Help make the Writing Excuses Website better

Hey all, Jordan here.

Howard and I have discussed ways to make the site better, such as adding tagging to posts so you guys can group content, and I thought I’d go ahead and ask you all on feed back on the site. Now keep in mind that this is a wordpress site and so there are changes that won’t happen if it requires me to change code–I just don’t have the time–but if there are things that have WordPress Plug-ins and are requested enough we’ll look at adding them.

Also if there are things in the sidebars you think should be re-arranged (content being hard to find or poorly labeled) let us know that as well.

So feel free to leave comments in this thread and if you know your suggestion has a WP Plug-in it would help if you gave us it’s name–but I don’t expect people to go searching for plug-ins (unless you want to) so don’t let that stop you from giving us suggestions.

Thanks.

50 thoughts on “Help make the Writing Excuses Website better”

  1. I second the “keep the great episodes coming” comment. I think you all have done a wonderful job with this site and everything it entails. Thank you.

  2. I think the link to the older episodes needs to be better or more prominent, and renamed to something other than Transcripts, which is a bit misleading. Plus the link goes to outside websites – maybe there needs to be a separate blog post with easy access to all the older episodes. Otherwise, keep up the good work!

  3. Any chance we could have downloadable files of these? I’d love to burn them on to some CDs and listen to as I sit in traffic commuting everyday. (I say this as my download link on each one doesn’t actually download…)

    alternately, if they could be put on CD by someone who knows what they are doing I’d love to buy one off the site…

  4. One thing that I have noticed — when the moderators okay postings, they are often inserted in the list wherever they fall, which can make it difficult to find the new postings when the comments are extensive? Is there any way to make sure that newly released comments are more easily visible?

  5. Sorry, Mike. That’s a WordPress thing that I don’t think we can change. When a moderated comment is approved, it appears in sequence according to the time it was originally submitted, not the approval time.

  6. Thanks, Howard. I thought it might be built-in.

    Okay, this I think you can do. Maybe it’s just me being screwy, but looking at the various odds and ends around the edges, I think there are three big groups:

    1. Who are these guys? Contributors, blogroll, and contact us
    2. Episode indices. Recent posts, recent comments, search, categories, calendar, index or table of contents (currently labeled Transcripts).
    3. Other connections. Podcast feeds and Other RSS feeds.

    It would make sense to me to group these, probably in the order I’ve given (indices go from most recent to general that way). You could add the link to the Writing Excuses store under other connections to sell the CDs, books, and classes (what, you weren’t planning on turning this into books?)

    Incidentally, now that I look closer, that “recent comments” thing might be the solution to figuring out what the new posts are.

  7. I agree in regards to the way accessing past episodes is handled now. Season 1 is easy to find, but Season 2 requires a bit more digging in LJ to find the actual download links.

  8. I agree that the “Transcripts” title is a little misleading, and when I first went looking for old episodes, I completely passed over that. Calling it “Episode Archive” or something along those lines might be a little clearer. Generally, though, I like it. Links are compartmentalized and there aren’t too many that they cause my eyes to glaze over at them. 😛 Although I think Mike Barker might have a point about organizing them so that more similar links are together. And the links to Brandon, Dan, and Howard’s blogs could be added under their pictures in the “contributors” section.

  9. If you decide to use tags more, a tag cloud plug-in might be nice. that was if we want to find episodes about “setting” or “horror” we can click on tags and find what we’re looking for.

  10. I just want to say: Thank you for making these podcasts. I personally just use google reader to check out the rss so I hardly ever see this site. In any case I enjoy your work. Just keep making these awesome podcasts and I’ll keep listening.

  11. since you asked…I would like to see the photos of the guys positioned so that all three can be seen without scrolling. Since I visit the site weekly, I seldom need to scroll down. Therefore, I only ever see Brandon and Howard’s bald head and ears. I’m just saying…

  12. I think all the content is great. What needs the most help is audio volume and leveling on the podcasts themselves. I’m trying to listen to the latest episode in an airport and full volume isn’t nearly loud enough, and on other episodes I’ve had to scroll volume up and down as different people speak. But really, fantastic podcast.

  13. Just a couple quick tips I found helpful for some of the problems people have brought up:

    1.) iTunes has a free download for a lot of the Season Three, maybe late Two podcasts. I think you can keep relatively up to date with those downloading them on to your iPod or burning on to a CD.

    2.) Sound Levels. A lot of freeware programs allow you to normalize the sound levels of your audio files. Media Monkey for one. Given the way they record these things in different rooms and locations, I’m not sure how normalized Writing Excuses ever will be, but you can definitely do some audio normalization and leveling for free at home.

  14. I have to equalize all of the episodes before I listen to them. They’ve gotten more consistent, but if you equalized them all before sending them out it would remove one small annoyance at least. Maybe even normalize, ’cause sometimes some people are quiet while others are super loud. These are minor things (I’m nitpicking), as it takes like three clicks for me to equalize, and I’m just too lazy to normalize.

    A comprehensive list of guests somewhere would be super good.

    I don’t like the calendar. Most of the bloggy features could go and I wouldn’t miss them.

    I second: topic cloud, “Transcripts” rename, bio change (Drop photos in main view, perhaps? I’m a bandwidth nazi….), and thank you.

  15. I would like to see a suggestion box, or somewhere that we can suggest future episodes. For example, if I would like to see an episode about which to look for first, and agent or a publisher, then I could put in a suggestion for it.

    Sorry, my layers of sublety have been erased by years of parenthood.

  16. I agree with the comments about audio volume.
    The show is fine when you are listening to it on headphones,
    but if I play it off of my mp3 player in the car or just stream it over
    my laptop speakers, I have to strain to hear what’s being said.

    Several of your guests have been quiet speakers and if we crank up the
    volume to hear them, we get blasted by the others.

    Also, the GET SVS link has been broken for some time now and I’m sure
    many of us are curious as to what it was.

    Thanks so much, you guys are doing a fantastic job.

  17. Hi, two suggestions — First, and most importantly, listeners can only download the last ten episodes from iTunes, so I cant catch up on your first season in my car or while walking… I’m computer bound for those. Would be great if you could archive all of them on itunes. Second, you seem to want to adhere to the fifteen minute format for some reason, when clearly your topics could fill much more time than that. I personally like podcasts that last an *hour*. It’s perfect for my drive to and from work, and also perfect for my daily “constitutional” around the neighborhood. So, don’t feel constrained to fifteen just because some pollster says listeners have limited attention spans. Thanks for the advice and entertainment!

  18. My only suggestion/request would be the naming of the Podcast Episodes.

    Currently in iTunes and the iPod, the Episodes are listed like this:

    Writing Excuses Season 3 Episode 12: Subplots.

    So nothing is really wrong with that, but when it comes to re-listening to past podcasts, it is difficult to know which one I want to listen to because I only see Writing Excuses Season 3 Episode 12 S– So I have wait on the selected episode until it starts to scroll. By the time I find the episode I want to listen to, quite a bit of time is wasted.

    So my suggestion is just to name the episodes something like this:

    Subplots – Season 3 Episode 12

    That would make re-listening to the podcasts a lot easier on an iPod.

    So yeah, not a big deal, but would make it so I didn’t have to manually change it every time. Anyway, thanks for the podcasts and everything. I love them.

  19. I started listening to Writing Excuses not too long ago, and I have to say that I really enjoy the content. I have tried listening to other podcasts on writing, but it is hard to find one that has the perfect blend of personalities that you guys have. So one thing that you don’t have to worry about is blending humor with advice. I think you guys do that very well, so no worries.

    There is one thing that I love when it happens occasionally, but that doesn’t happen often. I love when you plug a book, or webcomic, or website, or movie, or something similar that I really should be reading. Then, I like it when you have a link on the site. Here is why, I am always looking for more stuff to read, but I am not as well connected as all of you are, so I have to work really hard to find out what is the best literature right now. I can find the same things you find, but I have to work really hard using trial and error, and I much prefer to read useful literature, since I work full-time, and write part-time. I don’t have much time for reading, and I like to optimize it.

    So, that is my only suggestion.

  20. Hey Jordo, as this is your thread, this might be the best place for it. This is not related to the site but to the recordings themselves.
    I have noticed that many times the audio levels of the three of them are not consistent. I know you do a level check before, but I think that the levels that they give you to set are off from their standard speaking. Dan seems to be the worst. in the recording, he often blasts and Brandon seems buried in the mix.
    I am not sure if it is a subconscious sibling rivalry or if he just has bad mike technique, Howard seems to be the most level.
    Just my two cents. Not bad for a free podcast though.

  21. First off, I love all of the wonderful material you guys put out there for us so keep up the work, it’s a great inspiration! I will second (or third) the audio levels issue though. Working in radio, I have access to Adobe Audition which is an audio editing program that’s pretty versatile and helps me hard-limit and normalize all of the voices on the podcasts. Most listeners probably don’t have access to this software but something similar may help the recording process. Hope that helps!

  22. I want to add to the chorus of requests that ask for a better way to reach the archives. I’ve been scrolling back which is a real pain because the link to the previous page is on the very bottom, and I had to go back some 20 pages to get to the beginning. The computer I use for audio in my house is an old mouseless laptop, so scrolling and clicking is very painful.

    Having read this thread, I now know about the “Transcripts” link, but I would never have clicked on it in a million years.

    Concrete suggestions:
    1. Put the links to the net and previous pages both on top and on the bottom of each page.
    2. Rename the “Transcripts” link to “Index,” “Archives” or “Old Podcasts.”

    Thank you for all your effort.

  23. Poor Dan… Don’t worry, we still love you !

    Audio could frequently take a bit of a touch up, but that was already said.

    One other thing which is going to seem quite anal, but could you make the ID3 tags a bit more complete and consistent? I had to manually retag them all to make them navigable on my MP3-player.

    Other than that, the site is ok the way it is. Just keep making this amazing podcast.

  24. Thanks for the feedback everyone—feel free to keep commenting but I’m going to go ahead and discuss a few points.

    Transcripts: We have plans on redoing all of these as a more user friendly archive, and I believe Dan was trying to get a hold of Mike to discuss using all of his great work in this as well.

    Downloading a Season all at once: We did sell Season 1 on a CD you can still buy it via Howard’s store. What do people think of ordering a CD vs Downloading an ISO or ZIP with all the episodes? The issue with the direct download would be bandwidth probably—while our hosting account has the volume (I think I’ve got like 100 terabytes a month or something like that) I don’t know if the speed will be all that hot. Torrenting is an option if we don’t sell Seasons with bonus content—which we have planned for Season Two but just haven’t gotten to yet.

    Nested Comments: I’ll look into updating WordPress in the coming week and see if we can’t get that feature working.

    Sound Volume: I’ll look at increasing the over all volume for those that don’t use a computer or MP3 player—but I’m not sure how loud I can go because I’m worried about people pushing play and getting their ears blasted because it’s higher then what they expected.

    Increasing the amount available on iTunes: This is probably the most requested change on this thread and e-mails so it’ll change. The reason it’s currently 10 is because during my initial research on what I liked and disliked about other popular podcasts is people that kept a large volume in their RSS feeds (and thus iTunes) because in the iTunes GUI I felt that having a large number cluttered the screen and overwhelmed people that would be new to the podcast. But I seam to be in the minority here about that number so I’m willing to up it to around 35 (roughly a season) based off of feedback—this change should already be live.

    Sound Levels: I’m inclined not to change this, meaning processing it afterwards, for a few reasons. Mostly because I like it because it feels more natural– and outside of a few episodes the volume difference between Brandon, Howard and Dan isn’t that different. I know several people have that’s not the case but I can’t hear it so having specific episodes would help me hear what you don’t like. Now one thing we have discussed changing is our 4th mic which is usually the cause of a person’s sound volume changing—it’s not phantom powered and you have to be really, really close for it to pic you up. So once I find one I like that’s not super expensive I’ll be buying a 4th lapel mic.

    Adding a volume to the embedded player—that’s a limitation on the word-press plug-in we’re using.

  25. So my suggestion is just to name the episodes something like this:

    Subplots – Season 3 Episode 12

    I disagree; that would make it sort wrong. Instead, call it “Writing Excuses S03E12 Subplots”. Concise, thereby solving the correct problem.

  26. This is a great podcast, and I’m a big fan. However, I’m baffled by this comment:

    Sound Levels: I’m inclined not to change this, meaning processing it afterwards, for a few reasons. Mostly because I like it because it feels more natural

    So it doesn’t matter if people can’t hear half of what’s said… because it sounds “natural”? Did I miss the point of these podcasts?

  27. Ed,

    You’re absolutely right. If the audio is problematic (and it obviously IS) then we need to take steps to fix it.

    Lengthy post-session editing is outside the budget (we have no budget, Jordan is uncompensated for his time on this, hence him claiming that “natural” sound is what he’s after) but there are still things we can do.

    –Howard

  28. Adding a volume to the embedded player—that’s a limitation on the word-press plug-in we’re using.

    Can’t people use the sound mixer to adjust the volume?

  29. Lets see… my 2cents:

    1. The escaping of the apostrophes in the tagline is showing.
    2. I agree with the transcript links. When I started listening they were at the end of season
    3. Since itunes only had the last 10 eps, I ended up writing a script that went through all the pages to download all the earlier episodes and renamed them to be iphone friendly. Obviously this isn’t an option for most people. If there was a link to the season on itunes, I probably would have been willing to pay a few dollars to get it that way. And if you do rename ‘transcripts’ to Past Episodes (or whatever) please add a link straight to the audio from the transcripts page.
    4. Recent Posts and Recent Comments look cluttered. The recent posts almost looks like one block of text. I can only distinguish specific posts by mouseovers.
    5. What is SVS? Super Video Software? Silly Versioning Stuff? It’s not good to pimp out your stuff and then not let the link go somewhere. And the errant Title Case makes it look like Works is your last name. 😉
    6. When they give a writing prompt, they mention to post it in the forums. I never know if they’re talking about the comments for the episode or the TWG forums. Either way, I don’t think that these comment sections would work well for writing/commenting on others. (Maybe with the threaded comments as mentioned earlier…) If it is the TWG forums, you might want to add a link to a forum to post those in. You could even just have a hardcoded link that goes to the top level forum.
    7. I’m not sure what capabilities WP has, but if you can, adding events would be somewhat cool. Have events that show up on the Calendar showing when an author will be doing signings or when major books are published.

    Some random ideas:
    You could have a twitter scroller above them showing their latest posts. Make the writer images clickable to go to the bio. Slideout panels that show more links (facebook/twitter/amazon page/whatever).

  30. A tad late, but here’s my feedback on the site anyway.
    I love the colorscheme, it’s nice and easy on the eyes.
    The links beneath the pictures are my primary route towards the authors sites. Although I would think Dan might be better of trying to sell his book and buying his own bacon now.

    My one experience with using the tags to find an old episode did not go well. Unfortunately I don’t remember what I was looking for so that might have had more to do with the obscurity of what I needed rather than any failing on the side of the tagging system.

    On the issue of CD vs ISO. When I buy something I want to be able to hold it. I will buy the cd and pay to have it shipped halfway round the world but will pass if it’s only available in a digital form. Digital is too fleeting to hold any real value for me.

  31. @ed–
    I usually listen to about half of every episode before it gets posted and I never hear anything as bad as what some people are saying, which is why I asked for specific episodes so I can try and find a way to make it a little better. If I know what doesn’t sound good on a stereo or in some cars then I can know what to listen for.

    I think that having levels a little different sounds less “studio” and more “you’re there”, and unless you can point to specific time stamps I consider the complaints a difference in taste and not actual issues with the levels.

  32. @stridera– the escapes are a bug in podpress, everytime you make a change in it’s settings page it escapes everything (even if there allready is one) and our setup doesn’t require escapes so I have to manually remove them in the database which is annoying.

  33. Ahh, gotcha. I see that there was a html escape bug fixed a few dozen versions ago, but it shows you’re using v. 8.8, so I guess it’s not that. If you want a hand, let me know and I’ll look at the source and see if i can create a patch to fix it for you.

    Another thing that would be nice (although would probably require a code change, I’m guessing) is to have the option to ‘reply’ to someone and then receive a notification via email that someone is talking back to you. If firefox didn’t reopen (and refresh) this page, i probably would have never seen the reply to me.

  34. Dan sometimes mutters witty asides, and the entire cast sometimes tops each other a little too loudly when they get excited, but that’s human. Dan’s muttering is probably normal too. For a serial killer.

    Really, I haven’t noticed a problem with sound since Season 3 started. I listen to WE on random sometimes, which is why I remember anything. In fact,I shuffle across all of my music and WE most of the time (the only exception I can think of is when I’m actually writing). The most recent episode changed very little when I equalized it.

  35. Really no complaints, though someone did mention a suggestion box getting placed on the site which would be cool.

    Thanks for all the episodes it really helps my writing get better and I love being able to comment with other writers and not just a bunch of lovesick fans (Not that I can blame them of course). Thank you! Now I better go listen to my new Writing Excuses and then go work on my new children’s book. See ya!

    P.S. Thank you sooo much for not sending us junk mail! I was a little nervous about entrusting my E-mail address so I can comment. If I am busy sorting through junk mail then It cuts into my writing time which ruins the whole point. Thanks!

  36. Post-processing volume is pretty easy in just a couple steps once you know the settings you like. I use Audacity. After I record something, I just apply the Compressor (under Effects), which just lowers the volume on loud parts to prevent loud surprises, but still allows for volume variation for dramatic effect and that natural charm. Then, amplify the whole thing to bring the average volume back up.

    There are many people and websites that would be much more knowledgeable than I on this subject, but I hope this is a start. Really though, I tremendously enjoy the episodes despite any volume adjusting I have to do. It’s like a volume adventure, really.

  37. I do have to admit that so far this season, the audio levels have been really good. More proof that the more you do things, the better you get at it.

  38. This is actually the only podcast I have ever listened to regularly. Really insightful and entertaining stuff!

    My suggestion is actually peripheral to the actual podcast, but it would be nice if the site had a favicon. As it stands now, the Writing Excuses icon on my bookmark toolbar is a sad white page 🙁 This suggestion is extended to Brandon’s website as well!

    Just my two cents…. and for the record, I have never had any problem with the audio levels.

  39. Jordo, on the sound issue: I think the reason why people are having issues with sound and you aren’t on your test listen is that when you listen to them yourself, you’re likely in a quiet place in your home. I don’t normally have a problem with the sound when I’m at home, and will often play a game while listening (when I’m not jotting down a quick note, which is happening more often as I’ve somehow been roped into tutoring other writers, likely because they’ve been strategically flattering my ego). However, when I was in college (not that long ago), I often saved these podcasts for when I drove back and forth every couple weeks between campus and home (about a seventy-five minute drive). I would have to turn the volume up fairly high to get everything, which of course allows the ambient sound on the recording to leak through.

    Having worked on home movies (stop-motion and live), and watching the friends I worked with on those also record their music, I know how difficult it is to remove unwanted sound and get everyone around the same microphone so that it sounds right. If you need help from someone who’s worked with very low-budget equipment to produce feature-length films, well, you have my email. But I don’t think I have much to offer in the way of advice that you wouldn’t think of yourself (though it occasionally sounds like there’s a fan blowing, which messes up sound collection). The sound quality HAS gotten better; I suspect, from what I’ve been hearing, that Brandon, Dan, and Howard are projecting better from sheer practice.

    Moving back to the original topic, namely that of the website itself, I’d like to second the requests for a single listing to all episodes — or rather, to the posts that contain the links thereof. I don’t visit every week, as when I sit down to listen I want something longer than one episode; and (concurrent with the above mention of tutoring) I’ve been encouraging others to listen to this podcast series. Making it easier to find the archives would greatly, greatly help.

    I’d also enjoy a page that shows what guests have been on the show, with links to their websites and the episodes they contributed to.

    This suggestion is more dependent on the hosts: I’d like to see pages for what Brandon, Dan, and Howard consider good references, either fiction or nonfiction. This would be something they can easily edit as the thought hits them or they read or watch a particular book, movie, or TV show. Often they’ll mention an author or similar that I can’t make out, and therefore can’t search for.

    Finally . . . while I lack sufficient funds currently to make any kind of significant donation, I would like to rectify that latter once the former increases. In other words . . . how can we give you guys money to offset the costs for this labor of love — your labor that we love so much? I already purchased a couple of CDs, but I wouldn’t mind giving a few bucks for the gas money involved, possibly getting better equipment and software, and the time all four of you take to make these podcasts for us.

  40. Ah, sometimes it’s nice to come to the party late. I would never have checked “transcripts,” but now I know that’s where to go for audio archives as well! And I would LOVE to download a whole season/multiple episodes at a time… I downloaded Mur’s I Should Be Writing archives in batched zip files (usually 10 episodes at a time, as I recall) and it worked beautifully.

    You guys ROCK. Thanks for podcasting!

  41. I know this is a bit late to this particular party… but since there’s a “make our site better” post I thought I’d make this suggestion, as someone who is way behind in listening to the podcast. Since Writing Excuses is divided into “seasons”… why not have some search or sorting or tagging mechanism, or a few links up near the top, that link directly to the first ‘cast of a season, or to a list of ‘casts for each season…?

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