Every great children’s story deserves the opportunity to be published, JQ Sirls said, adding his own footnote that more people are qualified than they think to create them.
“I could put 1,000 people in one room and tell them all to write a short story about their childhood. While many of them may have a similar story, each one of them will have a different perspective,” said Sirls, the founder and CEO of Pagemaster. “And there are thousands — if not hundreds of thousands — of kids who would identify with a story.
“Yet, a publishing company will only accept one, and that’s the problem.”
Pagemaster is a publishing marketplace that empowers aspiring book authors and illustrators to create equitable economic opportunities for themselves by either providing human and AI-powered resources to self-publish or by connecting with literary agents and publishers to publish traditionally, Sirls explained.
The idea for Pagemaster came to Sirls in 2007, but he made the startup official in 2022, he said, noting that the marketplace is set to launch in Spring 2023.
But even individuals who do not wish to publish stories can utilize Pagemaster’s up-and-running, AI-powered Bedtime Story Generator, Sirls continued.
“Anybody from any background whatsoever can go onto the site and put in their author name, the title of the story and then a one-to-two sentence plotline,” Sirls said. “Within a few minutes, it will email you a fully-written children’s book with that concept, along with creative and fun ways to read the story with a child.”
From drawing storyboards to using puppets, adults and parents can elevate the ways they tell their uniquely-generated bedtime stories. Pagemaster’s Bedtime Story Generator also sends personalized educational activities, such as discussion topics based on the moral of the story or writing activities that allow children to add their own chapters and twists.
With very little funding put into advertising Pagemaster’s Bedtime Story Generator, the tool has been used to generate thousands of stories across the globe, Sirls said — noting that the AI is able to recognize and create stories from a variety of languages.
Click here to make your own bedtime story using Pagemaster’s Bedtime Story Generator.
Diversity in storytelling
Growing up as a cartoon fanatic, Sirls was motivated by the legacy of Walt Disney, he shared.
“My entire path has always been toward illustration, drawing and storytelling,” Sirls said, noting that his career, like Disney, led him out West. “…When 2020 hit, my wife and I didn’t have any family in Los Angeles, and we had a two-year-old son, so we decided to move back to Kansas City.”
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As an author himself, Sirls spent several years researching and working within the publishing industry, he said.
“My favorite story of all time is ‘Where The Wild Things Are’; it’s just brilliant to me,” Sirls shared. “But you won’t see African American, Asian or Hispanic kids inside of a story like that. It’ll be stories about slavery or Kung Fu or Mexican food. But it won’t be Peter Pan or Toy Story, because those are very exclusive.
“Everybody says that the print industry is broken, but it’s not broken — it’s operating exactly the way it was designed to,” Sirls continued. “It’s not to be intentionally non-diverse, but the first picture books were made for predominantly wealthy, white children.”
With the publishing industry still lacking in diversity, unconscious bias has a tendency to take over, Sirls said, and Pagemaster can be a solution to overcoming that bias.
Pagemaster’s inclusive marketplace design helps literary agents manage their queries, while also helping authors write query letters using AI.
“Instead of [an author] having to write a query letter — which might not be what they’re best at — they can submit a short summary of who they are, what their book is about and why they are special,” Sirls explained. “It’ll go into the agent’s inbox with a written query that is perfect for them to understand, and it will tell the agent if that story is a match for something they are looking for.”
Sirls’ hope for Pagemaster, which received funding from Digital Sandbox KC in early 2022, is that it provides an avenue for more diverse voices to have an opportunity to publish their stories, he said.
“Meanwhile, the parents who are the buyers don’t have to worry about going into the store and not finding a book for their child,” he added.
Click here to sign up for early access for Pagemaster’s publishing marketplace.
Building momentum for Pagemaster, Sirls joined the 2023 Pipeline Pathfinders cohort.
“I’m really excited about that because the whole point of Pipeline is to make sure you have the entrepreneur’s mindset,” Sirls said. “I’m looking forward to having that community as we are testing out our beta.”
Click here to check out the full list of founders in the 2023 Pipeline Pathfinders cohort.
Many entrepreneurs will pull inspiration from mentors or those who came before them; Sirls’ biggest inspiration is Willy Wonka from the popular children’s book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
“What I love about Willy Wonka is that you had a person who figured out a way to connect adults and children,” Sirls said. “Both adults and children loved the same thing. The grandpa [in the story] was in bed all of the time, and Willy Wonka got him out of bed.”
Willy Wonka was also inspired by his own space, his factory, Sirls continued.
“I loved that he did not have to leave the factory to become inspired, to innovate,” he said. “If you’ve ever seen a photo of my office, you’ll see that it is very colorful because it was inspired by this idea of taking in the world in the best way possible.”
The idea of the impossible is not a factor for Sirls, he said.
“That’s just been my North Star my entire life,” Sirls said. “There are examples of people in history who have thought like this, from Disney to Steve Jobs. With Pagemaster, I am out to create an inclusive industry that allows for every child to see themselves as a superhero or the supervillain should they choose. From that, families all around the world would be able to enjoy each other’s stories.”