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 too many unpublished author websites INTERN has to look up as part of her slush pile duties are festering caves full of broken links and unflattering writing samples."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-For an unpublished author, INTERN defines a "good" author website as a website that lets interested parties know how to contact the author, identifies what kind of thing the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!