Katja Kaine is a writer, and is also the creator of the Novel Factory – purpose built software for novel writers. Her software is trusted by thousands of writers and she has won various writing awards, including being shortlisted for the Bath Children’s Novel 2021. She has developed a Novel Writing Roadmap which has helped countless writers get closer to their writing dreams and her Character Questionnaire is the most popular one on the Internet.
Where did the idea for Novel Factory come from?
It was for my own writing. Back around 2011 I decided I wanted to try to make it as a writer. And as I tried to learn how to write a novel, I found that I was always losing track of the supporting data, and also that while there was plenty of advice around on how to write a novel, it was all quite disjointed – with one book being about how to create characters, and another on how to structure a plot, but very little about how to put all these aspects together into one coherent whole
I started by looking around for software that would keep track of my supporting data, and there was some out there, but I didn’t find it very easy or intuitive to use, and I wasn’t really willing to spend hours doing courses to learn how to use it properly, when I had little enough time spare for the writing itself.
So, as I happened to be running a small software business at the time, I put my small team of developers to designing a simple app that would do what I needed – which was keeping track of my character profiles, locations, plotting and drafts.
And as I wrote my first few novels, I worked out a method which I wrote down, so I could use it again in future novels. Once I had worked out my method, I thought I would share it with other new writers, in case they found it useful.
And, to make things as simple as possible, I integrated the method including all the theory I’d learned from various books, and the practical tasks involved – into the app.
And the Novel Factory was born!
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I try to get up as early as possible, as I find writing easiest then, before my head gets filled with all the various complications of the day. I aim for 6:30am, but it’s usually closer to 7:30am by the time I actually get to my desk – try as I might I cannot quite make myself be a morning person.
I write for a couple of hours, or do writing research – analysing books I like or reading theory books such as Save the Cat or Into the Woods. Of course I use my own software for writing my own books.
At 9:30am I start work on the Novel Factory, which involves writing specifications for new features, responding to support enquiries, updating social media and working on marketing.
At about 1pm I walk the dog, which is a great time to mull over writing ideas and also software features.
Then there’s a few more hours work before the kids come home from primary school, and then family life takes over.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I’m a big fan of iterations, or drafts. So both with writing and software, I like to sketch things out really roughly to begin with and see how they read or work. Then I’ll make tweaks and keep polishing, until it’s perfect.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I like how things are becoming increasingly cross platform, so you can work on your main computer, then take a few notes on your phone while you’re out, then finish things up on your ipad on the sofa.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’ve always been very strict about carving out time for certain things, and treating them seriously.
So, as you can see from my typical day, I have set start and finish times for my writing and work.
Over the past few years a lot of people have discovered some of the pitfalls and perils of working from home, but I’ve been doing it for a decade, so learned a lot of that stuff years ago.
When I first started working from home, some friends and family members took that to mean that I was ‘free’ and would want to pop round for a coffee and a chat or have long phone conversations. So I had to gently but firmly point out that my work time was protected, and that I couldn’t socialise during work hours, just like if I was working in a ‘proper office’.
Of course that also means not trying to get out of work by doing the laundry, or planning that night’s dinner.
Likewise, when I’m at work I dress properly, exactly as I would in a shared office.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I’m not sure. I think something I’ve learned to do which I didn’t do before, was to do more research. These days I learn a lot about competitors, customers and platforms when I’m about to launch into something new.
When I was first starting I didn’t really look into that sort of thing that much, I just ploughed on blindly.
However, it’s possible if I’d known too much about what was involved, it would have knocked my confident and I might never have got started in the first place, so perhaps ignorance was bliss!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
A lot of people believe that creative arts are something mysterious and uncountable – and that you’re either born talented or you’re not.
I believe that pretty much all arts are skills that can be learned, if you apply yourself and put in the effort. This includes music, visual arts – and of course, writing.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
As mentioned above, I like to try things out, rather than theorising for too long. For example, with new software features, I’d rather get a rough prototype working, that I can try to use, rather than spending too much time designing it to be perfect.
While that works well for me, I’m not sure I’d recommend everyone else do it. For some people that will work, but others do achieve great things by doing that extra planning – measuring twice and cutting once, so to speak.
Also – turn off notifications.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
It’s not very glamorous, but honestly treating each person who contacts me like an intelligent human being. The vast majority of customer services treat you like a robot, and don’t really listen to what you’re saying – they just redirect you to stock answers and it drives me crazy.
So with every query that I get, I try to read it as carefully as possible, and understand what the issue is, even when the person emailing isn’t exactly sure. Then I take the time to answer clearly and concisely, and with warmth and humour.
I genuinely think this has contributed to the growth of our business, as people are so delighted to receive such great support, it makes them want to tell others about it.
And of course, on the other side of the same coin, we just try to make the software the best it can possibly be – this is by using it myself, and being a writer myself, and also by listening to our users and adding features that they’ve requested.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve never been very good at marketing – it doesn’t come naturally to me and I have that British reticence about selling myself.
I’ve overcome it by only taking part in marketing opportunities that I am comfortable with, focusing on being honest about the benefits of what I’m selling and not trying to exaggerate anything and realising that people really do want the product, so telling them about it is not a bad thing.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I believe there is room for more mentoring communities for writers. There is a big one called Write Mentor, but it focuses on children’s and YA books. That means if someone could set up the kind of thing for crime writers, or historical writers, there would be a huge demand for it.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Not quite that much, but the Headspace app is £49.99 per year, and I wish everyone in the world had it. Especially when running your own business, and with the various things that are going on in the world, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with stress and anxiety, and to forget how to relax and enjoy life.
The spread of mindfulness is one of the best things that’s happened in the Western world, and I hope everyone is able to discover its benefits in one way or another. The Headspace app is the perfect way to ease into it, the makers of that app have really nailed it.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We use gitlab to keep track of tickets and the tech guys use it for software reasons as well. It means that even low priority tasks don’t get forgotten, and we can prioritise and communicate about various features between the team.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
It was quite a while ago I read it, and I certainly don’t condone all of the ideas in it, but a book that I found genuinely life changing was the Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. It made me understand the value of my time, rather than money, and to think about what I really wanted from my life.
It also taught me the value of turning of notifications. Being able to focus on what you’re doing and not feel enslaved to constant interruptions makes you better focused, more productive and less stressed.
What is your favorite quote?
“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” ― W. Somerset Maugham.
- Mark out time for particular things and be strict about sticking to it
- Test and try things out
- Really listen to your customers and treat them how you’d like to be treated
- Turn off notifications
- Try mindfulness
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.