First, there are of course more new reviews for UNHOLY GHOSTS, but I’ll probably do a round-up of those tomorrow.
Second, I did want to let everyone know that UNHOLY GHOSTS is going to be the lead Feature Discussion for June on the Barnes & Noble paranormal/UF/Fantasy Bookclub forum!
If you’re not already registered over there, take a minute to do so; the bookclub discussions are always a lot of fun, and since authors are invited to join the conversation, I’ll be in and out of there all month answering questions etc.
But today we’ll talk about something different, something not really related to me or my books at all. We’ll talk about websites a bit.
Periodically the question comes up as to whether or not unpublished writers need websites, and what kinds of websites, and if it’s a necessary promotional expense and how to do it cheaply and all of that. (It came up recently on a forum I’m a member if, in fact, and this post is basically an expansion of my reply there.) And as always, my opinion may not be the popular one or the one everyone agrees with, and as always you’re perfectly free to disagree if you like.
See, a lot of people will tell you that if an agent or editor is interested in your work, they’ll Google you. And that it’s important if that’s the case to have a nice, clean, professional-looking website up and ready to go.
I don’t agree with this. I don’t really fully disagree, but I don’t agree, and here’s why.
I’m not saying it’s wrong to do this–hey, if you want a website, by all means get one, it’s not up to me or anything–but I always kind of feel like the time to set up a website is when you actually have stuff to put on it. And I’m not just talking about writers here; I’ve seen all kinds of sites that seem to really just be mostly a collection of blank pages, and they make me a little sad, to be honest.
I think a web presence is a great idea. It’s a good thing to have. But honestly? I’m not even sure a full website with all the stuff is such a necessity after you sell. For a while my website was basically a few pages that I hated updating and couldn’t figure out. I kept just about everything in my Blogger blog. (And yes, I know that I’m on WordPress now, but I’m here because it’s the platform my web designer uses. And while I’m slowly figuring out how to do stuff on WordPress, I think Blogger was easier. So, while hoping fervently WordPress doesn’t take issue and “accidentally” shut down my site, ha ha ha, I’m totally just kidding there, WordPress! I will say that if you’re not big on the programming and designing stuff, Blogger is easier to start with, at least it was for me. I tried to set up a WordPress blog once several years ago and could not for the life of me get my posts to show up. I still don’t know what I did wrong now that I’m using WordPress regularly, to be honest; I did there exactly what I do here, but any post over about 500 words would just vanish into the ether. Seriously. I suspected it had something to do with their free template or something, I dunno. Anyway.) The main reason why I finally decided last summer to go ahead and get a cool, professionally designed site was because at that point, with two books in stores and four more due to be in stores in the next year, I figured I should really upgrade.
Here’s what I did, and it worked pretty well for me. I did outgrow it eventually and wanted to move to something more cohesive, but it worked, and that’s what matters. Not to mention that it didn’t cost me a penny. I did eventually buy my domain names–I suggest you do that first, these days–to reserve them, and you can point your domains at your free blog if you want, but if you choose not to, this costs you nothing.
I set up the Blogger blog and chose a template. Easy enough; it’s just a blog, and it looks nice and clean. Choose a basic template; you can customize the colors, but I’d stay away from templates that look like spiral notebooks or are just words on a white background simply because I think they’re either dull or overused, but that’s your choice. A blog is a blog, really.
The sidebar is where all the good stuff happened:
I had my titles and buylinks in the sidebar.
I did posts with the first chapters of all my books on separate (also free) Blogger blogs and linked those in the sidebar.
I had an “About Me” post linked on the sidebar.
I had a post with my covers, blurbs, and review quotes–again–linked in the sidebar.
Articles–like my Publisher series or my Heroes series–were also linked, under title; I’d link to the first article and link to the other two from the bottom of that first post. So my sidebar essentially looked a lot like this:
About Stacia (I was December for most of this period, actually)
Choose the Right Publisher
Write a Great Hero
A Novel in Three Acts
Be A Sex-Writing Strumpet
And then thumbnails of my covers with buylinks.
And then my links to pals and cool sites and all that stuff too.
I also had a few widgets and things there; I had an Amber Alert Ticker that I wish I could get over here without messing up the page structure, because I felt really good about having that and it was/still is important to me. I had a bunch of those little “Recommended Read” buttons and my Smart Bitches title (The Duchess of Manholleton, thankyouverymuch). I had a Library Thing widget too. And all of that was fun to have.
And of course like any good blog patform, there was a Search function, as well.
The one thing I seriously wish I’d done was tag my posts there. Because I didn’t. So there were no tags to transfer here, so any posts here written before the switch–about a year ago–aren’t tagged (except the Strumpet series). One of these days I’ll go back and add tags back into those, because there are some posts I’m quite proud of that are difficult to find if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for.
It wasn’t a superduper custom site or anything (though a friend threw together a little header for me), but it looked nice, and it was free.
And especially in the beginning…this may not be a popular opinion and I certainly hope I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings or step on any toes; this is JUST MY OPINION. But I think smaller is better in the beginning. You don’t need big empty pages that just list projects you’re working on or excerpts from unpublished work, really. There’s nothing wrong with having it if you like it, I just don’t think it’s necessary. It starts to look and feel a bit static after a while, a bit stale. And you might have people who visit the site kind of casually, and the last thing you want is for them to start thinking things like, “She hasn’t finished that project yet?” or “That thing still hasn’t sold?” (It’s not a nice thing for people to think, no, but as we know, not everyone out there is nice; and the point is, you don’t want to open yourself up to even the possibility of thoughts like that.)
Instead you have everything in one place; your blog, your links, your FAQ and releases. All very simple, attractive, and organized. No agent or editor–if they do Google you, which not all of them do–is going to think badly of your site for being small; the only sites I think they may raise their eyes at are, like, covered with sparkly things and auto-music, and print over patterns, and big weird fonts at funny angles or whatever, you know? And you can sign up at a place like StatCounter, which I did, copy the code into the blog template, and now you have a very effective free stats program to track pagehits and what parts of the world your readers come from and all that good stuff. I miss that here, a lot; I can track quite a bit, but not in the kind of detail I got from StatCounter.
So really, that is something to consider. You can even register four or five more free blogs and treat them as pages on the site, if you want, and link to those; I didn’t, except for my first chapter excerpts, but you can if you like.
But it’s very easy to do, and it won’t cost you a lot of money at all. What you need is a place for readers to find you, find your books, and get what information they want and need. That’s all. They don’t need to Enter The Fabulous World Of You and Be Transported To Another Realm, although of course there’s nothing wrong with doing that. They just need to see who you are and what you write, you know?
Don’t drive yourself crazy, or into the poorhouse. Do what you like, do what’s fun, do what gives you pleasure and time.