Orton is a slick new community for writers that wants to take on the publishing industry

17 Nov, 2016

Sometimes the best ideas come from the worst experiences.

Beth Cleavy thought her career would take a big step forward when a producer asked to meet her about a play she’d written. Sadly it turned out this man’s interest was in her was, let’s say, less than professional. Her confidence took a hit but she dusted herself off and decided to fight back by working to render his job as a gatekeeper irrelevant. And thus Orton was born.

Named after influential playwright Joe Orton, the platform takes the minimal look of Medium but turns it into a community for writers to get feedback about their work. Writers can publish prose and plays, and then others can leave feedback and suggest edits.

Viewed purely as a product it’s nothing strikingly new, but it’s the focus – providing a supportive community for writers – that’s important here. Cleavy runs Manchester Writer’s Circle where members exchange notes on each others’ work, and with Orton she’s taking that approach into the digital realm.

Leaving an annotation on Orton
Leaving an annotation on Orton

Beyond building a community, Cleavy wants to eventually turn Orton into a digital and print publisher that will pay more to writers than the industry traditionally does. She sees potential to take YouTube’s approach, where popular creators receive investment to make their work better.

Feedback loop

Aside from Medium, Cleavy says that her biggest competition comes from a surprising place – Reddit. The link-sharing community includes many groups of writers that review each others’ work. Niche communities like Creepypasta for horror writers are also out there, while Fluence is a platform that lets creators of all kinds pay for feedback from experts.

Perhaps the closest product to Orton was run by a traditional publisher. HarperCollins launched Authonomy in 2008 as an online writers’ community that also acted as a funnel for finding talent to put into print. It closed last year, citing a decline in membership, but some users mourned the loss.

It’s still early days for Orton, which officially launches this evening with an event at Rise in Manchester. Cleavy is the sole founder, although she has two developers working on the current web version and upcoming iOS and Android apps. She’s bootstrapped the startup to date and says she’s benefited from attending Ignite’s pre-accelerator sessions in Sheffield.

E.L. James became a publishing sensation with the ’50 Shades’ series, but she started out publishing ‘Twilight’ fan fiction online. Cleavy hopes Orton will help more writers take that path from online obscurity to stardom, while giving them support along the way.

Orton is open for signups now.

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