Archive for the 'Technical Advice' Category

Aug 08 2008

Online Writing Tip of the Day: Check Your Links

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

If you have a list of links in your sidebar or site-map, test the links once a month.  It amazes me how often we change the permalinks without updating the sidebar.  The monthly link-test is easily the most productive minute I spend on website design. 

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Jul 30 2008

Website-Design Tip of the Day: Readers Deserve More than Archives

Archives are not a particularly effective way to organize your website’s content. A list of years and months doesn’t help readers figure out what sort of content your site offers. In contrast, listing a few of the categories you post in most frequently will help readers understand what your website offers. Archives are also inadequate because they’re daunting and impenetrable for new viewers. I wouldn’t recommend placing archives high in your sidebar, although you may that they are useful at the bottom because returning viewers like using them.

I recommend placing index pages ahead of archives. For example, readers that click on the entries in our Top Categories sidebar get sent to an index page where we tried to lay out our content intelligently. For example, our index of writing guides organizes 30 writing articles into seven sections, such as Characterization and Common Writing Mistakes. Readers can navigate through an index more easily than through a flood of articles thrown at them in no particular order. If readers can easily find the content that interests them, they are far more likely to actually read it.

What do you think? Which sites do you find particularly easy to navigate?

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Jul 29 2008

Good News and Bad News: the Neuromancer Movie

Fans of trippy science-fiction novels everywhere can rejoice that Neuromancer is getting a movie. In other good news, the movie poster shown by looks pretty stylish and suggests that it won’t be a remake of Swordfish.

The bad news is that Hayden Christensen, the same “actor” that ruined Star Wars and Jumper, is starring as Case. Dare I say that John Travolta could do this better? Egads. How could we have come to the point where John Travolta is the lesser of two acting evils? Hayden [censored]ing Christensen.

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Jul 19 2008

Picking a Font for a Webcomic

I’m particularly fond of Gosmick Sans and Agency FB. Stay the hell away from Comic Sans, Times, Impact, and Helvetica. None of the default Microsoft Word fonts are particularly attractive. I recommend browsing through a free-font website like 1001 Free Fonts. I’ll have more thoughts on this later.

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Jul 05 2008

Hellboy Quotes + Gunfire = Funny Hellboy Quotes?

The Hellboy Quote Generator is out, although it has been technically unreliable. On a comedy scale of 1 to 10, I’d give this a 5: amusing but uneven. It’s a well-done piece of viral advertising, though. (“Let me put this to you as delicately as I can.” *BANG*)

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Jul 03 2008

We broke 25,000 hits for 2008 today!

Thanks for coming.

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Jul 02 2008

Adapting and Updating Cartoon Franchises

The New York Times has an interesting run-down of cartoon updates, from apparently successful endeavors like Strawberry Shortcake and the ugly-but-popular TMNT series to horrible flops like Magic Earring Ken and Warner Brother’s Loonatics…

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May 20 2008

How to Format WordPress Text (A Photographic Essay)

This article will teach you how to change the space between paragraphs, create internal links, add footnotes, and a few other tricks applicable to WordPress.
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May 11 2008

Are you worth reading?

This brief article will help you design a premise for a novel or blog that sells better.

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May 01 2008

Effectively Promoting Your Book: Getting the Most out of a Booksigning

Some starting authors expect that their work is over when their manuscript gets picked up by a publisher. No, not even close. Once the book is published, it falls largely to the author to market his work by running promotional events like book-signings.

Learning to host an effective book-signing is as crucial for authors as a good hand-shake is for a politician. Here is some advice on how to hold an effective promo event. Continue Reading »

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Apr 30 2008

Using Google Analytics to Promote Your Book Intelligently

Authors, particularly new and unproven ones, have to use promotional events to drive sales. Google Analytics can provide useful information about which cities are worth promoting in. The conventional wisdom is probably that the most readers for the typical book can be found in large cities (NYC, Chicago, LA…) But you can probably do a lot better than just hitting up large cities.

For example, we’ve tabulated our numbers for January 2008 and found that Atlanta and Toronto currently have almost as many Superhero Nation readers as NYC.

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Apr 13 2008

Organizing a Web-Site

Seth Godin had an interesting, brief post on organization. He finds that alphabetical order is not the best way to organize most things– he argues that relevance is a better measure of organization than arbitrary letter rankings.

I think that applies to sites as well. Most blogging platforms organize posts chronologically by default, but that’s a terrible way to organize information. If someone leaves and later returns, it will be virtually impossible for them to pick up where they left off. If you wanted to send an article you read yesterday to a friend, your only hope is to search through all the posts again. The only strength of chronological organization is that it’s relatively easy to tell when there’s an update.

Avinash at Occam’s Razor has a better approach: a site-map. He splits his articles into a few rational categories and then orders articles within those categories chronologically. That’s effective because it ties articles together in a logical way. If you liked his first article on web analytics, you can run down the list and find ten more in a row. Avinash’s site-map wisely includes dates. That, too, is effective because it helps readers quickly identify if there have been updates and where they can be found.

I like Superhero Nation’s organization– a combination of widgets and chronological ordering– but that clearly pales before a real map. If you look at the widget on the left labelled “Writing About Superheroes,” you can see that we’ve only included links to six articles there and then added a link to a map for our superhero writing articles. Widgets are a great start, but they will probably grow inadequate as you accumulate content. How many widget-links can you use before people’s eyes glaze over? Probably 20, at most. But we have 500 posts (including 120 quotes of the day and 60 articles on writing).

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Mar 28 2008

A Photographic Essay: Text, Photoshop, and Header Art

In a header, text usually looks best when balanced. For example, in our header “a fairly unbalanced” is balanced nicely because it’s exactly as wide as the row below it, “guide to superpower politics.” If you’re interested in learning how to make text look pleasant, this will help.

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Mar 25 2008

Changes with Google Analytics?

Google Analytics reports that only 40% of our visitors on Tuesday were new. Previously, that number had never been less than 90%.

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Mar 21 2008

$350,000 for Publishing Rights to Stuff White People Like Book?

Published by under Online Novel

Wow. Nice job, guys. The TWPL site started two months ago and has attracted 15 million hits (itself an astonishing achievement: I estimate they get 1800 times as many hits per day as we do).

If we assume that a publisher offers the same amount of money per hit ($.0233), then I’ve calculated that our site has so far created $600 worth of publishability. By my estimates, we work (collectively) between 20 and 40 hours a week for this website. I calculate that we earn $.83 per hour.  [Update: for the month of September 2008, we earned between $1.20 and $1.75]

Final verdict: I shouldn’t quit my day-job.

By comparison, if we assumed that the author(s) of SWPL worked 20 hours a day for the last two months, Jess has earned $292 per hour. (Minus his/her costs, but I don’t know what those would look like. Traffic control, I guess).

*The publisher says the Observer’s $350,000 number is off but won’t say if it’s over or under the actual number. If I had to guess either way, I’d say the real number is likely lower…

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Mar 20 2008

Welcome, MicroISVers!

Hey! Superhero Nation offers comedy, superhero writing advice, generic writing advice, and a few assorted articles on how to manage a small online project, particularly an online novel (these include Using Header Art and Using Google Analytics to Self-Review).

Note:  if you’d like to read the article Pat mentioned, click here.

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Dec 29 2007

Conversation of the Day: Mike-Catastrophe Part 2

Mike: We have a non-optional orientation program for aliens. This is very simple. If anyone asks, say that you’re not an alien.

Catastrophe: I’m a cartoon character.

Mike: That was easy, wasn’t it?

Catastrophe: …

Catastrophe: Wait. There are aliens on Earth?

Mike: Uhh… no?


This is part II of a four part conversation. You can see part 1 here or part 3 here.

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Dec 10 2007

Preliminary Search Engine Optimization Results

10 days ago, I changed the title of one of my most popular articles from “Helping Girls Write Guys” toWriting Male Characters(I explained my reasoning here). I think that it’ll take 20 or so more days until I have conclusive information, but so far the article has tripled in unique hits over the past ~9.5 days compared to the 10 days before the change. I had anticipated some change, because my target audience is much more likely to use words like male/writing/characters than helping/girls/guys, but the magnitude of the leap surprised me.

Additionally, the article has become more effective. I suspect that the new title retains readers that click the Google link more effectively. “Writing Male Characters” is very straight-forward and serious; “Helping Girls Write Guys” doesn’t sound nearly as helpful.

  1. Before, the article bounced an unacceptably high ~60% of readers. That has dropped to 35%. My preliminary conclusion is that strong titles are critical to retaining readers.
  2. Including readers that bounce after a very short amount of time, the average time spent on the article has increased from two minutes to three. Excluding relatively unpopular articles that are skewed by a few devoted readers (three people spent an average of 30 minutes on one of mine), only my review of Soon I Will Be Invincible and my article on naming characters retain readers longer. And my SIWBI review is 4000 words long.
  3. With the exception of the main site at, more readers enter my site through this article than any other.


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Dec 05 2007

A few quick tips on encouraging traffic

  1. Post something every day. If you’re gungho enough to actually log on to your site every day, great. If not, write a few more posts than you need and set their timestamps so that they come out once a day. Having one post a day is vastly preferable to a few posts every few days.
    1. Daily posts encourages readers to check your site often. It also reminds your readers that you’re still alive and why they love coming back. (Right, guys?)
    2. Coming up with 7 posts each week is not too hard. I think we have 400 posts over the five months. Admittedly, we have a team of contributors, but to be fair I would venture to say that at least 200-250 of those are mine.
    3. If interested readers see that you haven’t updated in the past few days, they may stop coming. I loved Your Webcomic Can Still Be Saved but it hasn’t posted in quite some time. I no longer check it.
    4. Your readers won’t derive as much enjoyment from the second article as the first (diminishing returns). But it’s just as hard to write the second article as it is to write the first. From an economics standpoint, it makes more sense to stash the second article.
  2. Strategic post timing. I think the most popular time to browse the web is (for adults) around 5pm-8pm. It’s probably around 3-5 pm for students. Target your posts to just before your audience is likely to check.
  3. What should you post? That depends on what your site’s aim is. If you’re trying to market a novel, you can show your writing style with one-liners from your characters, strong scenes or a short conversation between two characters. Character profiles may be useful, particularly if your characters are fresh enough to draw us into the story.

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Dec 01 2007

Search Engine Optimization for Online Novels

This article describes some remotely technical details of search engine optimization, particularly for authors/novelists.

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Oct 15 2007

A5 Sheet Sample for Retardised Whovian

Published by under Technical Advice

Using size 12 Times New Roman and short margins, I was able to fit 300 words.  The page fit 25 lines, including paragraph breaks.

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