This article, by Judith Rosen, originally appeared on Publisher’s Weekly on 12/15/08.
Now that just about every writer has a Web site, blog and/or MySpace, Facebook and GoodReads pages, are they finding the effort of keeping up with it all worthwhile? Do authors even need a Web presence? And if so, is it worth the $3,000 to $35,000 fee that professional Web site creators/marketers charge?
“Yes,” said Steve Bennett, who has written more than 50 books and is president of AuthorBytes, which builds and markets author Web sites. “A Web site is your locus in space. It’s not that people can’t get basic author information on Amazon. But they’re looking for extras. The Web has changed the way we learn about products and services; it’s hard to imagine succeeding without it.”
There’s little question about the value of author Web sites for Carol Fitzgerald, founder and president of the Book Report Network, either. As she sees it, having a Web presence gives writers a chance to extend the conversation with their readers. When her company signs an author, she reads their books to make sure that the site her company creates captures the same attitude and tone, beginning with the welcome letter on the home page. Fitzgerald is less concerned about authors having a message board or book trailer than with providing a go-to place for fans.
“If you’re going to get a book review over the Web,” she said, “you want to be sure to have a Web site to send people to, not just the publisher’s site.” She does have one caveat, though: don’t overdo the Flash. “If I’m waiting for a site to load, it ought to be pretty good,” said Fitzgerald. “Like it ought to clean the floor.”
In the absence of clear proof that an expensive, Flash-driven site makes any difference when it comes to sales, some authors, even well-known ones, are opting for a bare-bones Web presence. Susan Cheever, who was given her first Web site 15 years ago, chose a no-frills, DIY Authors Guild site, where writers pay up to $9 a month for Web hosting.
She said that she would upgrade if there were any way to prove that sites sell books. In addition to saving money, the Authors Guild arrangement allows Cheever to update her site (www.susancheever.com) directly, unlike many Web services.
Not that she changes it often—her most recent book, Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction, is still listed on her home page as due out in the beginning of October. Nor is there a blog. Still, for her the site does what she wants: it enabled this reporter to track her down at Yaddo, and she uses it to sign up speaking engagements.
Despite Cheever’s decision not to blog, both Bennett and Fitzgerald argue that a blog is the easiest way to keep sites fresh. And there’s no reason the blog has to be only about the book; at least that’s James Frey’s approach at BigJimIndustries.com. On his blog, he collects funny news items, videos he likes and stray Web commentary.
But it’s not just bestselling writers who use the Web to keep their names out in the blogosphere. Relatively unknown authors, especially nonfiction writers, have found the Web to be an effective tool for generating interest in their work. Months before her combination travelogue/humor book Queen of the Road came out in June, Doreen Orion used her advance from Broadway to hire AuthorBytes to create QueenoftheRoadtheBook.com.
Her objective, she said, was to have a site that would give people a sense of her book without reading it. She chose to have every Web page look like a postcard sent from a different destination, with a stamp of her wearing a tiara.
Although Orion estimates that she spent eight hours a day for six months before her book came out working on the site and posting YouTube videos, she said the money and time were well spent. She credits the site with getting her a speaking engagement at A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, Calif., as well as making her book a reading group selection. She viewed her advance as “my book’s money. If you don’t have a really good Web site, you’re hampering yourself.”
Clearly something’s working. Queen of the Road is in its sixth printing and has close to 38,000 copies in print.