The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Literary Web Sense: Authors on the Internet

Written by: Beth Woodward, CC2K Books Editor

Once upon a time, I had this image of writers in my head, that they were all up in their ivory towers, writing their bestsellers, totally detached from the people who actually read those books.  The idea of writers using such crude, un-authory tools such as the internet to market their literature just seemed so beyond my realm of comprehension.  But this is 2010, and the internet is our great equalizer.  Books don’t market themselves, and, as a reader, I’ve realized just how awesome it is to have my favorite authors accessible by way of the internet.  Nowadays, it’s nearly impossible to find an author who doesn’t have a website.  A good many of them maintain their own, making the link between author and fan instantaneous.

Although I love this brave new world, where fans can connect with the authors they love instantaneously, there is definitely good and bad out there in the world of authorial web presence.  So as a book lover and a sometimes-obsessive fan, I’d like to talk about what I like, what I don’t like, and what I can’t stand about authors and their web presence.

Good: Websites run by the authors themselves.  Most authors have a website.  But not all of them are actually run by the authors.  But to me, part of what I like about author websites is ability they have to give me unique insights into the author’s works and personality–something that can only be achieved if the author is actually involved with that site.

Good: Author blogs.  I love author blogs, for many of the same reasons; they give me insights into an author, his/her works, and his/her writing process.  Bonus points if the blog is on the same page

Good: Frequent updates.  The internet age is all about instant gratification.  So if I happen to look at the website or blog of an author I like, and it hasn’t been updated in six months, I’m less likely to check back.  On the other hand, when the website is updated every week or more, there’s a good chance I’ll check back…pretty much constantly.  Obsessive?  I prefer enthusiastic.

Good: Recommendations.  Most authors publish one, maybe two books a year.  In this past year, I have read…probably about 150, not including re-reads.  Yeah.  Bit of a numbers discrepancy there.  And while my Amazon recommendations page certainly gets a workout, the problem is that gives me both good books and crap.  Sure, the customer reviews are helpful, but I don’t know who writes those reviews or why.  I get a lot of my book recommendations from reading other authors’ web pages.  My logic is basically, “Hey, if XXXXXX likes it, maybe I’ll like it too.”  And more often than not, it works.

Good: Twitter feeds.  I’m a Twitter newbie.  But I’m becoming quickly addicted.  The advantage of Twitter over something like Facebook is that, in most cases, you can follow someone without them having to follow you back or approve you.  So I get the real-time updates I like, and I don’t feel (much) like a creepy stalker fangirl.

Bad: Outdated/not user-friendly site.  Websites should be easy to follow, the design should be clear and uncluttered, and information should be easy to find.  What might someone want to find on an author’s web page?  The books that author has written.  If he/she has written a series, people might want to know what order they come in.  If the author is releasing a new book, people might want to know when said book comes out.  If people can’t this information quickly and easily, or the page takes 20 minutes to load, why should they bother?

Bad: Lack of fan communication.  One of the major advantages of the growing authorial presence on the internet is that it gives fans the opportunity to communicate with the authors they love more quickly and easily.  Except you wouldn’t know that, based on the total lack of communication options on some authors’ sites.  Message boards the author rarely visits.  No opportunities to comment.  Worst of all, websites that have no author contact information whatsoever.  Nothing says, “I don’t care about my fans” than not giving them any way to reach you.

Really bad: “I don’t respond to fan mail/e-mail.”  Yes, indeed, I have seen this out there.  Right on the website, it’ll say something like, “I don’t have time to respond to all my fan mail personally.”  Yeah.  We get it.  You’re busy.  Responding to letters and e-mails takes time.  But if your work has resonated enough with someone that he/she takes the time to write out a letter or an e-mail, the least you could do is respond.  (And if you don’t, at least don’t advertise it on your website.)