurb of what your story is about. And what that means is who's the protagonist, what's their story goal? So what are they trying to accomplish and what's at stake if they don't accomplish it? And that gives you a complete focus. So when you start your revising, when you look at every scene, you go, is it related to that story goal, yes or no? And if the answer is no, it's a cut or a revise always. And you can go through then and have a a a really focused way of seeing your story, you know what the outline is, and now you know what your story is and it it, it stops you from doing things.

For example, the climax must answer, did the protagonist achieve the story goal or not? And if it doesn't, the story's not over. There is no story yet. And so if you know clearly what is the goal in the climax, that's what you're writing. You know what your climax scene is already just by writing that blue, you know what your climax has to do. That's, it just has to answer that question. And because you know the stakes, you know what the fight in the climax is going to be. And so you can then look at your climax scene and go, does it do these things simply yes or no? Partially, revise not at all rewrite. And sometimes a newer writer can write a great climax scene, but it's not related to the story. So there's no story yet. It has to be focused on what story are you telling. And the skeleton blurb is a great way for an author. It's only for them. It's not a blurb to be put on, on a back of a book that has to be perfect. It's just three things and focused. And then off you go. It's great.

James Blatch: And, and

can the protagonist objective change during the book though? Cause there isn't, at various stages of the book, they might have different objectives. So there might be a scene where it doesn't move them towards that overall goal. It does move them towards the act two kind of what they think is their objective at that point.

Kristina Stanley: Yeah, so what you're talking at there is a scene level goal. So you've got your, and and there'll be point of view, different points of view, whatever, that's a scene level goal. And those can change every scene all the way through because your story is dynamic and you're going this way, oh no, going this way, oh, this way, this way, this way. In the end, for every scene, whatever happens in that scene is either moving the protagonist closer to or farther away from that main story goal. And if it's not, it doesn't belong in the book, there's another let's go or rewrite it because you know your blurry, you know, the story goal and either closer or farther. It's, it's really simple when you look at it from a, a structural point of view of how to fix your book.

James Blatch: Okay. Now you mentioned fictionary, I've mentioned it a couple of times.

This tool that you can use to help you with this process. Do you want to tell us tell us about it and where, where the idea came from?

Kristina Stanley: Yeah, so the idea came from, at my writing, I, I had developed a process using spreadsheets and I had it drawing the story arc and drawing my word count pristine. And this is my mathy background of, you know, love data and trying to figure out what my story was and, and also trying to keep track of every piece of writing advice I'd ever read was really hard. I'm just looking in the book, looking in the book, looking in the book, trying to find what I know there was something. And so then I started putting all that advice in a spreadsheet. So when I wanted, what was that point of view thing, I could find it and I had it all together. So I took all of that and made an app out of it basically. And, and what the app does is a writer can import their manuscript dictionary, organises it into chapters and scenes, and then it analyses it and it draws the story arc for you.

And so you can see where's your inciting incident, where's your plot 0.1, et cetera. If it gets those wrong, it means there's a structural problem with the book and you have to fix it. It shows the word count per scene. So you can look at pacing, it shows how many scenes in a chapter. So you can look at themes of scenes and you know, how come one scene has seven or one chapter has 17 scenes and all the rest of three. Okay, that's a bit of a problem. And you can't see that in a Word document, but you can really see it when it's drawn in a picture for you. So there's a picture that says, Hey, look at this. It pulls out all of the characters and links them to scenes so you know, how many characters in a scene, how many scenes these characters in, how many point of view scenes does your protagonist have.

And you can start looking at all of these things in a visual way to explore how to improve your story. So if you, for example, have a protagonist and they only have the point of view for 30% of the scenes, maybe they're not your protagonist and your protagonist is the character who's got 50% of your scenes, oh, there's a change, right? Can you can all of a sudden really see, Hmm. Or the protagonist doesn't come into your story until chapter five when it's visually shown to you, you can go, wow, look how much story went by before I even got to my protagonist, then that's problem. And so the whole idea behind fiction is to, to look at this blob and make it visual and then you can see what you need to do from it. And then every change you make all of those visuals redraw. And so if you move like a plot 0.2, two eight, you move it earlier, it redraws and you can see what happens to your story when you do that.

James Blatch: So I like the idea that if you see it draws the arc of your story and if you think, oh, you've got that wrong. Th this, this coding's not right, it hasn't picked out because that my inciting incidents there and that's not the climax. What you are saying is you've probably got your story wrong because, because story's basically working the same way

Kristina Stanley: mm-hmm absolutely. And it'll be things like, there's a whole common nation of things, but, but to simplify it down, it'll be, there'll be one scene that's say 3000 words long, but really close to the climax in your climax is 800 words. Mm. There's a problem there with the balance because all of the importance that's been put on this scraped long scene, but the important scene is actually over here and that's your climax. And so it gives the writer a way to go. So my, my climax should be in this general area, but it's thinks its this, but I think it's this. And then when they look at the climax scene, the writing advice is right in the app. So your climax scene must, for example, be written from the protagonist point of view. You can check that, is it yes or no, right? Or is my protagonist in the climax scene also very important to the story? Yeah. Is it? And so the writing advice is right there. When you're looking at your climax, you go, what did my climax scene actually need? Okay, do I do all of these things? And again, yes or no, and you can, you can strengthen your scenes by knowing very clearly, just by looking over here and I need this, do I do it? Yes. Great. Check off you go. Nope. Revise the scene, add in whatever it is that needs to be added in.

James Blatch: So it helps you with those tips. Showing you within the app itself, gives you the guidance once you've inputted management.

And do you do the writing inside the the app? Or can you continue to write and Scriven and just re-upload it? So how does that work?

Kristina Stanley: Once you're in, you want to stay in because all of your story elements now are linked to your story and you just edit it right there. And when you're done, you export towards, so your whole story is there and you work on it and it's, it's set up so that in the middle of the app is your text, like you would see in, in s Scribner or Word document or whatever. And on the right side are all of the story elements. So the scene name, the point of view goal, et cetera. And a place to put notes so that as you're making your revision notes, you put them right at the scene level where you're at. And then as you edit you, what I recommend is you update, so let's say I marked a scene as having a poor entry hook. When I'm reading it, you think, ah, it's not good.

When I'm doing my editing plan, I put that in. And then when I'm doing my revising, if I've decided I'm going to keep the scene, then I look at that and go, I need a better entry hook and I can rewrite the, the opening for it. Or I, I don't, I don't have an exit hook for this scene or whatever it is that's needed. And then you can see your story change and grow on the insights as you're editing it. If you edit outside, you lose all of that. you can't see by moving something, did it make my story better or not?

James Blatch: Okay. And then obviously you can export it to something that's going to allow you to format it.

Kristina Stanley: Yep. Yep. And so we're not a formatting tool. Our goal, we put very limited formatting in there because we don't want the writer focusing on the format of, oh, there's an indent, or I need a new line, because that's distracting. All we want the writer to do is focus on the story and when That's great. Export and use whatever tools you want. For formatting, for copy editing, for anything. So we're, we're really trying hard to focus on get your story strong. That's our mission.

James Blatch: Kristina, how does this thing work? How does it read, read English and make these decisions?

Kristina Stanley: Well, there's this wonderful world of software out there. Yeah. That, you know, it's based on natural language processing and, and so it's very similar. I, well no, I shouldn't say similar, but you know how Grammarly and pro writing aid, they do the same thing, but they analyse at a sentence level. We just analyse at a story level. And, and, and I mean, I, I think natural language processing is a wonderful tool for, for writers to leverage to make sure they're on the right track with their story. It's still their story, but having a structure and some guidelines around it forces you as an artist to think harder about how do I f how do I fit in here? And how can I be a creative here instead of just going all over the place and ending up with something that's episodic and maybe not very satisfying to a reader.

James Blatch: So people will be thinking about AI now because we of course seem to use the expression every other sentence at the moment. Suddenly it's exploded everywhere.

Is this AI or is it related to ai? Or will it start using ai?

Kristina Stanley: So it's, it's not artificial intelligence in the sense that it's learning from it. It uses natural language processing, which is a subset of ai. So it's using that to help the writer. I think with gen AI coming, I, again, I think it's a tool that writers can use to help themselves write a better story, to trigger ideas, to trigger imagination. I think right now it's at a phase where you need to know what questions to ask to get valuable information back. and so all of our testing has been, if you can ask the right question, you can get the right answer kind of wildly out there, but you need to still know how to structure that. And I see us coming into play where n no matter how you created your story, you still want to test if it's a good story.

James Blatch: Yeah. Even if it's been AI helped along the way, it would still

Kristina Stanley: Absolutely. And you know, you think of like, pro writing aid helps you write a sentence.

James Blatch: Yeah. Yes. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, yeah.

Kristina Stanley: Well your sentence, it's still your sentence. And if you, if you look at having AI come up with you know, here's my blurb, write me the five story arc scenes, you still as the author look at that and go, I don't like those, gimme some different options. Oh, I really want this. Try that again. How about this? And it's still that creative process of using a tool to create the story you want to create, not the story that, you know, software wants to create For you

James Blatch: You've, you've created this obviously in, in the indeed sort of world has exploded in the last few years.

But this could be used by trad authors Absolutely. As well, couldn't they? To get their first draft that they submit to the editors at their, their tra house as as as good as it they can get it.

Kristina Stanley: Yes. And so our dream there, so we have the fiction book of the year award and it's for the best unpublished novel edited in fiction. And we have fiction certified story coach editors who are the judges. And this year writer's house literary agency has agreed to read the first or the top five books. And our, our conversations have been around with them and other publishers that it's, it's, they can't afford anymore to perform a full story edit. And so they're looking for writers who have had some of that done. And with the year award, they're going through a full fictionary edit and we're kind, we're right at the point now where the books are just going off to the agents to go. And so our, our dream for this is that if you run your book through fictionary and really, and ended the work on it that it's ready to go to an agent or a publisher or a self-published and be a super high quality book, that people love to read that if there's a great story, people want to read it because it's a great story. Did that answer your question? I kind of feel like I looped there.

James Blatch: No, no, it did. But you mentioned in that process book coaches, fictional certified book coaches. So you haven't mentioned so far, but there is a human element to this as well. If you want it,

Kristina Stanley: If you want it, you don't have to use it. And we do have writers who do want to go to agents and traditional publishers tend to want to have a full story edit done. And so we trained editors because we found there was too many people putting their hand up saying, I'm a story editor, but really it was a copy edit and not understanding story and giving real feedback to a writer. And so we decided we're just going to train editors so that they know how to edit a story. And so we have a group of, of certified story coach editors. They use our software to edit and the edit goes into writer's accounts so they, they can revise there and see, you know, for the first time ever, you can see my editor said to do this, did it make my story better or worse? You can actually see it.

Look at that. But so we've set it up two ways. People can either hire an editor through us or they can hire from our list directly through like right to an editor. Our goal is to help the editors build their, their, their business. And it's also to help writers know that when they hire one of the editors, whether it's through us or not, that person is trained in what's a good story and they know how to edit a story and, and give feedback on not only what needs work, but also very important to tell a writer, you rock at this. Like you have such good control of your point of view, don't lose that. Here are the things. And so the writer feels encouraged and wants to actually work on the edit as opposed to, Ooh, I have this edit I have to work on.

James Blatch: We would like to hear that occasionally from someone.

Kristina Stanley: Well, it's hard to see. It's hard to see where you're good. You don't know. Yeah. And people, all of us tend to be really self-critical, but when somebody else says, wow, I read this scene and here are all the good things about it, that's so motivating because you can now reproduce that somewhere else. You know, you have the talent and you can do it in the other scenes.

James Blatch: Yeah. And the robot's not going to tell you that. Although having said that, I did ask AI about me the other day and it, it was very complimentary. I did attribute quite a few bestselling books to me that I hadn't written, but, you know, that's okay. I'll take it.

Kristina Stanley: Yeah. Did it gimme money for it too?

James Blatch: Didn't gimme the money. Unfortunately, I don't get a, I should write to the author saying apparently I should have a split of this. But anyway,

how much does this service cost Kristina?

Kristina Stanley: So the software itself is either 19 a month for our storyteller.

James Blatch: That's US Dollars.

Kristina Stanley: Yep. US dollars. And then Storyteller Premium. So 19 a month is three manuscripts at a time. 29 a month is 10 manuscripts plus track changes for the writers who want that. And then it's 49 a month for a professional editor if they're editing somebody else's book. And with that they get the full storyteller product in it so they can do their own writing and edit other people's work from in the same account.

James Blatch: Oh, I see. Okay.

So editors themselves would use it as part of their process?

Kristina Stanley: Yeah, so they, they either, what we found the original product story coach we did for editors who are U Ed being somebody else's, because right away they have the story arc that, you know, everything's there and they can see the book, same structure, what's there, what needs work. But then we discovered that most editors are also writers.

James Blatch: Yes.

Kristina Stanley: I don't know why we didn't know that. Sort obvious thing. And so then we put the writing software right inside story Coach so they can have their own books and they can edit other people's books from the same place.

James Blatch: And how's it going? How long have you been going? How long's the product been out there and how much has it changed?

Kristina Stanley: Oh, it's changed a lot. We started just with storyteller for writers and then we had a big push from editors to go, how come, why can't we have a product? Like, I don't know, I guess you can, let's just make one. So our beta came out 2018 and you know, then we've made a lot of changes, you know, to get, make onboarding easier and, and the advice easier and all the things you're learning the first year of putting a product out, which is a big learning learning curve. and then what's happened since then, so we had software products and then there was a real demand for I need more knowledge about how to tell a good story. And so then we started courses and then from that we started the fictionary community, which I know I'm biassed, I'll say that up front, but I love it.

So we started this community with the basis, it's all about kindness and helping each other. That's the, that is the rule that must stay in this community. And that's it. And so now we've got about 1700 members of people who are either writers or editors of fiction. And in the community what we're doing is giving a lot of free super high-end training events weekly. Our certified story coach editors are doing that because it, it increases their knowledge on editing. They get exposure to writers. And so they're motivated and our writers are coming because they're just learning an outrageous amount of stuff for it. So the community is actually my favourite part. I go on every morning and see what's going on because we get to see people's blurbs, they share them and we critique them. We edit people's work, live in front of other people. We you know, people ask really interesting questions about story that you have to think about and like, Hmm, I don't know the answer. I now gotta figure that answer out. Like it's, it's, it's a nice place for learning but also for human connection. We've got people from 53 countries, so literally all over the world and, and it's just a nice place for people to connect with a shared mission, vision, passion, whatever you want to call it.

James Blatch: And is this community for fictionary users, I guess it's a closed community for people who use it?

Kristina Stanley: It's wide open. And the goal is there. I mean, of course we want people using our software. of course we do. We're a software business. But the goal is there is to help as many writers as we can. Lots of people can't afford software. They can't afford an editor and, but they should still have access to learning and, and people love to teach. And so we've got the two sides of things together. And so everybody who's interested in writing and editing fiction is totally welcome. It costs nothing. It's just a fun place to

James Blatch: And where, where can people find, first of all, fictionary, but also by the sounds of it, this community would be a, a great thing to join.

Kristina Stanley: Yeah, so Fictionary is on the internet, not not, maybe type that it go somewhere else and then the fiction comu. Now I have to look up the URL for that because on Circle we use Circle. Isn't that terrible? I should know my own u r url. I'm just going to type that in.

James Blatch: You use what, what you use for it? Not, not, it's not a Facebook group?

Kristina Stanley: No, it's, it's a product called Circle. And so the community is actually dot. So

James Blatch: Okay.

Kristina Stanley: And it's community software and it's fabulous. And the, the CEO of that company used to be, he founded teachable and then moved on to do this. And so it's, it's really slick software for interactive community. It's, it's, I love it. And so we, we chose that and, and host it there. And then it's, you don't have to be, it doesn't matter what social media you use, it's just a place online.

James Blatch: Interesting. Just having me look at it. Now. I don't think I've used circle before, but I know Uncle Na Nagpal who found a teacher. Was that him? Is that who did, who founded it?

Kristina Stanley: I, I can't remember the name of the Person who started

James Blatch: If it's, if it's the same person as Encore who founded Teachable and we were, we were one of their big early Okay. Successes. So I know Encore quite well, but oh, okay. That's really interesting. Well it sounds amazing, Kristina. I mean this has been a str it's a strange combination I suppose, of somebody who's massively into story and editing and also kind of machine language which you need it to be. But you put, put you in a position to create this this community and this product, which is going well, I assume. I mean, you know, you're, you're still there so we're still

Kristina Stanley: Here. Yeah, I know. It's great. And we're growing in employees. It's kind of funny because we have three of our employees are in England. Ah,

James Blatch: Jo, old England.

Kristina Stanley: Well one is, you know, Lisa Leke, she came from her writing aid. Yes, we

James Blatch: Know Lisa.

Kristina Stanley: And then two others actually came through the community. You know, to know them there. And they just happened to be from England and then our developers are in Jamaica and in Canada. And so we're, you know, we're kind of spread around, but it's fun and stressful having employees because when it was just my husband and I holding the fort, if we failed, it's just us. Well now People are dependent on us and so there's that added pressure we really have to make this work. So we're pretty excited, we're growing. You know, people seem to resonate with it. We're having real success stories from our authors who are, are publishing and becoming award winners or bestsellers and that's super satisfying for us. I actually, in my bookshelf series, you see, I buy anyone who's published the book through, not through fictionary, but have used fictionary. I buy their book in media.

James Blatch: They get at least one sale from him. And Christine, if people want to meet you, they can do that in jolly old London in June because you are coming to the self-publishing show.

Kristina Stanley: Yes, yes. And we're bringing our team with us. So Lisa, Shane and Lucy who are all from England, they're coming to the show as well. Myself and my partner Matthew, he'll be there and we're really looking forward to Leslie mentioned before the show, it's our first travel since before Covid. So super excited about it. You know, I'm looking forward to being up on that stage and talking about structural editing and sharing what that is and I'm just really looking forward to meeting people in person.

James Blatch: Great. Well I think people are going to get a lot out of it. So that's I'm looking forward to that as well. Kristina, thank you so much indeed for coming onto the show's. Been illuminating Great. Great learning for us as well as finding out about fiction that can help us. And yeah, look forward to seeing you in June.

Kristina Stanley: Thank you James. Yes, we get to meet in person. It's just so lovely to say that. I'll see you in

James Blatch: June. It's amazing, isn't it?

Speaker 1: This is the self-publishing

Speaker 1: Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: There we go. Kristina Stanley talking about story and like I say, she's going to be one of the presenters on the digital sessions. So you can still sign up for that Self-publishing formula com forward slash digital. Yeah, it's a bit weird, isn't it? We're recording this before, so we can't really talk about a conference in the past tense, but it has happened at the time this is going out. But I'm sure it'll be a fabulous success. And then yeah, and story, what do we say about Story Mark? I mean, I'm a story person. I have to have the story before I can write. I know it's all about character, of course it's about character, but I can't write bless, you can't write unless I know where the story's going. And I've worked that out slowly through the process of me actually writing books. Just can't do it any other way personally. Oh

Mark Dawson: Yeah, I, I have a bit of a, a bit of a hybrid as I think I've probably mentioned before. So I'm kind of 90,000 words into the new Milton book and I'll get to a stage where I usually I'll write get, then I'll go back to the start and, and not rewrite, but kind of go through it again. Change things, add things. And then I might do that one or maybe even two more times. And I'm got to the stage now where on the walk this morning I was just thinking, okay, I'm probably ready to go back to the start again for a fair, maybe a two or three week blast from start to finish just to get it, get it done. But that's that, that this is the stage where I can add in not really massive twists because they can structurally change everything, but I can have little twists and that I've gotta, you know, I've gotta think about all the bad guys need to be punished in one way or another. So it's like, how can I punish them all? And so I've had a few ideas this morning about ways that no one gets, gets, gets off, you know, with getting away with it. Basically every, everyone pays the price. So there's a stretch

James Blatch: Morality in your books. Is there? You can't, so you can't have a bag, you get away with it?

Mark Dawson: No, not normally. Yeah, I don't, I think generally Milton comes out on top and the bad guys get what, what's coming to them. I think occasionally, not some, sometimes a couple of books have ended with the bad guy kind of not necessarily getting away with it, but steam still being out there and then there's not really a cliffhanger, although people do occasionally moan that it's cliffhanger. But then I, they'll be, it will all be addressed in the next book, but yeah. Yeah.

James Blatch: Okay. Alright, well look that's it for this week. Thank you very much indeed to Kristina, our guest, and thank you very much indeed for listening and particularly to the team in the background who put this podcast, make It Happen, make it come out on live. We are going to do some more batching then have a little bit of time off in the summer. But there will be a podcast every week of course, as there always is. And there has been for 390 episodes or 3 91, something like that so far. Okay. Thank you very much indeed. All the remains for me to say is that goodbye from him

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.

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