Monday, October 5, 2009

author website curmuddlement

In the past few months, several people have asked INTERN her opinion on author websites, particularly websites for authors who have not yet published a book or significant body of magazine articles/similar.

A few months ago, INTERN's response was a grouchy: "no! too many unpublished author websites INTERN has to look up as part of her slush pile duties are festering caves full of broken links and unflattering writing samples."

But arguments pro author websites for everyone (see Nathan Bransford's post on the subject) seem pretty reasonable, and INTERN's stance has shifted closer to the middle. Her thoughts on the matter now go as follows:

-A website is like a new puppy. Cute and fun, but, like your parents loved to say, "a big responsibility." If it's a blog, you need to feed it new content regularly or it will look abandoned. If it's a website written in some finnicky language, you'll need to know how to fix the code if something breaks (or call an expensive internet-veterinarian). And no matter what it is, you'll need to resist the urge to dress it up in those ridiculous sweaters.

-In other words, a good author website is rarely a "set it and forget it" type deal. That sucker is going to need maintenance in order to keep looking professional and interesting over months and years. How much maintenance depends on the website. Some sites can do well with minimal updating, and others seem to wilt almost immediately if you leave them alone. Keep this in mind when dreaming yours up.

-INTERN gets confused if the author website the author provides doubles as the author's personal ferret photo collection/manga link farm/news feeds from other random websites, and one has to sift through all this other stuff to find writing-related information. Save your author website for content directly related to your writerly self (and/or your professional self, if applicable). Please?

-For non-fiction, (say, a book about healing broken bones through cosmic mind-melding) it's OK to just include a link to your professional website. If you're an established doctor/academic/public speaker/whatever, you don't need to make an awkward new website presenting yourself as a writer (not yet, anyway). Your platform in your field is probably more relevant than your fledgling book-writerly credentials at this point.

-For an unpublished author, INTERN defines a "good" author website as a website that lets interested parties know how to contact the author, identifies what kind of thing the author writes, and pulls these two tasks off in a manner that does not embarrass the author. That's all there is to it.

-For an author with a book or two already published, INTERN defines a "good" author website as a website that lets interested parties know how to contact the author, identifies what kind of books the author writes and how to buy them, gives the occasional, timely update on forthcoming books and media appearances, and pulls off these three or fourish tasks in a manner that does not make the author look completely insane. That's all there is to that.

-For an established author (OK, fine, a semi-famous or famous author), INTERN defines a "good" author website as a website that lets interested parties know how to contact the author's assistant or spam filter, identifies what kind of books the author writes and how to pre-order them, gives more frequent updates on forthcoming books and media appearances, includes a nice bio or personal statement and photograph and an FAQ, and pulls off these four-or-fiveish tasks in a manner that does not make the author look like some kind of book-writing robot overlord.

INTERN will probably revisit this topic later in the week, and will try to drum up some examples of awesome author websites to illustrate. In the meantime, she will be visiting the websites of the potential authors the Editorial Assistant wrote down for her to investigate, and they'd better be good!


  1. Oh dear. I hope I'm doing my "author with book or two already published" website with a minimal appearance of "oughtta be committed".

  2. Great overview. And I love how you listed a way to contact the author first. For while FAQs are great, witty bios are cool, and excerpts are a treasure, the one thing that makes or breaks a site for me is just that – a way to contact the author.

    Plenty of times I’ve seen typos and glitches on well-known author’s sites, like spinach in their teeth, but when I go to tell them… there’s no way to do it. So it’s both insulting you, to say they don’t care what you have to say, and it’s self-defeating since it keeps the walls up between them and their readers.

    For an example of an over-the-top, multimedia video game of a site, check out thriller author Brad Thor’s site (with no way to contact him).

    For an example of a very well-rounded, friendly, easy-to-navigate site, check out historical fiction author Lucia St. Clair Robson’s site.

    And for a new fantasy author whose book is coming out next year, check out Blake Charlton’s site. He did it himself with “HTML for Dummies,” and it covers the basics in a simple, clear layout.

  3. This is one of the most helpful, concise posts I've seen on author Web sites. More, please!! (with some special attention to unpublished authors, pretty please?)

  4. The puppy analogy is a very good one! And altogether this post is very helpful.


  5. INTERN wrote: " . . . you'll need to resist the urge to dress it up in those ridiculous sweaters."

    Are there websites with sweaters? I must see one. Any suggestions?


  6. ROTFLMA as usual. And it couldn't be more timely for me as I plan to have my own book promo site up as soon as I get some artwork from the publisher. Looking forward to the examples. (If you can find one you like for an author about to have his first book published, that would be really interesting.)

    Meanwhile, if you could just publish a link to the book about mending bones through cosmic mind-melding, that would be great.

  7. INTERN, if you have a moment, what browser do you usually check out these sites on? Curious because my site (which I did myself and meets your major points)is compatible with Internet Explorer, but seems to have some trouble when viewed on Safari or Firefox. Do most offices use Internet Explorer? Thanks!

  8. My favorite author website is Janet Evanovich's. It's witty, interactive, and easy to navigate. She even lets her fans name her next book in a fun contest. Too cool! I used some of the info on her site recently when my public library asked me to lead an Evanovich book discussion group.

    Here's her URL:

    I'm a complete unknown in the publishing world, but I tried to imitate Evanovich's interactive slant when I started my own website, because that's what I liked about her site. I'm wondering, though, if I'm giving away too much info by posting synopses. What do y'all think?

  9. Wait, where did your boss (the Editorial Assistant, I presume) get that list of author websites? From queries / cover letters, or random trawling? If I've got a writing site but I haven't been submitting too aggressively yet, what are the odds that the houses I want to submit to have already had someone check out my site?

  10. I love how you bust the myths!

    Lots of one-book-authors spend the majority of their time promoting the magic bullet - instead of writing another book.

  11. Why are there no rates for "website critique" up on your sidebar?

  12. Blogs have comment sections... contact thru that!

    If ya want to send money, I'll post my home address... BOY FER SURE!

    Haste yee back ;-)

  13. -A website is like a new puppy.


    And you really should take it outside to pee. It's amazing how many websites have yellow puddles right in the middle of them.

    A puddle of long excerpt of as yet unpublished fiction here, a drip or two of how interesting my protagonist is and how wonderful I am there, and I no longer want to pet your puppy.

    Suddenly it's a website that bites (and I mean the big one.)

  14. My blog's probably one of those puppies dressed up in disgusting garb type. But that's my style, and reader/followers seem to enjoy it. It goes along with the all-over-the-place characters and plot of my ms.

    Now...with words like "curmuddlement" and the spiffy dawg analogy, you ARE writing a novel...right?

  15. PS I'm going to Twitteritaville now to tweet this under the heading: "Your Writing Site/blog ~~ What Not to Wear." :P

  16. My co-author and I did not get an offer of representation for our sci-fi book, but we like the book and wanted to share it with readers. We post chapters weekly at Our web counter of followers has been steadily increasing over the past couple of months and it's great having fans. Hopefully we'll land an agent for our current novel.

  17. onelowerlight: The Ed Ass sometimes pulls queries she thinks *might* be interesting but is too busy to read herself, and has INTERN check out the author specially. Not random trawling, at least, that was not what INTERN was referring to :)

    Anon: Firefox and Safari. People still *use* IE??? :P

  18. Yes, I do, but I'm older than you, INTERN. I thought IE was standard for pub offices. That's what guys in computer stores have been telling me. I guess I should get someone to *code* my site so it doesn't look weird on Firefox or Safari. Would you hold it against me if you saw a black line in the middle of my Bio page?

  19. Thanks. Makes sense--I don't think you guys have much time for random trawling.

  20. What if you still have a web site you created when you were young and dumb(er) :)? I don't send anyone there, as it hasn't been updated in six years, but a Google does turn it up on the first page.

  21. Check out my website and blog for my debut book:

  22. Thanks for the straightforward tips. I think mine isn't too crazy and is good with the other aspects, but you better bet I'm giving it another go over.

  23. I am so glad I split my blogs. I now have a coffee break blog-New Scribbles, my poetry blog and my author blog for the serious side of me, with interesting trimmings ;0

    Interesting article, thanks.