Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Nothing but 'Net

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.

44 comments:

Blak Rayne Books said...

Very informative. Made me think, that perhaps I should change a few things with my own website. I'd be grateful if you'd take a look at mine and tell me if it needs any changes. Sometimes another person's opinion is invaluable. Thanks!

Blak Rayne
http://www.blakraynebooks.com

Regina Carlysle said...

Cock of the Month? No, I don't think so. :-) I personally think a site should look professional and be easy breezy to navigate. It's kind of scary putting one up because sometimes it's a 'first impression' kind of thing. I think straightforward and classy is a great way to go. I use a wordpress site. It not only looks good but I have the added benefit of doing my own updates quickly. I like being the 'master of my own ship' and not having to depend on someone to be timely about things.

I'm stumped about the WIP thing to tell the truth. I don't do it but I know lots of newbie authors want to have their work seen. My main worry is that work could be stolen so easily.

Tess MacKall said...

Great advice for authors. And thanks for the reminder about contact info. Natalie Dae just revamped my site and I forgot to put that back up. Tess hangs her head in shame, and then rushes off to fix her screw up. LOL

Drea Becraft said...

Oh I actually found this very informative. I made all of my sites. And while I don't have a domain set for them without the .webs on the end, I do take pride in my sites.

Now my pictures have got me a lot of great feedback about my site, but i do occassionally get the whole its a bit racy for me comment. I diled it down a bit without taking away the essance that is Drea.

Thank you for sharing, as a new author I never relized how much the social network can make or break you.

~~*Drea*~~
http://dreabecraft.webs.com/

Debra Glass said...

Wonderful article. I think my favorite author site as far as attractiveness and ability to keep me there is Delilah Devlin's. http://www.delilahdevlin.com/

I think a clean, easy to read, easy to navigate site is imperative.

Valerie T. said...

Great advice. I see authors with outdated websites all the time. Some just need to refresh - some just need to put their current books up. It takes 10 minutes to do that.

There are tons of companies out there who offer their services for either maintaining your site, or redesigning. (My partner and I are newbies in the web design business.)

There's also Novel Sidekick who can help out busy authors with the day to day tasks of updating their websites. And they go pirate hunting for you too.

Valerie
http://www.tibbsdesign.com
http://www.authordesignservices.com
http://www.novelsidekick.com/index.php

Kaily Hart said...

Great advice and information! I'm in the process of having my blog and website revamped so it was a great perspective to have. Cock of the month? You're kidding, right?

I'd like to add that I see many websites where an author has tried to make it attractive with a background print of some sort. It often makes the text almost impossible to read. I also see sites so packed full of 'stuff' that I struggle to find the simplest things, such as a list of books the author has published or when their next book is coming out.

Natalie Dae said...

Cock of the Month. Gawd bless...

:o)

Laurann Dohner said...

I'm almost afraid to ask what people think of my website. I only hear compliments but I doubt someone would take the time to write me if they hated it. I'm always torn because I hear having a black background is bad but then I do get those emails telling me they loved the site. Soooo confusing! I also have different banner pics on every page, which I happen to like. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing. I do get a lot of traffic so I'm hoping it's not people saying..."WOW...go check out this horrible website...you won't believe it!". LOL!!!!

www.LaurannDohner.com

Cai said...

Wow, Kelli - lots to think about with website info. Arwen does all of our web stuff - she's our web guru - it's all I can do to keep my Facebook page up to date! LOL

I TOTALLY agree with you on the music thing - I hate websites with music - especially "professional" ones.

Nina Pierce said...

Wow, clear and concise. Thanks Kelli. A lot of really great information there.

Samantha Kane said...

I redid my website myself earlier this year. I was sick of how congested my old site was. So I started with a clean slate. It's incredibly simple, but I love it. I think it's very easy to navigate, and readers have said the same thing. Some may find it too simple, I know there are people who like the bells and whistles.

What do you think of author blogs as part of their websites? I'm thinking of doing that.

http://samanthakane.us

Regina Carlysle said...

No to music. Drives me nuts when I can't figure out how to turn it off and I usually end up leaving the site quicker than I normally would. Big distraction.

Samantha, I blog on my wordpress site but not as often as I should. I tend to blog on my blogger site more often but I DO like having the option of blogging on my website.

Natalie Dae said...

I'd say go for the blog, Samantha, if you haven't got a blog elsewhere. I was browsing yesterday and went to a site where I wanted to see what the author had to say/"get to know her". No blog. I felt really disappointed!

:o)

C. Zampa said...

OH, such priceless information!
Thank you so much for sharing this knowledge!

Samantha Kane said...

Thanks, Regina and Natalie! Good to know. I blog at several multi-author blogs, but I've been thinking that I'd like to blog on my own time on my own personal topics instead. And a blog on my website would be much easier to find for readers and anyone else who wants a peek. Although I do have all my blogs, and the days I blog, posted on my Bio page on my website.

Natalie Dae said...

Samantha, a personal one would be cool, I agree with that too!

:o)

Debbie Gould said...

Great information. I'm going to go change a few things pronto! Nooo, I don't have any cocks of the month. LOL

Dee Dawning said...

No Problem about the female pronouns. When I write erotic romance, I'm in a female valence anyway.

I don't suppose you'd peek at and evaluate my website, would you?

Just in case, it's www.deedawning.com

Sarah J. McNeal said...

Excellent blog on websites. Made me want to run shrieking and screaming over to my website and update it. Good advice and ideas to consider.
Sarah

Regina Carlysle said...

Something about blogging. Just my opinion of course. I try to keep my website friendly yet professional but on my personal blog, I concentrate a bit more on connecting as a 'person' who just happens to write. Yes, I promote my new releases and the releases of other writers but always try to include little things about myself. Nothing too personal but enought to give readers a chance to get to know me a bit.

Desiree Holt said...

Right on the money, as usual.

Natalie Dae said...

I'm not stalking you, Reg, honestly...mwhahahaha.

I agree about the personal blog. Sometimes I feel badly speaking about my personal business and feelings and always have that "thing" in the back of my mind of: Am I being professional saying this? What will so-and-so think?

What I then told myself is that I'm a person as well as a writer, and if I want to blog about feeling like poo or finding a fabbo bargain, I should be able to without feeling bad that the blog content isn't about my latest book.

I always wanted to "get to know" authors when I was younger, and now, with this digital age, I can. Finding out, for example, that Tess Gerritsen blogs "just like a normal person" had me so excited I squealed. Perhaps I'm a sad moo, but it made my day.

:o)

Natalie Dae said...

P.S. LOL a lot at Debbie saying she hasn't got cocks of the month.

:o)

Regina Carlysle said...

Ahhhh you're stalking me, Nat? I'm honored. LOL. I don't know. Just seems to me that sharing bits and pieces of yourself on a blog isn't all that different from sharing who you are in the stories you write. I think people who read my personal blog have a pretty good idea about how I express myself, something about my sensibilities and if I seem like a person they'd want to have a cup of coffee with. I've met a number of writers whose work I loved and walked away smiling because she was just as cool, nice, and fun and I'd thought she would be from reading her work. Love when that happens.

Natalie Dae said...

Yes, Reg. I'm stalking. I have a balaclava on so you can't see me in the shadows here. I have soft-soled shoes on so you can't hear me following you about.

Um, ok. That sounded just a little bit weird. Good job you know me, eh?

Yes, I agree. I'd love to meet an author I loved who acted the same as she did on her blog. One of those people I imagine would be uber cool and fun is Daisy Dexter-Dobbs. She is one funny woman, and I bet she'd have your ribs killing by the end of five minutes.

:o)

Regina Carlysle said...

I agree with that on Daisy. Keep waiting for her to show up at Romanticon! Would love to meet her.

kellicollins said...

Hey Sam, I'm a fan of blogs on the site, but possibly because I'm as lazy as they come and don't want to click all over the place. :) If you can still maintain the cleanliness of your site while adding a blog, so much the better.

But Regina raised a great point: What kind of blog do you want, professional or personal? If you'll be imparting a lot of personal posts, there are probably justifiable reasons for keeping them separate.

Then again, maybe you don't mind mixing business with pleasure. The choice is highly personal, I think.

And Dee and Blak...I'll check out your sites as soon as I'm able. If you really want to know what I think. :)

Lex Valentine said...

Very good advice, Kelli. When I do a site for someone I mention a lot of that. One other thing I mention to people - branding. Get rid of the freewebs and weebly addresses and invest in your domain name. It's one of the best things you can do to make yourself look professional.

Regina Carlysle said...

Kelli, I actually keep my website blog a bit more professional. At Three Wicked Writers plus Two, we do a mix of fun and informative and on my personal blog I'm far more informal. More chatty I reckon. So I mix things up a bit. Yeah, I know. Lots of blogging. LOL. I find it's a good way to connect with others though so, to me, it's worth it.

Regina Carlysle said...

Lex did MY website. I love it. The branding thing is so important. Glad you mentioned that, Lex. Tying elements of your website banner with blog banners, sig banners and avatars is so important I think.

Lex Valentine said...

Oooh. On the subject of blogs and blogging... I have a blog on my author website and I keep my posts related to writing there. My personal blog which I've had since long before I was published is more casual and personal. It IS a personal blog. I gripe about my kid. I gripe about my old man. I talk about all kinds of...stuff. But I'm aware that all eyes are on a public site. It wouldn't be very wise to forget that every time you login to post. And I'm fully aware that the better part of the people who subscribe to my feed are bloggers who subscribed to me long before I ever signed a publishing contract. Still, it doesn't hurt to remember that everyone is watching you when you do something in a public place like the internet.

Lex Valentine said...

Regina, you have to be - hands down - the easiest client I ever worked with. It's easy for me to build something for someone who can articulate what they're looking for and have no qualms doing what's necessary to brand herself.

Raelene said...

My absolute pet peeve about author sites - when they lack a simple and easy-to-use list of all their published books. Don't make me search for the list, don't make me select by series or genre (although you can have those options, too). Just give me one list of ALL your book. Include cover, title, release date, format, and publisher. And of course a link from each to the book page at the publisher site or Amazon.

Second pet peeve - "hiding" free reads. Hey, readers (and editors) love to try out an author for free. Put a damn button in your main menu bar to take me to your free reads. Don't bury them somewhere, so that visitors don't even know you've got them.

Raelene

Regina Carlysle said...

Question. So what is best? Doing a free read (that is edited and polished) or doing WIP excerpts? I swear, WIP excerpts just scare me. Do you recommend hiring an editor to go over the free read? Assuming you only plan to make it available on your website, of course.

Tess MacKall said...

I really do think it's all a matter of author style. At Three Wicked Writers Plus Two, I've blogged on some really different topics. Everything from my kid and his dog to male POV. Blog posts should be interesting. Period. I love visiting author websites just to see what's going on with the author's writing and their life in general. So I always click on the blog. Unfortunately, I'm usually bored right away. I put a lot of effort into my posts when I blog. A blog, in my opinion, should be just as interesting as the books the writer is trying to sell. And that goes for the website too. I hear authors all the time saying they can't think of anything to blog about. Just blog about life. It's simply a matter of putting your personality into it and taking a little time to make it entertaining.

Nice comments here, btw.

Anonymous said...

Regina, I think people like both. They're different things with different purposes, for my money. When I read an excerpt, it's to get a taste of an upcoming release, see if I'm interested. I most often read free stories (short or otherwise) if I'm completely unfamiliar with an author, to become familiar with the writing style.

Free stories have been everything from tiny shorts the author just put up for fun, to full novels he/she holds the rights to and has decided to offer for free instead of re-subbing somewhere.

Whatever you put up, if it's unedited, I'd suggest declaring that.

Kelli, who's AIM ID is acting the fool at the moment!

Regina Carlysle said...

Thanks Kelli.

Anne Rainey said...

Terrific advice, Kelli! It's given me a lot to think about. :)

nevealane said...

Oh that is some good advice. It couldn't have been said better and the humor makes it easier to swallow!

Shoshanna Evers said...

Great advice (and comments)! I have an author website that's a bit of a hybrid - half blog so I can easily update it and half actual website pages. I have a separate blog that's meant to be a reference for aspiring writers and also follows my continuing journey in the publishing world :)Then I have two FB accounts and a Twitter account... it's a lot to keep up with, but I figure having an online presence is the only way to get to know people without leaving my house too often :)
If anyone feels like checking out my sites:
www.ShoshannaEvers.com
www.TheWritersChallenge.com

oh p.s. I agree with Kelli that it's super hard on the eyes to read black background with white or colored print. Even if a site is awesome I can't spend too much time on there if it's like that...

jean hart stewart said...

Valuable information and I appreciate the thought that went into this column...Thanks, Jean

Avril said...

Great information. This helps a great deal, Thanks.

Lissa said...

Quite informative and definitely makes one think and consider and really study their website. Awesome post.