Sunday, April 17, 2011

On Author Websites

Read any “must” list for writers and you will be told to have an author website. These freelancers earning $350 dollars for their Writer’s Digest articles will tell you to get one now, but my personal feeling is there isn’t much of a point until you have a book.

I had a website when I first started writing eight years or so ago, built around a former column of mine I wrote called “Charm School Reject.” The idea was that my hilarious postings would get me one of those blog to book deals. Uh, no. I couldn’t ever tap into a focus like Stuff White People Like or Julie and Julia. And as it turns out all I needed was a blog, not a website.

After a year or so I found I couldn’t keep the site up. My writing persona evolved and I couldn’t afford to have the look updated. The once snazzy site took on a patina of dust and disuse, so I let the domain name expire. Now that I’m researching author websites, I find I’m not alone. Many author websites are bedraggled, neglected, non-existent and/or amateur. Money isn’t the only obstacle. Elizabeth Gilbert’s site looks thrown together. You’d think with the movie deal and Oprah press she could do better than cartoon yellow backdrop and Comic Sans. Stephanie Meyer’s site is also surprisingly amateur. If you didn’t know that Twilight was a phenomenon you’d think she was working on the sequel to the Unibomber Manifesto.

Stephen King’s site is pretty snazzy. Although perhaps a bit too much so. I suppose I have a peeve against any site that makes me wait for it to load. Same for Margaret Atwood. I seem to remember preferring her simpler, older site that let you click on an interactive desk. I wonder if a writer really needs a site sporting 5 or 6 menu bars with pull down windows.

Moving on to more literary types, Joy Williams, Lorrie Moore or Amy Hempel don’t seem to even have websites. George Saunders has one that's hanging in there, but isn't to my mind worthy of the writer. Michael Chabon and Dave Eggers are branded by amazing graphic design, so I checked them out. Chabon has this artsy eight-track image with print too small to read. Wha? His events page was empty. If Chabon can’t maintain an events page, then the rest of us are fracked. Eggers has a bio page that splinters off McSweeney’s. The ubiquitous and seemingly indefatigable Steve Almond has one of the better sites. I would follow his lead if reading his publication history didn’t exhaust me so much.

I tried tooling around on iWeb, and the site wasn’t looking too bad, but reached an impasse on the blog format, which I didn’t like and couldn’t change. From my earlier post on Steven Rinella, I wound up looking up his website, which struck me as having the right balance of visual interest and clarity. So I wound up contacting his designer, Dave McKay, from Missoula who turns out to be a friend of a mutual friend. Despite my poorling status, I’m going to pay for a website, because maybe Elizabeth Gilbert is satiated, spiritually connected and loved, but I don’t have the self-esteem to have Google turn up a less than professional site with my name splashed across the top.


Monica said...

I'm proud of mine:

The designer is Tien-Yi Lee. I highly recommend her.

Kelly Kathleen Ferguson said...

Nice. Some people have the graphic touch, but for the most part, I think you can tell when a writer paid a pro.

Marsupialus said...

The whole idea of writers needing to have websites has to do with the endless (self-)promotion writers are now supposed to engage in. I find that it takes an enormous amount of time to compose something for a blog and between everything else going on, given the choice between a writing for a blog or my own website versus writing another story or advancing on a novel, I want to do the story and book writing.