Author web sites: Need to have, nice to have or nuts to have?

An author web site...

J.K. Rowling has quite a web site.  It’s flashy; it’s imaginative; it’s just the kind of web site you might think that creator of the Harry Potter brand ought to have.  And I have no doubt that her myriad fans visit it when they are in need of all things JKR.  However, what’s the point of the unknown author having a personal web site (beyond the obvious ego-massaging aspect?)

In general terms, and in these days of social media, you have to be clear that a web presence is just that – a web ‘presence.’  It is present – no more, no less.

A web presence is usually a static site where organizations or people can hang information.  If they seek to be dynamic in nature or to engage others (in the case of authors – presumably your readers), then they need to be connected to opportunities for encouraging this engagement:  an author blog (present site included), a forum of some kind (perhaps a Facebook page where discussion can take place on the ‘wall’), a wiki (wherein you might engage your readers to help you create a piece of writing – but that’s a bit odd in my view.  (Just odd enough that I might try it.)

The Huffington Post ran an article earlier this year that explores just this question.  The article focused on an interview with Anik LaFarge who is the author of The Author Online: A Short Guide to Building Your Website, Whether You Do it Yourself (and you can!) or You Work With Pros. Just as you might imagine, the discussion of the pros and cons is hardly balanced: the interview subject is, after all, in the business of creating author web site, so naturally she thinks that they fall into my “need to have” category.  The one thing she does suggest that seems completely useful is this: there’s no point in having a web site if you don’t use it.  Couldn’t agree more.  I think that the question of using it, though, has two components.  First, the author has to use it, and then the readers have to use it.

An author’s use of his or her web site manifests itself in a couple of activities.  First, the author needs to ensure that the site has useful information that is updated on a regular basis for those who do happen to stumble upon it.  Second, the author needs to get that web site into search engines so that it can actually be found.

As far as readers are concerned, they need to use it to become engaged with the author, something that many authors in days gone by, weren’t really interested in.  Times have changed.  I suppose readers use authors’ web sites to get the backstory on current work, to find out what’s coming up and to get background on the author.  Those would be three kinds of content that could be found. However, how often do you as a reader actually visit the web site for an author you like?

As a reader I never seek out and visit author web sites.  Do you?

As a writer, I think that my web site tells certain people that I’m a serious writer and that I have accomplished a few things.  Who, though, are those certain people?  Agents?  Film makers?  New publishers?  I don’t know the answer.

My own web site caused me considerable soul-searching.  Did I need one?  What would be its objective?  Who would read it (a bit like the question of who will read your book)?  Who will design/maintain/update it? Was it worth it?

It seemed like a no-brainer.  These days, if your work is in the public view, whether you’re an organization or an individual, if you’re not on the web, in some sense, you don’t exist.  Perhaps that’s a bit strong, but it does make a point.

The truth is that an author web site is a place for me to send interested individuals whom I meet at parties etc. who specifically ask if there’s anywhere they can read about me.  So, if I meet you at a party and you happen to ask what I do (I usually don’t talk about myself unless asked these days) and then you’re interested enough to ask where you can find out more information, I’ll probably send you to my web site.  But do I think thousands of people are visiting it monthlly?  I’m smart enough about web sites to be sure of the answer: NO.

There is one thing I know for sure: a web site will not make you a rich and famous writer.  But what I don’t know is if you can become a rich and famous author without one.  That’s if you want to be rich and famous.