Before anything else, a bit more shameless publicity: I'll be doing a two hour workshop at the British SCBWI annual conference on 22-23 November. I haven't got a title yet but I've pretty much decided that it's going to be in the format of a web designer/client meeting going through step-by-step what the client needs to know about putting up a website. The tragedy is that my workshop is at the same time as a workshop on character and plot headlined by my friend Miriam Halahmy, uber creative writing guru. Drat.Anyway. Speaking of the internet. I keep finding myself in little conversations with friends about author websites.
Do authors really need them? What's the point if you're writing picture books for little kids who don't go online? Should authors blog? Aren't there too many blogs in the world already? Aren't MySpace and Facebook just a big waste of time?
And what if THIS is the sum total of our computer savviness:
It's a big, big subject. And if I wrote too comprehensively about it, nobody will ever invite me to speak at their conferences again.
So instead of giving everything away, here's a list of things that authors who are thinking about getting a website need to consider:
1. Which gatekeepers are you targeting? The look and feel of your website is determined by your audience. Are you at a stage in your career where you need to present a professional face to publishers or stir up the interest of readers? Are you trying to get librarians and booksellers interested in your book or are you trying to meet like-minded people for support and contacts?So go write.
2. It's not about you, it's about them. The internet is no longer a world of static homepages. The internet-user is used to being able comment, upload, download and engage with a site in a million different ways. If your website can't engage with your visitor, you might as well print out a flyer.
3. It takes five visits to make a sale. I don't know where that fact comes from but it comes up time and again in reference to website effectivity. Whatever it is you are selling (your book? yourself?), ask yourself: how do you get someone to return five times? The answer is what will make your website successful.
4. Nobody can drive it but you. Content management is the bugbear of author websites. You see a lot of author websites that were last updated in the previous century. Ask your web designer, how am I going to update this without you? These days, you don't have to learn code anymore to be in control. The reason blogs are so popular is because blogs are just websites with easy-to-use content management systems. You don't have to be a blogger to have a blog.
5. Write the book. You can blog, you can facebook, you can myspace ... you can do everything possible online but your web efforts are nothing if your product doesn't measure up. At the end of the day, the internet cannot save a bad book.
And write well.