Behind The Scenes of Winter Is Coming

Behind the scenes notes of the Winter Is Coming RPG Blog Festival.

NOTE: These are my unvarnished notes made during Winter Is Coming. They mostly deal with feelings and thoughts and reactions to the festival at various points - I timestamped each note so you'd have an idea of where it fell during the week. If you're interested in more of the statistics and outreach lessons (forthcoming), I direct you to those posts rather than this one.

Friday, 16 Sep 2011, 22h40
I'm speedshifting through an order of magnitude increase in blog traffic. Not sure what it means yet, but I thought I'd write some thoughts to look back on later.

I posted Winter Is Coming Is Coming on Wednesday around quarter of 2 PM. About 90 minutes before that I was talking to Adam in the chat room about his Winter Elves article he had offered to me as a guest blogger post, and I brought up the idea of doing a winter-themed blog festival, tentatively called Winter Is Coming. He immediately jumped on board, and a few minutes later he tweeted:
lesser known  bloggers... and I have a plan for a week of themed content to drive visitors, let me know if you're interested
And suddenly we had 10 people making inquiries. I figured we'd have a dozen and have a tidy little clump of game content and that'd be it. I started planning a little structure and posted.

Then people retweeted the hell out of Winter Is Coming Is Coming. I went from an all-time daily high of 70ish hits when the whole site got indexed in Russia to over 200 hits. Yesterday was 295. Today was 384. This is crazy. I'm not sure what it all means yet and what will happen, but people want a voice and an excuse to create cool things.

It went fast. An hour after that first post went out @markmeredith whipped up various logo images for the event. Today @blindgeekuk is using it as his Twitter avatar. I got the Winter Is Coming main page together and disabled comments so I could organize links as they came in. Today I got the signup page and a list of questions posted. We've got 7 official signups and people are making sure nobody's steeping on toes content-wise. It's beautiful to see the cooperation and consideration of people wanting to work together. Someone wondered aloud in the chat room whether I'd be making a PDF of all the entries once it's over, to which I mumbled something about surviving to see October first.

I'm tweeting announcements and posts a couple times a day. I'm hitting G+ once a day, and I posted to Reddit a couple of times and probably will only do once more early next week and once for the event itself. I've heard from about 20 people, not all of whom have signed up. I've got @dreadgazeebo signed up and @bartoneus interested, so that's 2 Ennie winners I can brag about being involved. And people like the idea of a themed create-a-thon. A couple of people are already planning multiple articles. Most of the signups want to be guest bloggers, which is one of the reasons we wanted to reach out to the community and shine lights onto lesser-heard-from gamers, so that's awesome.

My head is still spinning. I'm riding a huge wave right now, and it feels like it's still building underneath me. I look forward to reading everyone's creations, and if they're half as good as the articles Adam has already sent me we're going to have some jaw-dropping frosty gems out there.

I'm excited. I'm nervous I won't be able to keep up, but it's downright thrilling.
And it's kicking off in less than seven days. I can't wait.

Sunday, 18 Sep 2011, 20h15
Sunday's blog stats just closed. 127 hits Saturday, 71 hits Sunday. For doing absolutely nothing over the weekend, coasting my way to 200 hits is awesome. Today Kev got a Twitter account, signed up, and sent me an article already. He's one of my oldest and dearest friends from the gaming crew in High School, and I can't wait to read through what he's written. Gotta get the submission page up. I think I'm going to have to do all the link and file handling manually, especially with all the guest posting action I'm expecting. I've got the page planned out in my head, I just need to get it done. It's been a long weekend at home, and my allergies are kicking my in the head today. Here's hoping it's not a cold.

Tuesday, 20 Sep 2011, 15h20
I plugged for participants on Twitter and G+ today. I think I got a couple people coming from G+ via Ben, probably tomorrow. We're at 14 signups and holding and under 48 hours to go. We'll probably get a surge tomorrow and Thursday morning. I think we're relatively stable right now; I feel like I'm in the lull before the storm really hits. I've got to read Adam's articles as I told him I would, and Kev got me another draft of the Iron Keep after the first round of feedback. Tonight I need to bug all the people who mentioned interest and haven't signed up yet - I think there are at least 10 slackers in that group. Tomorrow I'll give a 24 hour warning on Reddit as well as Twitter and G+, and we'll see how it goes. Monday garnered 146 hits, and I'm still hoping for someone to submit some art. Allergies suck, but at least they're just allergies. Stream of consciousness writing at the tail end of a work day is cool.

Tuesday, 20 Sep 2011, 23h00
Just directly contacted everyone who expressed interest who hasn't signed up - 9 people on Twitter, 2 on Reddit, and I'll bug the chat room tomorrow. One signup so far. Which reminds me of one very important thing that needs mentioning: the chat room. Without it, Winter Is Coming would not exist. Adam and I got to know each other a bit in there talking about games. He proposed a guest blogger article to me via the chat room. I broached the topic of a blog festival with him in the chat room, and just like that we were off to the races. Having a shared space where people from across the planet can hang out is important, and IRC is a tried and true technology, if a throwback to the era of the command line interface. And now to bed with 17 participants, articles from 4 people, and 111 hits for Tuesday.

Wednesday, 21 Sep 2011, 23h00
Trying new marketing venues in the 11th hour. Brian Liberge turned me toward StumbleUpon. I discovered the main page, and we'll see if it takes off over the next week. I also sent out to the BostonGamers group. Not sure anything will come of that with the short timeframe, but what the heck. We're at 25 signups, which is time and a half what I was hoping for when I started. I'm excited, but there's going to be a pile of work to do. We've got 8 guest bloggers and 3 who could either guest or link, so just formatting guest posts will take a while. And I haven't had the time to get into articles and give feedback - work got busy today. Silly work.

I'm starting to think about where to go from here. I'm hacking marketing and getting the name out, but I fear saturation. If things go well I could see other festivals in the future - Campaign Season for the spring equinox inspired by the military, for example. And I had a brainwave for Earth Day in the chat room earlier, but let's get through the next week before going totally crazy. I'm still stoked for this, though the work load seems daunting at the moment. Ah, well - this too shall pass. And 167 hits for Wednesday. I'm at just shy of triple my previous high-water mark for monthly hit count, and the festival ain't even started yet.

Friday, 23 September 2011, 00h10
I just went live with two submitted links and a teaser for Adam's article on Winter Elves. I hacked the images together and at some point I'll need to clean up the HTML 'cuz the crappy span tags are messing up the formatting. Winter Elves will be posted on the astronomical equinox, 5:04 AM Eastern. I'll add the URL to the main page on the train, and we're off to the races. We got a couple of signups and a pile of interest today, so it'll be interesting to see how the next week goes. One thing is for sure - this is going to be a heaping pile of work.

We got 236 hits on Thursday, and already 38 hits for Friday. 28 signups, and I know of a few others who may or may not create something. I guess it's really happening, which is weird because it still feels like I'm prepping for it. I'm guessing I'll have a pile of links to add Friday and maybe one more guest post to edit and format, then a fairly quiet weekend and a pile of guest posts for Monday. We'll see. Still excited, and everyone in the Chat Room so far has given their permission to put their work in a monster PDF for free download. I'll still need to reach out to everyone involved for explicit permission, but I think a PDF of all the Winter Is Coming content needs to happen after things wind down. Also: script kiddies hacked The Dread Gazebo - I'm checking with Jerry to see if he needs guest blog space. Probably not, but I'll offer.

Friday, 23 September 2011, 11h45
I just uploaded the PDF from Brent. File downloads may be a little clunky, but they work. 6 articles so far: 2 guest posts and 4 links. Hit total for Friday: 592 hits. In the first day of Winter Is Coming, I've beaten the monthly hit total for all but 3 months in the entire prior history of the blog. Wow. Blown away, and there's a pile more goodness to come. I've got Adam's articles, and I need to add symatt's art. I should check and see what guest posts are outstanding, but I've got enough for 2 posts a day through Monday. I'm a little nervous about the queue being empty, but we should have a good spread. Let's see what tomorrow brings...

And I opened up the discussion page and got a complaint about the tone of the warning section. I'm glad to know that the wording turned people off - ICE DRAGGINZ was meant as a ridiculous joke, but I can see how it may have been taken the wrong way and turned insulting. I dropped everything at work and responded, and I think that really helped nip the problem in the bud. I'm not changing what's already there - the damage has been done this time. If I do another festival, I'll certainly work on taming the wording before posting another warning. And in talking things over in the chat room, it looks like we may have an "after party" where people submit short works of fiction featuring ICE DRAGGINZ. I'll deal with that next Wednesday or so.

Sunday, 25 September 2011, 11h20
I actually updated twice a day both weekend days. I'm impressed, especially with a party and church and cleaning and a D&D game packed in. We're up to 15 pieces online, 2 of which are illustrations from Symatt. Good hits to boot - 301 Saturday and 282 Sunday. More pieces keep coming in, and a pile of linked content is on its way. This feels like the "mature" phase of the Festival, like I'm getting close to a tipping point. More to come, and all of it looks pretty blessed cool.

Monday, 26 September 2011, 11h10
I went through and added popouts to all off-site links on the main page tonight. Hopefully that's a little cleaner. We're about halfway through and we've got 20 posts up. That's very very cool, and about the size I guessed we'd have when this thing started. Hits are levelling - 317 for Monday. I tried resubmitting to Reddit, but there's a duplicate link check that yelled at me. I'll look at it tomorrow. Whee!

Thursday, 29 September 2011, 07h30
Just did the morning update. We've got 32 pieces in the festival now. I've got 3 guest posts in the hopper, including the last illustration from symatt. I sent a quick reminder to the half dozen people who signed up but haven't submitted yet and I got 3 "Coming Soon!" replies. And I know of 2 other pieces on the way, including jffdougan's Snow Queen which I need to read. I don't think I dropped anything yet, though I came close a couple of times. Time to submit something to Reddit to get the traffic up, though September is 64 hits shy of being 6x the previous monthly high. Wow. I'm blown away by the generosity of people in the RPG community and the speed with which this whole thing took off. If you're involved with Winter Is Coming in any way, I can't thank you enough.

Monday, 17 October 2011, 07h25
I'm polishing these notes on the train and adding a few links. I think I'll let the rest of it lie. Yes, I slacked off in taking notes. Part of me was done with the festival by Friday. Yes, 45 pieces from 29 people still completely wows me, especially since Winter Is Coming went from "I've got this idea" to "come join the festival" in 90 minutes with zero forethought.

It was a pile of work, especially the formatting and posting of articles. Bloggers WYSIProbablyWYG interface didn't help. With the formatting (like the Trebuchet font I used for every article), it would add an extra line break that the editor wouldn't see because it hid inside span tags. Gr. The work queue page worked fairly well, but only about half the participants used it. I'd like to automate the submission process a but, but I didn't have time to deal with it this time. Maybe next festival?

I'd love to get permission from everyone who participated to use their work in a PDF at some point. I didn't get contact info for everyone, but I've got most. Yes, not everything will work as a PDF (a wiki would be tough, for example), but most of it will. And I'd love to have little bits of fluff scattered around, which is one reason I wanted to do Ice in the Margins. I haven't kept up with the marketing effort on that front, so we may end up with only a few fiction snippets. And that's fine.

Now off to write about marketing and lessons learned.

See the entries in the Winter Is Coming RPG Blog Festival.

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