Friday, January 29, 2010

New Feature - Document Groups

I have just finished rolling out a new feature to the My Writing Nook web app - Document Groups!

Probably the feature most requested for MWN has been for some way to collect several documents together into a project. With document groups, that request has been fulfilled.

If you look at the document list, you'll notice that for each document, the word count checkbox is gone. In its place is a round button, colored to represent which document group that document is a member of. Initially, all these buttons are black (that's the default value). To change a document's group, simply click on the button. This will bring up an overlay that will allow you to choose which group to assign the document to.

Documents in the same group stick together in the document list. Documents in the same group contribute their word count to the word count total for the group. Finally, document groups are sorted in the order that they are shown in the overlay.

When designing this feature, I tried to strike a balance between functionality and ease of use. I think that I've achieved that goal, but I'd like to hear what you think of the document groups feature.

iPhone users - fear not! I have submitted an update to the MWN iPhone app and it is currently pending approval. I'm hoping that the update will appear in the app store within the next two weeks.

If anyone runs into problems or has any questions, feel free to drop me an email at

Happy Writing!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Implications of the iPad

Wow. Apple debuted the iPad today, and it looks beautiful. Here are my initial thoughts on the device, and its implications:

My Writing Nook - iPad edition
First of all, let me say: there will most definitely be an iPad-specific version of My Writing Nook. I've already read through the developer documents and will be exploring the SDK in the coming weeks.

Rather than simply port the iPhone/iPod app to the iPad, I am completely rethinking the interface to take advantage of the iPad's screen real estate and new interface paradigms. I am really excited about what the device offers - and I think the iPad version of MWN is going to knock your socks off.

The iPad also represents a tremendous opportunity for writers. There aren't too many details about the iBook store yet, but I have to believe that Apple will allow independent third-parties to submit their eBooks for sale. Apple has chosen the ePub format, which is a free and open format.

If they use a model similar to the App Store, with 70% of the take going to the author, then the iPad could really be a boon for self-published authors. This is likely the reason why Amazon announced their new royalty plans last week, and others will be forced to follow suit.

Web Fiction
The iPad will also provide a boost for web fiction. With it's form-factor and excellent browsing capabilities, it will make reading web fiction a breeze. No more clunky laptops or netbooks - you can sit in bed and read web fiction like you would a regular book.

I can't wait until this thing ships in March. What do you think? Is the iPad a game-changer?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2010 - Year of the eBook?

In yet another blow to the already staggering traditional publishing industry, Amazon announced today that they are going to start offering 70% royalties on eBooks. If this doesn't encourage more authors to self-publish their work as eBooks, I'm not sure what will.

Many people see this as Amazon trying to grab marketshare from the traditional publishers. For the most part, I agree. However, I believe that Amazon is announcing this now for another reason: as a pre-emptive strike against the eagerly-anticipated Apple tablet that is expected to be announced next Wednesday. Why else announce a change that won't take effect until June?

The 70/30 split is the exact same formula that Apple uses for apps sold through its iTunes store. The pundits are saying that the tablet will be a direct competitor to the Kindle, and that Apple is in talks with various publishers regarding the device.

Amazon now faces competition from B&N's Nook (sorry fellas - I had the name first!) and the Apple tablet - so it's trying to do everything it can to lure authors to its platform. This competition is great news for eBook authors.

With Amazon's hefty royalty offer, and Apple moving into the space, it should prove to be a very interesting (and profitable?) 2010 for authors that choose a less traditional route to publishing.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Profiles in Web Fiction: Nancy Brauer and Vanessa Brooks of Strange Little Band

Today's featured authors are Nancy Brauer and Vanessa Brooks of the webserial Strange Little Band. They've been publishing SLB since May of 2009, and the story is really hitting its stride as we enter 2010. Updates are published twice a week, with a bonus story every other week or so.

This is the fourth interview in the Profiles in Web Fiction series. The other interviews in the series can be found here.

The authors describe Strange Little Band as dark, paranormal romance. It follows the lives of Shane and Addison, co-workers whose lives are forever intertwined by their employer, the unscrupulous Triptych Corp. To make things more complicated, both Shane and Addison have paranormal abilities, which turns even their most trivial interactions into epic mind games. Toss in a healthy dose of hormones and you've got the recipe for an intriguing story.

Nancy was kind enough to answer my questions via email.

How and when did you start publishing online?

Strange Little Band debuted on May 1, 2009 at Vanessa and I have quite a bit of web design experience, so setting up a self-hosted WordPress site was easy. We'd written together previously, but this is the first time we've published a web serial for public consumption.

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

I was the one who pushed to publish SLB online. The more I read about the time and effort required to get literary agents' and publishers' attention, the less inclined I was to play the game. The fact that Vanessa and I had already written 140,000 words of the first draft helped, too. Most of the work has been editing, filling in gaps in the storyline, and lots and lots of promotion.

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

The number one benefit of publishing online is reader feedback. Interacting with the audience is fun. They tell you when you're doing something right, and when you're not being clear. Vanessa and I primarily communicate with readers through SLB site comments, Twitter, and the SLB forums.

The number one benefit of publishing online is reader feedback. Interacting with the audience is fun. They tell you when you're doing something right, and when you're not being clear.
The flexibility of online publishing is another huge plus. If you find a typo, you click "edit," make the change, hit "publish," and you're done. You're free to change your posting schedule. Want to change the look of the site? Go for it. You can experiment with integrating reader suggestions, creating character Twitter accounts, and more. The only thing holding you back is your time, desire, and web skills.

The big drawback is having to do everything yourself. Unless you've got a substantial budget or an army of fans willing to work for free, the author is responsible for all of the stuff a print publisher usually handles: developmental editing, copyediting, cover art, marketing, advertising, data backups, etc. All of this take a lot of time. The effort is considerable, especially if you have a day job.

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

Vanessa and I are working on monetizing SLB to cover costs. Our primary goal is to find our audience for future works. Any profit we make is gravy. :)

Revenue comes from three sources: donations through the SLB site, bids from Project Wonderful advertisers, and sales from the SLB Zazzle store. It's a grand, ongoing experiment which is alternately fun and frustrating. We're learning as we go.

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

That's a tough question. I think there will be a lot more, much like the explosion of web comics. Serials will probably split into two categories: "professionals" and just-for-fun types. By "professionals" I mean those whose authors rely on serials as a significant portion of their income. It's easy to put a donation button on a website. Convincing readers to donate or buy merchandise takes a lot more creativity and effort.

It's hard to say where web serials, video webseries, and other online entertainment will be in five years. So much is in flux right now. Print publishers are struggling, eBook readers are trying to go mainstream, and piracy is rampant. It remains to be seen if consumers will find enough value in digital media to spend money on it. In general people value tangible goods. For some, if you can't hold it in your hands it's okay to grab a copy. I don't mean to stir up a digital rights management (DRM) debate. It's just that writing and publishing anything online takes time. Unless the writer is extremely frugal or independently wealthy, he or she will likely need revenue to justify the time and effort of publishing.

Your web serial is different from others in that it's a collaborative effort. I'm interested in how exactly you and Vanessa collaborate. How do you divvy up the workload?

We wrote the first draft of SLB via email a few years ago. It was a giant email volley with Vanessa writing primarily from Addison's point of view and me from Shane's. We shared the other characters as necessary. The whole thing was made up on the fly! Editing is crucial to keep the voice consistent and not give the readers whiplash from POV changes.

Although we're in editing and revision mode, we still rely heavily on email. I do the editing for the main SLB story posts. Vanessa's writing the bonus stories. We both fill in gaps in the storyline. Who writes the new bits depends on the POV for the new section and my and Vanessa's schedules. Typically we email each other drafts in the body of an email message. We plot and plan by email, IM, and sometimes Twitter direct messages. We've only spoken once by phone!

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

First and foremost, be patient. Unless you can throw a lot of money at an advertising blitz, it'll take time for readers to find you. Make it easy for them. Think about who might like your story. Connect with them, be it on Twitter, forums for similar web serials, or other ways. To get started, check out successful web authors like MeiLin Miranda, MCM, and Alexandra Erin. Novelr and WebLit are warehouses of good ideas, too.

It's also important to plan your story ahead and have a posting buffer. By the latter I mean have two or three posts ready to go at any given time. Unfortunately, I don't always follow my own advice on this front, so the day before posting can be stressful. At least I usually have the first draft done, so it's only last-minute editing.

Be sure to check out Strange Little Band's website.