If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, to bring that masterpiece in the back of your mind to life, there are a few services that you can enlist to help you out. Other than the real world assistants of editors, university writing courses, self-publishing et al. there are also a number of digital and online aids out there.
And while no one option is the holy grail of writing utilities, choosing the right one for you can save a lot of time and money, and of course… turn you into a writing machine right?
Well that choice just got a touch harder because there is another option — part application, part online education service — all cloud-based. That option is Now Novel  and it comes with a published author in tow.
Best explained as WordPress for (novel) writing, Now Novel was founded by author Bridget McNulty (Strange Nervous Laughter ), her brother Brendan McNulty, and Dagmar Timler (spot the odd one out).
The Cape Town-based startup is trying to separate itself from the pack by using Bridget’s success as an author as leverage for credibility, while structuring the application as a collaborative, even social, experience.
However there is a question of value and quality.
Write your novel… for a fee
Let’s start with a quick rundown of how the application works. The writing process is divided into three easily digestible chunks, completed one box at a time:
- Finding your idea helps you create the mood of your story, settle on your central idea, choose your theme and even test whether your central idea is the best it can be.
- Creating your story puts you on course to picking your story type from the Seven Universal Stories, develop the plot, and flesh out your characters and setting.
- Writing your book divides your book into four sections, essentially making up the skeletal structure of your novel.
Each section requires you to answer a range of questions from something as simple as what weather suits your story to which issues you care about in the world. It’s surprisingly probing, and each answer is saved as you progress. The step-by-step method is welcoming, breaking down novel-writing, often deemed a daunting project, into something manageable.
Finding your idea is available for free, but the rest of Now Novel is not. This is a mistake in my opinion, because despite the platform claiming a Freemium  model, you actually can’t try the whole service unless you pay. This puts it at a disadvantage to other applications such as Celtx and Scrivener which offer a proper Freemium model and 30-day trial period respectively.
If you do pay for the subscription service, priced at US$19 per month (with various discounts the more months you buy upfront), you get the entire product as well as a support system in the form of a blog, forum, as well as motivational emails and exclusive webinars. Brendan confirmed that, at the date of writing, there are 1 000 active users on the site.
The real clincher though — and money-maker — is face time with author and founder Bridget McNulty, via the ‘Call an Expert’ option.
These 20 minute Skype sessions are priced at a rather high US$50 a pop making them around the same price as an initial visit to a medical specialist.
However, whereas follow-up appointments typically cost less in the medical field, Bridget’s consultations are US$50 no matter how long you’ve been using the service for. This relies heavily on Bridget’s reputation and credibility — let’s hope there are no scandals in her future.
There is a question of quality surrounding this revenue structure. Despite Bridget’s reputation as a published author (of one novel have you), there is no way to know the quality of either the support system nor of a rather short 20 minute Skype-session. Perhaps if a few more published authors came on board that steep price would be a little more credible.
Who ever said writers weren’t sociable?
The one thing that really stands out is the social nature of the platform. A ‘share’ option, linking to Facebook and Twitter, is built into the site, meaning that you can log and inform your friends and followers of the progress you are making on your magnum opus.
Sure there is no reason why you can’t do this regardless of the platform you use to write your novel, but ingraining it in the platform is a smart move.
A tale of competition
So why choose Now Novel over another service, application or course?
Well its personable, hands-on and step-by-step approach (with Bridget at the centre of it all) as well as its ingrained social structure hope to separate it from the crowd, but they don’t necessarily make it a better option.
Both Celtx and Scrivener provide more service than Now Novel before you have to hand over a cent, making those applications better options for young writers on a budget.
However, if you are considering a writing course, whether online or at a university/college, Now Novel could be a good alternative, barring the question of quality.
Creative Writing classes are expensive, for example, Gotham Writer’s Workshop offer an online novel-writing course that costs US$400 for 10 weeks while university and college courses are even more expensive, in excess of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on their length, and the quality of the institution.
Now Novel works out to be much cheaper than such courses, and you have the added benefit of writing at your own pace, and in your own time.
Once upon a time…
At the end of the day Now Novel still has a lot to prove. It’s a young startup (July 2012), and is competing in the highly challenging market of online education and writing applications.
If the platform focuses on getting the right combination of revenue model and gains credibility as a reputable, quality option for young writers, then not only could it stand on its own but it could mould itself into a new type of cloud-based learning.
Credibility and reputation take time to develop, but having to pay to try out the service doesn’t speed up the process in the slightest.