Fictionary’s $1.8 million round one of the first investments out of BDC’s Thrive Venture Fund.
Fictionary co-founder and CEO Kristina Stanley has worked in a wide variety of different jobs, from manager of broadband planning at Nortel to the director of employee, safety, and guest services for an Eastern British Columbia ski resort, to author of mystery novels.
But one of Stanley’s most difficult jobs was figuring out how to edit her own manuscripts while writing The Stone Mountain Mystery Series. As she told BetaKit in an interview, “it’s really, really difficult to edit a book from a story level. You’ve got thousands and thousands of elements that you have to keep track of and make them work together.”
“We’re trying to help the average person who doesn’t have an ‘in’ in the publishing industry get a really good book out there, get an agent, or get a publisher.”
-Kristina Stanley, Fictionary
Initially, Stanley tackled this problem using a combination of Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and graphs. But she soon realized that other authors likely faced the exact same issue, and set out to build a better way by combining her tech and writing background.
Today, Stanley’s software startup Fictionary aims to offer an alternative. Amid a wide field of solutions that help writers and editors with specific parts of the process, like spelling, grammar, style, structure, and publishing, Fictionary hones in on perhaps the most important and challenging part: producing a good story.
Fuelled by $1.8 million CAD in seed funding, Fictionary aims to help writers and editors around the world produce quality stories more quickly and affordably. With this capital, the Inverary, Ontario startup, based just north of Kingston, plans to move into non-fiction and start selling to other publishers and agencies to expand its community of users.
The startup’s all-equity round, which closed in September, was co-led by StandUp Ventures and BDC Capital’s Thrive Venture Fund, with support from The51 and a group of angels that includes Women’s Equity Lab general partner Sally Morris. For newly launched Thrive, Fictionary marks the fund’s third investment to date, after investing in Acerta and Private AI.
Stanley founded Fictionary in 2016 alongside her husband, Mathew (COO), who also previously worked at Nortel and has a background in tech, and her brother, Michael Conn, Fictionary’s former CTO, who has since left the company.
Initially, Fictionary focused solely on writers, before expanding to meet demand for a similar offering from editors. Today, Fictionary offers three subscription software products for writers and editors that range in price from $19 to $49 monthly, sells online courses, and provides a community for writers and editors to connect.
Fictionary’s software helps writers visualize their story arc by analyzing key story elements with artificial intelligence (AI) and gauging how their manuscript compares to fundamental storytelling components.
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“We’re trying to help the average person who doesn’t have an ‘in’ in the publishing industry get a really good book out there, get an agent, or get a publisher,” said Stanley.
On the editor side of the equation, the company claims its offering enables editors to provide better, deeper story edits in less time, increasing the quality and profitability of editors’ services.
The writing and editing software space features a ton of players, from Grammarly to Scrivener, Novel Factory, and Canada’s Wattpad. According to Stanley, Fictionary is unique within the sectors in terms of its focus on storytelling elements and its use of AI. “We’re it right now as far as, there’s an automated way to do this, and have software for it,” said Stanley.
“While there are other platforms endeavoring to address this gap in the market, there doesn’t appear to be a single player who is able to look at the writing and editing process in a comprehensive and meaningful way, which puts Fictionary at a sizeable advantage to lead the charge and expand into new markets and segments,” Michelle Scarborough, managing partner of BDC Capital’s Thrive Venture Fund, told BetaKit.
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Fictionary previously secured $100,000 in grant funding from Creative BC and raised $245,000 in pre-seed funding in 2019 from a group of angels that included Shopify co-founder Scott Lake, Stephanie Andrew of Women’s Equity Lab, and FirstEditing founder and CEO JoEllen Taylor.
According to Stanley, following that pre-seed round, Fictionary reached breakeven cash flow and had to decide whether to keep going on its current track or set its sights higher.
Following some discussions with StandUp Ventures, Fictionary decided to embark on a new chapter and raise more venture capital to tackle the opportunity it sees in this space amid the rise of self-publishing. “We have a great product, we’ve got product-market fit, we’ve got a market, so let’s just go for it,” said Stanley.
“The love for the product Fictionary users articulate so regularly is rare, and indicative of the power and impact the tool brings to its customers,” said StandUp Ventures senior associate Lucas Perlman, who is joining Fictionary’s board as part of the round. “The self-publishing world has exploded, and we believe Fictionary is poised to become a de-facto part of the story writing toolkit for writers and editors around the globe.”
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For her part, Scarborough said the Thrive Venture Fund sees “a sizeable opportunity [for Fictionary] in the fast-growing creator economy space—a market with many dimensions—within writing and editing, screenwriting, non-fiction, and beyond.”
To date, Fictionary has focused entirely on fiction but Stanley said the startup’s roadmap includes moving into non-fiction, where the CEO sees plenty of potential to apply its tech to helping people tell their own life stories. Fictionary also sees an opportunity to help agencies and publishers clear the slush pile of submitted manuscripts.
As it looks to build out its own community of writers and editors, Fictionary follows in the footsteps of Wattpad, which parlayed its vibrant self-publishing community of writers and readers—and the content produced by them—into a $754 million CAD acquisition last year.
After discussions with StandUp, Fictionary decided to embark on a new chapter.
“Wattpad is very inspirational for us,” said Stanley. “They are different in the sense that people write their stories in the community, where we help writers take those stories and turn them into powerful stories readers love. Their community is a great lead-in to Fictionary for writers needing to edit their stories.”
As the startup charts its growth strategy amid an uncertain economic environment, Stanley is confident that Fictionary is well-positioned to grow during this period, noting that people tend to write more when they are stressed. Back when COVID-19 first hit and everyone was cooped up, the CEO said people begin writing more, and demand for Fictionary rose. Heading into what could be a deep downturn, Stanley believes Fictionary is in a good spot given that it offers a tool to help people do their passion without spending a lot of money.
What Perlman finds most exciting is the appreciation Fictionary’s customers have for the startup’s product, noting that writers “pour countless hours into their stories and writing books is an emotional and very personal thing to take on.”
“Fictionary has removed a major hurdle that stopped these creators from bringing their stories into the world,” Perlman told BetaKit. “The impact of that really comes through when you speak to their customers and see feedback from their community.”
Feature image courtesy Fictionary.