Sunday, March 27, 2011

Where do you draw the line?

by: Joelle Charbonneau

The “job” of the author has changed a great deal over the years. Years ago, the author’s job was to write a good book, edit said book and then write another. Sometimes the author would be asked by the publisher to do a book tour or some promotional things when the book was launched, but mainly the author’s job was to write.

With the advancement of technology, a published author’s job has become much more. Publishers want their authors to be involved in social media – be it Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Goodreads or whatever else is out there. They want authors to attend conferences, sponsor their own tours, take out their own advertising and do the heavy legwork to get noticed by readers. They also would like authors to have their own website.

Author websites always confuse me. Do I have one? Yeah, although I admit I haven’t put a great deal of work into keeping it new and fresh. I update it with my new titles and release dates and have an excerpt up and a new one will be posted soon. I even have a FAQs section although it isn’t nearly as cool as Steve Weddle’s. However, that being said, I struggle with viewing my website as a weekly destination point for readers. As a reader, I've never gone to an author’s website to read an excerpt or check out their tour photographs or just to drop by and see what’s new. Why? I have no idea. I just don’t.

Now, I realize not everyone is me (thank God for that!) and I realize that a website is important to many readers. But this week I heard someone say that they were angry at authors who had websites but did not provide an e-mail address for the reader to contact them directly. This reader was incensed that after taking the time to read the book and then look up the website they could not reach out and have immediate access to that author. They even went so far as to say the author was arrogant and clearly didn’t appreciate their readers.

Really?

I mean, I have an e-mail address on my website and a surprising number of readers have actually used it which always brightens my day. But that is my choice. Isn’t it? When did being an author mean that the public has a right to be able to reach out and touch me whenever the urge strikes them? What if an author has a sick family member they are tending to or is holding down two jobs while writing in the dead of the night and doesn’t have the time to answer e-mails? Does that mean they appreciate their readers less than one who is happy to post their contact information?

What am I missing?

Is the author website really that central to an author’s career and more important – do you feel slighted when an author doesn’t provide an e-mail address for you to write to them? Has that really become part of today’s definition of being a published author? And while we're talking about it - what kinds of things do you want to see on an author website and which ones drive you nuts? Here is your chance to let us know how we are supposed to be doing it. I'm taking notes.

6 comments:

Scott Parker said...

I like author's websites to have the equivalent of DVD extras. I'd like to read about the genesis of their books, what music they listened to whilst writing, etc. These are usually the tidbit reserved for book signings, but I can't get to all of them.

Now, what I can't stand, of course, is attending a book signing and, having read the website, the authors answer those very same questions. Happened to me with one of my favs and actually lessened the experience for me. But, then, that's me.

As far as an email address, I'm leaning against that. However, I would like the presence of a forum where fans and readers can discuss and authors can chime in *if* they want to. That way, the author keeps some distance, isn't nagged by 90 emails asking questions of them, but still has some one-on-one time if necessary.

The other alternative is what we have here: a blog outlet. Here, the author's website stays focused on books, tours, etc. In blog world, the author can write about whatever and the public can interact via the blog.

Chris said...

I think the idea that an author is obligated to provide an email for contacting purposes is ludicrous. As if somehow my time investment, measured probably in a few short hours, weighed against possibly years of effort on the part of the author is somehow equal? Please.

If writers choose to make themselves available, fantastic. I've been thrilled to have had the opportunity for some great exchanges with some favorite authors, via email or their accessibility via twitter or facebook. But that's a luxury, not an expectation.

I will say though that I'd rather an author have no website at all than one that is obviously years out of date.

Scarlet Pumpernickel said...

Joelle,
Excellant topic. As an unpublished writer I have shied away from having a website. Still I do enjoy visiting those of my published friends. I think the idea of a forum within the website is good. That way the author can interact with readers, while keeping some distance.

Steve Weddle said...

I like to visit author web sites for the book tour photos -- so that I can compare the real/candid shots with the air-brushed/publicity shots of authors.

Sandra Ruttan said...

And just think of how the lines will blur even further, with the rise of self publishing through e-book options. I think that's going to force authors to have contact information on their sites, but not because readers are automatically entitled to contact.

It's a different reality, one we deal with in our own way. Every year, Brian does a series called Conversations With The Bookless and he interviews notable short story writers who haven't written or published a novel (yet, in a lot of cases). He'll try the editors who've worked with the writers, but if they don't have the ability to relay contact information and it isn't on the writer's website, that's the end of the opportunity.

In our own case, a long-standing, reputable agent emailed us to ask for contact information for four short story writers we'd published stories by so that he could approach them about manuscripts. There's no guarantee that anything will come of this, but you never know, and without our ability to provide this information these writers would have missed a chance for representation.

So I encourage every writer to have some public means of contact, even if it's just the ability to be sent a message through Twitter or Facebook. But that's not because everyone's entitled to open access to them - it's just for their career.

There is at least one 'reader' I'm aware of who is a troll and author forum stalker and a good number of us have had such bizarre encounters with him that I'm very careful with interactions with readers now, sad to say. You just never know...

Diana said...

Speaking as a reader, I have many favorite authors. I've visited the websites of three or four of them once maybe twice. Mostly to satisfy my curiosity. I don't regularly visit their websites, if I do it is to check on when the next book is coming out or if the next book has come out.

As for putting up an email address, I think authors should put up some way for fans to send fan mail whether that is an email address or one of those comment forms or a snailmail PO box or in care of the publisher or agent. There have been one or two occasions when I felt compelled to send an author a note about one of their books, so it was nice to be able to find the appropriate way to do that.