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What Every Author’s Website Should Contain

Dear Authors:

This past week readers have been talking websites and how we really like them. Author websites provide us with information on what is next, what you’ve written in the past and whether we will like your books if you are new to us. Essentially, they are an online sales brochure which help convince eager readers to buy, buy, buy.

During the Nalini Singh viral blogging experiment, I visited alot of blogs. I visited the blogs that linked here and then I would visit sites that were linked to the blog I visited. I’ve visited websites of virtually every author I’ve read and every author that I am somewhat interested in. Let me say that like the writing, the quality of the website/blog varies a great deal from very amateurish to very professional. I’ve seen very good websites for bad authors and very bad websites for good authors.

Some authors, like Sylvia Day, are dismissive of the need for an online presence.

Right now, yes, because so few romance readers are online. The majority of them don’t participate in the online romance community.

It is true that the number of readers who post, blog, buy at Amazon are a small percentage of overall readership. However, to ignore the internet’s ability to create consumer recognition and assist in creating the authorial brand is shortsighted. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project report in November of 2005, 2/3 of American adults are online. This translates into about 137 million people. Certain groups lag behind such as those 65 and older. Parsed out into more discrete segments and the numbers are more telling.

Online by age

  • 26% of Americans age 65 and older
  • 67% of those age 50-64
  • 80% of those age 30-49
  • 84% of those age 18-29

Online by education

  • 29% of those who have not graduated from high school have access
  • 61% of high school graduates
  • 89% of college graduate

88% of those online use it on a DAILY basis.

What are the demographics of the romance buying public?

  • 70% are 64 and under
  • 66% have some post secondary education

How many books do you need to sell in the space of a week to make it on the bestseller list? Tess Gerritsen blogged that it took around 21,000 copies to make number 12 for the hardcover release of Body Double. According to Book Standard, Nora Roberts’ Dream Makers, which was a reprint of Untamed and Less of A Stranger, debuted a No.5 and sold 21,000 copies according to Nielson ratings. Are there 21,000 readers online? You bet. Doing the math, failure to have an internet presence, particularly for a new or unestablished author, seems, well, you can insert your own adjective.

Sarah McCarty posted

Personally, I have yet to meet an editor or publicist that hasn’t felt a strong web presence isn’t vital for an author. Word of mouth is still the best selling tool for an author and there’s no better place for getting that going than the internet.

When I first started out in business, the casual dress philosophy was sweeping white collar industries. Khakis, open toed shoes, bare legs under skirts all began appearing. One of my mentors who never gave in to the casual dress mantra told me something I would never forget. You dress for the position you want, not the one you have. So authors, I tell you that you should dress your website for the position on the bestseller lists that you want, not the one that you have.

You want to be a New York Times bestselling author like Nora Roberts? Christine Feehan? Debbie Macomber? Lori Foster? Have you been to those websites? Do they look professional to you or do they look like something a third grader put together in computer arts class? If you look professional and successful, people who visit your website will think you are professional and successful and that your books are good. If you look sloppy and childish, people who visit your website will think you are sloppy and childish and that your writing is too. Please, though, do not use Suzanne Brockmann, as a template. Hers would fall under one of the worst designed websites.

As as time marches forward, will the internet have a stronger influence on sales or less? Besides Linda Howard, name one big name romance author who does not have a website. If the web is so unimportant, I would think the website would be the first thing to go. Or do those Bestselling authors know something?

Here’s a list of five things every author website must have within 1 click.

  1. Booklist, both with covers and a printable list
  2. Where to buy the books (especially important for OOP or ebook authors)
  3. What’s Next (even if you haven’t sold anything, tell us what you would like to see in print soon)
  4. Bio
  5. Contact (only if you are going to reply)

Step Two

  1. Excerpts
  2. Behind the scenes stuff
    1. Music that inspired you
    2. Extra stories, unless of course you are charging for those extra stories. I think that my love for Kelley Armstrong grew to unreasonable proportion when she offered her online novellas which gave the Bitten story from Clay’s POV.

Step Three

  1. Blog
  2. Message Board. Even though these types of things may foster the crazy fangirls, I don’t think you can discount their power in creating a loyal fan base.

If you do not have a website under your own name such as Jane Author.com, you are not professional. It costs $6.00 or less to reserve your website name and less than $100 per year to host a website. If you can’t afford to spend that money on promoting your writing you must not be serious about your career. I don’t think it is sufficient to have a blog because blogs rarely give me the information I need in an immediate fashion. There are many, many, many blogs that do not tell the reader what books you write and where to buy them. For example, there is a regency writer who has a blog presence and I went to her blog to find out what she wrote. I spent 5 minutes there, clicking around trying to find the name of her book. It was nowhere to be found on her blog. I finally figured out her name, googled her and found the information but why make it so hard on a reader?

If you don’t reserve the name now, some squatter might buy your name and hold it hostage for some ridiculous sum of money which is what I assume is happening with Janet Evanovich. Having your own website name also helps to ensure that your website is the first one that shows up in google and not some other website that may have a negative review of your book.

What I hate:

  • Starry backgrounds. Please enough with the freaking starry backgrounds. First, it is hard to read. Second, it just screams of unprofessionalism. Unless, of course, your entire series of books relies on stars or is somehow related to starry backgrounds.
  • Too cute stuff like hearts and flowers? Not unless you are a flower shop. Cough and gag
  • Graphic intensive. Many people still are on dialup. Do you know how long it takes for your website to load for a reader on dialup? If it takes more than 10 seconds or so, I am moving on.
  • Mazelike interface. I don’t like to have to go to more than two links to find out the information I need. Please don’t direct me to some special site made for your characters just so I can find out book info. It’s more than irritating, it’s rude.

To those readers who are online (but maybe not interactive), the website may be the only contact a reader has with your books, your product. Why not make sure the contact is exactly the way you want it to be? Meljean Brook, the author of upcoming book Demon Angel which was so good I was unable to read another fantasy book for a week, noted that she changed her website because the graphic didn’t fit with the type of books she was writing.

I don’t know of a reader who has been unhappy that authors have websites. I have heard alot of complaints from readers about authors who do NOT have websites.

Next week: Who is at fault for the demise of historicals? Authors, publishers or readers?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

77 Comments

  1. Jayne
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 07:07:12

    PLEASE authors, do NOT use fancy schmancy script that is unreadable. I went to one author’s website (I honestly don’t remember who it is now) and she had all these links on the side of the screen but I couldn’t figure out what a darn one was because the letters were illegible.

  2. Emma Sinclair
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 10:38:07

    Everytime this subject comes up, I have to tell my story. I’m at the very beginning of the “if it’s not online, it doesn’t exist” generation. When I first went away to college, for over a year, we were convinced that there were no movie theaters in Cleveland because we couldn’t find them online.

    That was 10+ years ago now, so if people think they don’t need an easily accessible online presence, they’re quite wrong, and a whole generation of people won’t know they exist at all.

  3. DebR
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 10:46:54

    Yes, yes, and YES! And if I could mention one thing more regarding booklists on author websites – if an author has ever written novels in a series, the booklist should make it very plain which books are part of a series and in which order they should be read. It drives me nuts to buy what I think is a stand-alone story only to find out it’s actually number 2 of 3 and then even more nuts to go to the author’s website and not be able to tell at a glance which books are number 1 and 3 of that series. Bah!

  4. Monica Burns
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 10:55:14

    GREAT info, just when I need it. I’ve been thinking about redesigning my website some time over the holidays, and you’ve pointed out a couple of things I don’t have, but should. VERY helpful. Thanks!

    Monica

  5. Kristie(J)
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 10:57:53

    All very good points! I think it’s essential that an author have a web site. Unless I’m impulse buying, I almost always research a book I’m planning on getting to see what came before it, what’s coming after. And excellent point too about registering their name so it comes up first on google. I never thought about that, but it does make it so much easier to find when they are the top of the list.
    And I love to read the stories of how the books came about. Jo Goodman is good for that. I noticed also that Anne Stuart has included that feature in her new website.
    And also good point about too many graphics and the time it takes to upload. Although I’m on high speed even for me, I sometimes get impatient having to wait. I can only imagine the frustration of those on dial-up.
    And I also like your point about music. I’ve had two experiences with authors now on that score (hah hah). I love listening to music while I read and if I’m listening to the right music, or I can hear it playing in my head, it really enhances the enjoyment. The two cases I’m thinking of – I was listening to a favourite singers music while reading the book and it almost put me in the book itself. I had contact with the author and happened to mention this. She wrote back that while she was writing the book, she was playing the same singer. I found that incredibly interesting! The other example I had the soundtrack of a movie I love playing in my head while reading a different authors book. Again I wrote and she said she also had the same music in mind.

  6. michelle
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 11:29:01

    One of the authors that does this really well is S. L. Viehl. Her blog, has on the side her
    last 2 books published
    next 2 books to be published and when
    and a bunch of free short stories that she has written over the years.

  7. Diana Peterfreund
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 12:09:39

    Interesting that the so-called “dismissive” author you quote has one of the most devoted and comprehensive web presences out there, including message boards, a blog that began way before all the other romance bloggers, and a uber-professional site that advertises her writing at every click with quotes and blurbs and etc. Of course, she also has a lot of electronic credits to her name,a nd most epublished authors have amazing websites.

    Do you think perhaps, that considering the quote comes from her, that when she says most readers aren’t online, that she’s speaking with some authority? She promotes (promoted?) her butt off online. I saw her — she was EVERYWHERE. Perhaps when at last her print books were released from Brava, she realized how few of the readers gravitating to her print books knew she was online? How few of the enormous number of readers who are reading romance are looking for it online.

    In contrast to Sarah McCarty’s post, my publicity department told me they didn’t think a web site was a big deal. I disagree, and thus I put together a very in depth website for my series, and keep a blog. But not everyone feels this way. There are publishers who do not think it’s important.

    For all of the proliferation of reader sites on the web, it is still a very small and insular population. Publishers discover this when they hold website polls and then attempt to extrapolate this information to the book buying public. It doesn’t match. It’s the same as extrapolating Amazon reviews to what the general readership thinks of your books. Most consumers of any stripe can’t be bothered to fill out comment cards — which is what amazon reviews are. I get reader mail all the time saying they were shocked to discover authors had websites.

    You also have to consider the intended audience. When I see blogs and websites in romance land, it seems as if most of hte readership is coming from other authors. In science fiction land, it seems to be coming more from readers. This says to me that the BULK of science fiction readers are more attuned to the internet than the BUIK of romance readers. (In addition, SF writer’s community in general is more attuned to fans through conventions, etc. SF fans are used to having contact with authors. Romance fans are not — whether it is because romance reading is a more intimate experience or most romance readers are more private about their reading habits… should it change? sure, why not?)

    Also, the romance writers whose market demo is more in tune with an older audience have less of a focus on web presence. My grandmother devours Hq Presents novels. She’s not going online to find out more about them.

    Virginia Henley appears to be doing quite well for herself with a minimal web presence http://virginiaheley.com (it’s even been upgraded since the last time I was there)

    Finally, the post you mention on Imaginary Origin makes me laugh. Some of the sites she listed (particularly Anne Stuart and Lucy Monroe’s) I thought were perfect. Lucy’s is basic, but it gets all the information across in an easy, easily-presented, quick loading format. Anne’s does the same and is a pretty design besides. It matches her author brand. Ironically, I found the blog saying how bad the design was to be almost unreadable! At the top you have light writing over graphics which was very difficult to follow, then you have light writing over medium color orange, which is not so easy on the eyes, and then you have links in boxy, highlighted text, which had the effect of making the linked text look like it was a cut out. Finally, all the graphic headers are in red on an orange background. I can’t read it at all.

  8. Diana Peterfreund
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 12:22:56

    However, I did think the graphics on imaginary origin were stunning! I just wish she’d confined that to the header and made the body text more contrasting colors. White on black/dark grey/navy/etc., or vice versa is about as much as my eyes can handle on the screen.

    And I dislike music on my sites. Think about how many people are surfing at work and how much toruble they can get in for music suddenly blaring out! If someone wants a song or audio clip on their site, they should make it separately clickable and warn people in advance that there is sound.

    I also want to say that though I’m playing devil’s advocate here and citing all kinds of statistics about hte limited draw to author sites, i do think it will change in the future, and I think it is important for writer with an internet savvy audience (say paranormal or futuristic books, or anything written for a young audience — like my books — or for teens) to take advantage of the web.

    And one thing to think about when crunching numbers is that a lot of blog visitors may not actually buy your books. There are blogs out there that I read religiously, but for some reason, I have never been able to connect with the author’s fiction. So they may have 21,000 hits, but maybe only 5k of them will ever be fans. Which is sad.

  9. Mailyn
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 14:14:13

    I did a post on the worse “professional sites” a while back and we had a good laugh over some of those. By far one of the worse was LK Hamilton.

    http://imaginaryorigin.blogspot.com/2006/07/worlds-worse-professional-sites.html

    Great post! I still don’t get why these people don’t pay professionals who KNOW what they are doing. Ugh.

  10. Karen Scott
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 14:52:44

    if an author has ever written novels in a series, the booklist should make it very plain which books are part of a series and in which order they should be read.

    Oh God, Yes, yes, and effing yes!

    For all of the proliferation of reader sites on the web, it is still a very small and insular population.

    What ever happened to being ahead of the game? The above statement may be true now, but do we really think this will be the status quo in another 5/10 years? It’s no accident that the people who go on to achieve success, are the ones who had their finger on the pulse, and stayed ahead of the game whilst their competitors were resting on their laurels.

    And one thing to think about when crunching numbers is that a lot of blog visitors may not actually buy your books.

    Yes, but some do, and if those people love your books, then they in turn will blog about it. Surely getting one person to read your book because they happened to like your blog is a good thing? It may not get you on the NYT list, but if there is one thing I know about readers, both online, and offline, is that if they read a good book, they want to tell everybody about it.

    As for Suzanne Brockmann’s site, I blogged about it briefly last year, but according to her, she doesn’t have the time to spend on it. Ironically enough, I sent her an e-mail, recommending Alison Kent’s web design company. (g) She probably thought I was being facetious, but I honestly wasn’t.

  11. Alyssa
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 14:57:48

    Do you think perhaps, that considering the quote comes from her, that when she says most readers aren't online, that she's speaking with some authority? She promotes (promoted?) her butt off online. I saw her -" she was EVERYWHERE. Perhaps when at last her print books were released from Brava, she realized how few of the readers gravitating to her print books knew she was online? How few of the enormous number of readers who are reading romance are looking for it online.

    I’m glad you brought this up, Diana, because I wouldn’t describe Sylvia as dismissive of the importance of an online presence. She’s very active online, and I read her comment as indicating just what you’ve said–that there is a very large readership that doesn’t go online.

  12. Jane
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 15:12:21

    Jayne – those fancy scripts are actually images which contribute to the overall delay in loading a page. I hate them too.

    Emma – I think its expected from many consumers that a business that does not have a website is well, behind the times.

    Deb R – good point. There must be something to show the inter-relation of the books. Its an immediate upsell as my bookseller friend would say.

    Kristie J – I can’t remember who I first saw do this – post a “playlist” for their book but I thought it was cool

    Michelle – I think I need a little pamphlet to keep track of Viehl’s books, personas and interconnected series!

    Diana Peterfreund – I have seen Sylvia Day repeatedly make this statement that online advertising has little to no effect. She is dismissive of this. You may not characterize it as such but that is the message she sends to me. And to further clarify, I am not talking about reader blogs because I agree that is a small percentage of the overall reading population. I am talking about the numbers of people who are using the internet on a daily basis v. the demographic of the romance reading public.

    There is no question that there are established authors doing well without an internet presence. Linda Howard is the perfect example. But for new and midlist authors to ignore the ability of a website (which I view as separate from a blog) seems to show poor business sense.

    Aylssa – see above comments made to Diana Peterfreund. If it is true that Day is using the internet to promo her books mightily, then why should she post repeatedly that this internet thing isn’t worthwhile. and if it isn’t worthwhile, why are the most popular authors on earth ones with websites? IE JK Rowling, Nora Roberts, Stephen King?

    Mailyn – I edited my blog post with your link before you showed up. How funny. Of course, Ms. Peterfreund thinks your site is unreadable so . . .

    Karen S – Brockmann can certainly afford to have her website done professionally. Didn’t she get a 7 figure advance for her last two book deal? Sheesh and a half.

  13. Alison Kent
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 15:49:05

    Sylvia and I have talked about this repeatedly because she knows that I do a lot of my promotion, okay, ALL of my promotion online – and she reminds me that I need to branch out because online promotion – which she does NOT think is not worthwhile – only reaches readers online.

    It does not reach the copious number of readers who don’t even know that authors have websites! And there are many many who don’t even CARE if authors have websites. They look for their books in stores, and buy what’s available. And those are the readers Sylvia is reminding us not to forget!

  14. Nora Roberts
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 15:50:18

    I’ve had a website for years and years–about as long as I’ve been on the internet. It’s done by a professional as I wouldn’t have a clue. Don’t want a clue. Over the years, she’s tweaked and adjusted, refreshed, all that stuff. I’ve always strongly believed in the power of the internet, and a web page as a key tool in promotion.

    Lots of my books are series or one kind or another. We’ve tried to list them all in a logical, simple-to-follow manner. There are, however, some who come by the page then e-mail for series information. Information that’s listed at the click of the mouse. Since they’re e-mailing the web master, they HAVE to have gone to the page.

    I wonder if there are other authors who find this, too.

    This is small potatoes, and I’m not handling it anyway. Just curious.

    Basically, from my pov, my web page is an essential element in promoting my books and events, and as I have a pro running it, takes almost none of my time or energy. Big payoff, imo.

    As a user, if I’m curious about a site, then have to wade through a bunch of graphics, wait for music to play, animation to run through, I’m likely to click off again.

  15. Katharina
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 16:14:53

    About four years ago I decided to switch reading romance from German to English. Here in Austria where I come from our book stores don’t offer the kind of English romance novels I want to read, so I started using ebay.com or amazon.de. Because impulse-buying is not possible for me, I research all the books I buy online. I can’t say I buy books because their covers are nice, but nice covers do tempt me, as do well designed homepages (hedonistic, I know *g*).

    I absolutely HATE HATE HATE it, to discover that some authors don’t have an internet presence. I want a well-designed and structured site with the right information in the right places, it doesn’t have to be fancy but as mentioned before a site like Suzanne Brockmann’s is beyond embarassing.

    If I like what I see online (besides the blurbs and excerpts of course) an author is more likely to stay in my mind until the next time I am spending money on my addiction. There have also been situatons where I’ve given up on researching an author because the homepage drove me nuts.

    As to the blog topic. The only blogs I religiously visit are dearauthor.com, Karen’s (I love her bitchiness), Rosario’s and Dionne’s cover snark. All four are reader blogs – and at the moment I can’t think of one author blog I visit regularily once a month. Besides AAR as a source for good reviews I prefer the honesty of reader blogs.

  16. Mailyn
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 16:28:50

    LMAO! Damn it I should learn to read other’s comments BEFORE I post.

    I think Diana missed something important when she went to my blog: it’s a PERSONAL blog. We are talking about professional websites that are meant to be seen by all sorts of people. Personal blogs are, at least in my case, meant for my friends and myself. I love that new people go there and I’ve met tons of people that way but, again, it’s personal ergo I am not interested in reaching out to anyone. I design for myself and this is my creative outlet as opposed to when I design for a professional site.

    The “if you don’t like it then leave” mentality only works for personal sites. An author or any other celebrity can’t be, or shouldn’t be, that way towards the public.

    I even mentioned in that post that I can tolerate all sorts of crap on people’s personal sites but on a professional? No way. Like Jane said, it’s how you are presenting yourself and it makes you look ridiculous.

    Aside from that it’s apparent that Diana has never been to my blog before or else she would know that my designs are most of the time user friendly and that I actually dedicated a post to telling my online friends that I wasn’t trying to blind them but that it was a temporary Halloween ergo the frigthening orange layout.

    In the end I never care who likes or doesn’t like my site but I think it’s rather dumb, if you will, to compare a personal site to a celebrity’s since they have totally different purpose. Theirs is meant for the masses. Mine isn’t.

    LOL.

  17. Jane
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 16:34:30

    I don’t mean to imply that online promotion is the only thing an author should do. I am stating that an author should have a website, at least, in addition to all else that an author supposedly does to promote her book.

    Let me add that I have nothing personal against Day. Don’t know her from Adam. I think she has great plots for her books that are different and fresh. I particularly like the plot setting for her next novel. I just really disliked the execution of Ask for It and fear that the next book, despite the great plot and blurb, will be of the same ilk.

  18. Karen Scott
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 16:44:20

    (I love her bitchiness),

    I prefer to think of myself as slightly caustic, rather than bitchy. Being bitchy is sooo last year. *g*

    BTW, I went on LKH’s site. I’m thinking that whoever designed her site was high at the time.

  19. Diana Peterfreund
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 16:46:41

    I respectfully disagree. How someone can be called “dismissive” of something they are doing? They may be questioning or critical, however. I am questioning and critical of the worth of blog tours while I particpate in them. Jury’s out. I hope for the best with them which is why I continue to participate. My experience with book promotion is that you do things that you think may work and then later take stock of it. It’s all an experiment. Clearly, she thinks it’s worthwhile, or she wouldn’t do it (as Brockmann does not). But what she said in the quoted part was that it would not reach the majority of readers. I know Sylvia and I know how market savvy she is, so it is likely that she is speaking with some authority when she says this. And it is indeed possible to make an assessment of the worth of a type of marketing outside of the product’s success and quality. You can study things like that. You can track sales and website hits. You can speak to fans who come to your booksignings. You can stand outside of a B&N on a busy Sat. and ask everyone who comes inside if they ever go to an author’s website. You can discern whether the majority of your readers are going to go to a website.

    Roberts, Rowling and King were all bestsellers without the benefit of their websites. Roberts and King were bestsellers before there were websites. But I think not even a small fraction of those authors’ readers visit their websites.

    Personally, I love websites. It fits my own taste in marketing (I’m here now, aren’t I?) and it also fits my books. I think the people who would like my books are the kind of people who, like me, spend a lot of time on the web. But I think of internet marketing the way I would of bookclubs. A small group of people are fanatical about them, and that’s wonderful, but it’s not the majority of readers (Oprah’s club is not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about normal, small book clubslocal bookclubs. groups of female friends.). Of course I would like to keep them happy. I rejoice when someone blogs about how much they loved my book. there is a different between “not worthwile” and “not reaching a majority of my readers.”

    Because bookclubs are out there, should every book have a reader’s club guide in the back, or only the books that seem most suited to book clubs? Should every author worry about a web presence, or only the ones whose market is most likely to look for them online? the demographic for a bookclub is the same as that for romance readers, but I don’t know how many bookclubs actually cover romance, and I don’t think many romances are marketed to the book club set. I love bookclubs, but I don’t think most of the people reading my books are doing so from a bookclub. Websites are the same way.

    I would never dream of not having a website, and I recommend it to every author. However, I know many people who would never comprehend why an author WOULD have a website, and if the author is from that group of people, it’s little wonder they don’t. And if their sales are fine sans website, then maybe they don’t think it worthwhile. I think that the comments on this, a reader website, will be definitely skewed towards the “must have” category. But most people probably don’t think like us.

    And certainly, if they have one, it should be as clear and easily navigable as possible. But what makes a good website is clearly, even from these comments, a matter of taste. I hate music . Others consider it a must. Some people value quick loading, while others call it boring.

  20. Jane
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 16:53:24

    I can’t believe there is even a discussion about this. Why not have a website? What is the argument against?

  21. Alison Kent
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 17:03:31

    [quote comment="5244"]I can’t believe there is even a discussion about this. Why not have a website? What is the argument against?[/quote]

    On an author’s loop I belonged to about 5 years ago, there was a discussion about email newsletters vs snail mail newsletters. One of the authors at that point in time had a minimal web presence, but was a firm believer in sending snail mail newsletters and had built up a massive mailing list in the thousands.

    This was how she reached her readers with news because she was writing for an older demographic who had no interest in learning about her new releases or her signings, etc., any other way but through the paper newsletters she sent out quarterly. In other words, she wasn’t writing for a web savvy crowd.

    I don’t think anyone is saying not to have one, but we also have to consider where and how to reach our readers. Diana’s audience, for example, probably falls into that 89% online segment. The author I mentioned above knows her audience well enough to realize no online presence will reach them, and she’s built a huge following over the years and is spending her marketing dollars where she has proof they work.

  22. Diana Peterfreund
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 17:04:47

    No, you are right, Mailyn. I have never been to your site before. I didn’t even know about it until I clicked over from this post. And of course there is more freedom when you are discussing a personal site. But readability is an issue to me at all times. I would like to strain my eyes reading business sites as much as I would reading my friend’s sites. But I’ve been to many professionally designed websites with very unfriendly looks (Stephen King’s website is especially difficult to navigate. Beautiful, but hard to get any real info out of it). I find myself coming back to sites that I can read. that’s my first criteria. From there, it’s sites I can read with good information. After that, I’m drawn to sites with good design skills. (LKH’s is not a professional looking site because there are too many styles going on.) Since those are my criteria, and they appear to be Jane’s as well as yours, I was curious why Monroe’s and Stuart’s were on the “shame” list. that’s all. I had no problems reading either. I am still curious.

  23. Meljean
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 17:11:38

    I think the Anne Stuart site was just recently updated — when Mailyn posted about it, I do remember that it was really difficult to navigate. Very clunky.

    I can only speak as a user, because I’m not trying to sell to other writers (usually) — but before I began writing, and before I began blogging, the Internet was THE place for me to find out info about books. I didn’t buy them online (not always, anyway) but if I picked up a book and I liked it, the first place I’d go would be to the author’s site to see what else she’d written. And, if I couldn’t find it there, do a search (and usually end up at All About Romance).

    Not every reader is as active online as some of us, but I’m sure many are lurking around, either looking for info or reviews, just as they would for a movie they weren’t certain about.

    The other problem I see on many sites is that the focus is on the author almost equally as it is the books. For some people, this works *coughNoracough* (actually, I’m so glad her site was updated, too. Old version wasn’t so easy.) It should be the BOOKS.

    And someone like me? Bleh. So having a graphic that almost screams “chick lit” when I’m trying to sell dark paranormal might have (maybe would have) immediately turned off a couple of potential readers. That chick-lit lady was more about my personality than the work — and no one wants to buy me. That’s also why I took the blog off the front page (well, and because I swear a lot).

    “Demon Angel which was so good I was unable to read another fantasy book for a week”

    Crap. There’s no way anything else I write can live up to that. It’s all over for me. I should go the way of Harper Lee. But with a rockin’ website.

  24. Diana Peterfreund
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 17:22:27

    Jane, you misunderstand. I always think an author should have a website, but I understand why they don’t. And, like Alison, I had the same reaction to the question of snail newsletters. I even do my banking online. The only things that come through the mail I pay attention to are royalty checks and netflix movies.

    I do not think “not reaching the majority of readers” can be equated with “not worthwhile.” I saw an author recently spend a huge huge huge amount of effort on a blog, but her readership is not the type to go on the internet nor to read blogs, and the people who do read blogs are not her readership. the results were an enormous disappointment. for everyone involved. In her case, it WASN’T worthwhile. And now she knows that. A simple site listing books? Sure, that’s always worthwhile, but perhaps the writer feels that to do a site justice, she would have to become very involved and have ABC

  25. Tara Marie
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 17:32:21

    This has been an interesting subject. I do think a good professional website is a must for any author and I think Jane’s 3 step program is proably right on target. I hate to admit that I rarely and I mean rarely go to author websites, but when I do these are a must…

    1. Easy access to booklists (both published and not yet released)

    2. Release dates for upcoming books

    3. Excerpts

    I don’t need music, in fact I don’t normally have my speakers on.

    I’m one of those sad people still on dial-up and I hate sites that take a long time to load. There are several reader blogs that take forever (more than 10 seconds–LOL) I’m willing to wait for those.

  26. Mailyn
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 17:43:01

    OK, I JUST discovered that a few of the people that replied here are authors. Goes to show how much romance I read. LMAO.

    Diana, I understand about redability and where you are coming from. It’s one of the first things we are taught in graphic design. In fact, I can tell you every faux pas I’ve committed on my site. I’ve been online for a very, very long time and, as a designer and someone who just loves to create graphics, I’ve already gotten used to sites that put designs and graphics over user friendliness. This is OK since all these sites are personal showcasing either the owner’s graphics, their thoughts or whatever. Most of the best personal graphic sites are non-user friendly and you can tell by their design that they cater to people like them who will appreciate their work simply because the layout of the site and the menu are something only another designer would find/understand.

    On my blog I try to find somewhat of a middle ground but I don’t sacrifice my graphics. That was my point on personal sites. The owner can be picky about who they cater to. Professional sites, on the other hand, should look professional. The sites I mentioned where there because they were horrible by professional standards.

    Anne Stuart recently changed her site and I even wrote about it on my latest post I was so excited [because I like her books]. It doesn’t mean anything if the site is “user friendly” yet still looks like a 5 year old designed it. It’s all about the presentation. Some of those sites had a user friendly interface yet were plain, had rather ugly fonts and colors, no graphics at all, and countless other things that made it look as if an amateur was playing around with his first ever site.

    Professional sites should effectively combine nice designs/graphics with a user friendly layout.

  27. Mailyn
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 17:52:21

    OK, just for you I checked back on Lucy’s site and here it is broken down in details:

    The header graphics is horrible. It’s jagged. My guess is either they resized it from small to big and that’s a big no-no or they saved it at a very poor resolution, also a no-no. The graphic itself also looks amateurish. There is nothing but a few photographs at odd angles that just look off. No borders, no nothing. Not to mention the whole jagged/bad/low quality of it.

    Let’s talk about fonts. At most you should use three and that’s including italics, bold, etc of the same font. She has bold, italics, san-serif AND serif all in various sizes.

    Then there are the REALLY amateurish glittery/sparkly gifs that should only be found in the tacky MySpace pages or a children’s site. Or a personal site of someone who likes that sort of faux pas.

    Also there is not a whole lot of info on her home page therefore she doesn’t need that sidebar with all of that. She should have the menu on the side and that stuff in the main window. It’s off balanced. Too much on the side and not enough in the main window.

  28. Diana Peterfreund
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 18:21:01

    I agree with that wholeheartedly, Mailyn. I didn’t realize that Anne had recently changed. Also, now that the sun is down, your site is much easier to read…. hmmm

  29. Melanie
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 19:27:03

    <de-lurking>

    I will preface this by saying that, absolutely, I think it’s important for authors to have websites, and well-designed ones, at that. However, I do tend to agree that there’s probably a vast majority of readers out there who have never visited an author’s site, and may never do so. I do web development – I’m online all the time and have been for years. However, I’ve always viewed reading as something totally separate from the computer, maybe because I’ve been reading so much longer than I’ve been online – I don’t know, really. While I’ve used Amazon for several years to search for upcoming releases to build my TBB list to carry with me to my local bookstore, that was previously the limit of the connection between my two biggest pasttimes – reading and internet. Although I’ve visited an author site or two over the past few years, primarily to check release dates of upcoming books, it wasn’t until a few months ago, when I visited the site of an author with a blog, and began following links, that I found this and other reader and author sites (and became addicted). As a result, I’m more likely now to visit an author’s site, as my point of view has shifted quite a bit. And, when I do, I want the site to be easy to navigate and I want to be able to find what I’m looking for. But, I think there are tons of people like (the former) me who, although they see an author’s website listed in the blurb on her book, will still never bother to visit it. And I’m not sure what would change that. Maybe a little blurb telling the reader that she can read an excerpt of the author’s next book on her website (and then make sure it’s there). That would probably get me there.

  30. Keishon
    Oct 23, 2006 @ 19:31:42

    Roberts, Rowling and King were all bestsellers without the benefit of their websites. Roberts and King were bestsellers before there were websites. But I think not even a small fraction of those authors' readers visit their websites.

    I’ll give you Rowling and Stephen King but I do think, however there is no proof to my statement in that Nora Roberts has had an online presence for a looooong time (on AOL she had her own message board) and her presence online hasn’t hurt her sales. I think she is the perfert example of an author who has generated a huge readership from her being online and off. Patricia Briggs is another author I feel that is gaining attention as I would like to think that since many online readers did enjoy her books, she is finally getting the recognition she deserves.

    Word of mouth is pretty powerful. I once gained a ARC by an author I loved, loved, loved all because of the almight word of mouth.

    An author website is a must to me. No online presence then your nowhere around and I don’t know who you are, much less care to keep up with your books. We maybe a small percentage but we have friends and family that we talk to and so on and so forth…

  31. Shay
    Oct 24, 2006 @ 00:29:06

    It’s a no-win situation. The majority of romance readers don’t spend time online, and yet for a new or midlist author, the website may be the beginning stirring of word of mouth, and for an unpublished author, the pressure is on them to establish a readership before selling–I’ve seen some agents “require” pre-publication marketing. We can’t really predict what the internet will do for the romance genre since it seems like the appeal of the genre to its readers is a sort of “mindlessness”–for the most part, you really don’t have to think while reading a romance, therefore romance readers seem to only be interested in when the next book will be released: and you can ask the associates in books stores about that! Not to mention that I suspect most readers who do surf online probably have the same experience as Melanie. The only thing that baffles me is the sudden popularity of the author myspace page. I’m within the website’s targeted age group, but I see no point in them because the romance genre isn’t exactly a go-to genre for teenagers and twentysomethings. Besides, think about about it: would you have wanted your mom hanging out at the same place where you hung out with your friends?

  32. Nora Roberts
    Oct 24, 2006 @ 08:05:54

    ~since it seems like the appeal of the genre to its readers is a sort of -mindlessness- ?-“for the most part, you really don't have to think while reading a romance,~

    Well. Ouch.

    Speaking as a reader and writer of Romance, I can say I’m not looking for mindlessness, or to offer it.

  33. Alison Kent
    Oct 24, 2006 @ 08:21:14

    [quote comment="5273"]The only thing that baffles me is the sudden popularity of the author myspace page. I’m within the website’s targeted age group, but I see no point in them because the romance genre isn’t exactly a go-to genre for teenagers and twentysomethings. Besides, think about about it: would you have wanted your mom hanging out at the same place where you hung out with your friends?[/quote]

    The website may have originally been targeted at twenty-somethings, but it’s taken off and become something bigger than that. I have 3 pages at MySpace, and I’ve had readers of all ages “friend” me. Teenagers, twenty-somethings, and older readers, too. It’s all about marketing. Reaching a demographic that might actually be interested in what we write if they knew what it was! I’m also teaching an online class right now, and a quarter of the participants who signed up find out about it from my MySpace page and through the single bulletin I sent out. Just think if I’d sent out more!

    And I have to say about mothers hanging out with their kids and their friends, LOL. I’m in the top friends of my twenty-something kids’ pages AND have been virtually “friended” by bunches of their friends. One of my 26 year old son’s best friends messages me all the time just to see what’s up. They love that I write, and they tell all their friends (in r.l. and online) about me. One of my 24 year old daughter’s friends is one of my biggest fans. The writers community on MySpace has grown unbelievably just this year. I had a page last year and killed it, but am now back. I’ve had just as much feedback on my book on writing erotic romance on MySpace as I have on my blog, and hear from my friended readers there when they’ve read my latest book.

  34. Jane
    Oct 24, 2006 @ 08:23:33

    I wish writers having myspace pages would use myspace overlays. Most of the myspace pages I visited were unreadable.

  35. Jane
    Oct 24, 2006 @ 08:29:40

    I don’t really understand how the maintenance of a website is an either or proposition. Wouldn’t or shouldn’t it just be part and parcel of the overall promotional package an author puts together. Authors are small business owners and today’s small business needs a web presence.

    And, as Keishon pointed out, it is not as if we romance readers online are only talking about romances online. We spread the word of mouth outside the internet too.

    Shay – I think that there are mindless romances (Erin McCarthy is one that comes to mind) but there are also meaty romances (older Madeline Hunter, Laura Kinsale, Jennifer Crusie come to mind) and everything in between – just as there are in every genre of fiction.

  36. Shannon
    Oct 24, 2006 @ 08:57:12

    [quote comment="5299"]And, as Keishon pointed out, it is not as if we romance readers online are only talking about romances online. We spread the word of mouth outside the internet too.[/quote]

    I think that’s an important point. I’m online, and maybe somebody would think “well, that’s only one reader”, but I have many reading friends who aren’t browsing the ‘net, and I talk books with them. I chat at the library, and talk up my favorite books. I’ve had people working drive-thrus ask me about a book sitting on my passenger seat. I make small talk in the book aisle of Walmart while choosing my books.

    So I may be the only “online” reader in my real life circle, but I can impact the opinions of dozens and dozens of non-online readers. So I think a good website is vital. Every little bit helps.

  37. Jaci Burton
    Oct 24, 2006 @ 09:29:08

    I think a website presence for an author is essential. Of course I started out in epublishing so I had to have one to make myself known. I’ll soon be releasing my first mainstream mass market paranormal, but I still think being online with a website, with Myspace, and everywhere I can be, is essential.

    I’m also cursed with dialup due to my geography. So I have to keep things simple. As a reader, I don’t have the patience to spend at websites with tons of graphics. Thirty seconds of watching a page NOT load and I’m gone. When I had my site redesigned recently, I took that into consideration. Though I do need to put my series books in order. That’s up next on my to do list. Eeep!

  38. Bev (BB)
    Oct 24, 2006 @ 10:42:26

    Wow, fascinating discussion. You know, when you get right down to it, all I want from an author site is a printable booklist with publishing dates and group/series connections included. Original dates AND any reprints, please. Everything else, and I do mean everything else, is gravy.

    Gravy can get in the way of savoring the main dish if there’s too much of it. ;)

    And I can’t emphasis the importance of those original copyright dates, either. One author’s site – my brain wants to say it was Lori Foster’s but don’t quote me on this – at least used to have a printable list that listed the books in the current reprint order instead of how they were first published.

    Annoying doesn’t even describe it. :(

    As to designing sites, I teach people that graphic design at its most basic is information first, graphics last – unless graphics are the information one is attempting to convey. What one has to remember about Mailyn’s site is that she’s using it as a place to play with her graphics as much as a blog. Are they sometimes, er, startling? Well, yeah, but they’re always interesting and fun. :D And again, she isn’t claiming it’s a “professional” final product either but simply a playground.

    In some ways “information first” is even more true about the Internet because there’s so much information available here. That’s both a blessing and a curse in many ways. Seriously, though, the fastest way to figure out how “professional” any site really is is simply to strip it down, either literally or figuratively, to simple text and see what actual information is there. If it’s only three words that convey nothing, there’s a problem. Conversely, too many words that convey everything all at once, i.e. on one page in absolutely no order, are just as much a problem. Maybe more so.

    Should authors spend that much time, effort or money on a website? I don’t know but let me put it this way. I no longer truly need most reference books or catalogs because I look almost everything up online. Even my sister who reads, but not as much as I do and currently doesn’t have a computer in her house goes to her daughter’s to “research” quite a lot of things online.

    The question I think authors should ask themselves isn’t whether or not the majority of readers are online but whether the first impression they want to make on the ones who are is either a poorly designed site or no site at all.

    Do they really want to let reviews from Amazon, or any other site, be the first thing or possibly the only thing listed on a search for their name or books?

  39. Shiloh Walker
    Oct 24, 2006 @ 11:56:44

    I see no point in them because the romance genre isn't exactly a go-to genre for teenagers and twentysomethings

    I don’t know how true this statement is. I have met a lot of readers who are in their 20s. I started reading romance when I was in my teens. Many, many romance readers started reading in their late teens, or earlier.

    I don’t mess with myspace but that’s because many of the romances I’ve written are of the erotic variety and I don’t want to promote in a place where there are a lot of teens. And frankly, the last thing I need is another website to run.

    About websites, I think they are a great tool, but I got my start in ebooks~if you write for an epub, you do need a website. There are also a lot of readers who surf the net looking for paranormal, or historical, or suspense. You can definitely build a decent reader base that way. But you have to put the time, the effort, the money into it.

    I will tell you one thing about websites~please please please don’t put blue fonts on a red background, or red on a blue background. That’s a migraine waiting to happen.

  40. Shiloh Walker
    Oct 24, 2006 @ 12:07:41

    Do they really want to let reviews from Amazon, or any other site, be the first thing or possibly the only thing listed on a search for their name or books?

    now that is an excellent point. Especially since more and more people are starting to use the internet for reading.

  41. Patrice Michelle
    Oct 24, 2006 @ 16:46:51

    Great discussion on websites! I’ve had four different website designs, the first few being my own. Over that time I’ve polled readers asking them what they wanted to see on my website and have tried to make sure I have the majority of their requests available. My latest website was done with Dream Forge Media (great people to work with!), and I think it represents my writing well. My main goal is to provide a list of books with IBSNs, buy information, excerpts, blurbs, and to keep the interface easy to navigate. I keep a blog, as much for myself as my readers. I know that a large chunk of readers don’t check out author websites, but for the ones that do, I want them to have one to browse. Now that I’ve sold to a NY publisher, I’m sure some of my advertising dollars will shift to other places, but my website will always be maintained, because I see it like this: My website represents me when a reader comes knocking at my door and I’m not home to answer it. :)

  42. Tara Marie
    Oct 24, 2006 @ 17:57:34

    Off Topic

    You already have Demon Angel?? I am soooo jealous!!

  43. Miki S
    Oct 24, 2006 @ 21:51:11

    As someone who spent over an hour just yesterday trying to figure out from Wen Spencer’s out-of-date website (and multiple Google searches) whether she’s planning any more stories in the Uriah Oregon series (and, no, I wasn’t able to find an answer), I’d like to suggest also when listing series, say whether they’re finished or if more stories are planned!

    Also, it would be d@mned nice to have a “contact” email address for when – like me yesterday – you can’t find what you’re looking for.

    And it should be common sense to keep them reasonably up to date.

    And I agree fully with those who’ve pointed out that those of us who live online can and do affect the reading habits of those who don’t. I have a married friend with 3 little ones – she says it’s hard enough to find time to read, let alone “hang out” on line. But she definitely benefits from my web searches on upcoming releases (and backlists!)

  44. Robin
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 00:09:39

    I know that Shay’s comment about mindlessness gripped some by the throat (and not in a pleasant way), but it really resonated with me, as I have been lately feeling like the fight against mediocrity in the genre is downright Sisyphian. I know that sounds snobbish, but I don’t care — I’m tired of crappy craftsmanship, sloppy editing, and poor production values. Sure there are wonderful books out there, for which I’m very grateful — but there’s a whole lot more that’s not wonderful being produced, as well. Recently I was informed that an author who’s contemporary absolutely hated was going to be writing historicals, as well. I know that Romance writing isn’t like specialty medicine, but really — at what point did writing historical Romance become indistinguishable from writing contemporary Romance? Has anyone actually determined the lowest common denominator or is one being manufactured right along with the industrialized production of Romance? I’m still trying to recover from the shock of reading a D range grade for Shana Abe’s Smoke Thief on a prominent review site, a grade given despite praise in the review for the craftsmanship of the novel.

    Anyway, I really do have a point related to the topic at hand, and that is that I also believe that author websites are extremely important (although I really prefer is when there is a nice distinction between the professional aspects of the site and the more personal ones, since I do better avoiding the personal in most cases). Perhaps some of the authors online could still be considered early adopters, but I don’t think that will be the case for long given the reality of how many people are online. An author website is basically fulfilling the function of being a specialty library for individual authors, IMO, and how could tha NOT be valuable? How, in the great sea of books published, could it NOT be a good thing to create an identifiable presence in one’s own web domain?

    It’s been made clear to me (over and over) that online readers are not the average Romance reader, but who really knows the impact we WILL or CAN HAVE on the market? Perhaps for authors who simply prefer the “average” reader (whoever that is), a website isn’t requisite, but I think for those authors who really are interested in engaging a more diverse readership, a website can make a real difference. The big questions perhaps, are how many authors really want to diversify their readership, and might websites ultimately prove to be a valuable tool for those authors who ARE daring to be different in the genre and are actively working to reach out to the non-average online reader?

  45. La Karibane
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 10:34:29

    I agree that we have reached the point where an author website is a must-have, if only to list the books published, bookstores selling her stuff and contact info. I’m online everyday, all day long and sometimes at night.

    I’m also outside the USA so if I can’t find someone on their website or a mention at a blog, I don’t know you exist. I’ve never been to any of the conferences etc, I travel at most once a year to the US or CA so I have to get the max of info online or bust.

    Even if most readers are offline, they do talk to ones that are. Like me and my friend J. She doesn’t have internet at work, and at home it can be iffy so she’s always asking me to check out an author, autobuy or not. I also print out those lists by release date and share with her so we can make shopping lists. So even the offline readers might have indirect access via the online ones!!!

    As for author presence, a guestbook or a message board is good. Oh, and I like sites like SEP’s where readers can submit favorite lines. Actually, my annoyance with Mbs (though I am a member of several) is the whole signing-up thing. Give me a max of FREE STUFF and let me choose to sign-up or not.

    Now, to the features that are essential to a website, I agree completely. Obviously, I’m less enthousiastic about the blog and mbs but whatever.

    The url=author name is a duh to me but maybe I’m being harsh. So, new authors should run, IMO, before some greedy jerk grabs up their name for ransom.

    Amen to the PRINTABLE booklist (without pix, please!) but I’d like to add another feature: the newsletter. Even if it’s only to learn about the latest release, I want it. I don’t need recipes or grankid pix but as hard as I try to keep my wishlist updated, I sometimes miss books.

    Excerpts, Excerpts, Excerpts. I’m not about to achte yon chat nan makout (buy a cat in a bag) so I have to sample your style. And the whole chapter too! No excessive teasing, I beg you. Amazon and B&N sometimes have excerpts but a whole chapter is BETTER!!!

    DebR has a point, connected books should be clearly pointed out. I’m also in favor of easy of navigation. I prefer that the cover, book title, release name, series name, ISBN, page count, sellers AND excerpt be on the same page, whenever possible. I’ve see websites were you first get the book list, you click and just get the Cover, Release date and Name and you have to click again to get the synopsis and click again for the excerpt. Too much clicking for my money!!!

    And finally, I agree wholeheartedly about the graphics. I have somewhat fast internet at work, but dial-up at home is sloooow. So I can’t wait, either.

    Ok, I think I put it all, LOL!

  46. Bev (BB)
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 10:35:19

    [quote comment="5390"]I know that Shay’s comment about mindlessness gripped some by the throat (and not in a pleasant way), but it really resonated with me, as I have been lately feeling like the fight against mediocrity in the genre is downright Sisyphian. I know that sounds snobbish, but I don’t care — I’m tired of crappy craftsmanship, sloppy editing, and poor production values. [/quote]

    You know, I can’t help thinking that if I was that dissatisfied with any form of entertainment, I’d stop trying to make myself enjoy it regardless of whether I ever found another one that did satisfy.

  47. La Karibane
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 10:57:49

    Well, actually I have a gripe about citing Linda Howard as an example. In the 4 yrs I’ve been seriously both online and reading romances, I have heard all the explainations for LH’s web absence: the chronic fatigue, the stalker etc. Ok, I’m fine with that but can I just get a newsletter “new release alert”? A page with Bio, boolist and sellers? Something, anything, current, please.

    I mostly watch mbs and review sites for her or Amazon. I’d prefer info direct from the source.

    As for snail mail, I have to say, I was thrilled that Connie Brockway sent me a postcard for all the Rose Hunters books (trilogy) but I can understand that not all authors can afford int’l mailings.

    Hum, stopping here…I think I see my boss looking this way.

  48. Robin
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 11:03:36

    You know, I can't help thinking that if I was that dissatisfied with any form of entertainment, I'd stop trying to make myself enjoy it regardless of whether I ever found another one that did satisfy.

    I’m definitely very grateful that I have such wide reading tastes and the desire to read widely across genres and different types of writing more generally.

    But still, I have to say that I kind of hate that “why are you still reading Romance is you’re so dissatisfied” line. Becuase for someone like me, who isn’t totally genre loyal, when I am in the mood for a Romance, I hate having to freaking scavenge to find a really good one. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to comment on or get frustrated with quality issues in any genre I derive some enjoyment from. Readers are, of course, perfectly free to tolerate whatever they want to tolerate — to spend their money on books they find disatisfying and then buy even more, hoping they will find that book that they love. For readers who spend the bulk of their book budget on Romance, that may not seem like such a sacrifice. But I buy a lot of books in a lot of different areas, from historical fiction to history to literature to social commentary. And now that my initial survey of what Romance has to offer is over, I’ve become more selective and more frustrated with what I see as a kind of lowest common denominator logic in the genre. And the thing that IMO is so sad about that is that I don’t think any harm will come to the genre through pushing the production values up. I’m not suggesting that this LCD logic isn’t operative in other genres, as well (I don’t read mysteries, but I’m sure there are lots of crappy ones there, too), but even if it is true across genres, that doesn’t come across to me as a persuasive defense.

    Of course, my opinion fluctuates based on what I’m reading — if I’m on a good jag with some great Romances, I’m less cranky about the bad. But if I feel like bad craftsmanship is ruling the day, I get frustrated.

  49. Robin
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 11:17:23

    Excerpts, Excerpts, Excerpts. I'm not about to achte yon chat nan makout (buy a cat in a bag) so I have to sample your style. And the whole chapter too! No excessive teasing, I beg you. Amazon and B&N sometimes have excerpts but a whole chapter is BETTER!!!

    Absolutely! I have tried a number of books because of an excerpt on an author’s website. And I’ve chosen to avoid some books because of that, as well. IMO an exccerpt is a self-selection device; it helps me to know whether I’m going to be a good match for a particular author. And more than that, sometimes it allows me to decide that I want to read book A from an author but not book B. So she may not lose me altogether as a reader because I can see that she has more than one thing to offer. I certainly don’t want to say an unqualified no to an author based on a few paragraphs of text, but excerpts are definitely an affirmative step I can take as a reader to make some selections on my own, without having to rely on word of mouth or reviews.

  50. Nora Roberts
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 11:20:05

    ~You know, I can't help thinking that if I was that dissatisfied with any form of entertainment, I'd stop trying to make myself enjoy it regardless of whether I ever found another one that did satisfy. ~

    My thoughts pretty much exactly. As a reader, if I’m dissatisfied with a genre, or find much of the books offered therein to be ‘mediocre, crappy, sloppy’, I’m going to move on. Or buy by authors who deliver, most usually, what I’m looking for.

  51. Robin
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 11:41:18

    Or buy by authors who deliver, most usually, what I'm looking for.

    But how does one find these authors? For me, it’s often by sampling.

    I think that the “why are you reading Romance” argument is a little specious because IMO it conflates craftsmanship with central genre characteristics. I think it’s fair to ask why someone who hates happy endings or sentimentality or fiction focused on romantic love why they’re reading the genre. But I think it’s unfair to ask the same when the complaint is related to craftsmanship and production issues. Especially because you often don’t know what you’re getting until you buy, and when you buy, all a publisher registers is “sale” not a plea for better copyediting. That editors are themselves so overworked suggests to me that some publishers don’t really place a high value on anything — not authors, not editors, and not readers — except profit.

  52. Bookseller Jolie
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 12:01:44

    Here’s what happens: Romance reader, Jane, walks into a bookstore to find a really good book. Problem is none of her favorite authors have anything new out. So she spends 20 or so minutes searching out *something* that sounds halfway decent. She finds a book that sounds good from an author she’s heard very little about. But she’s desperate and takes a chance. Once at home she’s well into her reading when she’s totally taken in by the story and loves what the author has written. “OMG, I must know EVERYTHING about this author — books, series, what’s coming next???” Jane is now on a mission, find out everything she can about said author. How does she do that??? On the author’s website.

    I realize many romance authors think that the majority of romance readers are not on the internet. That is simply not the case. While they may not be online *directly* I often hear them say — oh my husband looked that up for me or my daughter printed that off for me.

    When a romance reader “discovered” a new author they used to glom every used bookstore within 50 miles. Now they simply go online to find backlist and series information. Whether they do it themselves or have a friend or family member do it — they are online.

    That’s one thing working at a bookstore has taught me. Romance readers are very resourceful. I’ve been working in a bookstore for over 10 years and I used to print off lists of authors’ titles for a reader who just “discovered” someone new — nearly on a daily basis. Now I can’t remember the last time I did that. Because they *know* they can get it DIRECTLY from the source — an authors website.

    Also, I can’t help but point out that if an author doesn’t have a website, many booksellers can’t find the information either.

    An author should not look at a website as pre-advertising and getting your name out there. Most of the comments here are right, I’ve never “found” an author while surfing the web.

    But here is what I have done: After “discovering” an author, I get online, find the list of books from the series that I stumbled onto, print out the entire backlist, take it to my bookstore and order everything I can get my hands on — not only for myself, but for the store because I must now share it with every romance reader that comes in the store. Lastly, I email the author to tell them that I not only LOVE their books, but have sold over 50 copies in the first week of sales. Not to mention the fact that I call my romance buyer and got another 50 copies for each of the chains’ stores — which in turn sold so many copies of the book it went out of print in just two weeks!! Oh and it made the USA Today list!

    The power of a website. What author DOESN’T want THAT??

  53. Janine
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 12:13:56

    I’m going to agree with Robin. I love the genre mainly because I think of it in terms of the best books I’ve read within it, the best that it can be, but I too have been frustrated with the number of books I’ve read recently that seem to me to be, for a lack of a better description, written down instead of up, perhaps on the assumption that that’s what readers want.

    One of the reasons I was so over the moon over Pam Rosenthal’s The Slightest Provocation was that it was such an ambitious book, with real depth and scope and a willingness to take risks and expect intelligence from the reader. That book too got a shocking (to me) D grade from the same prominent review site that gave a D grade to Abe’s The Smoke Thief.

    I am only one person and my reviews are only one person’s opinions. I’m not going to tell others how to review; everyone has different standards. To each her own and all that. But it’s sad for me to see readers being directed away from what I think is one of the smartest romances I’ve read all year, and as someone who writes reviews for this blog, I plan to continue to direct readers toward books like that rather than away from them.

    To tell demanding and discriminating readers that they should stop reading in the genre is a bad idea to my mind, because if they do so, eventually the only readers the genre will have left will be those who don’t want more than mindless entertainment from it, and then the diversity of the books and their sales figures will plummet even more than they already have.

  54. Monica Burns
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 12:39:07

    Also, I can't help but point out that if an author doesn't have a website, many booksellers can't find the information either.

    Agreed! And recently I just had a duh! moment when it came to my website. I realized I didn’t have a page devoted to information that might be useful to a bookseller. So now they can click from the home page to one page that has all the info they might need. I was delighted when I got my first bookseller request last week, and the page had only been up a month. Of course I’m now banging my head against the wall because I should have done the damn page sooner. Grrrr

  55. Janine
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 12:40:26

    [quote comment="5436"]

    Or buy by authors who deliver, most usually, what I'm looking for.

    But how does one find these authors? For me, it’s often by sampling.

    I think that the “why are you reading Romance” argument is a little specious because IMO it conflates craftsmanship with central genre characteristics. I think it’s fair to ask why someone who hates happy endings or sentimentality or fiction focused on romantic love why they’re reading the genre. But I think it’s unfair to ask the same when the complaint is related to craftsmanship and production issues. Especially because you often don’t know what you’re getting until you buy[/quote]

    I agree with this as well, and to tie my comments to the topic at hand, this is why I’m another one who thinks that an author website with excerpts is crucial. I do a lot of my book shopping online, and if I don’t have a way to sample a new-to-me author’s writing style, I won’t puchase her book no matter how good it looks to me. I’ve been burned too many times by books that sounded good in publisher blurbs but that it became clear to me would not be to my taste because of craftsmanship issues as soon as I got them in the mail and read the first few pages. I’ve promised myself that I’ll never buy a book again without reading a sample of the author’s writing, so in my case, the absence of an excerpt is a deal breaker.

    Along the same lines, I think it’s very important for authors to make sure that online bookstores that make excerpts available to read (or in Amazon’s case, offer a “Search inside!” feature) have these available for their books.

  56. Bev (BB)
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 13:27:39

    [quote comment="5436"]But I think it’s unfair to ask the same when the complaint is related to craftsmanship and production issues. Especially because you often don’t know what you’re getting until you buy, and when you buy, all a publisher registers is “sale” not a plea for better copyediting. That editors are themselves so overworked suggests to me that some publishers don’t really place a high value on anything — not authors, not editors, and not readers — except profit. [/quote]

    You know what’s truly unfair? Complaining endlessly to other readers over things that we have absolutely no control over as if we’re immediately supposed to jump on the bandwagon, too. ‘Cause you know what? It ain’t gonna happen.

    [quote comment="5444"]To tell demanding and discriminating readers that they should stop reading in the genre is a bad idea to my mind, because if they do so, eventually the only readers the genre will have left will be those who don’t want more than mindless entertainment from it, and then the diversity of the books and their sales figures will plummet even more than they already have. [/quote]

    Whew, talk about an unfair statement all around. Part of me is not even sure where to start.

    Okay, deep breaths. ;p

    Um, do any of you so fed up with “bad craftsmanship” within the genre honestly believe that the rest of us, i.e. those who apparently want little more than mindless entertainment, never also get fed up? We do. I do. When I do, I pull back and reassess. If I don’t want to take chances on unknown authors, I buy used. After all the discussions I’ve seen online where authors are griping about lost sales to used books stores, I’m pretty sure that won’t count as voting for bad writing in any shaper or form.

    If I find an author’s writing doesn’t quite meet my standards, but I’m still curious about their books I buy them used until I’ve decided one way or another. And to tie this back into the main discussion here, nowadays I also do a lot of online research finding books by that author that might appeal more to my tastes. Of course, if the author doesn’t have a website listing all of their backlist that can become extra problematical.

    It’s not that I don’t see your point, Robin (and everyone else agreeing with her), but that I don’t see why you’re talking to us instead of talking directly to the publishers. What exactly does it accomplish to insult other readers?

    Seems to me you already know you’re beating your head against a lost cause but still trying to make the rest of us feel guilty for not agreeing. Or maybe for creating the “problem” in the first place by being less demanding and discriminating?

    Well, that last is an interesting thought to chew on.

    Hey, if any of you haven’t figured it out by now, I’ve never had a problem with being part of the least common denominator or wanting mindless entertainment so that’s not an argument that’s ever going to sway me in the first place. What would sway me but only to try different books and authors is pointing out on a regular basis those books that rise above the rest. The only thing is that you’d have to be willing to do it without insulting my intelligence at the same time or I probably won’t listen very well.

    I’m funny that way. ;)

    ‘Course, if the books pointed out bore me to tears . . . I guess I’ll just get back online and look for some more mindless entertainment. :D

  57. Robin
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 13:53:59

    It's not that I don't see your point, Robin (and everyone else agreeing with her), but that I don't see why you're talking to us instead of talking directly to the publishers. What exactly does it accomplish to insult other readers?

    I actually DO write letters to publishers, and for the most part, I try to write them about books that stand out well to me, books about which I can praise the writing, the
    risks, the craftsmanship and production. But that isn’t going to stop me from venting on reader boards, either. I’m not sure where the insult to readers is, though. I’m not knocking fun entertainment (I loved the Kresley Cole book for exactly that reason); I’m knocking poor craftsmanship, which, IMO, is a separate issue. While there is, IMO, a loss suffered by the genre when books are poorly copy-edited, there isn’t any harm, when a book — no matter how light the entertainment intent might be — is well-crafted.

    Seems to me you already know you're beating your head against a lost cause but still trying to make the rest of us feel guilty for not agreeing. Or maybe for creating the -problem- ? in the first place by being less demanding and discriminating?

    I’m sory, Bev, but I really feel like you’re projecting a lot here. How, exactly, am I inducing guilt? By rocking that old status quo boat? By refusing to accept your “solution” of reading elsewhere? If you don’t find my point persuasive, disagree. But I reserve the right to disagree with your characterization of my complaints as illegitimate somehow. I’m not asking for volunteers to write publishers; I’m not demanding you jump on some “bandwagon” — I’m not actually ASKING for anything of you as a reader. I’m not suggesting that readers are unaware of these mediocre production values and are too stupid to see the mistakes. On the contrary — I’m suggesting that we’re all worth more and we deserve books that have been crafted and produced with care. You can step easily around the crap — great. You’ve stated numerous times that you feel no obligation to purchase new or to do anything else to support an author or to make any grand statement. As a reader who wants more, I do feel some responsibility to go out of my way to send whatever positive feedback I can, whether that means buying a book new to support an author or writing a letter of praise to an author and/or publisher. In our own ways, we’re each putting our own money where our own mouth is.

  58. Karen Scott
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 13:58:41

    La Karibane mentioned Linda Howard’s lack of web presence, and this has long pissed me off.

    Stalker or no stalker, if her books stopped selling, I bet she’d soon get a website.

    She can afford the luxury of not having a web presence because she’s one of the Queen Bees of Romance, and has been for many a year, and most romance readers know her books, but I still think it sucks great big fat donkey balls that she can’t be arsed letting her fans know what she’s up to.

  59. Robin
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 14:24:11

    Hey, if any of you haven't figured it out by now, I've never had a problem with being part of the least common denominator or wanting mindless entertainment so that's not an argument that's ever going to sway me in the first place.

    The irony for me, Bev, is that I am the most mindlessly entertained when I’m not tripping over the wrong word (elude instead of allude, for example), confusing punctuation, incoherent sentences, and glaring discontinuities in plotting. Then my mind can really turn off and just enjoy the ride.

  60. Janine
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 15:01:13

    To clarify my earlier post, I never said that there was anything wrong with mindless entertainment (I think it has its place, and I have certainly enjoyed some books I would describe that way), nor did I say that that’s what you personally wanted to read, Bev.

    What I am saying is that telling readers to stop reading in the romance genre isn’t such a good thing. A variety of different readers with a variety of different tastes are what keeps the genre diverse. And more readers mean more sales which means more authors can stay in print and the genre can survive and thrive.

    All that I really objected to was the suggestion that a reader should stop reading in the genre altogether merely because she is dissatisfied with many of the romances she reads. If she loves those few books she loves enough to be willing to make the effort to wade through others that she thinks are poorly crafted or copyedited, that’s her prerogative. Chasing readers away isn’t the way to make sure we have a variety of different kinds of authors writing, if you ask me.

  61. Kristie(J)
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 15:25:49

    I can see where Robin is coming from. While not quite as well worded as her. I too complain about a lot of the lack of quality in many books. And I’ve written to publishers too (never heard back from any of them though) about books I have enjoyed and I think are praiseworthy. And I also do my “talking” through my pocketbook. I’m more than willing to buy and try new or mid-list authors that I think are better than others. I do the same for authors willing to go outside the box. There was never a question that I would be getting Anne Stuart’s lastes for example – not because it’s good (although I think it will be) but because she has pushed the envelope and I admire her for that.

  62. Jane
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 15:29:35

    This discussion is kind of veering into my Monday article and that is, who is at fault for the demise of the historical and what can we readers do, if anything. My feeling is not much. I feel pretty helpless as a reader and I also feel like I shouldn’t have to buy certain books just because it is written in a different time period or by a challenging author unless i am going to like them.

    How much responsibility do we have as readers for directing the genre. We do tend toward the glom and thus when we receive a bunch of books in the same genre regardless of quality, is it our fault? I suppose I could put up the article today and not wait until Monday but then what would I have to post on Monday? LOL.

  63. Nora Roberts
    Oct 25, 2006 @ 15:58:36

    I don’t have a problem with readers complaining–about a genre, about publishing, about a particular book, about a particular author. Readers are the consumer, and the consumer wants to be satisfied. Of course, there are all types of consumers for a particular book or genre, and their mileage certainly varies.

    Robin is articulate and opinionated–two pluses in my opinion. However, Robin, it strikes me that you voice this same complaint again and again, in many, many discussions. So that the complaint, even its validity, begins to lose its impact and simply becomes repetitious.

    I don’t mean to offend you, or to imply that you have no right to make this same complaint as often as you like. I’m just giving my reaction to it.

    I have no doubt that Romance–like any heavily published genre of fiction–could well benefit from better editing, copyediting, production values. Could benefit from more new, fresh, talented voices, or known voices who try a new twist. Who would disagree with that?

    I just don’t think hammering the same notes on this particular keyboard is going to bring you what you’re looking for.

    And as to how to find what you’re looking for, it circles back to the topic–as one element. Websites which give a clear idea of the author’s style, the backlist or upcoming books. Excerpts that are easy to access for a sample–that cost you nothing. Add reviews at sites you come to trust, word of mouth. Message boards where readers discuss what they liked or didn’t about a book or body of work. Authors whose books you’ve enjoyed previously–and booksellers who know their stuff and can steer you to the kinds of books that may suit your taste, or your mood at the time.

    Libraries, used bookstores. There are options that, at least, cut the cost of wading through to find what books sing for you.

  64. Robin
    Oct 26, 2006 @ 02:20:10

    Robin is articulate and opinionated-“two pluses in my opinion. However, Robin, it strikes me that you voice this same complaint again and again, in many, many discussions. So that the complaint, even its validity, begins to lose its impact and simply becomes repetitious.

    I have a ton of opinions on a myriad of subjects, many of which I share here and elsewhere at the drop of a hat. That people might recognize this particular point from me more readily doesn’t bother me, actually, even at the risk of the repetition. I guess I could rant on about enemy combatants and the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus like I am in RL as I’m working on a legal article right now on those issues. Although I don’t want to make this Romance topic seem more important than it is or to belittle more important issues, I’m sure that advocates for practically everything from women’s equality to the need for tort law reform to a desire for non-greasy hand lotion have been so pegged. I get frustrated, I vent, people do or don’t pay attention or care or resonate or whatever. Primarily it’s about my frustration and secondarily about my sense that certain issues tend to get swept under the rug kind of easily, and I think this is one of them. Bottom line, though: if it stirs conversation, IMO it’s a good thing. If not, whatever –I always feel better after I vent.

  65. Nonny
    Oct 26, 2006 @ 16:24:15

    I’m gonna add one to the list here.

    How about actually telling readers who the frell is publishing your damn book?

    I was reading posts on my blog reader earlier today and came across a post on a shared blog with the cover of the author’s forthcoming novel, along with a link to her website. Curious, I went to check it out… this author apparently has four books forthcoming in 2007 and doesn’t mention the publisher for any of them.

    WTF?

  66. Jean
    Oct 27, 2006 @ 20:00:14

    Whether they do it themselves or have a friend or family member do it -" they are online.

    I hadn’t considered family or friends looking something up as presence, but absolutely. Even if those people wouldn’t report themselves as being on-line if asked, they are. Thanks for bringing that up.

    I’m lukewarm to the MySpace idea, but I set up a page last weekend. Alison Kent was one of the authors who motivated me to do so — Larissa Ione and Stephanie Tyler were my primary motivators. After a week, I’m still leery, but I’m beginning to find numerous viable authors there striving to create community. I’ve set the page up. I think it’s readable, and I hope I can take my time doing something with it.

    My primary presence is my blog, but I’ve been thinking about reserving several domain names for an eventual professional presence. Clearly, based upon the suggestions here, that’s something I should do.

  67. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 20, 2006 @ 09:38:32

    On the button, ladies. I do my own website, because I can, but after lots of comments, I revamped it last year and got rid of all the fancy stuff, all the intense graphics and twiddly bits. I agonised before going with the black, but I’m pretty happy with the results. And yes, ladies, the stars have gone.
    Now it’s straightforward, and there’s also a little website map at the bottom of every page, where each page is listed and linked. I’d love it if more people did that, so I could go directly there if I didn’t want to mess about.
    I have one site, split into two, because I write two genres, but each site varies only with the color scheme, the layout is deliberately kept the same.
    And ok, it’s really cool to be able to type “lynneconnolly” in the title bar and be taken straight to the site!
    Blogs I see as more fun, playing, really, and I do have those as well, but they’re for different things, different aspects. I see them as more for the “writer’s life” kind of affair.

  68. Renee Blaine
    Jan 10, 2007 @ 15:52:48

    Thank you for a very informative and entertaining article, but I do have an isue with one point you made.

    Simply because an author, especially a beginning author, who probably can’t afford the experience of someone who can build the site if they don’t know HTML themselves or even afford the webspace to begin with, doesn’t have a large, beautifully done website that isn’t from one of the free hosting sites does NOT mean they aren’t serious.

    There are many of us out here who are struggling with school, careers, children, etc. Some of us barely make ends meet each month- that extra $100 a year for hosting simply isn’t there at this point in time. Most of us, as we manage to achieve the first rung on the publishing ladder WILL purchase webspace and build ourselves beautiful sites. If right now all we can handle is a free bog or site, and hosting our graphics and such off site- at least we’re making the best of what we have access to right now.

    I realize I have probably jumped right up on the soapbox here, and I truly didn’t mean to. I simply wanted to say that I thought it was rather shallow to dismiss authors who haven’t managed to achieve a level of status that you would consider noteworthy yet.

    Respectfully:

    RB

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  70. Gay
    Mar 09, 2007 @ 14:05:00

    Thanks for the straightforward discussion of what’s important in an author’s cyber-life. I’m working on my first novel and have my website up and running–it’s good to have reassurance that I’m on the right track, and also to be able to doublecheck that I’ve dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s.

    http://www.authorgaymwalker.com/Welcome.html

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