By Kelli Collins
The lovely ladies over at Three Wicked Writers plus Two tell me they've fielded lots of questions from new authors regarding websites. As in, whether or not to have one, and the importance of the content contained therein. What works, what doesn't...and what editors recommend. That's where I come in, by answering some of the Wicked Writers' most frequently asked questions. I'm honored you would want my opinion, ladies. The fact you may have asked because I never shut up and have an opinion on everything has crossed my mind...but I don't care! I'm taking the opportunity and running with it! (Oh, and gentlemen, we love you and we love men who write erotica, but considering the industry is dominated by chicks, I'll be going with the feminine pronoun for the purposes of this post. No offense, dudes.)
Why do editors need to look at an author's website?
Need? Well, some think they don't. But for my money, it's the quickest way to learn about a prospective author, in particular how she presents herself. And not just her site...but her blog, tweets and Facebook posts as well. Is the site a raging grammatical nightmare? That's likely how her submissions will look (don't kid yourself; your mom's/sister's/friend's proofing skills only go so far, in most cases). Is the author slamming fellow writers or (god forbid) publishing companies on her blog? Is her Facebook wall just a loooong rundown of game posts? To me, these things matter. They tell me pretty much everything I need to know. And they continue to tell me things after an author is signed. (Your edits are 5 weeks late because you've contracted a disease that renders your fingers immobile? That's funny. According to FB, you've been playing FarmVille for the last 15 hours straight, and your Twitter feed from the last week could be a novel unto itself.)
If a website seared your retinas and offended your sensibilities to the point you thought the author had committed web page murder, would you feel compelled to tell then they may be better off changing their website?
Yes. Lol! I have no problem telling authors why I don't visit their sites. The music (which I can't turn off!!) makes me wanna commit hari-kari. The home page is a visual nightmare, with texts and graphics seemingly placed at random so my eyes ping-pong all over with no place to land. The text is too small; the colors are too visually straining (black is always easiest to read...but not on an equally dark background). Some semblance of order is needed. Without it, it's just too mentally exhausting to navigate the site.
If yes, how would you broach the subject and what would you say?
Well, seeing as how I have little to no filter, I just lay it on the line: "Hon, you need to revamp your site." Followed by all the reasons why. It's not personal for me, it's business. And I relay that to the author, explaining as best I can why her site might be offending the masses. Websites are an author's number one promotional tool. If you're lucky enough to get readers to visit, but can't get them to stay, well...you're pretty much screwed.
Where does your gaze land when you view a website for the first time? The banner? The sidebars?
On websites, as in newspapers and magazines, our eyes are attracted to images first, large headlines second. I'm no different. Because our eyes are also trained to read top to bottom, left to right, my eyes are drawn to the banner first if there's an interesting graphic element. My eyes almost always go to sidebars last; an argument to place links to site pages beneath the banner. (We're conditioned to think sidebars are largely reserved for links, advertisements, etc. Things that may hold my interest the least.) Because graphics and headlines are so frequently viewed, make them count. Use them to point readers in the direction you want them to go, to entice them to read your posts and as tools to keep readers on your site as long as possible.
If you see a vulgar website, does it put you off reading any of the author's work?
Not necessarily. While vulgarity does tell me a bit about the author as a person, it doesn't necessarily reflect the type of books they write. But that's years of experience talking. An author might not get so lucky with readers, who may well assume a crude site is a sign of crude books. But while I might still read authors' works, their use of vulgar images, language, etc., is another thing that might keep me away from their sites. For instance, I swear like a sailor and I love looking at hot bods as much as the next person, but there's something to be said for teasing glimpses and a modicum of professionalism. There's at least one site I no longer visit because I'm just not interested in seeing the author's "cock of the month" pictures. There are plenty of other places I can go for that, if I really want to see it. Websites should appeal to the broadest range of readers possible.
As tastes are subjective, what one person thinks is an ugly website, another will like. What are the basic things you look for when visiting sites?
Some sort of order; if I want to see your bio or view your current releases, finding the pages easily is key for me. A degree of simplicity (you don't need to pack every square inch of the site with content or images. Seriously). A pleasing color scheme. If my eyes are happy, I'll stay on the site longer.
What is the one thing you do NOT want to see on a website, as in, something that looks unprofessional in your opinion?
See previous "cock of the month" mention...
What is the main thing that turns you off a website?
Disorder, followed very closely by dated information. I can't tell you how often I visit sites that haven't been updated for months. There's just no point in having one if you're not maintaining it. Silly, poser-style images. Come on, people, there are oodles of free pics available on the 'Net, nearly all of which are more appealing than creepy-looking pod people. Finally, no contact link. If you're interested in publishing...you might want to give editors/publishers a way to contact you (and of course, readers LOVE to email authors).
Would you advise authors to post portions of a WIP on their website?
Man. Tough question. And I'm truly torn. Half of me would rather see a short, super-enticing blurb. For one thing, I've seen some seriously long excerpts (as in, several chapters). Why should readers buy the cow when they're getting the milk for free? But more importantly, excerpts from current WIPs are unedited. No. I'm sorry. I don't care if you've had 12 people read it. They're still unedited. And that can work against an author in a big way, particularly if the excerpt doesn't specifically state it's unedited (no, most readers won't assume).
On the other hand, I'd be lying if I said I haven't invited authors to submit books directly to me on the strength of excerpts on their sites. I've done so frequently, actually. If an author follows me on Twitter, for instance, I check out their site (if they are smart enough to link it in their Twitter bio). If there's an excerpt or a free read of some sort, I read it. Nearly every time. And knowing these things are largely unedited makes me doubly impressed if I stumble upon one that's clean and compelling. I don't hesitate to invite those authors to submit. So I suppose in the case of new authors, there are great advantages to excerpting your WIPs. But if you choose to...for the love of all that's holy, make sure the excerpts are as clean as humanly possible and chosen VERY carefully (use the excerpt you think will instantly hook the reader).
Three Wicked Writers plus Two are Tess MacKall, Regina Carlysle, Anne Rainey, Natalie Dae and Madison Scott. Together, along with a host of guest bloggers, they post several times per week.