Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Reader Questions: Web Sites for the Unpublished

At what point do you recommend a career-focused but not-yet-published author set up a website? Last year I snapped up my domain name and set up a very simple, inexpensive site, but I’m not doing much with it. Hmmm . . . should I be?

I’ve done a number of posts on Web sites and publicity, including this piece on PR for the Unpublished Writer , but this question is a little more specific. When do I recommend you set up your Web site? Yesterday. I don’t think I have to tell you that Web sites are an amazing resource and we all use them. If I get a proposal or query I’m interested in and find out the author has a Web site, I will most definitely check it out. In fact, a number of authors in Karen Tabke’s first-line contest have links to their Web sites, and you bet I checked those out while reading the entries. The smartest authors posted the first chapter or so of their books, and if I continued to read and liked what I was reading, I would most definitely drop that author an e-mail requesting material.

My suggestion for unpublished authors is to include the first chapter or chapters of any books you are submitting as well as a bio about you and your writing. Make sure the site looks professional and reflects the tone of what you’re writing. If you’re writing cozy mysteries, for example, you don’t want the site to look dark and scary.

What I can tell you not to do is use the Web site as your query. In other words, don’t e-mail agents with a link to your site and nothing more. Your site should be considered another home for you and should be listed with your address, phone, and e-mail. It’s simply more contact information, it’s not your submission.

I haven’t been surfing any sites recently, but if anyone can recommend good Web sites by unpublished authors, please do.

—Jessica

34 comments:

Jennifer said...

That's good advice!
What about for a published author who is agent searching? Should the author put samples of unpublished work up along with the excerpts from published books, in hopes of a wandering agent finding them?

Lesley said...

Thanks! I was concerned editors and agents view about putting up sample chapters, though I'd been considering it. I've been swayed. Off to work on my website.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Jennifer:

It can't hurt. Sometimes I've seen names of contest winners or submissions and I wanted to check them out before initiating contact. The web site can definitely make my decision easier.

--jhf

mbg said...

Today's post generated this question for me....I share my given name with a famous person -- dead, but famous. Would it be to my advantage to select a pen name which would be mine alone?

lainey bancroft said...

I was hesitant to set up a website because I sort of felt like I was selling a salad before my lettuce and tomatoes had finished growing. Luckily, my dh is much more marketing savvy (aka pushy? aggressive?) A friend of his did a nice site for me and bam I suddenly had a contract with an e-publisher. Things moved at warp speed and many of the other writers are scrambling to get sites/blogs/MySpaces established and I'm good to go!

Now I have to run back and check my query to you and see if I actually put the address in the letter. :0
...Where reality rhymes with romance
http://www.elaineforlife.com

Kimber An said...

Advice varies on this issue. Before I sent off my last round of queries (including one to Book Ends,) I was advised NOT to mention my blog - even though I'd had over 1000 visiters at that point. So, I didn't. Well, it's too late now.

And now I've had over 1500 visiters and have set up a website for myself, plus a website and a blog to promote excellence in romance novels. And a MySpace.

We learn as much as we can and take our best shot, but still turn up a day late and a dollar short sometimes. No sense whining about it though. Now we know and thank you for helping us learn!

P.S. For those who don't know, you can set up a website for free.

Deb Marlowe said...

One of the best unpublished author sites I've seen is Caren Crane's. Professional and informative, very well done.

www.carencrane.com

Deb Marlowe

Rod Taylor said...

My wife is not the most computer literate individual and yet she has managed to set up her own website since her husband, whose was repeatedly requested to do so, never managed to get around to it. (Hangs head in shame) There are many sites out their to help you set one up with minimal effort and cost. They offer templates and adding content is pretty much cut and paste/point and click. She used 1&1.com and her site is-

www.rebeccaburgess.com

It's not fancy, but she's happy with it and it gave her a place to post her first pub credit and the first chapter of her book. Plus she brags to everyone that she set up her own website which makes her look cool and her husband (a web designer) look kind of like an ass.

Gina Black said...

My website is a good example of a website for an unpubbed writer. ;)

In my case it was very organic since I've had a website for about ten years. It used to be a personal site--like a virtual refrigerator door of family photos etc.--and then it slowly became my writing site and I bought my domain name to go with it. Unfortunately I could only get the .net by then so my advice: even if you don't want to do the website now get your .com NOW!

I agree with Lainey. When you find you need a website things are usually progressing FAST. I was glad to have one when I became an American Title finalist because I needed one and not all the finalists had them which put them under the gun.

I do my own designing so it's kind of self-expression. I think it matches the tone and style of my books. At least it matches me and I wrote the books. Maybe someday I'll have it professionally done.

December Quinn said...

Kimber An, where can you register a domain name for free?

I already have a site (that I think needs a redesign) but as I have work under consideration for a different pen name I need a new domain name...and I'm so broke!

Kimber An said...

december, click on my username which will take you to my profile. Click on Star Captains' Daughter at the bottom. That's my own blog. The link to my websites 'Kimber An' and 'Enduring Love' is on the right side. The link to setting up a free website is at the top of those websites.

Now, is that clear as mud?
;)

Claudia said...

One of the prettiest and best I've seen is my friend Jennifer's -- oh shoot, she IS published, but still...it's so well done! Informative and warm, it reflects her and her work perfectly!

www.jennifergrafgroneberg.com

Sally Jane Driscoll said...

Posting a chapter is not something I've considered, though I see its advantages.

Instead, on my site there's a short story that was published a few years ago. I included that since it's the story that started my interest in romance. Before that, I was a leave-'em-dead-on-the-floor kind of writer. Now I'm all sweetness and light. ;))

One thing that puzzles me about so many writers' sites is the heavy reliance on graphics and comparative neglect of the text. The computer screen isn't a TV, after all, and what we're creating and peddling is words on a page, not movies.

A hint to site owners: the best line length for reading is about 39 to 52 characters long. That includes the spaces.

www.sjdriscoll.com

Anonymous said...

My situation: I have an agent but I'm unpubbed. I have a website (myname.com) for my freelance writing business, and if I get a contract, I plan to expand the site to include my fiction. But for now, I'd like to keep things separate so I set up a page on PM.

Question: Is this enough? Or should I set up a full site for my fiction (mynamemysteries.com)?

The idea of setting up a site for my fiction does feel like I'm playing dress-up.

Tia said...

Thanks for the tips! I had not previously included the first chapter in my website, but I will do so tonight!

Anonymous said...

One thing that puzzles me about so many writers' sites is the heavy reliance on graphics and comparative neglect of the text. The computer screen isn't a TV, after all, and what we're creating and peddling is words on a page, not movies.

Yes, but people are highly visual creatures. And visuals are an important element of supporting your brand. Furthermore, online is a different medium than the printed page, and it's more difficult to read long blocks of text on-screen. (I say these things as a copywriter who works on a lot of Web projects.)

Kimber An said...

Yes, anonymous 12:57, but another thing people need to keep in mind is that there are a lot of people like me out there who are visually sensitive. Flashing images, bright contrasting images, and such are literally painful to us. I can't visit sites like that, much less hang around and learn anything new. Do you want to risk an agent, editor, or potential mentor being one of these sensitive creatures? You certainly don't want boring, but it's important to keep it user-friendly too.

december, this reminds me, with tripod's free websites you can upgrade your site whenever you want. I hate the ads for the above reason and intend to upgrade when I can afford it.

Caren Crane said...

I saw my friend Deb Marlowe posted kudos for my website www.carencrane.com. I give full credit for my site's design and layout to my dear writer friend Elizabeth Bemis, who is the brains behind Bemis Promotions and also has her own great unpublished author website www.elizabethbemis.com. If you're looking for a web designer, I cannot say enough great things about Elizabeth!

Caren Crane said...

I saw my friend Deb Marlowe listed my site www.carencrane.com as an example of a good unpublished author website. I give credit for its goodness to my good friend and web designer Elizabeth Bemis of Bemis Promotions. Elizabeth also has a great unpublished author website of her own at www.elizabethbemis.com. If you are looking for a web designer, check out Bemis Promotions.

Anonymous said...

Flashing images, bright contrasting images, and such are literally painful to us. I can't visit sites like that, much less hang around and learn anything new. Do you want to risk an agent, editor, or potential mentor being one of these sensitive creatures? You certainly don't want boring, but it's important to keep it user-friendly too.

Oh, yes! I totally agree with making a site user friendly! That's what it's all about and why I suggest including some graphics. But there's a balance, as you point out. I personally think a lot of sites have too many bells and whistles, and I certainly don't recommend that. Also, a lot of folks are on dial-up modems, and graphics can slow the download time.

Sally Jane Driscoll said...

anonymous 12:57, you'll note that these comments are on screen, yet easy to read. That's because the lines are a max of about 2 alphabets long.

How many web designers have any knowledge of typography? If they don't, why not?

Too often I get the impression that web designers are frustrated Steven Spielbergs, as kimber an implied--all flash and bang.

I say this as a long-time professional print copy editor with a master's in publications design, and a love for both print and electronic media.

Elizabeth Bemis said...

Thanks so much to Deb for liking Caren's site and so much to Caren for pimping both my writing site and my web services. :)

As a promotions professional specializing in sites and promotion for authors, I would tend to agree that unpublished writers need websites as much as published ones do. That said, I would reiterate Jessica's comment about "PROFESSIONAL" looking sites. Which isn't to say that an unpubbed necessarily needs to race out and find an expensive designer to do so. (even if I lose potential clients by saying so :D) Even a do-it-yourselfer can look pretty good if you're careful. If you're going to do it yourself, keep it clean, with simple graphics and consistent pages. Limit your fonts and colors. Remember, less is MORE. Also a couple of people made very good points about how hard it is to read text that trails all the way across the screen.

If you do decide to hire a professional (and while do-it-yourselfers CAN look good, you'll be saving yourself a lot of time, energy, and headaches as well as likely getting a much better site) do a lot of research before you commit. Talk to authors you know and trust with sites you like. Ask them the tough questions. How was the design process? How much input did they have? How responsive was their web designer? How much did it cost? Etc.)

Marva said...

I've seen horrendously too graphical Myspace pages, particularly from the fantasy writers. There are only so many elves and unicorns I want to see in a given day.

My own website (marvadasef.com) is straightforward and non-graphical since I'm hosted on Microsoft's Office Live. The free version also registers your domain name.

I have an excerpts page, where I post short stories, but maybe I should go with my first chapter instead.

Clover said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Clover said...

I started out blogging to get a hang of it, and then made my own website. I've only recently added to all my outgoing emails wiwth a little tag line about my unpublished book. I figure when I get published, I'll already have a few readers for it.

http://www.eaglekinseyrie.com
On the trail of discovering why several Eaglekins are missing, Hydeia isn't about to let anything--or anyone--get in her way. And aren't the males of her kind supposed to be more submissive anyway?

Southern Writer said...

The only flash on mine is my book trailer.

BookEnds, LLC said...

mbg:

I guess it depends on what the name is. It probably would be to your advantage, but that's also something you can work on with your agent and/or editor.

--jhf

Lois said...

Jessica- I loved your post on “websites for the unpublished.”

Though I am published- magazine and newspaper- I am not yet a published author. Many editors (magazine and newspaper) do not accept hard copy clips as writing samples- they want to read your clips "online." Therefore, I created a website to serve that need for my freelance writing career.

Oh, and I did finish my first manuscript- and as your post recommended, I do have information on my website about the manuscript. www.loislavrisa.com

Joanne Levy said...

I've had my domain name for a long time now - I feel down the road, once I sell, a professional website will be a must-have.
For now, while on the agent hunt, I post excerpts of several of my novels in case any agents/editors surf on over. Once I sell, I intend to hire a pro to make the site flashy for my readers, but for now, I maintain it myself and update with new excerpts as I finish more books!

I also maintain an Publisher's Marketplace page, and have found this to be a great tool also.

www.publishersmarketplace.com/members/JoanneLevy/

Josh said...

I hope it's not bad taste to offer my own. I started it up last September/Octoberish with the help of a friend who is a great designer. I've enjoyed just working on it, since it helps remind me that this is my desired profession, so I better darn act somewhat professional. Plus the blogging keeps me on a decent schedule, and I've got to keep producing material to up the interest. It can be a great tool to motivate yourself as much as getting your name out there.

Drop by any time.

www.jrvogt.com

Kaytie said...

Here's mine, for an example that looks a bit different than the others so far posted:

www.kaytie.net

In May, prior to my agent sending out my manuscript, my husband and I will give it an overhaul with an eye for the kinds of formatting issues Ms. Driscoll has brought up.

Tori Scott said...

I did my own a long time ago, just using my internet provider's free site builder. When I finally get a contract, I'll pay someone to do a professional site, but can't justify the expense for now.

I did buy my domain name. Now if I could just figure out how to make it work with my website. :)

If you go to the Wet Noodle Posse site (www.wetnoodleposse.com) and click on Noodlers, you'll find links to lots of great websites of the 2003 Golden Heart finalists. Just click on their name, then click on "visit this author's homepage" in the top right corner of their author page.

Linda Adams said...

nwI set up mine in 2001, when co-writer and I first started working on our book (http://www.hackman-adams.com). Co-writer was actually doubtful about spending any time for a site, but has turned out to be a big advocate for it. We started out getting maybe 50 unique visits a month--last month, we had 12,000. A great deal of this is due to some content we have up (it's not linked on the main site, though) that relates to the first book. We put it up because there really wasn't--and still isn't--much on the subject. It's gotten the site listed in blogs, on elementary school sites, and even a newspaper referred to it.

What I've found, from this site and another one (up since 1997) is that the longer the site is up, the more it will filter into the net world. Provided some thought is given to what should be on the site so that it gets people to come back or talk about it in their blog or post a link on their Web site.

>>Flashing images, bright contrasting images, and such are literally painful to us. <<

This kind of thing is usually done by someone with a poor sense of graphics. They think one moving graphic is cool, so ten must be even better. The problem is that if you're trying to draw people in to read the content, they'll get distracted and overwhelmed by the graphics and never get to the content (worse still, think the site was designed by someone very young). Good graphics should add to and enhance the content.

Cynthia Brayden-Thomas said...

I think the nicest websites I've seen belongs to a critique partner of mine. She's not pubbed, but she's so saavy and such a good writer, I'm sure it's just a matter of time.

http://www.ddmills.com/