Monthly Archives: May 2008

Novelr Needs Your Help

novelr stats[Update]: I have upgraded the hosting package and Novelr is above the waters once again. I am humbled by the support and goodwill you guys have shown. Thank you, all of you.

I don’t think there’s anyway I can approach this other than by talking straight: Novelr ran out of bandwidth yesterday. As of writing there are 55 active visitors on the site, with 162 visitors within the past hour. Most of them are from stumbleupon and they’re nice folk, for the most part. They are, however, bringing this site to its knees.

Why am I writing this post? Simply put: I might have to upgrade the hosting plan Novelr runs on. I’m aiming for a $5 a month package, which provides the site with 10 gigs of bandwidth. At the moment I have 3 gigs per month, not much certainly, but I wasn’t expecting 3k spikes of traffic back when I first started. Novelr does not make enough with advertising to cover the bandwidth it uses up at the moment. At midnight last night I rushed online to purchase extra from my host, and at 10 this morning I was told that the extra 2 gigs I had bought were running out as well.

Helping Novelr Out

Now, before I get into the nitty-gritty of how you can help I’d like to explain to you where I’m coming from. Some of you may ask why I’m asking for donations, instead of paying for this with my own credit card. The truth is that I don’t have one – I’m still studying, and I’m not ‘earning’ anything other than knowledge. Novelr is passion, a hobby, or perhaps a part-time job if you’d like to call it as such, and I can’t pay more from my own pocket than what I did at the start of the year. Most of my time is spent studying, writing, and reading; a significant portion of my week is used to sharpen the ideas that I post here.

There are two things you can do to keep Novelr running. The first is to donate to Novelr by clicking the shiny donate button below. The minimum for a donation is $3, and if you have a little time, plus if you enjoy the stuff I’m writing here then please consider helping Novelr out. The donate button uses Paypal, so I hope it won’t be too much of a hassle.

The second thing you can do is to purchase advertising on Novelr. Novelr offers both Text Link Ads and image ads, and both cost $15 a month. There’s a prime spot in the sidebar for both.

I believe people reading this would be divided into three groups – the first wouldn’t mind tipping the site, the second would move on to other articles, and the third (which I believe is the majority) will think about it. And I’ve no problem with that, really. I thank all of you for reading what I’ve got to say, regardless of whether you comment, you donate, or you lurk around reading.

I’ve put a lot of energy into Novelr and I hope you enjoy it. Please help me keep it running.

The Internet Is A Picture Book

ChildrensBookWeekPoster_1.jpgI tried to get one of my little cousins to read Harry Potter last week. It was a great failure – he took The Philosopher’s Stone, flipped through it and handed it back to me.

“No pictures.” he said, “Not interesting.” And when I checked in on him later he was watching Spongebob on TV.

I had forgotten how kids are introduced to the world of reading – their first books are often filled with pictures, watercolour paintings and perhaps a few lines of text. Compare that to the stark novels of the adult world – words crammed into 500 or so thin pages, not a picture of the main character in sight. I remember reading my first ‘novel without pictures’ (gasp!): it was an Enid Blyton book, about a group of kid detectives. It left me feeling like a real grownup: goodbye to picture books now, the whole vista of bookland was open – finally – to me.

Pictureless Books vs The Internet

Here’s the truth, plain and simple: novels are remarkably unvisual things. Apart from the cover, the book itself is the pure domain of language. We don’t care if the page is white or yellow, crinkled or frayed: all that matters to us are the words written on it. And perhaps the font the novel is set in, though even that doesn’t matter much (my old copy of Pride and Prejudice is falling apart by the seams, and the typography is horrible – but I still enjoyed it).

When we come to the Internet, however, the rules of the game change. They shift so much that publishing a book and publishing online are two completely different things. No longer is reader perception of a story shaped by typography alone – we have many other factors that decide whether a reader is going to read and enjoy your work: navigation, graphics, overall ‘feel’ of the site. I have touched on readability when it comes to presenting your work online, and while that’s important there’s another major part of publishing on the web that I haven’t talked about yet – something I call The Picture Book Effect.

Put simply, The Picture Book Effect is this:

Credibility and perception of online content is shaped by the design/format in which that content is presented.

In simple English: your readers judge your work by the visual cues you have on your site.

The Internet Is A Picture Book

Oh yes, it is. Let me prove it to you. I am going to give you two opinion pieces to compare. The first one is Why There Aren’t More Googles, at The second one is entitled Terrorism and the Olympics by Nicholas Kristof, over at the New York Times. I want you to visit these two websites and read at least three paragraphs of both articles. Done? Done? Good.

Here’s my question: which one seems more credible?

Now many of you would probably say the New York Times, which doesn’t exactly prove my point, but we’ll come to that in a bit. The reasons for choosing the NYT is two-fold: first of all it is a major established newspaper, so it has to be more credible than a simple website run by some geezer you’ve probably never even heard of. The second reason is the one I’m getting at: the design of the NYT site oodles credibility, especially if you compare it to the paulgraham one.

Now I can’t really argue with the first reason, but I’ll give you something to consider. Imagine for a moment that the NYT site had Paul Graham’s site design, and had the NYT layout. Which now would be more credible in your eyes, in the time that it takes you to read 3 paragraphs? It would be the one with the NYT site design, wouldn’t it?

Genius Literary Criticism

The Fourth BearThe scene below is taken from Jasper Fforde’s 2004 novel The Fourth Bear. Main character Jack Spratt and his wife Madeleine are attending a literary awards ceremony when one of Madeleine’s writer friends approaches them.

“Hello Marcus!”

“Madeleine, dahling!

“Jack, this is Marcus Sphincter. He’s one of the writers short-listed for the prize this year.”

“Congratulations,” said Jack, extending a hand.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you – most kind.”

“So what’s the title of this book you’ve written?”

“The terms ‘title’, ‘book’ and ‘written’ are so passe and 2004,” announced Marcus airily, using his fingers in that annoying way that people do to signify quotation marks.

“It is 2004,” pointed out Jack.

“So early 2004,” said Marcus, hastily correcting himself. “Anyone can ‘write’ a ‘book.’ To raise my chosen art form to a higher plane, I prefer to use the terms ‘designation,’ ‘codex’ and ‘composed.'”

“Okay,” said Jack, “what’s the appellative of the tome you’ve created?”

“The what?”

“Hadn’t you heard?” asked Jack, hiding a smile and using that annoying finger-quotes thing back at Marcus, “‘Codex,’ ‘composed’ and ‘designation’ are out already; they were just too, too early evening.”

“They were?” asked Marcus, genuinely concerned.

“Your book, Marcus,” interrupted Madeleine as she playfully pinched Jack on the bum. “What’s it called?”

“I call it … The Realms of The Leviathan.”

“Ah,” murmured Jack, “what’s it about, a herd of elephants?”

Marcus laughed loudly, Jack joined him, and so did Madeleine, who wasn’t going to be a bad sport.

“Elephants? Good Lord, no!” replied Marcus, adjusting his glasses. “The leviathan in my novel is the colossal and destructive force of human ambition and its ability to destroy those it loves in its futile quest for fulfillment. Seen through the eyes of a woman in London in the mid-eighties as her husband loses control of himself to own and want more, it asks the fundamental question ‘to be or to want’ – something I consider to be the ‘materialistic’ Hamlet’s soliloquy. Ha-ha-ha.”

“Ha-ha-ha” said Jack, but thinking, Clot. “Is it selling?”

“Good Lord, no!” replied Marcus in a shocked tone. “Selling more than even a few copies would render it … popular. And that would by a death knell for any serious auteur, n’est-ce pas? Ha-ha-ha.”

“Ha-ha-ha,” said Jack, but thinking, Even bigger clot.

Jasper Fforde is pure genius. God I love him.

Blooking Has A Community

Happy CommunityNot so long ago I wrote Blooking Needs A Community, which served as a clarion call to the blooking world to start getting our act together. Now, nearly one year down the road, I’m happy to say that we have.

I only realized this about two weeks ago, after escaping from total boredom studying to start browsing through the list of blooks I had earmarked as ‘must read’. I caught up with The Legion of Nothing and The Mutants, and then I returned to Pages Unbound for an inkling on how the blooking world was getting along.

You have to understand where I was coming from. I had spent the past 6 months or so scribbling articles on paper and then jumping online for 30 minute intervals to publish them. I hadn’t had much time to do much else, much to my chagrin, and this little trip around the blog fiction sphere was eye opening.

It was great. The commenting sections of both blooks had more or less the same people hanging around them, as did their profile pages on Pages Unbound. I saw an even better indicator of a community in PU: a living, breathing forum. It isn’t very user friendly (I have to try to get Lexy to change the software) but it is a start.

Where To From Here?

This spirit of commenting on the various blogs of the blooking world bodes well for us. It makes it easier for writers to learn from each other, plus it also gives readers ample opportunity to site hop. I’ve no doubt that this (along with Pages Unbound) will keep our community alive and kicking for a long time to come.

So where do we go from here? A community gives us several advantages and allows us to do a few things that we could not do before. Exciting stuff, isn’t it? Here’s a look at some areas I feel we still have much to do:

1. Presentation

I’ll be talking a lot about design soon, about how and why it is important on the Internet, particularly if we’re writing and we want to be read. Yes, I have mentioned this before – readibility and fonts and the like, but there are a few ideas I’ve been working on that I’d like to share. Chief amongst this is the concept of a visual identity and how it makes writing that much stronger.

2. Reaching Out

I did a post not too long ago about how important it is to reach beyond our target audience – to convert non blook readers, if you will. I realized I may sound a little like an evangelist (oh hear The Lord now, ye flock of unfaithful sheep) but it’s something that must be done if blooking’s going to advance. Advertising is one option we have, but there are many more that we can explore.

No Time? Don’t Even Try

Eating LettersIn early 2007 I closed down the last blook I was working on. Deleted it, made it private, archived the posts. Ironically enough it was the same blook that had driven me to start writing Novelr, but it was a failure. I never had enough time to update it consistently, and I lost readers as easily as I gained them. When I closed Janus I had zero. They had all lost faith in me.

Reader Expectations

We all know that posting consistency is the hallmark of a good blog. Blogs that update sporadically are bad ones, and they can never fulfill their potential as far as this trend continues. Novelr is a bad blog. I’m not saying this in jest – it’s the truth and there’s not much I can do about it as long as the academic year continues. I decided long ago that it was better to publish erratic but quality content rather than yell at my schedule and let Novelr die. It’s a horrible choice to make, and Novelr is not growing as fast as it used to. But life’s like that.

Novelr is, however, a blog, not a blook. Reader expectations of blogs are nothing compared to the expectation generated from a blog novel. I followed a few blooks before my academic year started, and I’m familiar with the strong feeling of murder whenever an author misses a scheduled episode (and doesn’t explain). Blook writers know it too – a lot of them apologize when reality pushes back an update, and readers are usually forgiving enough to tolerate that. But two or three times – a month – and the readership dips for the said writer. And once you prove you’re consistently inconsistent? Well. You’ve got suicide on your hands.

Filters Are Elitist … So What?

Standing Out From The CrowdI have suggested before that the best way to improve blooking (or blog fiction) would be to implement some form of editorial process on the web. This is a problem for a few reasons: 1, some people come online to escape the constraining editorial process in the traditional print world; 2, an editorial process (or a way to separate the chaff from the wheat) sounds just like something a traditional printing house would do. It is, however, an easy way of introducing first time readers to good online fiction. Editors who know what they’re doing and a website that highlights the best blog fiction out there can go a long way in solving the drought of quality blooks we have at the moment.

Now the main accusation thrown at me when I suggest this form of filtering is that of elitism. Editors?! You kidding me? And on and on. And I’m sick of this, really. Elitism on the Internet as applied to content is quite different from elitism as a political concept – it is, in fact the thing that has kept culture growing for a very long time.

Elitism As A Form Of Quality Control

Before the Internet the only way to get publish was through a traditional publishing house. These houses were very serious about editing (and they still are, thank God), and the books they published met certain minimum standards of quality we have come to be used to – proper vocab, proper spelling, (mostly) polished stories. At this point some of my friends have argued that there are crappy books published by traditional publishing houses as well, but I have to point out here that these crappy books are far less than if Penguin published every Tom, Dick and Harry without going over their books with an editor and a smoking gun.

There is a problem with this model, of course. Traditional publishing houses run very tight businesses, and they often do not publish good books that they think are not financially viable. I wonder how many publishing houses would publish Das Kapital for the first time in the 21st century – I don’t think any would considering how nonfiction today is published based on the initial proposition of an idea to a publisher before the book is written.

But that is an extreme. For the most part the publishing industry and its minimum level of entry has pushed writers and poets all over the world to constantly evolve and bring something good, or new, to the table. The editorial process may be elitist, true, but when applied to culture it is a very effective tool for solving the signal to noise ratio.

One Big Leaf

I’m happy to announce that Novelr is now a part of 9rules.

9rules is a blogging network that aggregates the best content from the blogosphere. It is many things to many people, but at its core 9rules has always been about quality. Finally seeing the 9rules badge on this site is – I must admit – a very fulfilling experience.9rules leaf

What Does This Mean For The Readers?

Becoming a part of 9rules is a milestone for any blog, and I promise you that Novelr will maintain the same level of quality that got it into the network in the first place. Updates will be slow in coming for the next few months, but whatever posts that make it through will be well thought-out, highly polished affairs. Novelr is and always will be for the promotion of Internet fiction. We’ve still got a long way to go on that one.

Being part of 9rules will not affect the way you interact with me or the site. The blog functions as before, only now Novelr’s content is aggregated on the 9rules homepage and writing community, and you get to see that cute little badge in the header of this blog. Writing, reading and commenting is business as usual.

If you’re new to Novelr: welcome. I hope you enjoy the thoughts I’ve collected over the past year, and I look forward to meeting you in the comments section of this site. Feel free to argue, to question, or to hit me over the head with an umbrella – you’ll find me mostly a reasonable person to clash with.

Special Thanks …

To the triad – the people behind 9rules: thank you for accepting Novelr. It’s been great knowing you, laughing with you, arguing with you.

To my friends in Chawlk: thanks for all the encouragement you’ve given me over the past year. I am particularly in debt to Norbert ‘Gnorb’ Cartagena – not too long ago he took the time to go over one of my short stories, and edited the whole thing almost word for word. That herculean effort is still fresh in my mind, and it’s a sterling example of the kind of passion and the kind of people you find in 9rules.

Most importantly, however – to the readers who have followed Novelr: thank you. You’re the guys who matter the most in the end – the blookers, the writers, the thinkers. We have much Internet storytelling to do, and only so much time to do it.