Paul Dyson | Founder of firstwriter.com

Introduction

Success leaves clues.

Finance Strategists sat down with Paul Dyson, founder of firstwriter.com. He shared his thoughts on the past, present, and future of the partnership, as well as the insights he has gained from running the business.

Who is Paul Dyson?

Q: Who are you and what’s your background? 

I come from a working-class family in the North of England. I studied English at Cambridge and then went on to work in publishing as an editor working on legal looseleafs, newsletters, books, and journals.

Q: Who has been your biggest influence, and why did they have such a significant effect on you? 

I don’t think there’s been anyone in particular who I could identify as a major influence. I’m not sure I’m very easily influenced, to be honest. At my high school prizegiving, my form tutor described me as someone who never listened to what the teachers told me to do – which surprised me at the time, because I saw myself as a good student, who did what he was supposed to and got good grades. 

I see now that she wasn’t referring to open defiance and confrontation – rather, she was referring to my tendency to try and subvert whatever task or assignment I was given and turn it into something that aligned with my own ideas and interests. 

So for me, perhaps, my refusal to be influenced has perhaps been more important in forging my own path than having a particular influence.

Q: Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self? 

The business is never finished. Even when you feel like you are on top and everything is growing and going well, that’s when you need to really push on and capitalize on your advantage. If you don’t, if you take your eye off the ball and allow things to drift forward under their own momentum, that’s when you’ll start getting left behind. 

You need to be constantly innovating and looking to the next thing on the horizon; constantly redesigning and refreshing. And you need to be ruthless about cutting out things that don’t work. Try lots of things, but don’t allow unprofitable tasks to mount up and take over. Focus on your core offering. Make sure that is fresh and up-to-date before you start thinking about expanding into other areas.

Business

Q: What is firstwriter.com?

firstwriter.com is a website for writers, listing competitions, magazines, literary agents and agencies, and publishers. Writers can search our listings to find markets for their writing and get their work published. We also publish a free monthly newsletter with news and articles for writers, which anyone can subscribe to for free at firstwriter.com/newsletter.

Q: What makes firstwriter.com different from its competitors? 

Unlike other listing services, we don’t rely on busy editors and agents to provide or keep their listings up-to-date. We have researchers actively seeking out new listings and use modern web technology similar to Google to monitor their websites for changes. When a change is detected, we get real human beings to interpret those changes, extract relevant information, and update our databases accordingly. 

We then send out daily alerts by email, which users can tailor to their individual interests, so they include only the new and updated listings that match their requirements. 

The listings also include feedback from other users and advanced features like the ability to add virtual post-it notes to listings, which only you can see and which you can search and refer back to later. 

Unlike other services, we list authors, too, meaning you can search for authors you admire or who write similar work to yours, and see which agents represent them and/or which publishers publish them. Whereas listings on other services tend to exist in isolation, ours form an interconnected web through which you can trace relationships between authors, editors, publishers, and agents. 

Q: What led you to start firstwriter.com? 

When I was at university, around the turn of the century, I was involved with small press magazines. They were always struggling financially, and it occurred to me that the internet (which was just taking off at the time) offered an opportunity to publish online without the financial burden that ultimately tended to kill most small press magazines. So, after finishing university in 2001, I launched firstwriter.com as an online literary magazine. 

As a writer myself, I also realized that we were constantly having to pay out for magazines and print directories to find opportunities to place our work. It again occurred to me that this information could be delivered more cheaply and efficiently online, so I decided to include listings of competitions and a directory of magazines on the website, as well as publishing original fiction and poetry. 

In the end, it was the listings that proved most popular, and eventually (after more than a decade of bi-annual publication) the magazine element was retired. In 2013 we began to dabble with ebooks, and in 2014 things came full circle as we began to publish an annual directory in print, which now enjoys strong annual sales on both sides of the Atlantic.

Q: Where do you see things headed for you and the business in the next 5 years? 

We’ve recently upgraded to a new database structure for most of our listings, which has (amongst other things) enabled the interconnectivity of the listings I described above. We have lots more exciting new features planned to enhance the site, including submission tracking/management, refined and improved search facilities, and more granular listing details to help writers cut through the noise and really focus on what matters to them!

For more information, visit firstwriter.com.

Published on: May 16, 2022