Why Don’t Publishers Believe in Author Websites?


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Authors and technology

photo by Curtis Palmer / via Flickr

It’s not unusual for authors to be told by their publishers that an author website isn’t necessary or effective. Publishers may advise authors that they’re better off creating and maintaining a Facebook page instead. (I address the flaws in that strategy here.)

It came up again, yesterday, at a Digital Book World marketing conference. I didn’t attend, but I followed the Twitter stream. Here’s the conversation that happened.

It got me thinking more deeply about why publishers (in this case, Open Road Media, a progressive media company focused on e-books, founded by The Other Jane Friedman) would advise authors to forget the website, or what I consider the No. 1 calling card for a digital-age author. In my experience of having a website *and* being active on social, I would feel hobbled if either piece went away. Social is more powerful with my website, and my website is more powerful with social. That’s not to say there can’t be varying strategies and tools for execution (and there have to be—every author career is different), but to say “no” to an author website for most authors? That seems like an opinion formed in 2005 that hasn’t been seriously revisited or challenged.

But publishers aren’t stupid or inexperienced. They shepherd thousands of new and experienced authors and know what sells books. What’s going on here? Am I horribly wrong in continuing to advise authors to own and control their own website as a long-term priority? Here’s what I think is going on.

1. Publishers don’t believe websites are effective for the time put into them—they create an unprofitable time sink.

I can see how and why this might happen, since most authors are not educated on best practices of websites, what websites are good at, and how they integrate into a larger online presence. There’s a learning curve that no publisher can be or wants to be involved in, so it becomes easier to say, “Don’t bother (because you won’t do it right).”

If the author decides to establish a website anyway, the publisher may be rightly concerned that the author isn’t motivated or capable of maintaining it. Sometimes a bad website or out-of-date website can be more damaging than no website at all. Even if it is up to date, what if the author’s website doesn’t link to all retailers, and it offends an account? What if the author is saying or doing things that make life difficult for the publisher? (I experienced this to some degree at F+W Media, where the editors received requests from marketing: Please tell your author to change X on his site.)

What remedies might there be?

  • Educate authors. No publisher really wants to do this, though I think it’s in their best interest. At the very least, publishers could write up a downloadable guide or record an hour-long webinar that’s periodically updated.
  • Advise authors to use platforms that don’t require technical knowledge to maintain. We’re no longer living in the days of the webmaster; any individual who uses Word or Gmail can also learn to update a website. Some think WordPress is too complicated. But there are a range of solutions out there: SquareSpace, WordPress.com over self-hosting, even Blogspot will do.
  • Clearly advise authors what constitutes a waste of time. No author site should take so long to launch that it’s out of date by the time it’s live. And there’s no excuse for an out-of-date site if you’re using a platform like WordPress.

Bottom line: I think it’s a mistake and a disservice to authors to make them think or believe a website is some sophisticated piece of technology that they can’t handle or maintain. I expect more, and I’ve seen many writers, some over 60 years of age, successfully start and maintain their sites after being encouraged and educated in a positive and empowered way. This is part of being a capable author in the digital age, if you want to grow your career over the next 5, 10, or 20 years.

2. Publishers see better, clearer results from other types of activities, such as Facebook or Twitter social engagement, which may demand less of the author. 

As a colleague said on Twitter, it’s important to start somewhere, anywhere. I also believe in the power of incremental progress; you don’t have to launch and perfect everything at once. Start small, and build your skills and presence over time. A Facebook start for most authors feels doable and sustainable—and sustainability is key.

This also helps authors focus on social marketing and soft-selling, which—even if they don’t know what that means—they might be more comfortable and successful at, if they’re new to online media. Plus, more than 1 billion people use Facebook. An author, if invested in it, may reach more people there and fewer people at their site, at least initially. (Go where the fish are.)

Yet I have a hard time endorsing a social-only approach when you, the author, are at the mercy of the social media tool for reaching your audience. You can never control what Facebook or any other site does—with its design, with its user interface, with your likes/followers, with its functionality, with its ad displays. And if and when it goes out of favor, you’ll have to rebuild somewhere else—whereas with a website, you only get stronger and better over time, assuming you don’t abandon it (and why would you, if you’re still writing and publishing?). When I first launched my website, it was a shadow of what you see now. (I discuss that journey, in depth, in this 20-minute video.)

Finally, Facebook is not an ideal set up for delivering straight-forward information. It’s better at conversation and ongoing connections, rather than delivering things such as media kits, official author bios, event listings, book club materials, and so on. Sure, you can put those things on Facebook, but that’s not an ideal setting for it, especially when people are typing your name or book title into Google. (And what about all those people who don’t use social media?)

3. Publishers aren’t sufficiently invested in the author directly reaching an audience on their own–or don’t believe it happens at a meaningful enough scale, except for a minority.

We all hear about agents and editors who want authors with a “platform”—which means authors who can directly reach readers. This mitigates the risk involved in publishing a book because there’s a ready-to-go audience that the publisher doesn’t have to find.

This presents something of a paradox. How can publishers seek authors with platform (which often involves an online presence that can be quantified) AND claim author websites aren’t terribly effective? But I can see the rationale. If the platform is essentially established ahead of time—and that process probably took the author years—it’s integral, but it’s difficult for an author, on her own, to establish a meaningful platform from the time a book is contracted to the release date, especially if she’s starting from ground zero. (Though, undoubtedly, the author will still be advised to participate in some range of online marketing activities, without being educated on what’s good for the short-term vs long-term, and may not realize that getting on Twitter is kind of pointless if you’re only doing it because your publisher said so.)

Put another way: Some authors are motivated and pretty good at the online and digital platform stuff (and at reaching an audience), and some aren’t. And for those who aren’t, the publisher may believe it’s not worth bothering because the payoff won’t be there in time for the publisher to see an impact on sales.

That seems rather focused on the short-term, or on the publisher’s immediate ROI rather than the author’s long-term career.

I’d argue it’s now the publisher’s job to help authors connect with readers—to be marketing partners. And if they’re going to be a valuable marketing partner, it means educating authors on how to do this stuff for the long haul even if the authors think they’re “bad” at it—which requires authors undergoing an attitude adjustment, not a miracle injection of computer-programming know-how.

There could be another reason publishers aren’t helping authors with this: it takes away their power if the author can reach readers without them. I don’t honestly believe this is motivating publishers in their advice to authors, but when you see hybrid authors such as Hugh Howey, CJ Lyons, Barbara Freethy, and others who do well because they’ve made the investment of reaching readers directly, publishers have less negotiating power. Being in direct contact with readers (through your own site, blog, e-mail newsletter, wherever) is like money in your pocket, a long-term investment that pays off over time. Any of the authors I mentioned above would confirm this. Sylvia Day, speaking at an industry conference earlier this year, said that publishers have to offer “a comprehensive marketing plan that covers things that I’m not doing myself. I expect them to hit a market that I’m not already reaching. You need to find me a new audience, to broaden my audience. As far as digital is concerned, you cannot compete with what I’m doing on my own. You have to knock my socks off with a brilliant marketing plan to be my publisher.”

There are probably two questions in this whole conversation that are most debatable and most difficult to answer, at least on a broad, general, and continuing level:

  • How much of an impact can an author website have on book sales over the long term, versus other strategies such as social media engagement, metadata optimization, Amazon promotion, Goodreads advertising, traditional media/PR, etc? This assumes that sales is the only or primary goal, and that other benefits are negligible (which is also highly debatable!).
  • Assuming the overall impact is meaningful, how many authors have the aptitude, patience, and/or perseverance to be like Sylvia Day? Can this be taught effectively, and if so, is it worth an author taking time and energy away from her writing? (And/or: Should an author spend money on someone else doing it?)

I say it’s worthwhile (because I’ve experienced the benefits firsthand), but I understand why others say no.

Update

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  • Don Stevens

    Great info Jane! Interestingly enough, I saw a webinar with Guy Kawasaki, who insisted that an author website may not be needed. He mentioned that Google Plus did everything needed to replace it. Nothing should replace an author platform, I think. You never know when guidelines or when the rules change with social platforms.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Interesting! I greatly respect Guy K., and think he’s done the best book out there on self-publishing. However, and it seems we agree, I don’t think the advice to use Google Plus instead of a website is any more sound than the advice to rely on Facebook. You don’t own and control it, not everyone uses it, etc.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    I agree, much potential in Google Plus. Like other social media networks, I expect it to develop a distinct lifecycle and set of limitations, some of which are not yet clear. (These social tools always evolve, as we’ve learned!)

  • Amber

    First of all, Twitter and Facebook take a HUGE amount of my time. My website takes almost none. So the idea that focusing on Twitter or Facebook would actually save me time is…. false. Very much so. If I needed to save time, I’d drop twitter! (And then go through withdrawals)

    I remember stumbling across an author website with a single book and it was one of the most fabulous-looking websites I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t hugely functional but it was gorgeous…and based entirely off the cover for their first and only book. It was also clear the publisher had a hand in the design/development for a few reasons (the artwork was pulled from the cover art, sans text, and the logos were there). Frankly, if that’s what publishers are considering not worth it, then they’re right! That website easily cost thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars, and it will be out of date by the time his next book comes out. Maybe that’s what they meant by “bells and whistles.” Except… that’s not a standard author website. That’s the top 1% of websites (and possibly the top 1% of authors) and doesn’t apply to most people. It makes me really uncomfortable that publishers would be generalizing the top 1% as if it applies to everyone…are they even paying attention to the midlisters? And if not, why are we taking advice from them?

    The bottom line is that setting up a website yourself or hiring an affordable designer (<$1500) is not a huge amount of time and money for a career author and takes very little time in the long run compared to twitter and Facebook.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Thanks for the excellent points, Amber. That gorgeous author website you saw, that the publisher surely had a hand in: I think you’re right that’s what publishers have in mind when they think “author websites are not worth the trouble.’ There’s too much focus on flash and a single title launch, not enough on long-term sustainability and easy maintenance from the author’s POV. Unfortunately, I think most publishers are forced to focus on the short term gain from a single title release, rather than how a site will grow and be important for the duration of an author’s career.

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  • Joanne Tombrakos

    Great article Jane! An author needs both. No doubt. Social is not going to work without a home base and a website that no one is directed to is going to get pretty lonely.
    I think the suggestion on the part of publishers goes back to what I see in so many industries. The bulk of the population still does not get what is happening on line and has no idea how to be truly effective. Which is good for me. It gives me something to consult about :)

  • Nina Amir

    Great post, Jane. I am a firm believe that the author website/blog is the centerpiece of all they do on line. And it’s a necessity for discovery.

  • http://www.shirleyshowalter.com/ Shirley Hershey Showalter

    As an author over 60 years of age :-), I can speak to the value of a website combined with social media, especially when working with a small publisher. The website is an integral part of my outreach to readers. I hope to make it a hub for book clubs as well as media. I have invested in some coaching and am lucky enough to have family in the website construction business, but I can affirm that even elders can do it — and that it’s fun. One week after launch, my publisher has ordered a second printing!

  • Bob Mayer

    Take a gander at most publisher websites and perhaps their focus is directed in the wrong way? Frankly, publishers spend little time if any promoting any authors than their top 5% so their advice has to be taken with a bit of skepticism.

    Second, publishers are only beginning to realize their job is to sell books to readers, not distribute books to consignment outlets. I rarely comment any more on these types of issues because I’m too busy writing and selling books to readers. For some authors, it is indeed a waste of time. For others, it’s invaluable. I believe a web site is a single landing pad to direct people to where they can purchase an author’s books in all the variations: Kindle, Nook, Apple Audio, etc.. Additionally, it generates income through affiliate sales.

    At Cool Gus we build a single page for every one of our authors and update the links constantly. This allows the authors, and us, to direct readers to one place to learn about the author and their books and then one click to buy. So if publishers are really worried about their authors wasting time building web sites, perhaps it’s because it might be the publishers job to help their authors?

    In Special Forces we didn’t believe in saying what shouldn’t or couldn’t be done: we focused and spent our energy on DOING.

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  • christinakatz

    Hi Jane,

    I wrote a post for you in the past about this: http://janefriedman.com/2011/11/24/katz-workout/ which might make it sound like I don’t think established authors should have websites. But in this post I was talking about rising writers, not established authors.

    It seems to me that a company like Open Road Media, which specializes in reviving and perpetuating the careers of already-successful authors (Jane, please correct me if I am wrong about that) would have an especially challenging time getting old horses to do new tricks (no offense, Open Road authors).

    And it also seems to me that many publisher are more invested in driving traffic to their own sites and online book retailers than they are invested in helping authors become a self-sustaining businesses.

    In fact, I would go so far as to say, that once we hit the tipping point where more authors are empowered and less authors are dependent on publishers (not sure when this will be quite yet) it will be a whole new ballgame. But thanks for this post, Jane, because I hadn’t really considered how many baby boomer authors there are vs. how many Gen X and Y. And I can imagine how publishing is much more invested in how they can leverage the works of those BBers because they have the established names and backlists.

    To anyone who has been swayed by the argument against platform, I would say, platform is EVERYTHING in your writing career. Your platform determines your success as an author, whether you are self-published or traditionally published. It also determines how large of a readership you will command in and outside of your published works. And, most importantly, platform determines how much you can earn as a writer in a rapidly changing publishing eco-system.

    Don’t let anyone talk you out of platform-building is my advice. I probably would not have a career at all without my platform-building skills. And in the future, I predict that authors with the best platform skills will be the authors who dominate the marketplace whether they work with publishers or not.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    I’d say we’re on the same page. ;)

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Yep, agreed. Appreciate the comment, Bob.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    :-)

    Some authors have a meaningful income stream related to events, readings, and other gigs tied to their writing work. I don’t know how that would be better marketed and publicized than on a author website, as you point out.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Indeed.

    Sometimes I feel very bad for new authors—all the conflicting advice and perspectives must be very confusing, especially when the very entity you would think to trust (your publisher) could be misguiding you.

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  • http://www.andrewcrofts.com Andrew Crofts

    I started with a small-ad in the “Bookseller” magazine. It earned me around US$1.5-million in ten years and I believed I couldn’t live without it. Then I built a website, which earned me US$3-million in ten years and cost me a great deal less to run. I no longer needed my old friend the small-ad and we had to part. I feel the same affection for my website now as I did for that small ad ten years ago. Maybe it is time to move on – or maybe not. http://www.andrewcrofts.com

  • Mark W. White

    There’s another reason book publishers might not want their authors to have their own web sites: Fear. The stronger an author’s “brand” becomes and the more she is directly connected to her fan base, the less she needs a traditional book publisher. Most book publishers’ brands are meaningless to consumers, and their platforms are weak. Contrast that with a company like Hearst Magazines (to which I have no ties except a few friendships), which has a database of 10 million email addresses, many times that number of subscribers and web visitors, and iconic brands like Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan. It got serious about book publishing only a year ago and already has several best sellers, including 500,000 copies sold of the Cosmo Kama Sutra.

  • Anthony Pacheco

    Jane, this is a great article. Your comment on short-term vs. long-term shows you’ve put some thought into this. Which is a lot more effort than some of the people you quoted.

    Sadly, some (I hesitate to say most) publishers wouldn’t know a good website if it bit them on the ass. The majority of their websites either suck or are sexless piles of digital meh. Those publishers that dip their toes into eCommerce often do a half-baked job. I’ve seen smaller presses with better direct bookselling.

    So in a sense, of course some publishers think that way. If I didn’t understand the long-term benefits of a website I would think that way, too.

    I hate to sound sound so negative, but this is 2013 and we’re approaching 2014. The era of trying to figure out how all this works is over. It was over several years ago. Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc. Goodreads or Whatever The Next Big Thing(TM) are indeed a great way to reach readers. However, they all are ecosystems that an author has no control over.

    And that is the number one benefit of a author’s website. The author has control over the experience, but also the content. The job, so to speak, of an author’s website is to siphon readers and potential readers from social media and other web presences and into their web-version of the living room where they can connect. It is a springboard for content generation, not just reader engagement. Everyone and their dog is on social media. Author’s sell content, but if they aren’t content focused on their web presence, rising above the noise is difficult.

    A solid web presence isn’t hard. It is just hard work, and owning that hard work end-to-end is a vital step in connecting with readers.

  • JenniferLynKing

    This is such an interesting debate, Jane. Thank you for bringing up what you happened to see from DBW. I believe an author website is essential as the hub for anything else related to that author. Every time I am interested in a book, I visit Goodreads to check it out, and if I’m further interested in the author, I click through to their website. It doesn’t matter if the site looks and acts like it was made 10 years ago, an author’s website says something directly to the reader about their mark in the world.

    I’m definitely an advocate for using WordPress, and find it, after the initial learning curve, to be easy to update and use for blogging. And, I never would have guessed when I started blogging with my photography (a side hobby) that five years later, I’d have a large monthly hit rate, etc. I think the sooner an author starts their own site, the better. The digital world certainly isn’t going away.

    Thank you, Jane, as always for an excellent post.

  • http://www.loudpoet.com Guy LeCharles Gonzalez

    Worth keeping in mind that Kawasaki pretty much said the same thing about Posterous, too. And I know a bunch of writers who camped out on MySpace.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Ha! Yes.

  • Jan Thompson

    Excellent post! I’m with you on this, not only because I have the IT background to enable me to create and maintain my own author website and then some, but because advising authors to put their visibility and “anchor” at third party locations will generate some long term repercussions or future unknowns. E.g. Facebook can change their rules anytime, Twitter can remove your accounts anytime, etc. If you have your own website, you make your own rules.

    With a properly hosted and owned author website, there is a go-to “home” or “hub” for the author should Facebook (with its incessant daily updates) or Pinterest go down (heaven forbid Pinterest should go down – where would pinning novelists go LOL). Besides, it’s easier for readers to remember writers if they have their own websites e.g. janefriedman.com or… porteranderson.com.

    All of those third-party social media platforms do not let you mask their domain names. In essence, when an author is on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, G+, etc., they are promoting those platforms, not their own, because of the domain name prefixes. Free advertisement for the hosts :-)

    I respectfully disagree with Porter Anderson’s tweet that websites are not part of an author’s social media platform. IMO, an author’s website is her Rome out of which all of her social media roads flow.

    Having said that, to each her own. Some authors might find it intimidating to set up their own websites, or might be vulnerable to expensive consultant services. As for me, I’m happy to command my own home base at janthompson.com. I’m sure many other writers are also happy with their own domains that they rule at will. :-)

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Thanks for sharing your own story about creating a site/blog and seeing it grow! Authors who stick with it through the learning curve like you are very often pleasantly surprised at how their presence gains momentum.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Interesting point about the mag industry! Book publishers are indeed far behind magazines when it comes to direct-to-consumer (reader) marketing.

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  • Every Day Poems

    very complex topic. :)

    We counsel our authors to build an on-the-ground platform primarily and online only secondarily, especially if the author has serious time constraints. It is our experience that on-the-ground platforms sell more books (if the author speaks, teaches, and so forth).

    As for what we can do for an author (or what any publisher can do for an author), that’s a very big subject. I’m going to leave it at this: industry connections (lots of elements here, but two big ones are securing reviews and other publicity—a good publicist can also do this but it comes at a big price to the author), a backlist that helps the author’s new titles sell, lending of brand and platform to author, production expertise. Distribution is obviously something an author can now take hold of fairly easily. The real issue might be how much $ some publishers keep from sales, versus setting fair royalty rates.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Thanks for commenting, Laura!

    Since I see (I believe) mostly your online activity rather than your on-the-ground activity, I wonder if you could comment on what you do as an author (speaking, teaching, events) vs online activity, and to what extent the two environments cross-pollinate or intermingle?

  • Every Day Poems

    I’d say this is why I’m more wired to be a publisher than an author, Jane. I did not want the kind of lifestyle it took to build a successful on-the-ground platform as an author (I was actually a good speaker, but I preferred not to do it for a few different reasons I’ll not take space to share here).

    Ah, but as a publisher? This is a total sweet spot. I network more quietly at various events (and point people back to the Tweetspeak website), am involved in building things that go around the world both online and on-the-ground (Poetry at Work Day and Take Your Poet to Work Day), and happily support my authors by helping them get on-the-ground opportunities (and/or promoting their on-the-ground activities to our sizable online platform).

    Does that help? We both know I’m not a bestselling author nor do I have the heart for it, but I fully intend that we’ll have bestselling authors in our award-winning small press fold that (also kinda quietly) boasts a 3-time Oprah-selected title. :)

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Appreciate the added insight. :)

  • Verbal

    Everything you say makes sense to me. On the other hand, as a former IT professional, I am very web savvy, and I also read voraciously, but when I find a new author whose work I love, I really don’t spend any time on their website, or on their social media. What I personally am interested in is their work, a list of which is widely available to me on any book retailer’s website, or the many sites like Goodreads, Riffle, LibraryThing, Booklikes, or whatever. Perhaps the average consumer is different, but based on my experience, I could see where an author’s online presence might not be considered to aid greatly in selling books.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    You make an excellent point, and I don’t think you’re an unusual case among readers.

    As I hinted at in the post, I do see considerable value in an author website for reasons unconnected to sales, such as greasing the wheels for media to contact the author (by posting media kits, contact info, etc) as well as for book clubs, businesses, organizations, etc. to make contact about readings/speaking/events. Of course, best-selling authors rarely field such requests themselves, but for the mid-listers and new authors, it’s often on them to handle their own on-the-ground marketing and media.

    I’m a bit unique, but speaking for myself, my personal site doesn’t really exist to sell my books, services, or products, but to make myself available for professional opportunities.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Thanks for reading & commenting!

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Quite a story!

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    I do think much of this boils down to a short-term vs. long-term view, as well as one’s perspective on the relative difficulty of putting up and maintaining a site over the long haul. Some people, simply because they have no baseline of knowledge about websites, are too intimidated or put off by the potential headache, but the fear/uncertainty/not-knowing is far worse than the actual work itself. IMHO.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Great to hear a testimonial about AG’s service! Thanks for sharing that—as well as the perks of Google Plus.

  • Marquita Herald

    Also, since one of the benefits of having an author website is building a list, it’s worth noting that Guy has access to a huge list as CEO at Alltop. I’ve never subscribed to receive anything from him, but my blog is on Alltop and I receive requests from him to post reviews for his books.

  • Marquita Herald

    Really enjoyed this article and the comments. I’m just a little surprised there’s no real discussion about one of the most important benefits of having an author website, building a list. But I will acknowledge list building is definitely a long term strategy and I could see why a publisher might not consider it important for someone who may or may not write more than one book. But for those in for the long haul a great example of an author who makes the most of her list is CJ Lyons. She often talks about the fact she has two lists, her inner circle fans and the regular subscribers and what a huge role they’ve played in her success.

  • J.Rose Allister

    In terms of static websites, I somewhat agree with this. That’s why I integrated my site with my blog a few years back and redirected my domain name there. The blog is updated a few times per week, is interactive, and ties in with social networking. It also draws new traffic when I take part in blog hops, guest posts, and other events. Still, I have included website-style pages with my bio, booklist, etc for those who are looking for the more old-school presentation.

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  • http://lexacain.blogspot.com/ Lexa Cain

    This as a very interesting post of the pros and cons of a website. I’ve opted for easy-to-use blogger and FB. I find the blogs of other people/authors on blogger (or WordPress) are generally easier to load and comment on than the ones with .com addresses, which are less easy to negotiate and can be annoying considering the amount of info I have to input to comment. But that’s just me…

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  • Ella Quinn

    I don’t know who those publishers are, but mine insisted I have a website.

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  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Oh, 100% agree. List building has a been of huge value to me, and I’ve heard CJ Lyons also talk about the value of her lists. Thanks for bringing up this point.

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Sounds like a good strategy!

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Glad to hear it!

  • http://janefriedman.com/ Jane Friedman

    Ah, yes. I could write a whole other post on comments functionality. ;)

  • http://michaelalanpeck.com/ Michael Peck

    Any publisher who advises an author to forego having a website is thinking of their own best interests, not the author’s. (And if they don’t recognize that that’s what they’re doing, you should still reconsider your relationship with them.)

    If you’re not comfortable with putting up your own site, don’t have the resources to pay someone else to help you, or don’t think you have the time to maintain it, that’s one thing. Nobody knows your situation like you do, and it’s your call.

    But I’d argue that for the most part, it’s a disadvantage to not have your own digital presence. It places you at the mercy of someone else’s business decisions, and you shouldn’t rely on that same someone to decide for you.

  • Glenda

    Great very well thought out article. As a reader I prefer for an auhor to have their own website.

    I reserve my Facebook account for real life friends and no matter how much I love any author’s work unless I am truly friends with them, I’m not going to like their page. It’s a matter of principle. I recently joined Twitter, but I don’t want to rely on an author’s tweets for information.

  • Miral Sattar

    Agree with you, Jane! If an author I like doesn’t have a website I take them less seriously. Plus, it’s so easy to get one up and running (WordPress, Wix) etc.

  • http://davidbiddle.net/ David Biddle

    Great summary of the issues, Jane. I just responded to the DBW post on this from late last week. I think it’s quite weird that this is even an issue. Of course authors need a platform base on the Internet. It’s your home fort. It’s your archives, sounding board, and open house for displaying samples, videos, music, thoughts, and heartfelt musings. We’re freaking writers! Maybe them that spoke on this topic haven’t actually put together a blog or website.

    I know you said you don’t think publishers would be so nefarious with their motivations and need for control over the outreach/contact portion of the game, but I’d say this is one of those times where maybe they don’t realize that’s what is motivating their thoughts. Can’t understand it any other way. It’s a no brainer now. And, yes, it takes a couple days, maybe even a week, to set up a site on WordPress or Blogger, but once it’s up it’s a snap to manage and run.

    Maybe the dinosaurs are still so loud all they hear is themselves.

    Some of us are already living in the future. Personally, I don’t have time to wait for others to catch up. I’ve got too much work to do.

  • Tiffany Cole

    Wow, I had no idea that publishers were saying websites may be a waste of energy, but that’s because of everything you’ve said in this reply and touched on in the post. Website creation, in my opinion, isn’t about sales and marketing. It’s mainly about giving readers an easy place to find you and authors having a place to consistently talk about their book. I believe websites and social media complement each other, but they’re not necessarily one in the same when it comes to how they help the author.

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  • Dawn J. Stevens

    Authors don’t need a website? *SHUDDER* That is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever heard of. EVERYONE that wants to do business in some form, even authors, need websites. How else do you tie in all your social media platforms? The only way I could see it being “outdated” is if they are using HTML, but with all our free blogging tools out there like wordpress.com, that really isn’t an issue. Regardless of what a publisher says (and I’ve heard other huge marketing mistakes come out of their mouths), you NEED a website.

  • Dawn J. Stevens

    Agreed. Facebook has always been a “personal” networking site and doesn’t appear to be changing any time soon. Not a lot of room for anything other than baby pictures and funny memes. People even complain about the amount of game notifications they get from actual offline friends. We managed to build a 200+ local following with an offline business, but it was, after all, local and offline. People aren’t as quick to hit that “like” button as they are to hit “follow” on Twitter or Google+, so it’s ridiculous to put all your focus into Facebook.

  • Dawn J. Stevens

    Absolutely correct. Building a “flashy” website is not worth it. Building a long term website with rich content and food for search engines (and your hungry readers) IS worth it.

  • http://www.fsbassociates.com Fauzia Burke

    Could not agree more Michael. Publisher’s interest is in selling books. They are much less interested in helping authors grow their platform.

  • http://www.fsbassociates.com Fauzia Burke

    Absolutely. An author’s mailing list is one of the most valuable assets they own. Shocking that anyone would argue against making it a priority.

  • http://www.fsbassociates.com Fauzia Burke

    Thank you so much for the article Jane. When I saw what the panel advised in the DBW newsletter, I almost fell off my chair. I was truly shocked. I respect the people on the panel, but could not disagree more.

  • http://www.fsbassociates.com Fauzia Burke

    I think Guy is also a consultant at Google, and has written a book on Google+

  • Geoff Hughes

    Hi Jane, a very interesting article. I suspect publishers are STILL grappling with the ‘interweb’. You can’t discount the ingrained corporate culture of some of the larger publishers. Much easier to ignore the web then embrace. Authors need to build their tribes, through twitter, Facebook, blogging and… a website. Publishers worry about the loss of control of the authors ‘brand’ whereas a website, blog and skilful use of social media can only make that brand much stronger.

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  • http://www.heidgwrites.blogspot.com/ Heidi Garrett

    This is a really interesting conversation. I didn’t want to have a website or blog when I first published. But now it’s probably one of my favorite aspects of my work. There’s so many intangibles that come from it. One of the big ones is really figuring out who I am as an author. As an indie author, I pretty much have to do that on my own. The whole process of developing a website and figuring out what to put on it, forces me to think more deeply about what I write, why I write, and who I write it for. I think this has made me a better writer. Also, the whole process has added value offline and bleeds into the rest of my life. I know that is NOT why we should have websites as authors, but, for me, it’s been a great motivation. Thank you for your always stimulating insights!

  • Joanne Lécuyer, Topsy Books

    Hi Jane, Great article. As a self-published children’s book author I wanted a place to sell my books and post information that I own and control. You definitely need to keep the material up-to-date and include content that readers find worthwhile. I think it also adds to an author’s credibility and professionalism. It’s still a work in progress, but I definitely feel it was worth the investment. J:o)anne

  • jeffabram

    Jane, Obviously you struck a literary nerve with this subject. Well done :). Since most or even all of what I will say has been stated in previous comments I will convey what I believe are the more salient points.

    First, having a website does one thing that social networks don’t–provides you YOUR own hub. Facebook owns the content on Facebook as do all of the other networks. You need a place to call home.

    Second, as you’ve demonstrated it provides a place for additional content development to occur. Your blog and related articles allow you to continue to dialog with your fans and help you build new fans. And, it provides great content to distribute through the social networks. Additionally, it helps you with your SEO. Done well, it is part of a digital strategy that any aspiring author needs to think about beyond the “book” at being found online by existing and new “fans”. If you are developing yourself as a brand, then having a website and a permanent online presence that is strategically woven into your other online outposts (as Christ Brogan labeled them) like Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Pinterest, etc, is crucial.

    Finally, as stated by so many in this skein of comments and intimated above, it’s really not an either/or issue but rather it’s a both/and. It may be daunting to think how can I keep all of it afloat but if you are strategic and intentional about your digital approach, you can manage it well. Those are the thoughts of a social media consultant who’s an aspiring author knowing I’m speaking to an accomplished author who has also been effectively woven a social media component into her accomplishments. My two cents…

  • aleshaz82

    Recently I was REALLY low on money and debts were eating me from all sides! That was UNTIL I decided to make money.. on the internet! I went to surveymoneymaker dot net, and started filling in surveys for cash, and surely I’ve been far more able to pay my bills! I’m so glad, I did this!!! – 5iia

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  • Maurice Goulet

    I’m a strong believe in giving readers an option to sample my books by building a dedicated blog for each. Here is a simple example of a website which is easy to navigate. http://TheFulnessOfTimes.com Talk to me on Facebook if you have any questions.

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