Tuesday 2 September 2008

What's In a Website?

a quick note: friends, please visit my Volcano Child blog (yes, yes, I know, obsessive compulsive me etc etc) - help me make a good impression with ahem! The Powers That Be ...
There is a bit of a discussion at the British SCBWI message board about author websites.

Do you need one?

Where do you start?

Can you cope?

When I first started trying to get published, I set up my homepage CandyGourlay.com. It was 2001, and I was only just beginning to get to grips with code. Blogs were not yet in flavour nor were connection speeds terribly good and Web 2.0 was a twinkle in someone's eye. So my website was really, just a leaflet about me, an online CV.

I started up this blog in 2004 after emerging from SCBWI's conference in Madrid with piles of notes and nowhere to publish them. At the time, I thought I would use my journalistic skills and dash off feature length reports on the writing events I attended.

Well, the blog evolved and developed a voice of its own, it's funnier now, more personal, more frequently updated. It probably helps that I've also acquired the skills and tools to work faster online.

Then the world started to spin a little bit faster. Publishing was changing before our very eyes. Technology was changing. Children were changing.

I heard Scott Westerfeld (Uglies) give the keynote at the SCBWI conference in Bologna in 2005 and I was struck at how with-it he was about technology, about his fans and visiting his website, I realised that his blog had engendered a kind of connectedness with his readership that other authors would do well to emulate.

I wrote a piece on why competition from the internet meant authors needed to become more web savvy.

Then I decided to take my own advice and began to blog about my manuscript in progress. I saw my blog VolcanoChild.co.uk not as a leaflet about my book but more like a behind the scenes magazine. I wanted it to evolve as my book evolved.

Knowing that I was still some way towards sellling the manuscript, I could take my time, blogging on themes that run through the novel, such as: Children who Work, Mothers who Have to Leave, Real Witches and Living with Calamity. (Pictured right is a child circus performer in Shanghai).

Instead of building a website from scratch, I used Blogger, changed the template using my Photoshop and coding skills, and used Blogger's powerful tagging tool which put posts of a similar theme together on one page.

The ultimate objective of a blog is to create a conversation between the writer and the reader. However, I also saw the website as an easy way to build a website of substance to support my book - if ever and whenever it gets taken on by a publisher ... a bit like the online production diary that director Peter Jackson kept while making King Kong. The website gets noticed now and then, but ultimately, I am building up a strong archive for the IF and WHEN.

I have started another blog on a theme that I intend to explore in a future novel about climate change, I haven't been blogging extensively because I don't want to fill it with off-the-cuff stuff but with pieces that will someday be the beef to my future novel's bone.

Last year, i kept a comic blog on the building of my writing shed.

Blogs are not just diaries - they are conversations with the outside world, extended essays, online magazines on themes that you would never find on a newstand!

We have at our fingertips these powerful tools to support our craft - and they're FREE.

Here are three bits of unsolicited advice to those who still resist the onward march of the internet:
1) Computers don't explode when you get something wrong.

2) Any mistakes can be undone by pressing Control-Z (for PCs) . You can restore the deletion by pressing Control-Y

3) If your blog looks like crap, delete it and try again.


  1. 'The ultimate objective of a blog is to create a conversation between the writer and the reader'

    When I started writing my blog, I didn't think anyone would comment on it - some bloggers get hundreds of replies - they court comment! I'm happy if I can understand what I've written!

    Thanks for all the great tips. Who knows, one day I may even have a website!

  2. So are you telling me that I should stop blogging more or less anonymously as Absolute Vanilla and start blogging as the real me??? *shudder* :-)

    Actually, I've always thought of blogging as my learning platform, my place to get to grips with being connected and then, when the time is right, a website (with a blog of course) will be the natural progression.

    But yes, I totally agree it's online presence or perpetual darkness!

    Great post, Candy!

  3. Blogging is certainly a time-bear, but it's been wonderful to connect with other kidlit lovers! It really is out-of-the darkness, just like Nicky said! Congrats on your blogging expansion!

  4. hi sue, nicky, susan - thanks for dropping by!

    re blogging anonymously - it's a good way to go if you're just starting out and haven't got a book in the wild yet. i decided early on to use my real name mostly because i thought if i was successful in building a network and raising my profile (IF) then i would have saved time.

    sometimes, i wish i did blog anonymously ... but mostly, my journalist background comes to the fore - i feel i have to own up to what i've written. it makes me more careful.

    the blog as essay is one experiment i'm working on - what's great is it's a finite essay. you don't blog indefinitely but basically finish a thought. at the end you have a website richly stocked with thought-through content.

  5. re creating conversations

    it takes a long, long time to get the conversation going ... especially if your readership tends to be passive, resistant to engaging with the internet, fearful of the privacy implications.

    most of the conversations on my blog are with folks who are engaged with the internet. but i know a lot of my readers are non-engagers. which is cool. on the occasion that one of the non-commenters actually leave a comment, they make me very happy!


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