Work sample from this case study

Case Study:
30-day Novel Challenge

✔ In Production (2016-17)


Convince writers to start and finish new 50,000-word novels in 30 days using new online writing software.

Skills Used

Problem Definition

Every November, hundreds of thousands of writers around the world attempt to write 50,000 words of a new novel by Nov. 30 as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Reaching the 50k word count is winning NaNoWriMo. We wanted to entice 2016 NaNoWriMo participants to start (and ideally write) a new 50,000-word novel in 30 days using our online writing software at TheRightMargin.


Creating a template of NaNoWriMo best practices, putting those best practices into our software, and giving the template away to NaNoWriMo participants via extended trials (through Nov. 30), would lead to more NaNoWriMo winners and customers for TheRightMargin.


  1. Our inbound marketing can generate enough traffic without expensive NaNoWriMo sponsorship.
  2. Our writing software features present unique value for novel writers to reimagine their 50,000-word goal as a series of actionable milestones and tasks.
  3. An extended trial will help new users win NaNoWriMo and convert to customers.

Success Metrics

  1. 250 sign ups via a custom landing page
  2. Increased average time on site (> 5 minutes) and retention
  3. 10% of trials to convert to customers

Audience & Personas

In November 2015, 431,626 writers attempted to write 50,000 words to win NaNoWriMo. ~11.5% reached their goal.

In our initial discussion with past NaNoWriMo participants, we learned that many were inundated with resources before and during NaNoWriMo. Those that had prepared before November found themselves in a much better position to make progress during November, even if they didn't win. There was no consistently in tools used, though most people wrote digitally to keep track of their daily and overall word count.

Our writing software at TheRightMargin helps writers break lofty goals (e.g. write a novel) into actionable milestones and tasks, with optional dates and encouragement. We felt like our approach could drastically help NaNoWriMo participants.

We found two NaNoWriMo personas: plotters and pantsers. Plotters prepared before November with research, outlines, and generally making room in their schedules and life for NaNoWriMo. Pantsers may have freed up more time for writing but did not do any preparatory work on their novels before November. We targeted largely plotters before November because it afforded more time to market and they already seemed more aligned with TheRightMargin's product philosophy.

My Role on the Team

As Senior UX Designer & Engineer, I worked:


Our biggest constraint was time. We wanted to launch both a landing page, new sign up process, and the ability to benefit from NaNoWriMo best practices in-product within 4 weeks. That would give us 2 months to collect sign ups, iterate, and enter November.

Design Process

We conducted initial research by tapping into the local writing community, past NaNoWriMo participants via forums, meetups, and personal networks, and my personal experience doing similar challenges such as the 3-day Novel Contest. From our initial discussions, we quickly gathered that the plotter persona gave themselves a much higher chance of winning (writing 50,000 words by Nov. 30) by preparing before Nov 1.

Advice formation

Interviews with past participants, retrospective blog posts, and the were our best sources of advice on how to excel at NaNoWriMo. We arranged our takeaways in chronological writing milestones, full of actionable writing tasks, each with prompts to assist the completion of said task. They took the form of this hierarchy:

Project: My NaNoWriMo novel

- Milestone: Make time for a productive November (October 15)

  * Task: Set my intention
    Prompt: intention (n.) — why am I participating in NaNoWriMo?
      Refer to this throughout November to keep yourself motivated.

  * Task: Identify my writing workspace at home or in another location
    Prompt: Where have I done my best writing?

  * Task: ...
    Prompt: ...

- Milestone: Plan my way to a novel-length idea (October 21)

  * Task: What is central dramatic question my novel will answer?
    Prompt: ...

  * Task: Based on my central question, write a one sentence summary of my novel
    Prompt: ...

  * Task: ...
    Prompt: ...

- Milestone: ...

  * Task: ...
    Prompt: ...

- Milestone: 1,667 words written (November 1)

  * Task: ...
    Prompt: ...

Landing page

The landing page I designed (live as of April 2017) spoke to preparation being the key to winning, in line with our plotter persona.

NaNoWriMo 2016 Landing Page for TheRightMargin

From zero-data view to actionable steps

We learned that once November started, no one would be seeking new advice so anything we offered had to be baked into the product. So rather than giving NaNoWriMo sign ups an catch-all onboarding experience or a zero-data view applicable to any writing project…

TheRightMargin UI - zero-data view

…we incorporated the best practices we learned into a writing project tailored to NaNoWriMo:

TheRightMargin UI - new NaNoWriMo project

Because of the new sign up flow, I advocated and implemented tracking NaNoWriMo participants as a new user cohort, so we could compare and contrast their performance and metrics to existing and future users.

Results & Retrospective

  1. Goal: 250 sign ups via a custom landing page

    271 sign ups at a 27% conversion from visitor to trial

  2. Goal: Increased average time on site (> 5 minutes)

    Average time on site increased to > 30 minutes

  3. Goal: 10% of trials to convert to customers

    1.1% conversion from trial to customer

  4. Goal: none set for NaNoWriMo winners

    7 participants wrote at least 50,000 words and won NaNoWriMo

Our inbound marketing and landing page design proved to be very effective. Time on site and the numbers of winners showed that we served an engaging, relevant experience before and during NaNoWriMo.

Unfortunately, this was not enough to drive more trials to become customers. This may speak to the urgency of writing during NaNoWriMo and the general burn out after (something I personally experienced as a participant). Our extended trial hypothesis did not have enough impact to drive revenue. Furthermore, metrics showed that while initial engagement showed a drastic improvement, retention did not improve nearly as much.

If I were to do this again, I would focus my efforts on testing our content to drive repeat use—perhaps treat our in-product NaNoWriMo advice as a funnel itself and look for leaks.

✔ In Production (2016-17)