Category Archives: Writing News and Updates

50WS: Likes vs. Ratings

This week I made a pretty noticeable change to 50WS: I removed the ability to rate stories and replaced it with “Like” buttons. Why? Well, here’s my thought process on the subject.

Over the past few months, there was a clear trend on 50WS towards low star ratings. The best stories used to get 4.5 averages, but now most stories were sitting at 2.5 to 3.0,  with a few occasionally approaching 3.8 or 3.9. There were cases where a story that was doing quite well suddenly received a large number of low votes, driving its average way down for no apparent reason. So not only was there a lot of unexplained negativity, but there seemed to be some abuse of the system, too.

This got me thinking.

With star ratings, readers had three ways to express their opinions about a story. They could rate it, they could leave a comment, or they could share it using the Share buttons. Of the three, rating was the easiest and least personal, commenting was the most personal, and sharing was the most one-directional: you usually only share a story if you really like it.

I asked myself: what would we lose if we got rid of star ratings? Well, directional feedback on stories (saying it’s “good” vs. saying it’s “bad”) might take more effort, meaning some feedback would disappear. We would also lose a way of “comparing” stories to see which one the readers liked more.

How valuable are these things, and what differences does a Like button introduce?

Directional feedback can be useful. It’s good for a reader to be able to say when they liked a story, and it can be helpful to the author to get feedback on elements of a story that didn’t work so well. The positive side can be captured by a “Like” button, although we can’t distinguish between a 4 and a 5 anymore. As for the negative feedback, it’s much more useful to get an explanatory comment than a throwaway 1-star or 2-star rating: a comment benefits the author more.

As for comparing stories, I don’t publish any stories I personally consider 1-star or 2-star, and I don’t often look back at a story and feel it was a 3-star. I already filter out the less effective stories when I review the submissions. So all the stories on the site meet a certain standard. A poor star rating from the readers doesn’t really mean the story is bad, because I don’t believe I publish bad stories. As I said previously, we are losing the ability to compare 4s and 5s, but the best stories tend to earn positive comments, too, and those are a better measure of resonating with readers than a high rating is. We also have the Top Stories program to reward the really good stories (though I choose the winners myself, so ratings/likes don’t really determine that).

In the balance of things, I felt that moving to Likes instead of ratings had a lot more pros than cons. We now have a better measure of “popularity” and a system that’s less susceptible to abuse (it still allows for “positive abuse” if someone Likes a story several times from different IP addresses, but there isn’t as much harm in that as low-rating a story multiple times). Our positive feedback is maintained, and our negative feedback is improved.

I haven’t deleted the old star ratings from the site yet, and I will probably archive them for future reference, just in case, but I’m pretty happy with this change.

I’m willing to hear feedback from 50WS readers, though, so if you haven’t already chimed in on the announcement post on the site, let me know what you think.

Ads on 50WS: What Does the Future of Look Like?

It has now been about three weeks since I first put up some Google ads on I know ads can be a bit of a touchy subject, so I want to explain my reasoning behind trying them out and share how things are going so far.


First, some context. I’ve been running 50WS since February 2009, and the site has grown quite a bit over that time. In July 2010, 50WS got 1,822 pageviews from 590 different visitors. In July 2013, site traffic was several times higher, with 11,934 pageviews from 5,066 different visitors!

What about annual traffic? Well, in all of 2011, 24,874 different people visited the site. In 2013 so far, with one full month left to go, the number of unique visitors has grown to more than 54,250, and could top 60,000 by the end of the year.

Outside of site traffic numbers, in the past four and a half years I’ve also released two 50-word story collections (with the third in production for release in January) and held several contests with a variety of prizes.

The Future

So 50WS is growing, and that’s great. Of all the writing projects I’ve taken on over the past several years, 50WS has been by far the most unique and the most successful.

My goal from here is to keep that success rolling. The question I’ve been asking myself is: what might the continued growth of 50WS look like? Here are some ideas:

  • Monthly themed contests (with prizes)
  • Two stories a day year-round
  • Published anthologies of submitted stories
  • More opportunities for writers and readers to interact and share feedback

To make any or all of these ideas a reality, I need four things: 1) readers, 2) writers, 3) time, and 4) money.

Readership is growing. Submissions are pouring in. I can make time for 50WS when I have to (though not always as much as I’d like.)

The fourth one, though, is often the most complicated. Contest prizes aren’t free. Neither is producing and publishing a book. The site also has some overhead in the form of hosting and store software.

Now, I don’t really need to make a profit on 50WS, but if I want the site to move forward I do need it to be self-sustaining.


That’s where the ads come in. I decided that if I was going to try site ads, they had to earn enough to pay for the cost of hosting the website. For the past 4+ years, I’ve been paying the hosting costs out of pocket. That’s fine; as a hobby, 50WS is a lot cheaper than most other things I could be doing. But expenses are expenses…

My plan has been to set up advertising, let it run for a month or two, and see what happens. If the ads earn their keep, they’ll stay, and I’ll reinvest the money into other areas that will help the site grow. If they don’t make enough to at least cover hosting expenses, I’ll get rid of them and make other plans.

So how are the ads doing? As of today, the ads have been up on 50WS for 18 days, or just over half a month. During that time, they have earned enough for about a month and a half of hosting expenses. Projected over 30 days—which is a bit risky with this little data—they’ll earn about three times as much as I need to pay for hosting each month.

Verdict: the ads will stay until something happens to make them go away.

Of course, I’m very interested in hearing feedback from anyone who has found that the ads have affected their 50WS experience, because that’s an important factor here. So far I haven’t had any negative feedback about the ads, and I haven’t seen any annoying popups or audio ads. Let me know if you’ve seen anything obnoxious!

Next Steps

Having a (small) revenue stream for the site could mean some very exciting things moving forward. Continued site growth means continued revenue growth, which means even more exciting ways to make 50WS grow, which is a pretty exciting concept.

I hope you’ll join me in seeing what comes next!

An Update: Why Special People is Still Dormant

In August I wrote a news post for Special People announcing that I was soon going to get back into writing the serial and moving the story forward.

You may have noticed that didn’t happen. I did some outlining, I wrote and posted a prologue… Then it fizzled. And I’m okay with that.

I do find it disappointing that I wasn’t able to get the next story off the ground, but I think it’s been for the best. I have a three-week-old baby right now, and that would have meant probably a month or so off of writing. I also find that my storytelling isn’t as good when I’m tired, and since the only time I would have to write is after my toddler is in bed, that means I’d always be writing tired!

I’m holding off on getting back into Special People until I feel like I can give it the attention and energy it deserves.

In the meantime, I’ve ramped up my work on 50WS. Rather than needing at least an hour at a time to work on Special People, I find it so much easier to spend five or fifteen minutes taking care of the site, reviewing submissions, and writing my own occasional stories, so it’s been a good outlet for keeping my creative juices flowing. The site is really growing, too, and I have lots of ideas to build on that trend!

So I hope you’ll stick with me, read (and write!) some 50-word stories, and keep hoping for the day Special People comes back for real. I know I find that prospect very exciting.

Getting Back in the Swing of Things

Remember when I used to write all kinds of stuff and share it on this blog?

Seems like a long time ago, but I’m finally starting to get back into some of that. The ball has been starting to roll again over the last couple of weeks…

Here are a couple of things I’ve got on the go right now:

I’ve also got some thoughts to share on a couple of movies I watched recently, so I’ll try to put that together soon.

An Update on This; an Update on That

Boy, it’s been a while since I wrote a blog post. I haven’t felt the need to post any “life updates”, because Larissa has been doing such a great job of that over on her blog (a far better job than I could hope to do, in fact). She posts all kinds of photos and everything!

On the writing front, my output has obviously decreased significantly since the first half of 2012, so I haven’t had much to update there, either. I’m still putting out a chapter each week for Special People, though I took a break over Christmas, but any SP-related news items that come up get posted on that site, not here. (You should probably follow along over there, by the way. There’s been more progress on the comic project lately, and the current storyline is approaching its finale sequence.) I hope to put a few more interactive opportunities out there for people to get involved with soon, as well.

The Year of Stories is still on indefinite hiatus, and my Lucas Galloway novel is still somewhat in limbo. I don’t have the time or creative energy available to me right now to work on multiple projects at once, so in order for me to return to either of those I think I’m going to have to take a break for Special People, which is perhaps something I’ll do while the comic is posting, whenever that happens to be.

Something I really should get around to doing soon is compiling 50-Word Stories: Volume Three. All of the material exists on the site already, and I have the cover art, etc., so I just need to choose which stories to include, put the cover and some sort of essay together, and release it. I’ve been putting it off far too long, and it’s about time it went on my actual To-Do List. If I haven’t gotten it done by mid-February, someone give my a kick!

Beyond all of these things, life rolls on. I finished Volume 1 of Don Quixote last week, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I want to wait until I’ve read Volume 2 before adding it to my 50 Best Novels list; I’ve heard that the second volume takes on a somewhat different tone than the first, and I think that may affect how highly I rank it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it land in the top 10 eventually, though.

There are plenty more books out there, including several on my shelves, that I’d like to get around to reading, and I’m going to try to share a few thoughts on them as I finish each one, if for no other reason than to make better use of this space, so that it doesn’t sit quite so idle, and also to get my brain and fingers used to more frequent writing again.

P.S. Hockey is back! Hooray!

My Authorial State of Being

What have I been up to lately? My blog hasn’t been very revealing on that front, so here’s an attempt to shed some light on my current authorial state of being.

You may have noticed that my fiction output has dropped off dramatically over the past couple of months. There are multiple reasons for that. Losing Freight ended, I completed Year Three of Fifty-Word Stories, and I took a break from the Year of Stories to recharge my batteries. Basically, the natural endings of a couple of projects coincided with some creative burnout. Any reasonable person could have seen that coming, probably: writing 12 unique posts per week (averaging over 8,000 words) across four different “franchises”, while also trying to make headway on my novel, was way too much.

I think I can improve on my current output (I’m only working actively on Special People right now), but by the time I’m ready to ramp things up again, some life circumstances may change, and the time I have available for writing may be diminished. So I don’t want to make any promises or predictions about timelines on different projects, but I do want to assure people that I intend to finish off the Year of Stories eventually, and put together Fifty-Word Stories: Volume Three, and do enough rewrites/tweaks to Losing Freight and the early Special People story arcs to make them publishable, and…

Yeah. See my problem?

I’ve also been podcasting every week (and then every other week, except for some recent inconsistencies), but I think it’s time to put that little side project to rest. The effort-to-audience ratio isn’t high enough to justify it right now.

I want to thank everyone for their support and patience while I try to get some of the big items on my to-do list checked off. I hope you’re enjoying the new Special People content I put out twice a week, and as soon as I’m able to start getting more new stories out to you, I intend to do so. Until then, I’ll do my best to keep everyone updated on my progress towards the various releases I’m working on.

WeSeWriMo (Written for 1889 Labs)

I put together a blog post for 1889 Labs on the topic of WeSeWriMo. Here’s a snippet from it, but feel free to head over there and read the full thing.

WeSeWriMo, which is run by the web serial community site EpiGuide, runs annually during the month of August. This will be its sixth straight year. WeSeWriMo was inspired by the ever-popular National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). But where NaNoWriMo challenges authors to complete a 50,000-word novel in a single month, WeSeWriMo is designed to be adaptable to the unique challenges and opportunities of web serialization. Just as web serials come in a wide variety of formats, genres, and release schedules, the goals WeSeWriMo participants can pursue are entirely customizable. The idea is that each participant can set their own targets, based on their regular output. The WeSeWriMo website suggests aiming for 150% of your regular output as an example target, so if you’re used to releasing 4 episodes of your series in a month, try to write 6 episodes, instead, and add them to your backlog. Another goal could be to write 1,000 words per day for the entire month, or you could come up with something completely different to try for, as long as your target is “ambitious yet realistic”.

In my own case, I’ve decided to set a couple of different types of targets. I normally write and post two 1,000-word chapters per week for Special People, but in my official registration post on the EpiGuide forums, I laid out the following three goals:

Goal #1: Write 15 chapters (15,000 words)

Goal #2: Outline the next story arc.

Goal #3: Prepare the first Special People book for release.

If you’re interested in taking part in WeSeWriMo yourself, check out the official website.