Key points: think about what you are doing with your website. Billboard, bonus stuff, event scheduling? Updates keep readers coming back. Get your domain name now. Think about how you present yourself, because someone might read it.
Guest star: Jordan Sanderson
[Brandon] Producer Jordo. Our producer is joining us this time because Jordan actually created and maintains my website for me. This is going to be more of a soft podcast meeting we're just going to have more of a conversation about these things -- less hard-hitting -- we want to just talk about websites. What authors...
[Howard] Don't set their expectations that low. This is going to hit really hard.
[Brandon] Oh, is it?
[Howard] You're going to come down on some of these people who think they have websites and you're going to let them know, "You don't have a website."
[Brandon] I'm not going to mention names. They'll shoot me. Most of them are like military SF writers.
[Howard] I'm looking at you, Mr. Ringo.
[Brandon] I didn't say any names. You said names. Isn't he a friend of yours? He's gonna kill me then.
[Howard] No, he's not.
[Dan] He'll kill Jordo.
[Howard] I haven't looked at his website in quite a while.
[Dan] Remember the rule of the podcast. Blame Jordo.
[Howard] Blame Jordo -- and here he is.
[Brandon] All right. Jordo, what do authors do wrong when they put up websites?
[Jordan] What do authors do wrong? Well, one of the things that I think is the biggest mistake they do is they don't update their website constantly. They only update it right as a new book comes out, which for an author is usually only about once a year, once every two years, depending on the author. So you... me as somebody who's going to that website and says I like this author, I want to keep up-to-date... you don't have anything that keeps me coming back so I may forget about...
[Howard] So the website goes stale, even though there are things that the author is doing that could be reflected.
[Brandon] A lot of authors don't update. I will say, I see author websites as fulfilling two or three different functions. The first function is I am introducing my work and myself to potential readers. And in that case, you don't have to have a lot of updates. You might as well just throw up a static page and leave it be. Then there's the I'm giving extra content and bonus material to raise the value of my books, to keep people coming back. The main reason being hey, if you spent this much money on one of my books I want you to get this added value and hand-in-hand you'll remember about my books so then a year later when the book comes out to go and buy it.
[Howard] What you're doing there is you are... anytime you write somebody -- write something for somebody and they read it and love it, you've captured a piece of their imagination. What you're doing with those annotations and those deleted scenes is deepening your grip on their imaginations... which is kind of an important thing. As you said, they're going to remember you, and when the next book comes out, they're going to buy it.
[Brandon] There's a long space of time between books -- a year -- keeping hold of someone's attention for a year. That's rough.
[Jordan] That's hard. Especially in today's culture, where people can't stand to watch a three minute video without fast forwarding through it.
[Brandon] So I would say you've got a point -- one of the big problems that authors do is that there's just no reason for people to keep coming back. That's a missed opportunity. Though I wouldn't say that all authors have to blog necessarily.
[Jordan] No, I don't think that. But I think...
[Howard] As a matter of fact, there's a lot of authors who I have talked to about web presence type stuff who said, "I don't want to blog. I'm not a blogger, I'm an author."
[Jordan] Well, one of the things they don't do is they don't keep people up-to-date with what's going on with their books. I mean, one of the things you can do is just get an RSS feed and then just post every few months, "This book's coming along great. This is what I'm working on."
[Brandon] That's a good point. Very good.
[Jordan] So that people remember that you're still there, and you're still working on something.
[Howard] If you've got an RSS feed -- an RSS feed is awesome, an author with an RSS feed needs to be using that feed more than once every 20,000 words. They need to be using that feed to say, "and I'm going to be at Dragon Con this week and I'm going to be at Infocom next week and..."
[Jordan] Say where you're going to be. But let people know you're still alive and still writing. George RR Martin is one -- a lot of my coworkers absolutely love him and they get so frustrated because they go to his website and he'll talk about all this other stuff that's going on 'cause he likes to just post -- he's like fark but for science fiction and fantasy on his website apparently, but he never tells people what's actually going on with his books -- so no one has no idea if he's actually currently writing or not.
[Howard] We're glad you're alive. When can we buy something?
[Brandon] The number one thing I get positive feedback on, and it's such a simple thing -- it's not the annotations, though I do get a lot of good feedback on those. It's not the deleted scenes. It's not even the free books, the free short stories. It's thank you for having a progress bar. I like to know... at least I got a sense of how far along you are. That's the easiest thing to update. But people love it. They love being able to see, "Okay, the book is 50% done. This means that..."
[Jordan] I've actually gotten requests for that to be an RSS feed or a widget where people can put it on their website and say, "This is how far along Brandon is on writing his book."
[Howard] That's a great marketing tool right there.
[Dan] There you go.
[Brandon] Oh boy. We should do that. Anyone out there who wants to give us code for that...
[Jordan] Well, the RSS feed is simple to do, but if someone wants to make a widget...
[Howard] The widget is the tricky part.
[Howard] Brandon, you said there was a third thing?
[Brandon] That you want people to do?
[Dan] You said there were three purposes for a website. The first one is the website as billboard -- here's me and my stuff. The second is kind of lots of extra add-ons and stuff.
[Brandon] [garbled] I was splitting that in two. The third one would be getting people to your signings...
[Howard] Event scheduling.
[Jordan] And that's hard to find sometimes, where people are going to be.
[Brandon] It's very useful. I'll give an example. Dave Farland and I went on book tour together last year. We've done it a number of years. We sell equivalent numbers of books. We would get to the signings and invariably there would be 30 people there for me and one or two for him. And I felt really bad for him. It's not like he's not selling any books. But I have on my website a lot of outreach with readers...
[Howard] His readers don't know that it's happening.
[Brandon] His readers don't know that it's happening and I'm able to get them there. Using my website for a newsletter and these sorts of e-mailing people when I'm going to be in their area, these sorts of things... been extremely useful and you know, we could do a whole podcast on whether book signings are that useful, that's a whole can of worms itself, but if you're going to have one, you want people to show up.
[Howard] If you're going to have one, there have to be people there.
[Brandon] When people show up, the bookstore says, "Wow, he's important." So the people at the bookstore then pay more attention to your books, they feel that they got their... they invite you back...
[Jordan] And then your friends and family don't have to show up to every signing so that you don't look lonely all the time you're there.
[Howard] I want to backpedal a little bit. We talked about websites, we talked about all the things that we feel are done wrong by a lot of professional authors, and it comes down to not understanding what the website really needs to be for. A lot of people who are professional authors today became professional authors before the explosion of the World Wide Web and they are not embedded in it the way the rising generation is...
[Brandon] [garbled -- what advice do you have?] You are embedded in ... you make your living off it?
[Howard] I make my living off it. What I'd really like to actually do is counsel people who aren't yet published authors. What do they do with their website? Step one, if you can, go out and get your name as a domain name. If you're John Smith, I'm sorry, you're boned. If you're John Scalzi, well, it would've been great if there wasn't already a John Scalzi. But go out and get your name. First and foremost because as an author or aspiring author, your name is your brand. Your name is your stock in trade. I was a little disappointed with Dave Farland because I could find Dave Farland dot net but Dave Wolverton isn't branded as a domain name. If it is, I couldn't find it.
[Brandon] He's branded himself as mostly Farland right now.
[Howard] Okay, that's probably not an issue.
[Brandon] He's had all sorts of problems with the movie deal as well. In that... and this is something maybe to be aware of. Once he sold movie rights, they wanted all Runelords style... all searches to go to the movie website. He had to give over everything to them.
[Jordan] I want to make a comment on that. Howard, on what you think about people who may not want to invest in a website or hosting -- I mean, domain names are like seven bucks a year and hosting you can get for like three or four dollars a year. But what about blogging? What if you want to...
[Brandon] Or free. Oh, holaservers. I can mention Earl's servers. Go to holaservers with an h. Earl, I did it. I'll make him listen to this.
[Jordan] But what happens if I want to just join a community -- for example there's a bunch of authors that I like on LiveJournal. How does that help me if I want to start being an author there? Should I go into LiveJournal and try to get my name there?
[Howard] I have a LiveJournal account. HowardTayler.LiveJournal.com, and I think it's great. Working with existing communities is wonderful. But...
[Brandon] And LiveJournal is one of the best.
[Howard] LiveJournal is one of the best. I still think if your name is available, at the very least, park it and put something there. And maybe put a redirect that says, "I'm blogging..."
[Jordan] You could put a redirect -- exactly, to the blog.
[Brandon] Social networking -- let's can of worms now. Because... Facebook...
[Jordan] I just want to put a quick [garbled] on the blogs before we end it, though. One thing that I would do -- and I think maybe Howard and Brandon would agree with me on this. There's so many out there, there's LiveJournal, there's WordPress, there's Blogger. Before you decide, if you don't have one, find one that has a community already that you like and then join in that area. Because a lot of them have -- especially WordPress and LiveJournal -- ways to find other people in the community with like...
[Howard] And a lot of websites have the ability -- and we're getting into the technical end of things -- but a lot of hosts have the ability for you to be hosting, for instance, HowardTayler.com and then consuming content from HowardTayler.LiveJournal.com so it shows up on your page and if people want to comment, well, if they have a LiveJournal account they can post their comments and be part of that community.
[Brandon] Exactly. All of my blogs are mirrored to LiveJournal and Blogger and to Facebook.
[Howard] But coming back to what it is that these authors or aspiring authors need -- get a website and commit to keeping that thing up to date. Okay, so you're not doing appearances, you're not doing signings, you're not doing any of that -- at least say I'm working on a story.
[Brandon] You know what -- here's another thing to point out -- editors are techies -- a lot of them. They will probably Google you. In fact, I was talking to a friend who had just submitted to a publisher. The editor had actually looked at the manuscript, was really thinking of accepting it and it's still kind of up in the air, but she told me -- my friend said -- she googled me, found my LiveJournal, and was reading up on me and my work ethic and all of these things. So, a lot of people maintain a website simply as a resume.
[Howard] And that's what I was going to come back to, is that you then print yourself a 100 or a 1000 business cards with your website on it...
[Brandon] Business cards for free -- you can get free business cards from Vistaprint. You can do all this stuff for free. [note: shipping and handling extra]
[Howard] But then you go to conventions and somebody wants to know who you are. "Oh, I'm Howard Tayler and here's my card with my URL and whatever else on it." And that makes it so much easier for me because, as is obvious, I don't like the sound of my own voice and I don't want to be talking, much.
[Jordan] Really. I hadn't noticed.
[Dan] Now, Howard brought up -- or no, it was you, Brandon, who brought up editors googling you and seeing your work ethic and things like that. I think we could can of worms the concept of branding itself altogether, but once you have a web presence, you need to be careful with what you put on that web presence. Very careful.
[Howard] It's... as a random blogger, it's fun to rant about religion or politics or social issues or whatever. But the moment you become a commercially viable property, those things can come back to haunt you.
[Brandon] Be aware, some people like to do it. And it's fine if you go into it -- if this is one of your deals. Yeah, but know that they are going to come back to bite you and the things that you don't expect to come back to bite you, will. Example -- I wrote an essay back in the day, back before I was published, called How Tolkien Ruined Fantasy, I believe is what it was called.
[Jordan] And I remember making sure that was right on your front page.
[Brandon] And when we first started my website and when I first sold rights and a book was coming out, Jordan nicely imported all the essays I had written for the Timewaster's Guide and right on front was How Tolkien Ruined Fantasy.
[Jordan] I did that on purpose, too.
[Brandon] If you read that essay, the point was Tolkien was so often... he was ahead of his era, and the rest of us took 20 years to catch up. So it's a very laudatory essay for Tolkien. Most people don't read...
[Dan] People on the web don't read that much.
[Brandon] They see that and think, "There is that punk new author that hates Tolkien." I had to rename the essay -- Actually I Don't Hate Tolkien, Read the Essay. Because it was right there on the front page. These sorts of things. And then it'll go all around the web. But something else to remember is web memory, people's memory of you, is fleeting in most cases. You'll make stupid things, you'll embarrass yourself, you'll stick your foot in your mouth, and you'll be the flavor of the week -- and then it will pass. If you don't do it consistently, you'll be okay. [Garble]
[Howard] Just don't do it on YouTube.
[Dan] Your mistakes though -- and this was a really big thing back when I worked in advertising and marketing -- it's important to remember that the web is a far more permanent medium than most of us have ever dealt with before. Your mistakes will last much longer on the Internet than they ever would on TV for example, or on the radio.
[Howard] In fact, people's mistakes on TV find new life on the Internet.
[Brandon] I do want to bring up two points that have occurred to me while we have been doing this. The first one is -- and we may have to can of worms this -- the concept of can you sell your book by posting it on the Internet. The answer is yes, but with huge caveats. Some people have done it, I don't think...
[Howard] The answer is yes. But the answer is also yes to the question can you jump out of an airplane without a parachute and live. It's statistically unlikely, but it is possible.
[Brandon] There you go. The other thing I wanted to mention is when it comes down to designing your website remember that you want to get it right on your first try if you possibly can. Jordan mentioned this to me earlier. We didn't build my website to be scalable and so it didn't serve my needs as I grew and I grew and I grew. Anyway...
[Jordan] I'm gonna counter that. I'm going to say that you can never build a perfect website, especially the first time. What you need to do is you need to build your website to the best you can, and pay somebody to do it if you can, or get a friend to do it. But what you need to do is you need to come back -- say after people start coming, after about 4 to 6 months -- start looking at where they are going and what they're doing and then redesigned it based off of those people's needs, because until you actually know what your audience wants, it's very hard for you actually to design a proper website.
[Howard] The other thing to keep in mind, if you're going to design a website, there's plenty of resources out there that will tell you a long list of do's and don'ts for website design. And the web has been around long enough that, honestly, unless you are a professional web designer on the leading edge of something or other, don't break any of those rules because you don't know enough. There just isn't a good enough reason for you to do it.
[Brandon] We're just out of time. We could probably talk about this for another two hours.
[Howard] We could keep talking for another two hours.
[Brandon] This has been Writing Excuses. Your writing prompt is a story about the worst website ever.
[Howard] Ooh. I hope I don't make that story.