Monday, December 14, 2009

Profiles in Web Fiction: MCM

Today we interview MCM, author of the novels The Vector, Fission Chips, and countless others. Actually, the word prolific doesn't even begin to describe this author - in 2009, MCM achieved his personal goal of publishing 12 books in 12 months, making something like NaNoWriMo look like a walk in the park.

His most recent work, The New Real, is an example of livewriting - he wrote the entire story over the course of 48 hours, posting a new chapter every hour. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this was the way that he involved the audience directly in the creative process, allowing them to provide real-time feedback via Twitter or a special website he built specifically for the purpose. He's also built his own online reader, which you can see in the image to the right.

MCM is certainly one to watch. He's constantly pushing the boundaries of web fiction, and experimenting with new techniques for the form. His technical background combined with his zany wit and writing prowess allows him to craft a compelling story and integrate it with the web to create a form of storytelling that is completely new. It's exciting to watch the future of web fiction develop, and MCM is one of the people that's going to create it for us.

He was kind enough to reply to my questions via email. I found his answers to be interesting and insightful, and I think you will too.

How and when did you start publishing online?

I honestly don't remember when I first started, but for the sake of simplicity, I'll say around the middle of 2006, when I released my first book, The Pig and the Box. That was just a PDF... I hadn't really looked at the options for books online, so it was a learning experience the whole way along. At the start of 2009, I moved to a new system that allowed me to post books straight to web pages, and started filling in content from there. I've done 11 books this year so far, and I've been evolving my methods constantly... my first serialized web fiction (Fission Chips) started in May, and my first livewriting book (Typhoon) was in October. Each one of those would be a "start" for me, because they're all so different than what came before.

Why did you decide to publish your work as serial fiction on the web?

The purest answer is that I really wanted the immediate feedback. My first such project, Fission Chips, wasn't a straight serial, because the audience got to suggest and vote on "what happens next" every week, and I had to create it on the fly. That kind of interaction can't work anywhere else. I didn't have much interest in going to traditional publishers (for a variety of reasons), but even so, the interactivity of the web makes it so much more interesting to write here. Writing is a dialogue, and the fewer delay mechanisms we have between the author and the audience, the better.

What are the benefits of publishing online? What are the drawbacks?

The benefit, for me, is the unpredictability. For my livewriting projects (Typhoon and The New Real, written in real-time over 3 and 2 days respectively), I got to tap into the collective insanity of the internet to help craft my story. The atmosphere during those events was just electric... you write a chapter and see the reaction immediately, and it gives you the push you need to do more. You can't do that anywhere else. It's just not possible.

The other major benefit is that you can reach more people online than you can anywhere else. True, holding on to them is harder, but there are no restrictions. Offline, you might be buried in the back of a bookstore, or you might not even be IN the bookstore, and you have no way to change that fact. Online, you can drop a link to your work anywhere, and you never know who'll see it, find you, and stick around for more.

The drawbacks, of course, are that very few people take you seriously. Being self-published in print gets you an eye roll, but publishing online makes people back away slowly. It's the "nephew art" curse that affects web designers... "Oh, what you do is nothing special. My nephew makes websites all the time!" Anyone can publish to the web, and anyone can write a story, so what sets you apart? In the end, there's nothing you can do about those people. If you do great work, and catch an audience, it doesn't matter what the world thinks of you. You're not doing it for universal recognition, you're doing it for the ones who call themselves your fans.

Do you monetize your work? Why or why not? If so, how?

I do, in various ways. For The Vector, I released under a Serial+ system, where a new chapter was posted Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with a note at the end that said "it will take X more weeks to finish... if you want to read the rest now, you can upgrade for $5". I had pretty good conversion that way, I think because it gave everyone a chance to reach their personal tipping point. They held out until they couldn't hold out any more!

All my books also have donate options in them, with a few options listed for convenience. I've found that if you leave it too open-ended, people won't donate. If you say "here are the choices," you get a lot more conversions.

On occasion, I convert some of my works to print books (for those that say "I really want to read it, but I can't stand computer screens!"), but I'm definitely moving more and more to the online-only approach.

What do you think web serials will look like in five years?

I think they'll look less like something, and more like anything. I think there's something to be said for hybrid books... part prose, part comic, part movie (if done well). I personally want to explore the livewriting concept some more... doing
"...the interactivity of the web makes it so much more interesting to write here. Writing is a dialogue, and the fewer delay mechanisms we have between the author and the audience, the better."
something living and dynamic, rather than just pre-planned chapters on a schedule. I know some people are experimenting with "choose your own adventure"-type architectures, adding programming tricks to do cool new things. I think that sometime soon, the technology and the momentum will let people put their writing into the format that makes the most sense, rather than writing something in a certain way because that's what's expected.

I also think that in five years, the Kindle and iPhone will have made the idea of e-fiction more palatable to the broader world, and traditional print publishers will still be resisting the change. That means the innovators and superstars of web serials will have a chance make their mark... if you have this device meant for reading, but there's very little to read (because publishers are waiting until the hardcovers have been out 6 months), you'll go looking for something else. Web serial writers need to be that "something else." We've got a year, maybe two to get there. So we've got to get cracking.

What technical advances (current or near-future) are you most excited about experimenting with or applying to web fiction?

I'm really interested in integrating AJAX goodness into the writing, but I'm still not 100% sure how it'll be done. Mike Cane and Piers Hollott have these notions of rich reading experiences with deep metadata, and I'm really interested in the "branch" effect of writing: select a word or a sentence and comment on that, or expand on it, or made a side-story... as much as possible, I want web fiction to be a starting point, not a final product. There's already so much discussion that goes on around web fiction, but it's highly fragmented. If we can at least create smarter windows into those conversations, it will probably mean a whole new world in terms of what is created.

I can't wait for the new things we'll be able to do with HTML5. My next-gen site (currently in development) is already pushing boundaries... I'm trying to examine different interaction methodologies, see what I can get away with... but when we can embed video, or do offline storage easily (so essential for web fiction! imagine having a web interface that full downloads the text so you can read any time and not need a connection!) and audio or... well, it'll really change how the game operates. I come from a video background (in addition to web) and the one thing that kills me is that it's still too difficult to properly integrate subtle animation into page design on the web. I want to crack open After Effects, do some motion design, and really enrich the experience. Maybe in a few more years... hopefully...

Who do you consider innovative in the web fiction space today? Who else is pushing technology in new directions to enhance the storytelling process?

Right now, I'm very excited by an upcoming project by A.M. Harte. Her technique is very subtle (to the point of invisibility), but if it works, it will be a great new sub-genre for authors to explore. I can't say more, because I'm sworn to secrecy :) Also, Brian Spaeth really pushes the limits in a lot of ways at once... one of his new concepts will really be a multimedia tour de force, and when you couple it with his insane "alternate reality that may not be alternate" vibe... I'm certain it will blow your mind.

What tips would you share with others interested in publishing serialized fiction on the web?

Don't be constrained by architecture. There are different tools out there to do different things, and some will fit better than others. Think beyond the page. Think of new units, new transitions, new schedules and interactions and presentations and all that. Don't make "a printed book on the screen." So many people (myself included) are chained to that notion, and it's hard to change once you've started. If you're just starting out, find a boundary to push, and push it. Hard. The internet has endless possibilities, and we're only using a fraction.

The trick to this game is patience. You'll start off with two readers, and they'll both be your offline friends. Four months later, you'll have one reader, and you won't even be sure they're really reading. But four months after that, you'll have ten readers, and then twenty, and then forty... Word of mouth takes time, and you have to remember the number one way to kill it is to release something sub-standard. You're only as good as your last chapter... but if that chapter is amazing, you'll be okay.

I'd like to thank MCM for taking the time to discuss his work with me. The stuff he's doing is truly inspiring, and he's definitely got me thinking about the future of storytelling on the web.

Be sure to check out The Vector, and all his other work at his website: 1889 books. To read more about the future of web fiction, check out 1889 Labs.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Profiles in Web Fiction: Theron Gibbons of Dark Matters

Today we sit down with web author Theron Gibbons. Theron is the author of Dark Matters, a web novel that he has been serializing since early 2008. Since then, he's added three other works to the mix: Bit at Large, Orchid Bizaar, and Shadow and Mist.

This is the second installment of the Profiles in Web Fiction series. Click here for the other interviews in the series.

In Dark Matters, ChoCho and Jynx are two young lovers facing down a world almost completely devoid of human life after an undefinable event destroys nearly every city on the planet. With the work, Gibbons is undertaking an interesting writing experiment, writing in third-person, present tense in a style he calls "intimate literature."

Theron was kind enough to respond to my interview questions via email.

How and when did you start publishing online?

How did I start online? Primarily I did a lot of research into publishing, and realized that the era of the book publisher, at least in its traditional sense, may well be at an end. I really wanted to have my work seen. So I decided to have a go of it online, and do my best to make my efforts self-sustaining. I started publishing online in January 2008, with Dark Matters, and then expanded out to include three other works, Bit at Large, Orchid Bizaar, and Shadow and Mist.

Why did you decide to publish your work as serial fiction on the web?

I made the decision to publish some of my work in serial, online, primarily for the angst. People think that I mean the reader's angst, but in truth it can be quite stressful at times. Dark Matters specifically is a story written on the fly. Don't get me wrong, I have a basic outline, and through considerable hard effort, have given myself a bit of a buffer, but unlike my other stories, I made no attempt to write Dark Matters in its entirety before making it accessible to my readers. It makes the story more rigid, in some ways, because what has been written already has already been seen, and so the story simply must not derail itself. I also like the idea that readers can comment on the story as it is happening.

On another note, Dark Matters is written in an experimental style I like to call intimate literature. Not only does it shift into and out of the personal experiences of the characters, it sticks mostly to the present tense, third person, with an attempt at shift in intellect and perception based on whom we are observing. This leads to a need for expression that is best suited to a serial publication, because one can work each character in parts, building on their experiences as they work their way through whatever problems arise for them. Given the lack of risks traditional publishers are willing to take, it became obvious to me that if I wanted something like Dark Matters to actually find a reader base, it would have to be through less traditional means.

What are the benefits of publishing online? What are the drawbacks?

The major benefit to publishing online is the freedom to choose my own words, and connect directly with my readers. The only drawback is that the market itself is primarily in its infancy, so the boundaries between the writer and reader are not always so clear. There are a small number of writers publishing online who have also decided that they are literary critics or book/serial reviewers, and they have gone to great trouble to create websites whereby they review other writer's works.
"Given the lack of risks traditional publishers are willing to take, it became obvious to me that if I wanted something like Dark Matters to actually find a reader base, it would have to be through less traditional means."
Criticism from my readers I don't mind, but other fiction writers reviewing my work kind of caught me off guard. I really can't see Stephen King taking a literary punch at Dean R. Koontz by writing a scathing review of Breathless for the New York Times, just as an example. Online publishing, however, seems to have different standards and boundaries entirely, and it will be interesting to see how this sort of one sided, fully public 'peer review' mentality evolves.

Do you monetize your work? Why or why not? If so, how?

I have made some attempts at monetizing my work, mostly the sales of advertising, perks, and subscriptions. The project has to pay for itself. If it doesn't, ultimately it becomes a bit of an expensive hobby, all things considered.

What do you think web serials will look like in five years?

In five years, I think we will l see them evolve into more illustrated works, with greater integration of graphics. Sort of like an online plume edition. I also think RSS feeds are going to become fully integrated with readers, like Kindle is already starting to do, making it easy to pull across serials and read them as they are posted. I also expect publishers to start using the online format to test drive new authors and gauge reader responses, though I rather figure publishers will never have the kind of clout they used to have, if simply because the media online is not theirs to control.

What tips would you share with others interested in publishing serialized fiction on the web?

Take the time to make the words you're writing as perfect as possible before you put them online, and expect readers to point out every little mistake you missed even though you probably read your piece over ten times before it was ever posted. Get uncomfortable with your writing, not with your readers. Stick to your story. Focus on the things you can control. Research everything.

Dark Matters updates once a week. To check it out, visit the site here.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Profiles in Web Fiction: Darien Meredith of Phantasia

We're kicking off this series with a profile of Darien Meredith. He has only been publishing his webserial Phantasia since March of 2009, but has been developing the story since 2005, and it's clear that a lot of work has gone into it.

To see the other interviews in the series, visit this page.

Phantasia follows the journey of a faerie named Phantasia Celeste who is struggling to discover herself. She feels out of place in the faerie world, and travels to the human world in an attempt to understand who she is and the power she holds.

Once in the human world, Phantasia enrolls in school and is immediately confronted with the full barrage of angst that is the human teen experience. Can innocent Phantasia cope with the harsh reality of the human world?

Something that sets Phantasia apart from other webserials is the multitude of illustrations, drawn by the author, which lend a nice touch to the story. The website itself is laid out nicely, with clear navigation to all points of interest. The webserial is updated at least once a week.

Darien was kind enough to answer my questions via email. Without further ado, here's the interview.

How and when did you start publishing online?

I first wrote a web serial in 2000 for around a year and a half, but it wasn't very good and I lost interest. I started developing Phantasia in 2005 and began publishing it online March this year after deciding I couldn't keep revising it forever!

Why did you decide to publish your work as serial fiction on the web?

I've grown up with serialised stories and I've always preferred them to standard novels. Writing a novel has just never appealed to me and everything I've ever written has been in a serial format. When I first published one it just felt like it was the best way to get it to people (most of my friends at that point had left for university) and only found out about other web fiction a short while afterwards.

What are the benefits of publishing online? What are the drawbacks?

For me I don't think there's any other option! If I sent the concept for Phantasia to a publisher, they would reject it. If the story didn't put them off (or its length!) then the diverges into illustrated territory would. Its one thing to have a Generic Fantasy Cover, it's another to have a chapter cut from text to a scene drawn like a comic... The internet, of course, allows me to do whatever I want! No one telling me "this won't be marketable" or "readers won't like this development".

The major drawback is the workload. Having a weekly deadline to meet and knowing there are hundreds of people waiting for you to update can be stressful! Then there's the illustrating, the web design, the bonus content, the advertising and promotion, the interacting with readers... It's not like just writing a manuscript.
"Ultimately it will be like Tolkien's collected works on Middle Earth, only far more navigable"

Interacting with the readers is an advantage, though. It gives you direct feedback (and encouragement!) as the story is progressing. There's always the possibility it could reverse, though, and a reader might get irate at a development they don't approve of. It's a niggling worry, but I'm stubborn (arrogant?!) enough not to write just to pander to and please the readers.

Finally, being on the internet means I can add a load of extra bits and pieces that you wouldn't get in a book (well, you could, but it wouldn't work as well). Currently I'm still working on a extensive database of information that will provide background detail on a lot of things I can't cover in the text (without segueing into awful blocks of exposition anyway!) and I have plans for short and side-stories that deal with minor characters or mentioned events that aren't key to the main story. Ultimately it will be like Tolkien's collected works on Middle Earth, only far more navigable. (no one can say I'm not ambitious!)

There are other advantages/drawbacks, but I'm rambling enough as it is.

Do you monetize your work? Why or why not? If so, how?

Not currently. The little money I make from adverts goes straight back into helping pay for my own advertising costs. I'm still in this little bubble where the idea of making money off my work seems absurd, even though it's rapidly developing into a full-time job and people tell me I should be making money off of it! I'm contemplating doing some kind of donation-incentive system like webcomics use, and developing some kind of tie-in merchandise (again, like webcomics). I'll get around to self-publishing collected volumes sometime in 2010 too.

What do you think web serials will look like in five years?

I'd like to think they'd be in the position webcomics are now, but that will depend on how the tide turns and who's riding the waves. Once e-readers are commonplace, I expect the e-book format to go a similar way to the mp3 (but not as popular, since music is more popular than reading!). I don't see the mainstream grabbing on to serials or web fiction just yet though, as the stigma of "online fiction = not good enough to be published" is going to be difficult to scrap.

What tips would you share with others interested in publishing serialized fiction on the web?

Don't go into it with the mindset of it making you popular or that you might make a living from it: do it because you enjoy it (but hey, that's a tip for any creative venture!). Of course if you do want to take things to the next level, you need to be prepared to do the research and spend money. DON'T just copy what's popular. I'll admit I've avoided - ignored even - the currents of the webserial communities and just followed my own instincts. It's done me fairly well. I expected to have 10 readers after a year, by next March I'll probably be closer to (or over) 1,000 if current trends are any indication. Then again I have no idea what readership figures are like elsewhere - a thousand could be pittance compared to other serials. But yeah, just trying to mimic what makes another serial popular will get you nowhere: work out what your story is, what its strengths are, and work with them. Don't be afraid to experiment or do your own thing, because that's what will make you stand out in the end.

Oh, and remember that a serial is different from a novel. Learn the differences in the way their narrative is structured. Think about the differences between a TV series and a film, for example. Make the most of the advantages the serialised medium gives you, like the wait between chapters and reader debate over what might happen (or what they want to happen). Long-running Japanese comics are a good inspiration for serialisation, but then I've grown up with such things and may be biased.


Thanks to Darien for taking the time to answer my questions.

To check out his work, be sure to visit Phantasia.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Profiles in Web Fiction

Profiles in Web Fiction is a series of interviews with web authors - writers that are publishing their work in serialized form on the web.

I think that web fiction is on the cusp of going mainstream, and these guys and gals are pushing the envelope with this new publishing paradigm.

These interviews provide a look into the state of web fiction today, and a glimpse into the future of storytelling.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Upcoming series: Profiles in Web Fiction

Over the next few weeks, I'll be interviewing several web fiction authors - writers that are publishing their work in serialized form on the web.

Web fiction has yet to go mainstream, having thus far been dominated by works of fan fiction (known as fanfic), but I think this will change in the coming years, as eReaders and netbooks become commonplace and people become more accustomed to reading books, magazines, newspapers, etc. in digital form.

As the saying goes, "writers write," and these guys and gals are pushing the envelope with this new publishing paradigm. I hope to have the first post in the series up by the end of the week, so keep an eye out for it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Being a NYT bestseller isn't all it's cracked up to be

In her latest blog posting, author Lynn Viehl graciously shares some more details about how much money she earns from one of her novels. This type of information is typically unavailable, and I applaud Lynn for sharing her personal data with us. This is a follow-up to her first reality-check posting. Please, go read both of these and then come back - they are well worth your time. Don't worry, I'll wait for you.

Here are some things that I took away from the both postings:

With traditional publishing houses, it's a constant waiting game. You wait to hear if you can submit your manuscript, then you wait to hear if it's accepted. But at that point, the waiting has only begun - you wait anxiously for publication, and once published, you wait for sales reports and royalty payments.

Based on the dates that Lynn gives, the author is paid out about 6 months after the data is actually accumulated. On Lynn's statement, we can see that the accounting period ended May 31, but the statement wasn't generated until August 18. And then, to top things off, the publisher sat on the statement until November, when they finally sent it to Lynn.

In her first posting, she states that the book was published in July of 2008, but didn't receive her first royalty statement until April of 2009! That's an incredibly long time to be kept in the dark, especially in this day and age of computerized inventories and tracking.

Lynn received no marketing support from the publisher. "I was never informed of what the publisher was going to do for it (as a high midlist author I probably don’t rate a marketing campaign yet.)" The entire task of marketing was left to her, and she had to promote her book on her own dime.

From the statements, we can see that Lynn earns very little money for her success. After selling 80K copies of her book, she's still trying to pay off her initial advance of 50K. This is because the royalty percentage she receives is small. While Lynn grossed 50K (she still has to pay taxes on that money), her publisher grossed $450K - nine times as much.

In this day and age in which authors have the ability to self-publish and reach a global audience, I fail to see the compelling argument for publishing through a traditional publisher. If you're going to put all the time and effort into creating and marketing a novel, shouldn't you reap a large portion of the financial rewards?

By going the traditional route, authors give over creative control and the lion-share of the profits to the publisher, in return for zero marketing support and extremely slow service. That just doesn't sound like a good deal to me.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Chrome vapor vs. Jolicloud reality

There was quite a lot of buzz this week about Google's new Chrome OS. The operating system was announced several months ago, but Google released more information about it at a small press event on Thursday.

Basically, ChromeOS looks to be an operating system based entirely around the Chrome web browser. It requires very little else, because the intent is that your apps and the vast bulk of your data will live in the Internet cloud.

ChromeOS has certainly made the spotlight currently shining on cloud computing even brighter, but it's not the first OS with such a vision. And right now, it's just that - a vision. The OS isn't expected to be ready until at the end of 2010. In Internet time, that's an eternity.

There is an alternative though, and it's available today (currently in alpha testing). The OS is called Jolicloud, and it's an operating system project with an interesting goal - to "combine the two driving forces of the modern computing industry: open source and the open web". You can read more about their idea here.

I downloaded and installed Jolicloud a few weeks ago on my 1st generation EeePC 701. The Linux-based OS that came pre-installed on the machine was pretty rough around the edges, and kind of a pain to use. Jolicloud is also a Linux-based OS (based on the Ubuntu netbook remix, I believe) but is much more polished, even in its current alpha release.

The interface is slick, and responsive. They've also managed to make the trackpad recognize multi-touch gestures for scrolling, which is really handy. And the WiFi works exceptionally well, right out of the box. Before Jolicloud, I needed to manually turn on the WiFi and wait a few seconds for it to connect. Now it's automatic, and ready for me when the OS boots up.

Perhaps the biggest plus is how easy it is to find and install new applications. Jolicloud provides categorized groups of apps, and installing an app is as simple as clicking the green "Install" button. Uninstalling is just as easy - just click "Remove" and the app is gone.
System updates are equally easy, and can happen automatically if you wish, so you always have the latest and greatest system.

Jolicloud also has some social networking features built right into the OS. When you log into Jolicloud, you can add buddies that are also Jolicloud users. I haven't played with the social features too much, but I'm interested to see where they take them.

I'm pleased to announce that My Writing Nook was accepted into the Jolicloud catalog, in the Office category. I installed it last night, was impressed with the results. I'm really pleased to see how well it integrates. When an app runs, Jolicloud gives it the entire screen, except for a thin menubar at the top. MWN looks really slick within this environment. It's truly uncluttered and distraction-free. Check it out:

The alpha release is currently invite-only. I have a few invite codes, so if you are interested in one, send me an email and I will be happy to send one your way. If you've got a netbook and you're unhappy with the OS it runs, I urge you to check out Jolicloud. If you're not brave enough to just blow away your current OS, you can run just boot and run Jolicloud right off a USB thumb drive.

Jolicloud has gotten me excited about using my netbook again.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bring it on, GQ!

I cannot put into words how satisfying it is to see something that I have built being used and enjoyed by so many people. The My Writing Nook iPhone app has been steadily rising in the rankings of the App Store, which has been amazing to watch.

It's already passed by the app made by the people of The Secret®, and now it's broken into the top 10 (in the Lifestyle paid category) and has got its sights set squarely on GQ. Look out GQ! We're coming for you!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Small update to My Writing Nook web app tonight

I deployed an update to the MWN web app this evening. If you look closely, you'll see that there is now a logout button in the toolbar.

I've also removed the Google AdSense ads and replaced them with ads from Project Wonderful. For some reason, AdSense couldn't seem to figure out what the site was about and displayed ads that were of no interest to the people visiting the site. The folks at Project Wonderful have come up with an interesting alternative, so I thought I'd give it a try. We'll see how it goes. I've left the AdSense ads on the blog because they seem to be fairly relevant to the content.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Writing Nook is "What's Hot"!

Just wanted to share some exciting news: yesterday, the My Writing Nook iPhone app was featured in the "What's Hot" section of the US App Store, putting it right there on the front page!

It's still there today, and MWN has climbed to the #22 spot in the top 100 paid apps in the Lifestyle category.

I shall now do a happy dance. :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

This is what the App Store feels like these days

Perhaps I am being a tad facetious, but this is what the App Store feels like these days. I think it's high time Apple added a new "Adult" category and forced all the 17+ rated apps into it.

But hey - as you can see, the My Writing Nook iPhone app managed to break into the top 100 paid apps in the Lifestyle category. I'm enjoying a nice boost from all the happy NaNoWriMo participants.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Show your colors, fellow writers. NaNoWriMo is almost here!

National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo for short) is nearly upon us! Are you ready? I will be partaking in the madness for the 5th straight year, and this year, my novel writing tool of choice is My Writing Nook. I plan to write from several different computers this year - my work PC at lunchtime, my netbook at the local coffeehouse, and my iPhone whenever I'm out and about and have a spare few minutes. It's all about maximizing the word count!

NaNoWriMo is great for a few reasons. My favorite aspect of the event is that it is social. Writing is usually a solitary activity, but NaNoWriMo encourages camaraderie and socializing. Novel writers are encouraged to attend "write-ins," where you can band together with your fellow novelists and share in the ups and downs of the writing process. The write-ins are by far my favorite part of NaNo.

NaNo is also liberating. The only way that you can achieve the monumental task of 50K words in a month is by turning off that demon known as your inner editor. NaNo is all about getting words on the paper, no matter how well-written those words happen to be. By turning off the inner editor, your mind is free to spew forth whatever ideas it might have in the moment. Sure, a lot of those ideas will be crap, but there might be quite a few gems in there as well. NaNo is about allowing yourself the freedom to experiment, and hopefully when it's all over, you'll be left invigorated by the process. Then you can set about to unearthing and polishing those gems.

There's still time to sign up for the fun. Head over to to see what it's all about. If you are already signed up, I encourage you to attend at least a few write-ins during the month. They will surely provide a boost of enthusiasm and inspiration, especially during the doldrums of week two.

Show your colors, fellow writers! Say it loud and say it proud - I AM A WRITER!

Monday, October 19, 2009

5 tips to help authors compete for shelf space on the Internet

1. Have an author site
This will provide you a platform that you can use to promote yourself and your books. Don't use the site just as a place to hard-sell your books, provide a place where your audience can get to know you. If they feel a sense of connection with you, they will be more likely to buy and recommend your books.

Ensure that the content is relevant and current. Visitors can spot stale content a mile away, and they will leave. Forever. What's relevant? That depends on what you write about. By knowing your audience (#3 below) you will be able to determine which content is most relevant to your visitors. Watching the analytics (tip #5) will also help you refine your content.

Don't use an ad-supported hosting service (a service that hosts your site for free in return for your allowing them to place ads on your site). This looks unprofessional, and will reflect poorly on you. Site hosting is incredibly cheap these days, so there's no reason to use an ad-supported hosting service. I'll have more to say about ads in a bit.

Make sure you have your own domain name. Your domain name is part of your brand, so put careful thought into choosing one that fits.

I plan to cover author website design in more detail in a future post. Stay tuned for that one.

2. A blog is essential
Be sure that your blog is linked to your author site, so that you can use each to direct traffic to the other. Have a prominent link to your blog on your author site. On your blog, have a permanent link to your author site, but also mention it from time to time in your posts. This will remind your readers about the site, will also allow search engines to create an accurate profile of your sites.

Your blog is an excellent way to form a relationship with your audience. Allow visitors to comment on posts, and engage in the conversations that ensue.

Update regularly, with interesting posts that are relevant to your target audience. Blogs and websites that are updated more often get crawled and indexed by search engines more often.

A word about advertisements. If you're just starting out, just say no to 3rd party advertisements on your author site or blog. You want your visitors to focus on you and your work, not be distracted by some 3rd party ad. In my opinion, the risk of turning off a potential reader is not worth the trickle of pennies that 3rd party ads may bring in. Once you have an established and sizable readership, you can reconsider this decision.

Associate your blog with your domain. If you've registered, then have your blog live within that domain, for example or This strengthens your brand, and is essential for good Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

3. Know your target audience
I think that this is something that you should know before you ever start writing your book, but it's certainly essential when it comes to marketing.

Once you know who your target audience is, you can figure out where they live online. What social networking or community sites do they hang out on? Are they more likely to be on MySpace or Facebook? Do they use Twitter? Are there forum sites in which they congregate? All this is critical information that once gathered will allow you to focus your marketing efforts. And focus is critical, especially if you are looking to do marketing on a shoestring budget.

Knowing your audience will also allow you to tailor your content and your blog posts to be more interesting and relevant.

4. Become intimately familiar with all the popular social networking and media sites
Well, OK. Maybe not all of them, because there are a lot of them. But become familiar with the ones most frequented by your target audience. Sign up for account on each, with a username that ties into your brand.

Don't sign up for an account and then immediately start shamelessly promoting your book. That will certainly annoy the other members, and could even get you banned on certain sites. Learn what it means to be a good member of each community. Know the proper etiquette for each site so that you can avoid a damaging faux pas. What types of self-promotion are allowed? What's allowed in your signature? Are there special areas of the site that are specifically designated for self-promotion?

Use the sites as a tool to engage your audience. Get involved in the discussions. Become known as a respectable member of the community. This will help to build your personal brand.

5. Watch the analytics
Know exactly how much traffic you are getting, and where it's coming from. Which marketing efforts are driving traffic to your site, and which go unnoticed? Which pages on your site are visitors most interested in? Having this knowledge will allow you to tweak your marketing to maximize its effect.

So how can you see your traffic? I suggest you set up two different site monitors.
Google Analytics is really good for looking at the big picture, and for enabling traffic analysis of weeks or months at a time. But statistics are only compiled once per day, so it is not good at real-time analysis. For that, you'll want something like StatCounter. StatCounter has a limited log size (although you can pay for larger logs) but will allow you to get up to the minute information about the traffic your site is getting.

With either site monitor, you'll be able to see how people are getting to your site, when and where they are, and what pages they're looking at. And better yet, setting these monitors up is free. Both also offer enhanced services for reasonable fees, but the free services should be plenty to get you started.

Bonus tip - be patient
Sometimes it takes a while for marketing to become effective. Audiences aren't formed overnight. You need a marketing plan. Instead of staging an all-out blitz, aim for a longer campaign of continuous improvement. Learn what works, what doesn't work, and adjust as needed. Don't give up if you aren't seeing instant results.

For an amusing take on all this newfangled Internet marketing stuff, check out this article from the New Yorker.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dawn of the Indie Writer

The dawn of the indie writer is nearly upon us. We're fast approaching the point in time when the stigma will be erased, and self-publishing will become not just an option but the norm for authors. As brick-and-mortar stores give way to the online marketplace, independent authors will finally be able to compete fairly with "traditionally published" authors. Instead of spending time struggling to get their books on the shelves, indie writers can concentrate on marketing their product on the shelf space of the Internet, side-by-side with traditionally-published titles.

Detractors have always said that self-publishing is for writers that aren't good enough to be published traditionally. But these days, what that really means is that a writer's work doesn't fit neatly into some corporate pigeonhole. As indie writers fill the voids and satisfy the audiences left behind by traditional publishers, self-publishing is becoming accepted as a legitimate alternative.

There's been a recent trend among traditional publishing houses of jettisoning their "midlist" authors - authors that are moderately successful but are not bestsellers. By eliminating these authors, the publishing house is taking choices away from the reader, narrowing the marketplace. They are doing this so that they can spend their diminishing marketing dollars on "sure-thing" titles, but ultimately I think they are speeding up their own demise.

Abandoned midlist authors will have no choice but to self-publish, and they will take their solid work, their years of experience, and their established audiences with them. These writers will lend more credibility to self-publishing, raise the quality bar, and help remove the stigma.

If the Internet has shown us anything, it's that there's an audience for just about anything. That said, those audiences still expect a certain level of quality. Books of poor quality will be quickly panned by readers. Solid writing and good storytelling will be recognized, and will find an audience. The difference is that these titles will no longer need some subjective seal of approval from a traditional publisher to reach those audiences.

For the first time in history, it will be the marketplace that determines the successes, not some suit in a large publishing house concerned primarily with the bottom line. Having more titles in the marketplace empowers readers. As indie publishing becomes more prevalent, and brick and mortar gives way to cyberspace, it will be the readers that get to choose which titles rise to the top and which sink to the bottom. On the Internet, the lines between self-published and traditionally-published authors will be blurred, and the reader will choose the writer not based on the publisher on the spine, but by the content inside the book.

The fuse is ready to be lit. Indie writing is set to explode into the public eye as the next major phase of publishing. All it will take is a single spark - some shining example of self-publishing that will capture a large enough audience to really showcase all that the self-publishing paradigm has to offer. The day that Oprah picks a self-published title for her book club. The day that the New York Times bestseller list contains a self-published title - these days are not too far off.

Will you be ready for it? Will you provide the spark?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Simplicity is not a bug

Several people have made comments comparing the feature set of My Writing Nook to Word or Google Docs. They ask "why can't I just use Google Docs?" My answer to them is - you can. If Google Docs works for you, great! Personally, I found Google Docs to be too much tool for the job I wanted to do - something akin to using a pile-driver to nail two boards together.

Occam's Razor - the simplest answer is usually the best.

The longer I have been in the software business, the more I have come to appreciate simplicity in design. Just because an application has more features doesn't mean it's better - in fact, oftentimes the opposite is true. More features means more code, and code that is often more complicated. This makes the code harder to understand and maintain, leading to more bugs.

Let's look at things from the user's perspective. The user wants software that allows them to do their work easily and efficiently - that's their goal. They aren't necessarily interested in having all the bells and whistles - only the ones that are most useful for task at hand. Bells and whistles are for the marketing department, not the user. The user only wants to achieve their goal.

The goal for writers is to write. Any feature that does not help the writer toward that goal is an unnecessary feature, in my opinion. If an application forces the writer to wade through countless toolbars or menus to find the feature that they want, it is not helping them achieve their goal efficiently.

"I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had time to make it shorter." - Blaise Pascal

For the users of My Writing Nook, the goal is stated right there on the home page - Write simply anywhere. I kept that goal in mind as I decided which features to provide and (more importantly) which features to eliminate.

The feature set for My Writing Nook is intentionally small. It contains only those features that allow a writer to write, simply, from anywhere. Anything else is superfluous.

To those people that still wish to compare MWN to Google Docs or Word, I offer the following hypothetical.

An illustrative tale of two tools

The scenario: A man is camping. He catches a fish and would like to clean it and cook it for his dinner. Let's follow him down two hypothetical paths:

Path 1: The man has a simple hunting knife.

1. He uses the knife to clean the fish, then cooks his dinner. Yum!

Path 2: The man has a swiss army knife.

1. He takes the knife out of his pocket and is immediately confronted with a decision - which of the blades to use.

2. He fumbles around for a bit, perhaps opening one or two blades to determine their applicability to the problem at hand.

3. Ooh! There's a magnifying glass here. He didn't realize that before, and spends a few minutes playing with it.

4. Getting back to the task at hand, he picks a blade and opens it. He starts to clean the fish.

5. While he's cleaning the fish, he wonders if perhaps another blade would be even better at cleaning the fish.

6. He cleans the blade he was using, closes it, and opens a different blade to try.

7. Finally, the fish is clean. Unfortunately, it's now too dark out to see what he's doing, and he trips over a rock, dropping the fish in the dirt.

8. The man goes to bed hungry.

Sometimes the lack of features is a feature in itself.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My Writing Nook - Yes, there's an app for that!

I'm proud to announce that My Writing Nook for the iPhone/iPod touch is now available in the App Store. I'm really excited about this - I think that it's a perfect complement to the MWN web app.

The two apps work in concert to keep your docs in synch. Now you can have your latest work with you wherever you go. I think this will be really handy for jotting down notes on the go, or maximizing your daily word count, which makes it perfect for NaNoWriMo. Whenever you have a few minutes to spare, you can fire up the app and unleash those thumbs!

Or if you've seen enough and just can't wait to get your hands on it - click here to buy it. For the price of a cup of coffee, you can now have the ability to write from anywhere.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Coming Soon

Many of you have asked me about using My Writing Nook on an iPhone. I built the app primarily for use on laptops and netbooks, and paid careful attention to maximizing the use of screen space on smaller screens.

While the iPhone has a full-featured browser, using it with MWN is a less than optimal experience. You've got to zoom in to see what you're doing, and it's just a bit clunky. I never intended for My Writing Nook to be used from an iPhone.

Until now.

I'd like to announce that My Writing Nook will soon be available as an app on the iPhone.

I'm very excited about this - the iPhone app synchs seamlessly with the web app, so that you can always have the latest versions of your documents with you. If you find yourself with a few minutes of down time, you can whip out your iPhone and write for a spell. If an idea strikes, you can jot it down quickly and synch everything up so that when you get back to your computer, your ideas are there.

It will be perfect for NaNoWriMo. You'll be able to add to your daily word counts from anywhere - standing at line, at the doctor's office, at the park.

I'm aiming to have My Writing Nook in the App Store in early October. Watch for updates here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I just logged in to check the site stats and wow! We got a big boost in traffic today. Over 300 visitors in the last 2.5 hours or so.

It looks like the app was reviewed favorably on Mashable in an article about novel writing. It's very satisfying to see that others are enjoying the application and are finding it useful.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

New Release = New Feature

I released a new version of My Writing Nook last night that contains a handy new feature - cross-document word counts.

Previously, you would see the word count only for the document currently being edited. Now, you can select to include multiple documents in a Total Word Count, which will appear right next to the current document's word count. This should be very useful for writers (like me) who use a separate document for each chapter of a manuscript. Now I can see both the word count for the chapter I'm working on, and for the manuscript as a whole.

I hope that you find this new feature useful. Enjoy!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Technology is allowing for a "literacy revolution"

According to this article at Wired, technology is not killing literacy, it's revolutionizing it.

According to a Stanford study, young people today are writing more than those of previous generations, and most of the time they are writing for an audience. Social networking sites, blogs, etc, base most interaction on the written word, and as a result young writers are becoming very adept at tailoring their writing to their audience.

I wonder what effect this will have (if any) on long-form writing. Are today's young writers more confident in their writing skills, and therefore more likely to tackle the daunting task of writing a novel? Or has technology shortened their attention spans to Twitter-like soundbites and Facebook memes?

Perhaps more importantly to aspiring novelists today, what is the effect of technology on the reading habits of the younger generation? I would guess that the amount of reading being done goes hand-in-hand with the amount of writing, but what is being read? Short blog entries, Facebook wall postings, novels?

I'd love to see Stanford follow up their writing study with a reading study.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Writing Nook update - now netbook-friendly!

I've just released an update to My Writing Nook.

This is a fairly minor release - basically just cleaning up a few minor annoyances, such as the fact that after creating a new document, you would have to click on the editor before you could start typing. I also wanted the tooltips for the command buttons to display themselves faster, so I added some snazzy new tooltips to them.

Finally, I noticed that while the app was sized perfectly for my desktop and my laptop, it wasn't too friendly to my netbook. I have the original model EeePC, with the 7" screen, and the sidebar just didn't work that well in such a confined space. Since I imagine that many people will be using netbooks during NaNoWriMo, I want to make sure that smaller screens are well-supported.

I think it looks really good now. Here's what it looks like on my EeePC (or you can see it for yourself):
(click to see a larger, non-blurry photo)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Another avenue to publication - the blook

I happened across an interesting article the other day in the Times of London. The article, entitled Meet blook, son of blog, on the new frontier of publishing, describes an avenue to publication that didn't exist until recently. Blooks are publications that have sprung from a popular blog or website.

It makes sense, really. An established blog has an established audience, and a traditional publisher, risk-averse by nature, can mitigate the risk of taking on an unpublished author by selecting one that already has a large fan-base. Marketing dollars can be saved because there is already a conduit to a portion of the target demographic.

If you already have a popular blog, you might want to think about using it as a path to traditional publication. If not, then you might want to think about starting down that path.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Traditional publishers can't recognize talent anymore

Here's more proof that getting recognized and published by a traditional publishing house is a complete crap-shoot:

The Times of London submitted two Booker prize-winning novels to several publishing houses and agents as the work of an unpublished, aspiring author. Both books were rejected.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Copy-editing - can it be crowdsourced?

A popular trend in Web-land these days is called crowdsourcing. In a nutshell, crowdsourcing is using the collective efforts of a really large number of people to tackle a specific problem. As it turns out, the Web is a fantastic tool for gathering large numbers of people from around the world and focusing them on a task.

A notable example of crowdsourcing occurred recently in Britain. The British government released a set of documents detailing the expense reports of all its MPs. The publicly-available documents amounted to roughly 459,000 pages, presenting a monumental task to anyone that might want to figure out exactly what their government is spending money on.

The Guardian, a UK newspaper, put up a website that allows visitors to review these expenses one page at a time and flag any that seem questionable. If an expense is flagged by multiple people, it becomes a candidate for investigation by the paper.

The Guardian realized that its own small staff would never be able to scrutinize such a mountain of paperwork, so they decided to crowdsource the problem. So far, that decision has paid off. Many questionable expenses have been brought to light, and the people responsible are being held accountable for their actions.

Recently, I started thinking about how one could apply crowdsourcing to writing. Writing is traditionally a solitary pursuit, but I think that there are opportunities here. While it doesn't make sense to crowdsource the writing of a first draft, some of the other steps in the process might be viable candidates for help from the crowd.

The research process has already been greatly assisted by crowdsourcing. Sites like Wikipedia,, or even Flickr are excellent resources, and are actively maintained by thousands of users worldwide. 

Manuscript review lends itself nicely to the application of help from others. In fact, there are already several websites that use the power of crowds for the purpose of reviewing manuscripts or short stories. I will talk about a few of these in a post to follow in the next few days.

I started thinking about other steps in the writing process, and realized that copy-editing might be an excellent opportunity to utilize the efforts of the crowd. Like wading through mountains of government expense documentation, copy-editing an entire manuscript can seem like a near-impossible undertaking. 

What if there was a website that allowed writers to submit their manuscripts (or short stories, or articles) and have others copy-edit their work? I'm just brainstorming here, but I'm thinking that the process might work something like this:

1. Writer submits their work to the site for copy-editing.

2. The submission gets chopped up into page-sized chunks of about 500 words. These chunks are anonymized, so that editors can be impartial, and also so that no one can piece together the entire manuscript.

3. Other users of the site volunteer to copy-edit. I'm thinking that most of the users on the site will be writers, and the expectation will be that one should copy-edit the work of others if one expects others to copy-edit for them. An "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" sort of arrangement. Or perhaps a writer would need to accumulate a certain number of points or credits (earned by editing the work of others) before they are allowed to submit their own work for editing. 

4. A user requests work to copy-edit. They receive a single page-sized chunk to edit, which is a reasonable amount of work to deal with. They copy-edit the page and modify the text so that it is correct.

5. When the editor has completed the edits, they submit the edited page.

6. The original writer receives status updates via email, and can log in to view the editing that has already been performed. They can compare the original page with the edited page, and can therefore see exactly what copy-edits have been suggested.

7. The writer can take all the editing suggestions they've received and apply whatever edits they deem appropriate.

So what is the carrot here? With crowdsourcing, there needs to be something to entice people to contribute their time and energy. In the example above, the Guardian played on people's innate distrust of government to turn them into watchdogs. They also turned it into a bit of a game, adding a "leaderboard" that tracked the most productive users. The copy-editing site could do something similar - have some sort of points system and reward the top-contributors with recognition or some other perks. Or it could be that you need to do some copy-editing of other submissions if you want to get your own work copy-edited.

That's the basic idea. Now I'll do a little crowdsourcing of my own: what do you think of such an idea? As a writer, do you think the site would be something that you would use? Something you'd contribute to? I look forward to reading your comments.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Self-Publishing success stories

The Globe and Mail has an article about writers that have decided to leave traditional publishers behind and publish themselves.

This is similar to my post from last week, about lowering the barriers to publication, and affirms all of the points that I mentioned. The main focus of the article is writer MaryAnn Kirkby, who wrote a book that traditional publishers turned down - they saw it as targeting a niche market. As it turns out, that niche isn't so small: Kirkby sold 50,000 copies on her own in Canada and is now in negotiations with a major American publisher to take her book nationwide in the US.

It touches on the ability to maintain complete artistic control of the work, describing how author Chic Scott deliberately kept his latest book to himself, instead of sharing it with the publisher of his previous books. "I just didn't want to lose control of this book," he said.

The article also touches on the financial benefits, with this mention of royalties:
And rather than depending on royalties, which normally hover between about 10 and 15 per cent of a book's cover price, she collects the lion's share of the $29.95 cover price of each book she sells. “I've sold over 50,000 books,” she says. “If you do the math, it's pretty nice. I like my new car a lot.”
It's a very interesting and encouraging article. Check it out when you have a chance.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Need motivation to finish those edits? Publish your book.

Writing a novel is hard. First, a writer must complete a first draft - hundreds of pages of creative output that more often than not results in a steaming pile of crap. In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott refers to this as a "shitty first draft." Once the first draft is complete, the writer is faced with the daunting task of editing their work.

For many writers, the process stops here. It takes an enormous amount of effort and dedication to finish the first draft, and many writers cannot gather up enough motivation to take the necessary next step of editing.

I've found something that helps me when I'm in this position, and I'm sharing it in the hopes that it will help others to rekindle their motivation. When faced with the long, often tedious road of editing, I publish my book.

You heard me right. Let me explain.

When I say publish, I don't mean publish to the public. Publishing a first draft to the public would be a horrible mistake. No one gets it right the first time - I don't care how long you've been writing. I'm talking about publishing a very limited edition private print run - of 1.

I suggest that you use Lulu, CreateSpace or some other print-on-demand publisher to print out a single copy of your first-draft manuscript in book format. If you've got some cover art in mind, use it, but cover art isn't essential at this point. Just make sure that the title (or working title) of your book and your name appear prominently on the cover and spine.

These publishers should have a setting that allows your book to remain completely private and unavailable to the general public. Make sure you set up your book this way. Upload your book and cover, and order yourself a single copy. It shouldn't cost you more than $20.

The process of preparing your book for print can be motivating in itself. Maybe you'll find or create some really cool cover art that provides inspiration. Maybe just thinking about your book in printed form gets you fired up. If so, run with it and dive into those edits!

However, the real flood of inspiration will arrive when your printed book arrives. When you see your name on the cover and spine, and you hold the manifestation of countless hours of hard work in your hands, it's truly motivating.

It works for me, at least. There's just something about actually seeing my manuscript in printed form that fills me with enough motivation to tackle the editing process. Every time I feel my motivation start to ebb, I look at my "published" book sitting on my bookshelf.

Then I get back to work.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Three reasons why lowering the barrier to publication is a good thing.

Today's writer has so many publishing options available, the barrier to publication is lower than ever before. Like Gutenberg's moveable type printing press enabled writers in the 1400s to reach new audiences, the Internet today allows writers to expose their work to a global audience with surprisingly little effort.

From blogging to online periodicals to publishing on demand and eBooks, today's writer has many avenues to publication that have opened up in only the last few years.

Some people consider this a bad thing, saying that a lower barrier to publication means a proliferation of bad writing. Print-on-demand writers have had a certain stigma attached to them by the self-anointed literati.

I take the opposite view. I believe that allowing more writers to publish more books more easily is a boon to both writers and readers. There are a lot of reasons why I believe this, but for now I will give you three:

1. The needs of niche markets can finally be met.
With a traditional publishing house, there's a finite number of books that can be published each year. This number is dictated by a company's limited resources - budget and staff - and has traditionally been relatively small.

Because the number is small, a publisher can't afford to deviate very far from the mainstream. They prefer to travel down well-beaten paths, with established markets of predictable size. This means that niche markets are underserved or ignored completely.

Sure, there isn't a huge market for books about a mystery-solving tree surgeon, but there could be a small market whose readers turn out to be utterly devoted. Perhaps such a market isn't big enough to allow a large publishing house with its overheads to be profitable, but it may provide a nice little revenue stream for an independent author.

A writer who self-publishes today can do so with little or no overhead, enabling them to target previously untapped niche markets without much financial risk. Internet pundits have dubbed such niches as "The Long Tail", and an independent author that meets the needs of grateful niche readers might find that The Long Tail can be profitable indeed.

2. Easy publication allows writers to hone their skills while enjoying the satisfaction of sharing their work with others.

Let's just say it - there are a lot of badly-written books that have been self-published. So what? I would argue that those poorly-written books are actually a good thing. No, I'm not barking mad. I simply choose to see each of those bad books as a stepping stone to a better one.

Writing a book is not easy. Every book was written by an aspiring author who had a story to share or information to relate, and had the dedication and perseverance to see that book through to completion. Why not allow them the satisfaction of seeing their work in print? Why not allow them to share this work with others?

If these writers pursued traditional publication, they may instead be exposed to waiting, more waiting, and rejection. The traditional process crushes motivation, causing many promising writers to abandon their dreams.

Seeing one's own work in print is very motivating, and some writers will be inspired to continue improving their craft, with the goal being to have their next book be even better. Each book becomes a stepping stone to an even better next book.

3. Self-publishing allows writers to maintain complete control of their work, and reap all the financial rewards.

When writers publish with a traditional publishing house, they give up a large amount of control over their work. It is the publisher who decides what the final product will look like, from the typeset to the cover art to the title of the book itself. Sure, writers can offer their suggestions, but the publisher has the final say.

With self-publishing, the writer can have complete artistic control of the finished work. The writer gets to decide exactly how their book will end up looking.

On the financial side of things, writers who self-publish are again in control. The writer can decide how much or how little to charge for their book, and self-publishing royalties are well-above those offered by traditional publishers. Publishing houses have a lot of overhead to support, and it's the writer that pays the price for this. Why should this continue to be the case?

For the first time in history, the writer can be in control. It's an exciting time to be a writer.

Eating My Own Dogfood

As I've stated on the My Writing Nook homepage, I created this application to scratch a personal itch. I wanted a single writing environment that I could access from home, work, and whereever I might find myself. I wanted my workspace to be uncluttered and easy to use. I couldn't find anything on the web like it, so I built a tool to meet my own needs. I figured that if I liked it, others might as well, and so I've made it generally available to anyone who might want to use it.

Because I built the application for myself, I am the target user. I'm also currently the most active user of the application. The phrase "eat your own dogfood" means that a producer should use their own products, to get a sense of how well they're meeting a customer's needs. In the case of My Writing Nook, I'm definitely eating my own dogfood. I use the app every single day.

As a result, all the other users of the application benefit from this, because I have a low tolerance for crappy software. The application must perform to my high standards, and since it's in my own best interests that it does, you can bet that I'll ensure that it does. If I find something that doesn't work quite right, I fix it as soon as possible. If some task seems a bit clunky, I do my best to streamline things.

I want things to work 100% of the time, and I want the app to be as simple as possible but no simpler.

These goals are selfish, but they also happen to benefit every other user of My Writing Nook. It's a win-win situation.

New Release Last Night

I released a new version of My Writing Nook last night. Nothing Earth-shattering - mainly just a bit of code cleanup and adding some defenses that will prevent you, dear user, from wandering off into dangerous territory.

Previously, if you attempted to email or download a document that hadn't been saved yet, you would get an unhelpful error message. Now you get a helpful message that asks you to save your document before performing one of those actions.

I also cleaned up the Javascript code a little bit, to make it more maintainable.

I also added some links to the homepage - a Twitter link that will allow you to share the application with your followers on Twitter, and a link to this here blog.

I'm intentionally adding only "essential" features to the app, so that things remain uncluttered and you can focus on your writing. However, if there's an essential feature that you feel I've missed, please feel free to send me a feature suggestion.

Happy writing!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Welcome to the blog. My name is Peter, and I am the developer of the My Writing Nook web writing environment.

This blog will be a companion to the web app, so it will contain updates on the latest developments and features, but I'm also hoping that it will be a useful source of information about writing and technology.

I hope that you'll allow me to earn a place among your web favorites.