Earlier this week I singled out author Anne Lamott for not having a web site. But the sad fact is she’s not alone. A number of noteworthy authors lack official web sites:
- Jonathan Franzen
- David Sedaris
- Sarah Vowell
- Alice Sebold
- Kathleen Norris
- Robert Pinsky
- Seamus Heaney
- David Rakoff
- Russell Banks
- Frederick Buechner (supposedly coming soon)
Granted I’m doing a quick Google search. If an official site doesn’t show up in the first page of results, it doesn’t exist (quite frankly, if you have a site and it’s not showing up on the first page of results for your name, you’re doing something wrong). Even Wendell Berry, the Kentucky novelist who still uses a typewriter has a web site (granted it appears to be maintained by his publisher). So why do none of these well-known authors have a web site?
Don’t Need a Site?
One possible explanation is simply that they’re too well-known and don’t see the need for a web site. Many of them have achieved popular success either before Internet usage became so widespread or in another medium (radio, magazines, etc.). Their success means they don’t need to work as hard to promote their books, and a web site isn’t a given.
While not needing a web site sounds plausible, I think it’s crazy. Every well-known band that’s still semi-active today has an official web site. Presidential candidates, movies, bands, pro sports teams—all have web sites.
A web site gives writers a cheap way to build their audience. It keep fans informed, connected and engaged. It’s an easy way to let fans know about your previous books, especially the ones that aren’t getting all the attention. Why throw away that kind of exposure and connection? Why let Amazon or Wikipedia (where a disgruntled reader can say whatever they want) or some other site tell people about you?
If you graphed the success of authors vs. web site prevalence, the most successful/well-known and the least successful/well-known would both have a high prevalence of web sites. The unknown authors are using the web to try and reach an audience and the well-known authors are utilizing the web to keep in touch with their fans (and probably minimize fan mail, questions, etc.). But there’s a dip in the middle where reasonably successful/well-known authors don’t have web sites. It’s kind of bizarro world. There’s not the same dip for bands, movies, etc. where they stop having web sites. So why does that happen for writers?
Let Someone Else Do It
Another explanation might be that writers would prefer to let someone else bother with a web site. This kind of promotion might typically be considered the publisher’s responsibility. But that leads to a site that’s years out of date when your publisher stops flogging your latest book. And what happens when you switch publishers?
A writer’s web site is their public face and they need to be in charge of it.
Don’t Know How
Another explanation may be that writers simply don’t know how to build a site. But when I said writers need to be in charge of their site, I didn’t mean they need to build it themselves. Very few of the bands, movies or politicians with web sites built it or even maintain it themselves. Hire out what you don’t know how to do. Just be sure you have final say and ownership. And it doesn’t have to be expensive.
Another possible explanation might be some kind of contractual obligation. What do many of these writers have in common? The Steven Barclay Agency, which represents many of these authors for their speaking engagements and public appearances. I don’t know if that actually means anything—the Barclay Agency does provide each person they represent with a web page, bio and reasonably updated list of links. These pages all come up near the top of Google, but they’re no replacement for an official site. Like I said above, writers need to be in charge of their own site.
Bringing Writers Into the Modern Age
Every respectable band today has a web site and a MySpace page. Most bands print both urls on the back of their CDs. It’s keeping bands alive in a changing music industry. It gives them direct access to their audience. In an age when fewer and fewer people are reading, you’d think writers would be even more eager than bands to tap into the web. So far it doesn’t seem to be happening.
I haven’t even mentioned writers who have crappy web sites. And I’m not alone in these thoughts. Michael Hyatt, president and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, recently blogged about why authors need a web presence and offers some conclusions about existing author sites. He goes on to talk about how authors can build their online brand.
Just like I offered to Anne Lamott, if you’re an author without a web site (or you have a crappy one), I can help you get online. I can focus on content, not fancy graphics or an expensive backend. And I can do it for cheap. In today’s world there’s just no excuse for a writer not having a web site.