Release 1.4 – Night mode and more

Novlr just got better – as it does every month.

We’ve been listening. You tell us what you need and we build it. Have a watch of our summary video or scroll down and take a look at some of the new features – there’s chunky ones and mini ones – they all make a difference.

 

Evening and night modes

Evening and night

A lot of you write day and night, and many of you asked for a softer colour scheme for the long nights. So we did some research, took on your ideas and voila: evening and night modes.

 

Curly quotes and em dash

curly-quotes

 

Some of you are very particular about having a certain ratio of curl in your quotes…so now you can.

 

em-dash2

 

Who needs commas, parenthesis or colons? Just em dash it by typing two dashes in succession.

 

 

Improved exports

We are continuously improving the exports as they are complicated beasts. So this month:

  • Notes can now be included in export
  • Strikethrough and underline work in pdf
  • Page breaks after chapters

 

Take the tour

Tour

 

Novlr is adding features so quickly we need to make sure everyone who joins gets an introduction to them. You can try it in Settings > Help.

Cleaned up chapters

charptersidebar

 

We cleaned up the chapter sidebar a little. Aesthetics matter when you’re using a tool as much as we writers do. There’s more important changes to the chapters coming soon too…

 

 

 

 

Click onto a line

Novlrclickleft

This one was a pet peeve of mine (Thomas). It was difficult to click on the beginning of a line. You had to get it exact. Well not any more…now you can click a bit to the left. It’s the small details sometimes.

 

 

 

We’ll be releasing new features every month.

Influence what we build next by adding your votes to the features roadmap and discuss how you would like to see them built. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

Good luck with the writing – and thanks for using Novlr.

 

Novlr’s had a spring clean!

Another packed release for you. I’m excited about this one because it includes some new functionality to make managing Novlr more convenient it also makes it immeasurably more pleasant to use in my opinion. Go and click the settings icon in your Novlr and explore the new tabs and designs. Here, have a video tour of what’s new:

 

Try and break it please

As with all new features, we have tested it as much as we can with our tiny team of three but if you find any bugs or anything that you don’t think is working right, just drop us an email at hello@novlr.org or tweet us @novlrtweets.

What’s in this release?

Redesign

This release is a complete redesign of the settings screens. Including the addition of some new functionality in there. The easiest way to see what’s new is to log in and look around or watch the video above. I’ve pulled out a few key changes below.

Simpler export

You told us you found the export screen frustrating to use when you had more than one novel. We moved export into a simple export button in your novel list and now only have integrations (Drive & Dropbox) in a separate tab.

Easy-to-read stats

You now have novel word counts and data in one tab and your writing progress in another. Some of you aren’t interested in writing data (which is when we capture how many words you actually write – taking out pasted or imported words and counting deleted words) and others among you are data monsters. It made sense to split them.

Grammarly compatible (sort of)

There was a bug in Novlr where having Grammarly installed caused the cursor to jump around the page. It is an issue that Grammarly are aware of and other editors of this type have similar issues, so we are hoping we can work with Grammarly to come up with a solution soon. In the meantime, having Grammarly installed won’t now break Novlr, Novlr will work, but Grammarly will be off. This is step one. Hopefully soon, we will have full compatibility and you can have the best of both worlds. Any developers out there, feel free to take a look at the links above and have a stab at fixing it!

Quick contact

We have added a new quick contact form from within the app in case you want to get in touch, report a bug or need to talk when you crash into the wall of writers block. We’re here for you.
More bug fixes

Bug fixes

Yes, every release has a tonne of these in. In this release are:

  • Italics & bold disappearing in .docx export
  • Paragraph spacing sometimes not coming out correctly on import
  • Some saves not recording correct word counts which threw stats out
  • Other changes to stats calculations (we are making tweaks all the time – please report any inconsistencies to help make them better)
  • We sped up page load

So that was February/March, we’ll be releasing new features every month.

Influence what we build next by adding your votes to the features roadmap and discuss how you would like to see them built. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

Why a monthly subscription is better

Some of you have asked us why we have chosen a subscription model. Why should I pay monthly for something when I could pay a one-off fee and never have to worry about it again? It’s a fair question. And it’s one we are keen to answer, because there are very good reasons – good for you, our writers – as to why we’ve chosen a subscription model.

Novlr isn’t a thing, it’s a service.

What do I mean by that? Well lets use an analogy of a school. When you say ‘a school’ you can be referring to two things.

  • 1. There’s the physical school building.
  • 2. There’s the service that does the schooling.

You could buy the building, but without paying the teachers, cleaners, electricity bill etc you don’t have a school. The school continually changes, gets better, every year there are new textbooks and new meals need to be cooked for school lunches every day. That’s Novlr. We’re not the outer casing, we’re the team of people: developers, designers, support staff, accountants, database technicians – everything else that sits behind the clean simple writing screen that you write into.

Novlr is constantly improving

A major difference between paying for a service or a product is that a service continually improves. We improve Novlr all the time, which means that every month you’ll get a better tool. Just take a look at the incredible list of features you’ve all suggested on our roadmap. None of that will be built if we wrapped up Novlr as it is now and sold it to you. We want to build all that. We want to work with you to build the best writing tool.

It means we can support you

We pride ourselves in responding to your questions and concerns as quickly as we possibly can. We can only do that if we have regular predictable income coming in. We want to be able to do that for as long as Novlr is runningInflatable Pools cleaning.

It means Novlr is more robust

If users pay in smaller increments regularly, it means a company like ours can plan properly – we will know how and when the money will come in and we can hire the people we need based on that. We can make things steady and constant rather than relying on how many copies of a software we’d sold that month.

It makes us work harder

If we took your money up front, we’d not be under any great pressure to keep giving you a good service afterwards. By breaking your payments down into small chunks, we need to keep giving you a good service every single month otherwise you’ll cancel your subscription. That incentive is good.

We’re much more likely to last

If we use a subscription model and it allows us to plan in a sustainable way – so our costs never outweigh our income, we are a much more secure organisation. We won’t stretch beyond our means, we won’t stop supporting you because we’ve run out of money like many startup companies do.

There are also practical costs

As well as the staff required to support Novlr, there are other practical costs, like hosting and licenses etc that a one-off piece of software doesn’t have. Paying for those lets us offer you something better than a one-off piece of software – constant access, cloud storage, offline syncing etc.

 

The reasons are simple

We’re here to work with you to build the best writing tool. A subscription model makes that far more likely. You just need to look at how one-off software stands still, or introduces new versions, or plugins that then cost more money at a later date. We just want a simple, open, honest transaction with our users. We think Novlr (the service) is worth $10 a month – and hope you do too.

Two bug-fixes pushed live: Page scrolling to top and extra line breaks when pasting from word

Hello beta testers. So today we pushed some code live that we hope fixes two quite small but annoying bugs that were happening to quite a few of you. I have found it hard to replicate them because they happen only on some devices and operating systems (and the windows license key nature of Novlr being just Thomas and I means we don’t have all of these to test on!) however, I think I know where they were coming from (more on that in a bit) and so am hoping this resolves it. The two bugs are:

Scrolling back up the page when typing
Windows predominantly. Reported only from IE
When typing, once the length of the chapter extended down the height of the device, every save would skip you back to the top of the editor.

Pasting from word adds additional line breaks
WIndows and Mac. Various version of Microsoft word. Multiple browsers.
Pasting text in from Microsoft word would add additional line breaks half way through sentences.

What do we need from you?

If you were having trouble with either of these bugs, it would be a huge, and I can’t overestimate how huge, help to us if you would see if it is still happening and let us know if it is or not. You can do this by tweeting us @novlrtweets or email kim@novlr.org.

How did you fix it?

Firstly, I don’t know for sure that it is, as I say because I had trouble replicating it, I’m hoping you will tell us for sure! However, I believe that both of these bugs were as a result of the editor library we use, Quill, requiring the editable part of the page to be in an iframe. This adds many complications – it’s a bit like having a webpage inside of a webpage. The latest version of Quill was a big re-write and dropped this entirely which makes it 1. much easier to develop and 2. much easier to debug inflatable bouncers!

That time novlr made the words invisible

Slap, bang, we were so close! So tantalising close to launching offline. I mean we did launch it. But there was a problem.

Last night at 00.30am GMT, we launched offline editing. We always release new functionality at least 12 hours before announcing it in case any issues crop up. Well they did. We woke up to two people rightly very worried that their words seemed to have disappeared. We reverted the code and within an hour they could see them again.

But what had happened?
Well, it’s a strange one. When you look at Novlr, you are probably looking at the most recent code, but browsers also “cache” code to stop it reloading it every time. The code can tell the browser if it is modified and that will tell it load the newest stuff. Well our code had a bug that meant that it was telling the browser that it wasn’t modified and so users weren’t getting the latest copy of the code. (If you are technically minded, details of the bug are here.) One of the things that was affected was the stylesheet which defines what everything looks like and, as a consequence, the colour of the font. Meaning that all of the words were there but were ‘invisible’! Yeah, I know. Not something we’ve come across before either!

The solution
Reverting the code, then asking the affected users to refresh brought the old code back. We then corrected the code that was telling the browser that it was always unmodified. We have also added extra caching instruction to make sure that you always have a full copy of the latest code when you need it. We launched all that today. As for the offline stuff which we had to take down, we are giving the caching 24 hours as it is new functionality, before then launching the offline work again.

Another lesson learnt and another improvement to the Novlr code and deploy process.

Oh and I don’t think I can say this enough…WE WILL NEVER LOSE YOUR WORDS. We triple back them up every five minutes to different locations, so even in the hugely unlikely event they really did go missing, we would have them.

Working out multiple devices

So since we opened up beta to everyone (at the end of October), the number of beta testers has grown at over 50 a day! That is a lot of people using Novlr!

This increase in people means we are getting more issues reported. Sounds like a bad thing I know. But it sort of isn’t (we’re optimists here!). What it means is that issues that are happening to a number of people show up pretty quickly because our diligent testers are reporting them in larger numbers. basically it makes it easier for us to figure out what is a “one-off” bug and what is something that needs dealing with urgently.

We’ve come across one of the latter.

We have had reports of people occasionally having issues with Novlr not updating when switching from one device to another. We’ve had about 15 reports, which may not sound like many with 2000 people using the product but it is an indication that it is not an ad-hoc thing. We are working on this as we speak. Weirdly, our work on offline editing fits really neatly with our solution to the multiple device conundrum so we have fast-tracked both together and this is our current focus with an aim to have it live in the next few weeks.

The work on this is thanks in *whole* to the lifetime heroes who have invested in Novlr, saving them a tonne of cash in the future and also helping us pay for current development. You can be one too if you like.

Anyway, in the meantime here is some advice on working on Novlr on multiple devices

  1. If you come to a device with Novlr open where you previously left off and a chapter isn’t up to date with what you worked on elsewhere –
    • Don’t write in the chapter (this will overwrite your work written elsewhere)
    • Refresh the page. This will update it in 95% of cases.
    • If that doesn’t work, flush the cache and refresh the page again.
  2. If you are still having problems get in touch with kim@novlr.org with the time of the problem she will do what she can to help you.

Like I say, we are currently building functionality that will resolve this. But we wanted to make sure you were of this bug.

Thanks again for being the best beta testers a couple of optimistic procrastinating writer-come-developers could ask for.

Drag and drop & community spirit

I recently wrote we were tackling the beast that is signup, well I am please to say we have that pretty much nailed now. We have front and backend validation working a treat, secure password storage in the browser and database, constant saving, a smooth and easy process of signup and log in and all hooked to what it needs to in the backend! We have also retained authorisation on server restarts (*yawn*) which in real terms means that as we bug-fix and update your Novlr, you won’t have to keep re-logging in. It’s the little things 🙂

The latest challenge of the Novlr build has been the sortable chapters. One of the things you told us was most important was easily move things about at will. We know how often you novel writers change your minds! So the latest chunk of work has been doing exactly that – making an intuitive drag and drop chapter list. Now, without getting to tech-heavy, I want you to know we had to really put our head together on this one. Art and I were scribbling number arrays and proposed code logic on bits of paper for hours in Pain le Quotidien on Wardour Street in a bid to get it to do the right thing in the backend. We’re please to say that on finally figuring out what we *thought* was the best way of doing this in technological terms we turned to the community (sort of our vibe here at Novlr) for a crowdsourced opinion. If you’re interested you can read the question we asked and the generated discussion which helped us solidfiy the method we had chosen. I don’t expect anyone to be following that closely! I just wanted to demonstrate how much of the build relies on the node.js and angular.js communities – it’s expert’s brains; it’s streamlined libraries; and it’s wealth of example builds that help us get to where we are.

This made us think a lot about having a community of our own. What that would like like we’re not sure – a writing community, a Novlr-specific forum, a writing help community. We don’t know but it got us thinking and something we are going to look more into once we have beta done and the first couple of releases out of the way!

You never have to hit “Save” again

This week’s project has been the little task of never making you ever have to hit save again!

One of the most important things you asked for was constant saving so you don’t even have to think about it – it just does it. So that’s what we’re doing. First step: building the editor. We’ve not got to formatting yet but are just looking at how to build the editing bit, the bit we are calling the “paper”.

This is an important bit to get right (I have said this a lot throughout dev, I guess everything is important!) so we did a lot of research around what libraries (code) already exist, particularly markdown-ready ones and ones with simple interfaces. After exploring pen, tinyMCE and Hallo, we settled on an open source editor called Quill.js (for now at least). So what we have done is used the raw form of Quill to provide the foundation for the editor.

It’s currently a blank page on the Novlr product (no formatting – we’ll get to that in a couple of weeks). You can type on the page and the words are stored as part of the chapter in the database. This is progress. It still has a long way to go – the formatting, the usability of it, keyboard shortcuts and crucially what it is doing behind the scenes (to make it exportable to all of the formats you will need). However, this means that one thing that is working is the feature voted second most important by you (at time of writing :)) which is constant saving.

Constant saving: the nitty gritty

For saving we thought that there were essentially two ways to tackle it. Save at intervals or save when something’s happening. We drafted about five solutions:

  1. Save the whole novel every 5 seconds
  2. Save the chapter being edited every 5 seconds
  3. Save the chapter being edited every 5 seconds whenever you are typing
  4. Save the chapter every time there is a third of a second break in the typing (so “whenever something has changed”)
  5. As 4. but only save “the difference” rather than the whole chapter

I won’t go into all of the discussion around the options. I also acknowledge that on the face of it there might not seem much difference between these options, however when you are spending hours writing a novel, it is these little interactions that make a big difference.

We went with, *drumroll*, number four. Which we believe is the second best option there. The best being number 5 which I’ll get onto in a second. So number four works by detecting when keystrokes are being made. It then essentially gets ready to save but stores it up until there is a 0.3 second break in the keystrokes (this time period we can experiment with and adjust) and then saves. And then as soon as a keystroke is detected again, it starts storing up the save again! For those technically-leaned, this is utilising something called “de-bouncing” and comes packaged as part of a helper library called lo-dash.

So, what happens on that “save” event is: we take the whole chapter and update the database with this newer version. Like I said above, this is probably not the ideal solution, number five would be as it would save only the difference. This would be less “expensive” on the server (not as intense on the memory), however, this is technically a much greater task and something we hope to add in the future when we look at adding versioning (being able to track back through all the changes you’ve made). For beta, the number of people using Novlr at the same time should mean that this marginal difference in processing times shouldn’t have an impact of usability, however when it is scaled up and used by thousands (ney, millions) at once, we may need to rethink.

To have the constant-saving in place is a great step and I am now just excited to get on with the rest of it!

And that’s it. As I say, the editor requires a lot of work so will dominate our attention for the next couple of weeks but after that we will be looking at the export functions and the settings available to you.

Tell us what you need and we’ll build it

We are here to build what you need. It is so important to us that we get your feedback and your thoughts on what we need to build and exactly how it should work.

So you’ll see that we’ve created a Features Roadmap and we’d love you to get involved. Vote on the features you want and stick your comments on them too.

 

A long time ago, when we were in beta we had a different poll that became the features roadmap. You can see it here.