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.