Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Author Websites

Some people have been asking me about the ins and outs of author websites, especially for aspiring authors -- whether I pay attention to them, whether (and how much) original material to put on the Internet, and whether to include websites in queries.

Honestly this is something I've kind of avoided blogging about simply because I don't know if there's yet a consensus on what exactly author websites should entail, how much energy authors should devote to them, and whether original work should be posted therein. So please pretend that there's a big warning label affixed to this blog post: publishing professional opinion may vary.

My own personal feeling is that every author out there is doing themselves a disservice if they don't have some sort of a Google-able web presence with an e-mail address. Often I'll come across a short story or an article that strikes me (ouch!), and I'll try and track down the author, sometimes to no avail. Avail, authors, avail! You know what they say, opportunity can't knock if opportunity can't find one's Myspace page.

The website does not have to be a web miracle. Something simple and professional is totally fine, although if you are an aspiring author, definitely don't forget that professional part, and that goes for every single thing you post online, whether it's a blog, blog comment, or Twitter.

On the all-important matter of how much work to post online -- I think it's fine to post some work. However, I would be very, very, very careful about posting excerpts from a novel you want to publish. If you can control the material and the amount you are posting is limited to a chapter or two and you can pull the work from the Internet at any time, I don't think there's necessarily a problem (but again, there are varying opinions about this).

But be exceedingly, ridiculously, copiously careful when you allow excerpts of your novel to be published in journals and/or elsewhere -- not necessarily because of the risk someone stealing your work (that's extremely rare) but rather because you might be tying up the rights. As always, know what you sign!

In query letters, yes, absolutely include a link to your website if you have one, although if you want me to see something, put it in the query -- I can't tell you how frustrated agents get at the "please click here for my query" e-mails. If we have to click on a link or an attachment to see something that could just as easily be written into the e-mail if the author had taken the time..... anger, folks. Anger. We don't have the time and we don't want the viruses. If you do have a website just put a link beneath your name. Simple as that. It's like dessert -- a nice bonus if we're still hungry.

Lastly, how much time you devote to a website is up to you, although I think the jury is out (or rather, will convene in tomorrow's You Tell Me) about how much it pays off to have a blog, expansive web presence, and whether that time is well-spent. So please stay tuned for that discussion.






98 comments:

Erik said...

I think the big question is content.

Should it be rated PG-13 or better?

Should you avoid politics?

Does it matter if it looks like all Hell (as mine does)?

I can't answer these questions. I do know that when I query someone with a finished work I'll try to mention I have a following online.

Anonymous said...

So are you saying you encourage your clients to create a personal website if they don't have one? Or do you leave it up to them?

Conduit said...

If I may blow my own trumpet, I think my own tale is very relavent here. I owe my recent good fortune absolutely, entirely, 100% to the Internet, and my presence thereon.

It's through blogging that I got my earliest work critiqued. I built up a network of writing friends who helped me enormously, and went on to sell some short stories to online zines.

When a certain uber-agent saw one such story online, he followed the trail to my website, and emailed to ask if he could see my novel. Said agent took me on.

First thing I did was make another website for the novel itself. The website then became part of my agent's submission strategy. We've already got deals in the UK and Japan, and I know for a fact the website played at least some part in that.

Obviously, a stinky bad book isn't going to be helped by a zippy website, but if the book's up to it, the website can help it stand apart. Plus, if you know what you're doing, there are all sorts of secret-squirrel things that can be done to help your cause. But those secrets will remain mine ... bwah-ha-ha-haaa!

Seriously, website = good.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

I would definitely encourage my clients to have some sort of a website up by the time their first book comes out, but whether they choose to and how much time they want to devote to it is up to them.

April said...

Thanks! A friend and I were just discussing this yesterday. What you said basically echoed my own thoughts.

Marion said...

Given the difficulty of finding a publisher or an agent to represent my work, competition aside, I have toyed with the idea of publishing my own books on-line as E-books. When I began to research how to do that and make money at the same time, I discovered that a lot of money has to go into setting something like that up if I want to go into business for myself. I am presently trying to teach myself how to construct my own commercial website to deliver PDF books that can be bought and downloaded into an E-Book reader of choice. Anyone with any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Dan said...

In my upcoming book, EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT PUBLISHING I LEARNED FROM SPORTS, I devote a chapter to the seminal movie, Field of Dreams.

"If you build it, they will come."

But seriously, what Conduit said is on point. We talk about this stuff at work all the time (I work for an Internet consulting company) and there are plenty of [not so] secret things you can do to make your site work for you.

Maris Bosquet said...

Thanks for the insight, Mr. B. I recently explained in my Embee Thinks! blog why I put my WIPs online. In my case, it's more convenient than email, and it certainly beats running into cross-platform issues. (I'm Mac; everyone else is PC.)

Kylie said...

Having a web presense definitely helps a writer. I know that as a reader I have heard of authors and subsequently gone and read their books because I stumbled upon their websites or blogs (usually refered by some other writer's website, so networking online is a big help). I never would have glanced at the books in the store before I had heard of the authors online.

A Paperback Writer said...

I know that as a reader I like authors' websites. When someone recommends a book or an author for me, I usually check the website before buying anything. If it is a current author (like Ian Rankin, as opposed to Sir Walter Scott), I get suspicious if that author doesn't have a website.

Laura K. Curtis said...

If anyone's interested, I did put up a brief presentation on web presences for authors after our Sisters in Crime chapter did a meeting on it.

http://homepage.mac.com/adept/sincnypresentation/

Marketing/promotion is a major part of my "real" job, so it's always on my mind.

Laura K. Curtis said...

Eric - your content should ABSOLUTELY be PG-13. Let's say you write erotica, however. In that case, keep the sexual content off the main page. Preferably, get a secondary domain for it that you can *link to* from the main page. Why? Because if you have anything R+ on your main page, or sometimes even on the domain, public libraries will block access. You don't want to do that to readers who don't have home computers!

As to politics - are they a huge part of your writing? Because if not, I'd keep them off the website. Back when I was selling my house, my real estate agent made me take down a poster that said "Somewhere in Texas a village is missing its idiot." She said, "what if the one person who might buy your house decides he doesn't want to give you money because he's a Bush supporter?"

Chances are, your politics won't turn off the people you plan to submit your work to...but what if they do?

Precie said...

Conduit's fairy-tale-come-true was the first thing I thought of when I read today's post. And someone else recently pointed out that, assuming you have a web site or blog, you can see from your web site stats that you're getting more hits when you start querying. So people do take the time to look. It's worth the effort, I suspect, to have something worthwhile for them to find.

michael said...

Nathan, perhaps you would be so kind as to distinguish between the uses/benefits of blogs versus websites.
At a conference devoted to publicity for authors, all the speakers agreed on three points:
1. There should be a website;
2. There should be something of consequence on the website;
3. There should be frequent additions or changes in the contents to encourage re-visiting.

Nathan Bransford said...

michael-

That's what we're going to talk about tomorrow, so please make sure to come back for that!

Anonymous said...

I've been fighting it for a long time, and I know I should be doing something. My agent has hinted politely. But she isn't pushing too hard either.

Would an author web site, simply devoted to work that is published, with links mainly devoted to selling books the author has written, be acceptable? In other words, I don't want people going to the web site for any reason other than obtaining info on where to buy my books or get basic information about the books.

I'd rather not get into anything that's not professional, and I'm not a fan of "homespun" web sites of any kind...for me...I love other web sites like this...but it's not my thing.

L.C.McCabe said...

Nathan,

I have a success story to share with you and your readers about an author who did "avail" herself on the web.

Joan Price was a published author of health and fitness books with a professionally made website. An editor at Seal Press read and liked an article by Joan in the San Francisco Chronicle Magazine and did a quick search on the web. She called Joan out of the blue, told her that she liked Joan's voice and asked if there were any book projects that she wanted to pitch that might work in their publishing line.

That led to her book Better than I Ever Expected: straight talk about sex after sixty being published.

Joan then created a blog to promote that book, which was later discovered by producers from ABC's "Nightline" when they wanted to do a segment about seniors and sexuality.

For more details check out my post on Joan Price's talk in front of my writers club here:
http://tinyurl.com/ywy93v

Linda

Vieva said...

I wish you'd answered this two weeks or so ago.

I spent HOURS agonizing over whether or not to include my webnovel links!

(do webnovels count in this, or just hi I'm an author type sites?)

Erik said...

laura:

I'm good with the PG-13 (which means you can swear, but it better have serious context and brevity) - but a LOT of writers don't hold to that.

As for politics, well, I do get work and may get more for political writing. I'd call it "social commentary", but to be fair most people would call it politics. If you do political writing it seems you are forever in that file drawer, which seems grossly unfair.

Is there an acceptable level? Depends a lot on the person. I'm rather sure I lost a gig because I was perceived as just another lefty.

I believe that a thinking person will have "social commentary" and related views based on events. I can't imagine not doing that, frankly. But not everyone agrees.

Now, to the novel and memoir writing world, this may all be different. I dunno.

beth said...

I'm for the blog. It's easy to make and update.

My blog: bethrevis.blogspot.com

It's focused entirely on writing. Not necessarily MY writing, but writing and publishing. Sometimes I put my stuff up, but I think the key is to have focus--writing. I NEVER post about my husband or my dog or OMG what an awesome weekend I had! That's hugely important.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

May I Confess

I hate (passionately) building websites. Just recently I learned of a new nightmare - "scalability" - that is, when people adjust the size of the text appearing on their screen, the graphics DON'T automatically adjust also (only in Safari I think, but not IE, Firefox, etc...) - I looked at my websites after adjusting the text, just to check it out - THEY ARE A MESS!!!!

So after much searching on line, I learned that in your "code" you have to list the measurements of jpg's and other graphics in a relative unit called an "em," rather than pixels. Don't even get me started on "cascading style sheets."

My advice: Stick to blogs to save yourself the headaches (unless you can afford to hire someone else). Or else save your graphic files in the "em" units (I haven't figured out how to do this yet myself).

Elyssa Papa said...

I think it's so important to have an internet presence as an aspiring author and a published one. I know that when I research agents for querying, I look and see what their website looks like and if they have a blog or not. The more "accessible" the agent seems to me, it gives me a better vibe about the agent. You can tell a lot about a person in how he/she blogs, etc.

I'd recommend it to anyone who's waffling---to get a website or a blog (blogs are free, so there's no excuse for not having one imo).

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Briefly:

Yeah, politics!

***

Congratulations also to conduit for his story of success.

Sue said...

Sometimes I think about giving up blogging, but I stay in it because editors at the small, niche publishing firms I'm going to begin targeting continually talk about platform. Platform, platform, platform.

I only have about a thousand blog readers right now, so it's not as though it will make a gargantuan difference, but it will make SOME difference.

I think whether or not a blog or site is important partly depends upon your niche and market.

Conduit said...

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

So after much searching on line, I learned that in your "code" you have to list the measurements of jpg's and other graphics in a relative unit called an "em," rather than pixels. Don't even get me started on "cascading style sheets."


That's partly right - "em" measurements keep things sized in relation to each other, but they only apply to font sizes, margins, padding and so on. Images will always have pixel dimensions. The important thing to remember is that web pages are fluid by nature, and how they appear on your screen are only your particular browser's interpretation of them. The trick is never to rely on graphics for layout or putting across information. These are also questions of accessibility, which is a big legal issue at the minute.

But I'm getting off topic, sorry!

Ashley said...

Okay, so, I'm slightly confused. If someone could help clarify, that would be great! I see talk of websites (like full blown websites featuring published works, etc.) and I see talk of blogs.

Is one preferred over the other? I would assume a nice website would be better than a blog but...

Take, me, for instance. I am a young aspiring writer who is only just now working on a manuscript. It seems that it would be silly for me to pay for a website when I would have nothing to add to it other than "Hi, I'm Ashley. I want to be a published author some day. Here are a few excerpts from my YA Fantasy." A website would be more beneficial for someone who actually has some experience and has actually had things published, right?

So, would a blog be beneficial for me to include when I start querying agents? Obviously not a personal blog but something that is devoted to my writing?

I hate to be a nuisance - just trying to get a feel for how all this works :)

Jade said...

One piece of advice I would definitely give to all writers whether you have a contract or you are still circulating a novel, is to register your name dot com as a domain. You can do this through any website host, it is very inexpensive to book it and to renew it each year (the main cost comes when you build a website) but at least it's there when you need it and you won't find www.johnsmith.com or whatever has already been taken!

Kristin Laughtin said...

At a conference devoted to publicity for authors, all the speakers agreed on three points:
1. There should be a website;
2. There should be something of consequence on the website;
3. There should be frequent additions or changes in the contents to encourage re-visiting.


Glad to see you're going to address this tomorrow, Nathan. The biggest reason I haven't made a website is because I haven't even tried to publish anything yet, and so there's nothing to put up there. If I started publishing short stories before querying my novel, I'd surely create a site, but I'd also like to read your thoughts on the above, especially in the cases of people who don't publish anything before their first novel.

Lauren said...

I blogged for ten years before taking a hiatus to rework and finalize my novel. I've been trying to work on balancing fiction writing, blogging, and my day job writing. It's tough, and the risk of burnout is high. Cheers to anyone who can do it.

That said, many of the contemporary authors I read these days, I've come to through websites and blogs -- either the author's own website or blog, another author's blog who mentioned him/her, or through a book review site or blog. I spend FAR more money on books these days than I did in the pre-litblogosphere world. I keep up with many book-related blogs. I'd be afraid to count.

An author website content question: I've got a bunch of content related to my YA manuscript that I've thought of putting on a website. It's somewhat analogous to DVD extras -- there are blog entries written in the voices of my supporting characters, short research papers "written" by my main character relating to one of his offbeat interests, short character bios and histories... things like that. Much more geared to the YA reader than to agents and editors. I'm trying to decide whether to put this stuff on a website I create before the manuscript sells, or if it's best to stick with a basic bio / credits / synopsis website for now.

Any opinions? I'd hold off on this for You Tell Me, but I'll be traveling for the rest of this week.

L.

sbarret said...

As a reader, It's fun to find an author's website, but more important to me is finding a book excerpt. That's what gets me to buy a book, not a spiffy website.

If the excerpt is on their website, great. If it's linked from the publisher - also great. If it's nowhere (and if it's a new author) I won't buy the book unless I read part of it first, or have read something else by said author.

If I know the author, a list of her books in print (or coming out soon) is great info for a website.

Tom Burchfield said...

I blog (actually "essay" or "column" . . . ewww!) once a week on this very service; I've taken, just now, to also posting it at www.redroom.com, the writers' networking site I think Nathan has mentioned; I don't post any excerpts of my WIP, though some of my columns discuss the process of its writing, which might make for a nice ancillary book someday.

It takes more time than I like and sometimes from the time I'd rather dedicate to my book, but I agree, it's important to get your "face" online these days.

My sense of individual Web sites is that you can become isolated, like a tiny island in a big sea; I think it's smarter to hook into a larger network like Blogger, Redroom, etc. As the a Wise Fortune Cookie once told me: "A wise man knows everything. A shrewd one everybody."

Prince Balthazar said...

Ashley, I don't know if you'll see this, but I wanted to respond to your question. I was going to address this on your blog but when I clicked on your Blogger icon it said your profile was not visible. You might want to turn that on so people can visit your blog.

Anyway, I am an aspiring (and perspiring)writer and have had nothing published yet. I'm about to send out queries for my first book.

I set up a blog. But it was mostly to get a Blogger ID so I could respond on other blogs. I have a few things up there: one small passage from my book, posts on writing and publishing, tips I've read, links.

So, even if you don't have any published works, it doesn't hurt to have a blog or website. Blogger's free so it can't hurt. Hopefully, when the time comes, I would like to put my Road to Publication story on the blog as so many other writers have done before me.

I don't think it matters if it is a blog or a website. Obviously a blog is easier because you don't have to hire a designer. And it's free.

Right now my manuscript has my blog address right under all my contact info, just like Nathan suggested. Yay!

I don't get a lot of responses on the blog, but whatever, maybe in time.

Good luck.

Marilynn Byerly said...

Marion, don't self-publish your novel as an ebook until you get all the facts.

I have an article on how to pick the right publishing medium for your novel that gives an overview of all your choices. You'll find it here
http://marilynnbyerly.com/marilynnbyerly/tomarkettomarket.html

I've had an online presence for over ten years, and I've talked to hundreds of other professional writers on the subject. Here's some of the things I've learned.

The professional author website, done right, is the most costly ongoing expense an author has so keep that in mind as you make your decision.

Until you put up your official domain site, a blog or social networking site is a good placeholder on the web as long as it looks professional.

As to content, free stories usually bring traffic but not much click through to even look at an author's books. Freebie readers are cheapskates.

The only online readers who are worse are wannabe writers looking at writing articles.

I use the writing articles on my site to promote the writing courses I teach. The click through with this is much better.

And, never, ever put more than a chapter or two of your unpublished novel on your site unless you want to kiss the rights good-bye.

For most of us who are published, our contracts stipulate how much of our published work we can post online for promotion so keep that in mind as well.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Re: "Images will always have pixel dimensions."

Jon Tangerine explains pixels-to-ems on his site and also has a sample "elastic" page - Tangerine writes:

From http://jontangerine.com/log/
2007/09/
the-incredible-em-and-elastic
-layouts-with-css

"Formula to Convert Pixels to ems

When first creating elastic pages, you will find yourself doing calculations a lot. Keep a calculator handy.

I am no maths wizard, so I needed a simple formula to remember. As a designer, I know pixels intimately, so that’s where I start. I calculate what 1px is in ems and multiple by the pixel size I need. That gives me the equivalent em value. We know that 1em is always equal to the font size of the parent element, therefore:

1 ÷ parent font-size × required pixel value = em value

Don’t let my talk of forumla put you off. Elastic interfaces are a joy [sic] to build so let’s get practical and create some page elements."

Jonathan Thomas said...

Ashley,

To answer your question. Both.

If you use something like Wordpress, you can create a blog/website hybrid. You can have static, information pages that are changed rarely and the blog itself which is updated whenever you like. Blogger is not the place to do this. You cannot have static pages with Blogger, easily anyway. I recommend Wordpress or if you have more advanced skills, Drupal. You can also extend these content management systems to have forums, directories, etc.

It's also key to get your name as a domain as soon as possible.

Margaret Yang said...

I didn't make my first website until I had three short fiction sales. I figured that until then, I wouldn't have anything to link to.

Try googlepages. It's super easy. I know ZERO html but I made my site in thirty minutes. It's all point and click.

Just_Me said...

I have a blog. I'm not sure if it's professional but I keep the content strictly on my writing, my characters, and my frustrations with writing/editing/characters.

No bashing agents, editors, or other authors. No political rants. No detailed personal sobs about how my dinner got burnt because the house flooded (it didn't but it could!).

At this point the blog is a testing ground for ideas and a way to keep my beta-readers posted on what's going on with my writing. Once I get published I'll probably fine tune what I post so that I post less on WIP's and more on what's going on with published material.

Thomma Lyn said...

Nathan, I look forward to your post about blogs vs. websites! Though I don't have a website, I've blogged for over two years, and in addition to the benefits of building a web presence, I've found the networking aspect of blogging to be great, too. Writers helping and supporting writers -- what could be nicer. :)

What I've had to learn, however, is how to strike the right balance between fiction writing and blogging. Blogging can easily sneak up on a writer as a big time suck, and the fiction writing must always come first.

I'm doing well at that these days, I'm happy to say!

sex scenes at starbucks said...

But be exceedingly, ridiculously, copiously careful when you allow excerpts of your novel to be published in journals and/or elsewhere -- not necessarily because of the risk someone stealing your work (that's extremely rare) but rather because you might be tying up the rights. As always, know what you sign!

Thank you! We've run up against this at ElectricSpec, where we state plainly we buy FIRST world electronic rights. Our attorney does not take kindly to stepping on the toes of rights-holders, even if the work appeared on blogs, ezines--even dufunct, tiny anthologies, etc--especially when we're not told up front in the cover letter. Make sure you own the rights before you sell.

Ashley said...

Thanks for all the responses! I apparently do have a blog on Blogger. (I only noticed this when I went to make my first post on this site earlier this morning and realized I already had a posting name). I think I set it up to read/reply to a friend's blog and then never did anything else with it. So, thanks, Prince for pointing out to me that it is not accessible at the moment - I will go try to fix that.

Jonathon - thanks for the reply! I will probably stick to blogger for now because even though I'm young and supposed to be tech-savy, I'm not really. Guess I really should have taken that website building class in college, dang it. But I do see that my mac has some program for creating websites so that may be something I should look into soon.

Thanks again, everyone!

sleary said...

One of the best and easiest ways to start a professional-looking website is to sign up at wordpress.com. The site itself is free; for an extra $15 they'll register your domain for you as well. (You could always register it on your own; this is just the easy route.)

Wordpress.com is touted as a blogging community, but the software lets you create pages as well as blog posts. If you don't want to blog, you don't have to: just create a page and set it as your home page in the preferences. If you do, you have both blog and regular site in one handy package.

Elyssa Papa said...

Nathan,

I didn't want to junk up your inbox with a nothing e-mail but one of my friends sent me this link. It's a funny skit about the different fonts: http://www.collegehumor.com/video:1823766

Eileen Wiedbrauk, aka "Speak Coffee" said...

As someone who just launched her own website (in addition to an already existing blog) I'm happy to hear you come down on the side of "go get that website!"

BTW there is something so exciting (geeky) about getting to put "dot com" behind your name.

Ashley said...

Hmmm.. after looking at wordpress.com, I think I might give it a try! Thanks to those of you who mentioned that site.

learningtoread said...

I'm with Conduit and others like him. I was glad I had a solid, up-to-date Web presence when:

1- An acquisitions editor at a major house wanted to find me after a short story contest, and asked to read my ms when it was completed (it wasn't quite right for his house, but he's interested in later work)

2- An agent from a Big Important Agency was starting her own agency, and found an excerpt of my WIP on my blog, and asked for the full (still waiting to hear back on that, as it was recent)

3- An assistant editor from a Freaking Big House's new imprint found my blog, saw that we had similar interests and that I was working on a YA, which is what the imprint publishes, and asked to see the completed ms as well as the WIP, when it was done. (still waiting to hear back on that, too, as it was also extremely recent)

Yes, I'm very happy to have an updated-daily Web presence. I have a site, too, with minimum stuff, and it points to my LiveJournal.

As far as content is concerned, I'd say:

Showcase your work.

Be yourself, but as you're doing it, exercise self-control and some wisdom, i.e., don't let your blog become an angry-at-the-world, i-hate-every-one-of-you spot, 'cause few people can maintain one of those AND readers at the same time

Keep soapboxing to a minimum--if you feel strongly about certain issues or causes, talk about that as much as you like, but keep it from being preachy. Appeal to readers, don't cram stuff down their throats.

Fly your fandom flags high. Even if some people don't "get it", you're still going to connect with others, be it via sports or subculture.

Make friends with other bloggers by commenting on blogs, adding them to your RSS reader, and pimping them on your journal, even just in quick shout-outs. Networking doesn't just happen at conferences. And I've become pretty darn good friends with a few of my LJ buds. Comment back to people, too, until the topic fizzles naturally.

Make your contact info front-and-center. And be sure you keep up with the other side of that, too. Check that email address/MySpace account/whatever on a regular basis. AND REPLY TO ALL APPROPRIATE PERSONAL EMAILS. Dudes. Srsly.

Finally, don't take yourself too seriously. Fat birds don't fly, as my buds the Fun Lovin' Criminals will remind you. You're going to make mistakes, you're going to accidentally offend people, you're going to get responses you don't understand. You're a writer. Get used to it, and learn to handle these occurrences with grace and compassion.

Josephine Damian said...

Today, a big-name author contacted me, asking me to do a promotion event for his book on my blog.

That (1)a big-name author even heard of my blog, let alone read it was a shocker, (2) that he'd become aware of my blog's ability as a promotional tool was an indicator of the level of name recognition/online presence I've reached, (3) that an author would consider my blog as a viable platform for promotion - these are all validation for the time and effort I've put into my blog.

On MySpace, I've posted a bit about my own "platform" as a forensics grad student/criminal profiler-in-training, and that alone has brought about some agent interest as well as the synopsis of my WIP that I've posted there.

So, yeah, I'm with Conduit, having at least some kind on online promotional vehicle is a plus, and can and will attract some preliminary agent interest.

But I've also seen some -do-it-yourself author websites that were so God-awful/badly designed that those writers (published and unpublished) really shot themselves in the foot - unless your a talented as well as technically skilled web designer like Conduit, I say save up for a professionally designed website (I've already started saving money for my website and have a designer already picked out).

Conduit said...

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...
Re: "Images will always have pixel dimensions."

Jon Tangerine explains pixels-to-ems on his site and also has a sample "elastic" page - Tangerine writes:


Ah, I see what you're getting at. Yes, em's can be used to stretch an image on a page, but the image file itself will retain the same dimensions. Unlike a font or margin, which the computer will render afresh at any size with em's, an image is the size it is, but it will be stretched to fit the expanded space. I'd experiment carefully with that, though, as it will pixelate as you increase its size. So, if your purpose is the image's aesthetic quality, that quality may be lost as the image is distorted by stretching.

Also bear in mind, Internet Explorer and other browsers handle sizing in different ways - for instance IE7 zooms a page as if under a magnifying glass, thus ignoring all the relational em stuff anyway. I'll repeat the point that a web page is fluid by nature. If you approach it as being fixed, like a design on paper, the vagaries of browser compatibility will catch you out. If you design it from the outset as being the slippery beast it is, you'll better prepared for when someone tries to view it on a fifteen-year-old PC running Windows 3.1 and Netscape, and thinks your website's broken.

Anyway, sorry for diverting the discussion again!

Conduit said...

Sorry, the above post is me, not quoted from Jon Tangerin - clumsy copying and pasting on my part!

Lupina said...

Nathan, would a badly designed author Web site keep you from asking more from an otherwise appealing query?

Adaora A. said...

Blogging is amazing. You develop a following, you can blog about whatever it is you want to talk about, and if - by the stroke of luck and your talent - you get published, you've got an automatic (hopefully)audience who will read and spread the word. But bloggers sometimes (and namely myself), don't always talk about 'the writing process.' So I don't really know if it makes any sense to bother including the URL in your query. Unless, the agent wants to get a taste of the aspiring writer's personality....otherwise I just don't know.

Lynne said...

I have a website. I do not post anything x-rated. I will post a scene and stop part way through, so no one knows what happens. This sort of thing earns shrill rebukes from people who want to know what happens next. I will also post an excerpt that I've written but will not make it past an agent, since it's not about the main character. I'll post a bit of info about what things cost, as in dowry, or a scene I have no intention of using. I like posting on the web. It forces me to look closely at scenes and pare them down. It's quite useful.

April Hollands said...

Oh wow, I think I've missed something important here. It's okay to submit query letters by e-mail? This is the letter that includes a few chapters of a novel you've written, right? Does this mean I can save some trees or have I got this letter confused with another?

Katie Alender said...

I'm an author with a website/blog. I get a fair amount of traffic, and it's allowed me to connect with old friends, new friends, authors (including many fellow Nathanites), and a lot of hilarious Google search strings.

I use Blogger to publish my blog to my personal domain name and use iWeb for everything else... (technical inquiries from fellow tinkerers are welcome). The blog functions as a home page but has the same basic layout as the rest of the site. This way, my website content is kept fresh, but the majority of my site is fairly static and low-maintenance.

Especially with YA, I think it's important to have a web presence. Even a blog where you post entries and tag them "news" or "appearances" or "advice" gives you a way to provide fresh content without too much outlay of time.

It's also very worth it to figure out how to create a Sitemap that Google's search tools will use to index your page more thoroughly.

I wouldn't say it's the best marketing tool in the world, but I know I have some pre-orders already made by my regulars. And a book sold is a book sold! Plus I enjoy doing it.

To Lauren, with the related content--I'm planning similar content, and I personally would keep that stuff closer to the vest until you have a sale, or are at least on submission with an agent. You'll want it fresh at that point to create "buzz" closer to your release date. But that's just my take. Others may think differently.

Marva said...

I keep up my website and I have pages for everything I've written, excerpts (changed periodically) and the front page giving new events and echoing my blog.

I hope some agents or publishers are taking a peek.

I do not include any political material on my blog or website. I do give opinions on 'off' sites, like LiveJournal. My webs are professional and directed to my writing.

Does it help? Who knows? I guess it doesn't hurt.

Wanda B. Ontheshelves said...

Hi Conduit,

You wrote: "If you design it from the outset as being the slippery beast it is, you'll better prepared..."

I think cascading style sheets in and of themselves are "slippery beasts." XHTML, em's, pixels, I can't stand any of it! I don't understand why there aren't STANDARDS that ALL BROWSERS have to comply with. As far as display of web pages. My mind rebels - the bureaucratic complexity of browser standards. I mean srsly.

**end of rant, thank you for your patience**

Nancy D'Inzillo said...

Anonymous said "Would an author web site, simply devoted to work that is published, with links mainly devoted to selling books the author has written, be acceptable? In other words, I don't want people going to the web site for any reason other than obtaining info on where to buy my books or get basic information about the books."

I was just working on an assignment for class where I assessed author websites and one of my major complaints was when authors only had that much information posted. That said, it's not as if a website has to have a bunch of personal information about the author, but a plain website is boring. It's best if the author can add something else aside from ordering info, book synopsis, and contact info.

A great example would be something Lauren was proposing earlier: "I've got a bunch of content related to my YA manuscript that I've thought of putting on a website. It's somewhat analogous to DVD extras -- there are blog entries written in the voices of my supporting characters, short research papers "written" by my main character relating to one of his offbeat interests, short character bios and histories... things like that. Much more geared to the YA reader than to agents and editors."

Readers eat things like that up, and I would disagree with anyone that would argue that such things only interest the YA audience. Such materials get people more interested in your writing because they can see a bit of what you are writing about. Author synopsis cannot achieve the same effect. If you're going to bother with a website or even a blog, it's important to be creative.

As for whether or not a blog or website is better. . . I'd say it's beneficial to have both.

The website is fundamental once you've published, because it works as a promotional tool. That said, don't EVER bother posting a bad website just for the sake of having one. A bad website will discourage readers (be they agents, publishers, or just people interested in your book), because why would you ever want to post bad work to represent yourself to the virtual world?

The blog is perhaps not as important as the website once you've established yourself, but I've heard often how blogs have been used to establish web presence.

I'm no pro, but as someone who frequents the internet and works in the publishing world, websites and blogs seem to be the trend, and if you can't supply, you'll be in less demand.

Linnea said...

I prefer a website over a blog. Blogging takes too much time away from writing. My website is fairly static and works well for my situation. When my novel was nominated for a young readers choice award I got piles of email from students doing book reports. I figured the novel would only be in schools for that year but it continues to be on high school reading programs. A website was the best thing I ever did. The kids can acess it for personal information, an excerpt and miscl. trivia about the medieval period. I also answered the most asked questions and only update it if a student comes up with something I haven't answered.

Kara said...

I think a web site is an essential tool. It's like a networking event that's always going on. If you feed it content on a regular basis, it can begin to draw interest that continues to build.

The comment I'm leaving is a perfect example. I'd never visited this site before today. But as I read through my RSS feeds, Google Reader suggested the site as one I might enjoy based on my other subscriptions. So you gained a new subscriber without any added work. I find that pretty powerful.

Adam Heine said...

WRT blogs vs. static websites, I think the first thing to think about is what information is a random searcher looking for? What does an agent want to see when they Google my name? (I don't know the answer to that: Nathan?). What do prospective readers want to know?

And I think you do need a blog, or some other kind of updated content. It doesn't have to update frequently, but it should update relatively consistently. If your website is completely static, people will look at it once for what they want then never come back. Especially when you're published, you want your fans to always be on your website all the time.

Adam Heine said...

I have another question though. I've had a web presence for some time because of my other work and things I've done in past lives. Because these pages have been around longer, they're ranked much higher in Google than my writing website.

What would an agent or editor think if they searched my name and came up with websites that were mine, but had nothing to do with novel writing? Or if they were political or religious? In fact, it's very hard to find my authoring website by Googling my name, simply because it has so few incoming links. Is that a potential problem?

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

I have a blog. I thought I'd write about the process of finding an agent, etc., then, after I got started I realized that I needed to make some changes. The first chapter (working) is listed. Once I have the entire MS to my liking, then I will continue to do what I set out to do... which is include aspiring writers in my quest. Anyone is welcome to leave comments, crits -bad or good, or just look. I'm easy.
----------------------------
http://bettyatkins.blogspot.com/

My Efforts Getting Published

I am embarking on a perilous journey. I thought I'd best have witnesses if I get lost.

Anonymous said...

What is a google alert?

And what, or how, does google rate whatever it is they rate?

What are you talking about as regards the above?

And if you've posted excerpts from an unpublished book, what damage have you done as regards rights and hence agents avoiding you because you did?

intotheforest said...

Thanks for talking about this. Personally I have no intention of getting a regular website right now because I don't know what I'd put on it. I'm not a published author yet. On the other hand, I do have a blog that's a hundred percent dedicated to writing.

L.C.McCabe said...

In answering what is a Google Alert:

It is an automated program to update you on any string of words that you designate.

Go to www.google.com/alerts and plug in whatever you choose. If you are interested in say "space monkeys" you could type that phrase in and decide if you want a comprehensive alert which includes news items, websites, and blogs and how often you wish to be notified. this can be daily or "as it happens."

One suggestion for everyone is to create a Google alert on your name. That way you'll be made aware if someone is writing about you. That is until you become soooo famous that it you can hire a publicist to follow such things.

;-)

Polenth said...

Lots of weird stuff comes up for my name when I Google search. That's the trouble with wandering the internet. Still, one of my blog posts did come up on the first page of my name search. A pity it was the post titled 'Aliens Love Underpants', but you can't have everything.

This is a good reason for starting an author site early. It takes time to get incoming links and rise up the search engine rankings. If you start your site two days before you need it, you won't be there.

Adam Heine said...

"And what, or how, does google rate whatever it is they rate?"

In general, the more incoming links a page has, the higher it will be ranked in the results. So time is a factor, but not a direct one. That's another reason to keep a blog, because new content encourages new links.

l.c.mccabe: I'd never heard about that Google alerts thing. That's pretty cool.

superwench83 said...

Polenth: Aliens Love Underpants? LOL. I don't think it's a shame at all. If I googled someone and that post came up, I would totally click on it.

Conduit and a few others have shared success stories about having an online presence via a website or blog. But I think there are more reasons for unpublished writers to have one or both of those things. Writing well takes practice, as we all know--but not just any practice. You can be the best novelist in the world and still write crappy nonfiction articles. So when an author gets published and is suddenly expected to write content for a blog or webpage, how can they be confident about writing that content well? It does take practice to write good blog posts. It's an entirely different skill than writing a good novel.

As for what an unpublished author should include on a website, I'll agree that this is a tricky question. Something that's helped me has been hunting down websites by other authors who are either unpublished or have only had one short piece published before. It helps not only to see what's a good idea to include, but to see what's a bad idea as well. If it will help anybody...I feel like such a dork posting a link here, but what the heck? My site is www.katie-lovett.com . Maybe someone will find a good idea. Maybe someone will find a bad one, too (but I hope not).

And even if an author plans to hire a site designer, I think it's a good idea for everyone to know at least a few basics about HTML, so that you don't have to contact the designer every time you want to make a minor update to your site. I learned the basics just from what came up in a Google search. I've learned more since then, but a basic understanding is surprisingly easy to aquire.

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

I had a writers website for years, where I put down everything I had learned about writing and getting published. Several authors, agents and editors linked to it. Back in those days I was ebydesigns (it had started out as an Architect site). It was much more successful than I was. I got free books from the authors and the editor of Writer's digest and from 2 agents who had written books on how to get an agent. Of course I pimped their books... for free. So, a personal website is actually a good thing. At the moment I just have the blog. I just don't have the time to take care of another website.

I have a genealogy site that is way too popular and takes up a lot of my time answering e-mails, etc. Then I have my personal website to pimp other artisans who handcraft (or handmake) everything they sell. You know there is an arts and crafts revolution going on. Then I have my shop to keep stocked. My writing takes up the rest of my time.

The internet is an amazing place.

RED STICK WRITER said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RED STICK WRITER said...

Laura K.Curtis has spoken as a bonafide day-job marketing professional. Presence is important.

James Patterson was a marketing and advertising pro first and an author next. He has websites and blogs and has had movies and television shows. It seems that the writing biz follows that location, location, location thing in a sense. The more locations you have, the better off your are.

Michael is on the money with his three points. It is especially true that websites and blogs do get more action if readers can rely on new content on a regular basis.

I have a presense in Blogger and at Publishers Marketplace, but I really need to post more often on my Red Stick Writer page. I recently created crosslinks between them and have already seen increased traffic.

I have one blog page listed at my Blogger home. It will take you to my daughter's blog page about her art faster than Scotty could have beamed you there. I've watched her connect her Blogger, My Space, Etsy, and other pages to get visitors, create buzz, and sell paintings. It has impressed me and has me looking for ways to do the same for myself and my writing.

Of course, it also helps if you include enlightening information about monkey stuff. I've seen at least one agent use that ploy.

Shruti said...

I think it's essential for a writer to have a personal website. It can help with marketing and promotion after you've written a book that can sell itself.

Lauri Shaw said...

I read this thread with great interest, as for me the topic is extremely relevant. On September 1st, I'll begin broadcasting chapters of my novel, Servicing the Pole, onwww.laurishaw.com as serials. The website is currently being redesigned to suit the project. I'm very interested to see what drives traffic to different parts of my site. If anyone else here is considering doing something similar with their own work, please feel free to contact me once in awhile to see how it's going. I'm happy to share what I learn with you.

Note: I'm doing this in order to make my work available to the people who want to read it. I am not doing it to make money and so I'm not planning to charge for it. That said, it's important to me that my work be presented as professionally as possible. That's my name on it.

Anonymous said...

Great topic.

I have found that websites are good for static information. They should be kept updated though. AND SIMPLE.
In my humble opinion, too many websites are too complicated and a hassle to sift through. If it's a big site, I think it is worthwhile to spend a lot of time on the overview and map it out.

But a blog is great! It can be linked to a website or stand alone.
I regularly read blogs that are of interest to me. And it informs my writing to do so. But it is specific reading, like daily or weekly specific research, and like reading the newspaper.

A writer friend (in fact, several) recently got me to subscribe to facebook and live journal and I had to get away. Too much, too many, distracting, dizzy. And those friends are always complaining about how they have no time to write their own work and how this helps their presence, but I don't really think so.

I think Nathan's blog connects me with more serious or pro writers than those places. I get to hear very helpful opinions and be in helpful discussion HERE.

I like a simple website for a book.
And, I'd rather follow a writer directly to their blog (if they are open to having and hosting one) then be part of the (too often flamable) masses in "catch all" sites.

Anonymous said...

I think a perfect example of a great web presence that is fun and positive and helpful is Rebecca Ramsey! I love her blog and her website.

Maris Bosquet said...

The odd drawback about putting a book in blog form? The chapters appear in reverse order. Yes, one must include instructions on the site. Readers do get the hang of it, especially if the chapters are numbered, so they know right away if they're going from 13 to 14 instead of from 14 to 13.

Maris Bosquet said...

Conduit,

Huge congrats! It's great to see how well the 'Net can work as a PR/marketing tool.

Tracey S. Rosenberg said...

My prime rule as a blogger (or, more generally, as a person with an online presence) is: I don't post anything [under my own name] that I wouldn't want my employer, my agent, or my mom to read.

There is a place for bitchery, mockery, airing of dirty laundry, personal feuds, and explicit (in all senses of the word) personal discussions. The web is not that place.

Now, I'm not going to say I eschew all snarkery or dampen my opinion until my blog is the equivalent of tapioca, but some things *do not* need to be public. They will make you look bad, they may turn clients away, and they may come back to haunt you.

Basically, the internet is not high school.

Anonymous said...

An editor recently contacted me because she is a regular reader of my blog.

As soon as I finish revising, she will be the first to read my novel.

PS. She's with Harper Collins.

Kimberly Lynn said...

Speaking of websites . . .

When is Curtis Brown, LTD. going to have one?

I mean finish this one:

http://www.curtisbrown.com/

I’m being held in suspense!

nona said...

some things *do not* need to be public. They will make you look bad, they may turn clients away, and they may come back to haunt you.

Tracey: I agree 100% but I know that on my deathbed I will not look back on my life and say, "Gee, I wish I'd spent more time being careful . . ."

Mortality is one huge ass wake-up call. It's the reason I began writing in the first place.

Rebecca said...

I second (third?) the idea of using Wordpress to integrate a traditional website and blog -- it's what I do and I think works very well. At risk of plugging myself, rebecca-allen.net: you've got organized, easy-to-find pages with my resume, contact info, clips, etc; you've also got a blog so people can see I'm there and update frequently, get a feel for my personality, whatever. It was fairly easy to set up (the lovely people at Dreamhost go out of their way to make it easy to set it up, actually) and the template was free -- there's a footer that credits the designer, but it's not too obtrusive. If (hopefully when!) I sell a novel, I'll be able to replace some of my old pages with new stuff on the book, and at that point would certainly look into getting a professionally-designed template.

Chris said...

Definitely a blog, if just to keep you in the habit of writing. The fresh content of a blog, assuming you keep it up, translates into more opportunities to be found on Google. Google indexes pages not websites.

Margaret Yang said...

katie alendar called us "Nathanites." But I thought we were "Bran Fans?"

Nathan, we need a ruling!

Miss Snark had snarklings. And you have...?

Laura K. Curtis said...

red stick writier: I should say that I do a lot of marketing in my day job, but I am not a marketing professional except in the way that anyone who owns their own business is a marketing professional!

erik: I do think fiction is different. If you write politics/social commentary, that's what your audience expects. And that's what you should give them!

Cloudscudding said...

Thank you so much for answering my question! Now I can sleep easily, knowing that I can take down my short excerpt at any time, and I haven't signed away any rights. Now I just have to finish linking up my various RSS feeds to my website and add in the market listings I've compiled.

Step 1. Make website shiny.
Step 2. ?
Step 3. Profit, right?

Anonymous said...

I lost an agent because I sent her my website/blog. This was after several exchanged e-mails and right before a scheduled phone call (which ended up not happening). I had other writers look at my website and blog to see if it was "unprofessional" because I do have non-writing related posts on my blog (at the time: a post about New Kids on the Block returning and a few American Idol posts), but they didn't find anything objectionable. Still, I am never, ever again sending out my website/blog to an agent. Ever. I think this agent's rejection of me (it was a rejection of me as a person being "young" "unprofessional" and something about my character) was a blessing in disguise, though. We would not have meshed. (So I keep telling myself. It still hurt.)

Judith Coughlin said...

I go back and forth with this issue all the time. Blogging can be a little like surfing the web in that you grab a cup of coffee and sign on, intending to read a few postings, twitter, digg, blog, and the next thing you know it's 3:00 you're still in your pjs, the kids are coming in the door, and you haven't touched your book.
But, it's a great way to connect with other pj wearing lay-abouts, I mean, writers.

Victoria Mixon said...

I don't publish any of my fiction on my blog. I send that to the literary magazines the old-fashioned way.

I blog exclusively on the subject of creating fiction. That neatly avoids all the subjects an editor or agent doesn't want to see, while showing them that I do know how to write and that the story they may be considering is not just a flash in the pan.

I write full essays, rather than blurbs, and try to address those issues that I've seen writers struggle with the most over the years that I've been a fiction editor and teacher. You would not believe how many writers just need to know how to punctuate dialog.

Having been in this field for almost 30 years, I can tell you I've been through nearly all the phases of learning to write fiction. I started blogging to supplement my work with my fiction clients and to teach myself to write essays, but now I do it because I think passing on my knowledge of the art of fiction is good karma. I love fiction, and I want to see writers with good ideas and real dedication produce quality stuff. Otherwise, I've got precious little to read!

http://victoriamixon.com

Star-Dreamer said...

I guess I agree with one of the first comments on here... the big question is about content. I have a book I'm getting ready for publishing, and I'm trying to build a website for it, but I'm really unsure of what the website could have on it. Especially since the book isn't really published yet so I can't really promise anything about it just yet... What do you do in a situation like that? What do you want to put on a website for your book? I guess this question goes for both published and yet to be published books, but I'm talking more of the "yet to be published" types. What do you do?

The Writer said...

A publisher advised me to get a website as it shows a publisher the writer is proactive - so am doing this now. Well, someone else is as my brain is tech-dunce. I've written a book and only recently 'come out of the closet' and told people I write (God, did that sound gay?!). I'm doing a course with Britain's Writers' Bureau and the only thing I've had printed are Fillers (haven't submitted anything else yet) - is it good to add these very small credits to my web?
Lesley (England)
: 0 )

Terry said...

Thanks Nathan. I missed this somehow and it helps answer some questions for me.

Jenny said...

I simply adore your way of writing this article. There is never a dull moment while going through your post

Clara Rose said...

I have a website, a blog, business cards, brochures and letterhead... after all I am in business.

Treat your writing like a business not a hobby!

mvs said...

Also, it's a good idea for authors to buy their own domain as it looks way more professional than a wordpress or blogger extension.

Mould Remover said...

Many sites try to be too artsy and leave the user behind. However, designers today are attending to this need already which is a good sign.

Dance Teaching Degree said...

For years now, I’ve done freelance writing for newspapers and magazines as a way to make side income, supplementing my full-time job. But this year, I’ve made the conscious move to freelancing for blogs instead of print publications, to the point where I now make about $2,000 a month as a blog writer (not including my own blog’s income or my full-time salary).

running your smsf said...

I would definitely encourage my clients to have some sort of a website up by the time their first book comes out, but whether they choose to and how much time they want to devote to it is up to them.

JustSarah said...

Does it generally matter, if the website your using is a yahoo mail, or regular old deviant art? I hear some places don't like Yahoo because of spam.

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