Category Archives: Meta

For personal notes and asides, or posts talking about Novelr itself.

Memorandum

Welcome, folks, to a redesigned Novelr. I call this version two point oh, draft eight, and I hope you like it as much as I do. (Note: bugs are still being ironed out, so please bear with me for awhile).

Before I talk about the upcoming changes in Novelr, I’d like to explain the idea behind the visual lift Novelr now sports. I have been intending to redesign Novelr for quite a bit now. Part of it was due to the Picture Book post I did last year, where I discussed how a website design affected the way readers saw your content (and in the case of blooks, how they saw a story). It was one of my favourite posts of 2008, but I felt a little off about it at the time because Novelr itself was a very colourful, hippy, non-serious blog; quite at odds with its content, as you can imagine. A redesigned Novelr would mean a Novelr that wasn’t so dissonant – a redesign would mean a stronger message.

Throughout the 4 week redesign process I didn’t write on Novelr as I did before my study lift. I know that my last few posts have been lacklustre at best, and I also realize that this is completely my fault – I have a bad habit of not writing for a site that I’m designing, and this applies even when said redesign takes an extraordinarily long time to complete. For that, and for the lousy, linkish posts I have churned out over the last two weeks, I ask for your forgiveness. Novelr will return to its core immediately in the posts that follow this one, that I promise you.

Wait, What Core?

Novelr is now two years old. When I first started writing it I set out to create a one-stop resource for all the writers on the Internet: the ones who weren’t yet published; the ones who wanted to use the Internet to get their work read. That core remains. Over the next few weeks I’ll be editing and rewriting major portions of the Ultimate Blook Guide, much of which had been rendered obsolete in the months since I first published it. By the end of Step 7 of that guide a novice writer should be well versed in the ins and outs of publishing on the Internet – how to write, where to write, and where to find other fellow writers. 

There are other things to do, of course. In the past year Novelr has become a point of community for the many who already write web fiction. The joint efforts of that community resulted in Web Fiction Guide, a fantastic filter for new readers to the medium, powered by a wonderful team of editors, writers, programmers and readers. But that is only the beginning. There’s a recession going on, and the mass publishing-industry-shift to the Internet has changed the landscape quite a bit. This is ironic, this is: many of the things Gavin Williams predicted in a 2008 Novelr guest post are now coming true, and more besides: the middlemen are bleeding red ink; the publishers themselves in need more than ever of a new business model, or at least a new bestseller. These are bleak times, yes, but great ones for those working only on the Internet. And it’s Novelr’s job to make sense of that chaos. Web Fiction Guide may be a good start, yes, but how do we channel new readers to that site? How do we get more people to read? How do we make webfiction mainstream? These are problems that Novelr and its community have been struggling for a full two years, and our jobs have suddenly turned easier with the stumble of the traditional literary establishment. If you’ve got some insight to the situation we’re facing, or if you’ve got something to say to the online fiction community, feel free to contact me to write a guest post about it.

Monday, 8 December, 2008

Life as a Web Fiction Guide Editor

My exams ended on the 4th of December, and I was suddenly left alone with my newfound freedom. I surfed the Internet a bit, clicking about in random directions, in much the same way a criminal may run in circles after being released from prison. His freedom renders him purposeless after years of confinement, the same way I was rendered purposeless after 3 months of crazy studying. I think it’s quite possible for one to equal the other.

I’m back, and I’m sorry for not updating Novelr earlier. My exams have left me frazzled and a little woozy, and it’ll be some time before I can get back into gear here. It doesn’t help that I’ve got quite a few other things to do – I have been spending the last couple of days reading up on PHP, because it’s about time Novelr got a redesign. And there’s design work to be done on Web Fiction Guide (WFG) as well. But that’s getting ahead of myself.

This post is a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to be a WFG editor. The editors, if you don’t already know, are the people in charge of reviewing and rating the 144 or so blooks listed on the site. I’ve not been a very good editor: WFG was started months ago, but I’ve almost never reviewed anything there. Put it down to my academic schedule, I guess, and bang me on the head with a wooden spoon.

Behind The Scenes: The Art (or torture) of Reviewing

What, you think we randomly choose what we review?

A review assignment usually begins as such: we hop into the Editors’ private forums and skim through the latest discussions. The topics here run the gamut from serious to nonsensical: one might be about a delisting request (the editors decided it was against WFG policy), while another might be about how we’ve been called semi-professional (go check them out!) by a StumbleUpon user. Very often, however, our personal lives slip through and colour our discussions: Gavin Williams had a baby a few months back, and we paused our discussions to congratulated him and the missus.

The chief reason we log into the discussions area is because of a spreadsheet Chris Poirier updates. It contains all the new listings and it tells us who’s reading, or reviewing what. The unreviewed listings are marked in bold, and the editors place R, W or X under their names to mark the various stages they’re going through, with regards to that particular work. An R is for Reading, W means ‘Writing a review’ and X marks a completed assignment. R sometimes last two weeks, if the blook in question is boring as hell.[1]

Saturday, 11 October, 2008

Announcement

Novelr is on hiatus. Posting resumes after 4th December, 2008.Speed Hump

[Update]: I’ve just realized that it’s not very nice of me to take a leave of absence without leaving behind something for you read, do, or think about. Here are two things:

  • Sharon (of Bibliobibuli) recently alerted me to a Guardian blog post about online fiction. It’s a rather comprehensive cover of works and web fiction history I had no idea about, and I’d like to highlight one line from the article:

    Meade (of if:book) himself confides that he is yet to be “seized by a digital fiction that is utterly compelling”. 

    I wanted to email both Chris Meade and Andrew Gallix (the writer behind the blog post) alerting them to our portion of the blogosphere, perhaps by pointing them to the concentration of online fiction at Web Fiction Guide. But I don’t at the moment have enough online time to do so. Here’s my proposal: will somebody from the blooking community please start an email correspondence with them? Just to tell them: hey! we exist! and we’ve got a couple of ‘utterly compelling’ works out there, you know?!

  • Johnathan Harris recently did a controversial presentation at Flash On The Beach, a Flash developer conference. He says

    … our medium ”“ the online medium ”“ has the potential to become the next great way of processing and expressing our world. Some would say it has already reached this point, but I believe it still inhabits an awkward adolescence, with no real virtuosos and no real masterpieces, and that the only way for it to mature is for its leaders and practitioners to push themselves to make better work, which will, in turn, reach a larger and less insular audience. If the work is purely technological, it will be less likely to reach this larger audience, for it won’t resonate with as many people. If it connects on a more human level, on the level of ideas, it stands a better chance of touching people deeply and spreading widely, like a Toni Morrison novel or a Steven Spielberg movie. My reasons for wanting all this are partly selfish ”“ it is my medium and I want it to flourish ”“ but also inherently communal, as rising tides raise all ships.

    His presentation is worth a read. Also, go check out his portfolio, which has an unusually high spattering of online storytelling experiments. My favourite? The Whale Hunt.

[Note]: I’ve reenabled comments for this post, and I’ll pop by when I can to see what you think. Tell me if anything’s new.

Tuesday, 26 August, 2008

Open Mike: Do You Support The ‘F Word’?

The Open MikeI’ll be taking a study break from Novelr until late December, which means my posts here will be fewer and further between. Yes, I know this sounds quite awful, but I’m currently studying about 4 hours a day and it’ll only get worse as my Finals approach. Guest posts and community alerts are welcomed – I can come online, but only in very short bursts – so please shoot me an email if you’d like to write something for the blooking community.

I’d like to do an open mike before I vanish. An open mike is a post where you take the center stage, be it in the commenting section below, or back in your own blog, about a topic I’ll be discussing today. Brains turned on, then? Alright.

Here’s what I’d like to know: would you rather censor foul language for the sake of your audience, or would you keep it in your story, because that is telling the truth? Where do you stand when it comes to vulgarity in fiction?

This is an argument I’m pretty unsure about, because there are very valid opinions on both sides. On one hand we have Stephen King, who defends his use of the f-word because he is writing about common, working-class people, and they say fuck more than they do foie gras. On the other hand (the cleaner one, you’d suppose) you have the argument that it is just impolite to litter your prose with, well, impolite language. The most creative treatment of vulgar language I have seen is by children’s writer Diana Wynn Jones. Yes, you got me right – a children’s author. In her book Wilkin’s Tooth the neighbourhood bully is a particularly rude child, and he frequently uses (in her words) ‘colourful language’. Jones treats this quite literally – her dialogue from the bullies is filled with “orange” and “black” and “you purple red green boy you!!” Witty stuff.

Where do you stand on this issue?

Wednesday, 20 August, 2008

What Is The Classic .com Mistake?

Somebody Is Wrong On The InternetI recently came across a critical piece on two Novelr articles (this one and this one), published in Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 8, Number 9 (a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media). Overall, I thought the entire thing to be well written, witty at parts, snarky at others, with a respectable open-ended conclusion about the state of e-book readers at the end. There is just one part that is bothering me, though: in his analysis of my post on the Long Tail he alleges that I make something he calls ‘the classic .com mistake.’

Ah, but the blogger makes the classic .com mistake, one Jensen doesn’t make:

Our target audience shouldn’t have to be just people who are willing to sort through the dross: if that’s the case online writing will forever be in the dark, pushed into the corners of the web by other bigger, better, more instantly gratifying web distractions. If, say 1% of web surfers are actively finding/reading online fiction, the ideal solution shouldn’t be just to find that 1%, but to expand upon it. In other words, we should not find a target audience—we have to create one, so the 1% becomes 5%, or more.

“If we can only get 5%…” That’s propounded by another problem—one that’s characteristic in this blog. Namely, the writer assumes traditional media are dying. “Newspapers are dying out, losing to online news sources”—and in an unrelated post, “We know that the traditional publishing industry is upon dark times.” Ah, but never mind. We learn that “collaborative filters” are what we need to make online fiction more accessible for others—but, and it’s a big but, you have to get people to look at those filters before they’re of any use. The writer mentions a website, Pages Unbound, that can provide the collaborative filtering. I visited briefly. Wow. Ugly white sans text on a dark-gray background, making it hard to read. A front page that seems more manifesto than invitation—and the claim that readers may need mental adjustment to read web novels. Let’s just say that, as one who might be willing to read online fiction, I’m decidedly not bookmarking this site.

Here’s my question: what is the classic .com mistake? I have absolutely no idea – and his article doesn’t really explain – but let’s hold that off for awhile because I’d like to dissect his analysis to see if I’ve missed out anything.

He opens with a rhetorical question: “if we can only get 5% …”. He then follows this up with an attack on credibility (that I’m assuming traditional media is dying, when he thinks it’s actually not) but reminds his readers that this is a minor digression – the true problem is that our current collaborative filters are too ugly to be of any use.

There are three reasons why his analysis is flawed.

Firstly, the amount of people writing and reading blooks has grown two-fold over the past year or so. When I started covering blooking on Novelr the majority of blook writers were the blook readers (prompting, incidentally, this guest post by Gloria Hildebrandt). This has changed in recent times – the number of writers have grown, certainly, but the number of readers have grown even more. Two works, An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom and Tales Of MU have significant communities built around them, mostly drawn from LiveJournal, web comics and strategic advertising. The writer of said commentary has overlooked the simple fact that our 1% has grown into a 2%, and is set to hit 3 and more over the next few months.

Secondly, while the writer is correct in saying that Pages Unbound is ugly and non-functional this comment no longer applies for two reasons. Firstly, PU has closed, and a better filter (or filters, if plans for another one takes off) have replaced it. Secondly, much of the growth has been because of PU, and its close integration with the community could be felt in the outcry that followed its closing. Many readers and writers got their first start through PU’s review system – which despite its flaws managed to spark off a number of new, high quality blooks.

Thirdly, and lastly, my belief that traditional media is dying out has no logical connection to the ‘classic .com problem’. Why the writer included it there is beyond me. Whether they really are dying is open to heated debate – the said writer points out that local newspapers, for instance, are thriving because they provide local content, whereas only the large dailies are suffering. I do believe, however, that a good example does not a good argument make – while we can say that radio has not died with the emergence of television I’d like to point out that its significance has been greatly reduced. We no longer hear of people being glued to their radio sets for football commentary or nightly entertainment. The same will probably happen for traditional media – they won’t die completely, for sure, but they’ll certainly exist in a semi-significant state, less relevant than they were before.

PS: On the writer’s comment that 1000 True Fans is a gimmick – I point to Tales Of MU, amongst other works. Alexandra Erin’s full time job is writing it.

(Image from XKCD)

Wednesday, 4 June, 2008

Novelr Has Forums!

Right. Just a short shoutout here – Novelr’s forums, aptly titled NovLounge (yeah it was a hot afternoon and I wasn’t very feeling creative, so don’t clobber me) is up and running. There’s a handy button on the sidebar that I put together on the run – it’s made out of various image scraps I’m got lying about the computer and you can use that to visit the forum too.
I know I should give a long and inspiring speech about how I hope everyone will get together and build community and write well but I’ve been doing that for some time now and I think I shouldn’t push it too hard. Well, not in this post, at least. But I started NovLounge to gather a small team of people for a site launch we’re going to do next year, and since I’m going to be offline soon the team and I have decided to open it up to Novelr’s community.

Now I’d like to admit here that I’ve no particular vision for NovLounge – I’d like you all to do whatever you want with it, so if you want to compare notes on the best ice cream flavour, go ahead; if you’d like to talk writing, do that as well. We’ve got plenty of places doing intellectual, so it’ll be nice if NovLounge is a little different: a kind of a laid-back bar for Internet writers. Whatever it is, though, it’s up to you. No, really.

That being said, here’s a brief introduction to the forum: there are four categories: Voxpop (for random stuff), Commentary (for discussion of the medium and the craft), Off Tangent (for forum games) and Lounge News (covers forum news and issues). Interaction guidelines can be found here, and the administrators are, in alphabetical order:

If you know them then you’re probably in for a bang of a time. Head over there now, have a cup of coffee, and enjoy!

Friday, 30 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.

Tuesday, 27 May, 2008

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.

Saturday, 3 May, 2008

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.

Onward.

Wednesday, 2 January, 2008

Happy New Year!

2007 has ended, and we’re off to a start in Two Oh Oh Eight. To welcome the new year this post will be full of nonsensical fun, as an aside, perhaps, to all the serious thought that goes on around Novelr every other day of the year.

The Kindle

When the Kindle first came out the entire blogosphere dedicated huge chunks of their time to talk about Amazon’s brave move into the ebook market. I admit they’ve got a lot going for them, but I was also wary of talking about it – wasn’t everyone else already doing so? Now that the hype has died down somewhat I can wade through the aftermath and find the good stuff. Here’s Phillipe Stark saying some honest-to-goodness things about the Kindle.

The lolcat Bible

‘Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded teh skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated dem.’ Need I say more? Priceless.

Up Yours, Keen

We’ve seen Keen angering just about everyone with his Web 2.0 polemic The Cult Of The Amateur. Bill Hilton’s written a great piece about ‘Amateur vs Amateurish‘, Tinstaafl pointed us to another great response to Keen’s book, and now I’ll help out with this Youtube vid of extravagant predictions. Not really sure why – it might be the accent, it might be the cool animation, but I’d like to think it’s the unrestrained gleefulness in the narrator’s voice that gets me going. Watch it. Vairy funny.

Hangovers notwithstanding, Novelr wishes everyone a very happy new year.

Tuesday, 23 October, 2007

100 Posts Roundup: Best Of Novelr

ECG heart rateNovelr started 100 posts ago with a simple Introduction. It seemed like a good idea ( at the time) to cover what writing fiction on the web would mean, and how to go about it. I apologize for slowing down the pace of posts and ideas these two months – real life has literally swept me off my feet and carried me far away from the blogosphere.

Here are some posts that I’m particularly proud of:

  • ‘i’ is a Cardinal Sin. This was early on in Novelr’s history, when I realized that typing uncapped ‘i’s in sentences made my writing seem juvenile. This was my first taste of Internet impressions, where the written word is everything.
  • Blogs are Fantastically Boring. Are all blogs made to be published? Absolutely not.
  • Shut Up and Write. I did this for Problogger’s group writing project, and it promptly gathered 81 comments. I was particularly proud of the post – it was whimsical, light, and I attempted to belittle that horror called Writer’s Block we all get from time to time. I think I succeeded.
  • Crossfire: All Blooker Prize Winners Are Amateurs. This is perhaps the one of the hardest posts I’ve ever done. Took me two days of thinking and discarding replies. Ed-infinitum‘s got a great mind screwed on his shoulders – I do hope he directs that formidable intellect of his towards blooking again.
  • Blooking Need A Community. Because it does.

There has also been a number of guest posts on Novelr, by writers whom I am particularly grateful for. Their ideas have helped shaped the discussions in and around this blog, as well as on blooking overall:

  • Beginning, Middle and End. Scott Mackenzie outlines why we should all finish a story before blogging it. And if it is a work in progress, tell your readers!
  • I’ll Look At Your If You’ll Look At Mine. Here Gloria Hindelbrandt talks about the selfish tendencies us writers have: we tend to read our own work, and overlook the efforts of others. It is provoking, and all the more better for it.
  • On Editing. Blooking because you won’t get edited. Lee tells us why that’s a good thing.

And there’s of course the Ultimate Blooking Guide, which was an absolute chore to do. It did prove helpful – I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve thanked me for compiling the resource, especially when they’ve just started out blooking.

Little things like that makes the work on Novelr all the more worthwhile. Thank you all, and here’s to more stuff to think about in the next hundred posts!

Wednesday, 22 August, 2007

Dugg! Horton’s Folly

Let’s see how far we can push this experiment: digg Horton’s Folly (or at least one episode of it) here.

Fingers crossed. Online fiction on the Digg frontpage? Now there’s something I’d like to see!

[Update]: James has posted a call to arms in his blog, explaining the fundamentals and what we are trying to get accomplished from this experiment. Check it out here.