#CWIGConf2012 – Writers’ Websites

This Saturday I was lucky enough to be a guest at the Children’s Writers and Illustrators ‘Joined up Reading’ conference organised by the Society of Authors – on a panel discussing writers websites.

I was joined by stellar names – Booktrust’s web editor Katherine Woodfine, The Guardian’s Julia Eccleshare and writer and History Girls’ blogger, Celia Rees, and chaired by (fabulous flowery-shirt wearer, and author) John Dougherty

And I was over the moon to see that amazing illustrator (and web wonder herself) Sarah MacIntyre DREW US during the panel. Here I am hammering my point home (as ever…!)

CHAOS on the panel. (Not really)

For anyone who missed it, or wasn’t taking notes, here are some highlights of what was discussed, plus some extra notes from me.

Is it important for an author to have a web presence online? The consensus here was a big YES, but I was quick to point out it doesn’t have to be a huge website, or something you update daily (before you all panic!) If you don’t have a web presence currently, think about the time you have, and the content you would put online before you embark on anything. If you know you’ll never update the site, just go with something fairly static but which has all your key information on it. But if you have more to say, go with something more complex and readily updatable. It is important to own the information about yourself online. Nowadays, the first thing reviewers, booksellers, publishers, and even readers do when they find out about an author is to Google them. You want your page/website to be right up there, and have the correct info on it.

Don’t be afraid of the web. It’s is no longer hard to create some form of a website or blog. You can literally set it up in a day. Have a look at WordPress – which is what this blog is built on. There are many templates you can chose from – some free, some paid for (but inexpensive), and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s very easy to use, there are countless examples online and tutorials etc, and I bet if you ask around you’ll find many people you know that are already using it. And if you do want to do more complex things with it (like pay a developer to make a bespoke site on it) it won’t cost you an arm and a leg, and you will have full control on updating it (very important) – don’t get tied into costly maintanence contracts, they are unnecessary these days.

If you need help, I can’t press you enough to ask your publisher. Tell them you are setting up a website/ have a website you want to do more with and ask them how you should go about it, or promote it. A phone call or one meeting should be all you need and your publisher should make time for that

Make sure your publisher promotes your site in anyway they can – in your books, posters, any promotional material, on their site, press releases etc.

Group blogging is fantastic for getting your voice out there amongst other authors – it will promote your own site, and help others discover you.  Here are just a few (apologies for any I missed!): Girls Heart Books, Trapped by Monsters, Picture Book Den, Authors Electric, The Edge, The History Girls and The Awfully Big Blog Adventure... (For anyone wanting to get involved all the bloggers seemed happy to hear from new authors!)

Pick your online persona – it’s true, as one author said, it’s very hard to know what voice to use online. Who should you be? I always think you should be yourself, but with some lines as to what you are comfortable doing/sharing online. For instance, if you write for younger readers, maybe filling your twitter timeline with swearing won’t appeal to parents – so you do have to be careful. But you should have fun, and be a personality. Think about how you act in different situations, for instance if you’re doing a school event, publisher meeting vs seeing your best friends or your family. We all wear different hats a lot of the time, you just need to find one you’re comfortable wearing online.

Interestingly, being one of the few publishers at the conference, I did bear the brunt of rather a lot of frustration some authors feel towards their publisher – for lack of resources or help in the digital area. Many authors felt that only big authors got all the attention and help online. I was, I guess, a little alarmed at how negative the feeling was, and obviously saddened by it. But I do understand the frustration. I voiced that it is no longer okay to have one person ‘doing digital’, or knowing how to update the main website. You need to spread the load, and the skills, so that if one person’s away, you don’t ever have a situation where nothing happens. The industry is changing fast, and publishers needs to make sure staff are up to date with the skills that are needed.

That’s why at least 5 of us have access to the Hot Key website for updates, and nearly all of us can upload our own blog onto here without any help at all. I can’t promise we won’t ever get busy, but I can promise we should never be in a situation where it takes us 3 months to update something for an author on our website (which one author mentioned – yikes!)

I was heartened by the warmth felt towards us at Hot Key, thank you all for that, and I went home totally inspired, as I hope many authors did.

And if you want to see an example of a new author, getting into the online world, check out Lydiasyson.com – the new site we helped Lydia build, and which she is quickly filling with fascinating blog posts, and extra material around her books. This was just built on WordPress, and although we paid for some branding of the theme, it isn’t too expensive to do this. And I don’t think Lydia will mind if I say she was a bit of a web-novice to begin with, but has quickly learned the ropes!

Lots of lovely blog posts…

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the conference, and find these insights helpful – very interested to hear writers web experiences below, and happy to offer any more tips at any point!



12 responses to “#CWIGConf2012 – Writers’ Websites

  1. Great stuff as always Sarah and lovely to see you at the Conference. Always impressed with how well you present a panel!

  2. A neat summary of a very useful session. I built my own website using Dreamweaver and was amazed at how easy it was, once you know how to get started (admittedly, I did go on a short, part-time web design course). The blogging part of this session was of most interest to me, especially hearing about group blogging. As soon as I feel I have something useful to say, I’m going to be pitching in!

  3. Great write-up of a great panel – thanks to all. I think Hot Key really do stand out as an example of ‘how to do online well’.

    And I’ll add another quick flag-wave (sorry, I know the microphone wasn’t working perfectly) for UKYA – not a group blog so much as an ever-growing index of, er, UKYA, but with guest posts from authors and bookish folks too. We’re definitely happy for people to get in touch!

  4. Thank you for this post, Sarah. I found the panel useful and invigorating – as a result I’m updating my Facebook page. I am also pondering a group blog. See what you’ve started!

  5. Thanks for the summary, Sarah! (Ooh, that’s nearly a song!) It was a great session, and it was very encouraging to hear how Hotkey are working so imaginatively WITH their authors to market their books. I have a website that I made quite a while ago now, but have recently updated, with Mr Site. It’s great to have control of it and be able to add to it/change it whenever I want to. I blog with ABBA and with the History girls, and would very much endorse what Celia and others said – it’s great to have a spur to write something and communicate with people, but only once a month!

  6. Thank you so much for doing this. A great summary.

  7. Pingback: CWIG conference 2012 | Sunny side up!

  8. It’s great to hear authors getting behind blogging. I’m still very new to it and it’s very panic-soothing to learn that I’m not the only one learning how it all slots together! I absolutely agree with authors having an online presence – one of the things I’ve found while blogging is that I want to let the author and publishers know when I’ve reviewed a book. Seems only polite that I’ve had a read given me, I should let them know I enjoyed it enough to blog about it! Some publishers seem to be making it as difficult as possible though (not HKB though, no fear, easily one of my favourite publishers!) and it’s hard to know how to contact an author when you have to always go through the publisher. I understand why, but equally it’s nice to be able to tweet the author and say ‘hi, I reviewed your book – you’re awesome!’.

    I’d be interested to know though, when it comes to group blogging, whether authors would welcome comments from non-authors? I only ask because I do find myself sometimes having to gather up the courage to leave a message, not being and author or illustrator myself. A little bit like taking a deep breath before asking someone you admire for their autograph!

    • I’d say authors would very definitely welcome comments from non-authors (particularly comments of the ‘Your book is awesome’ variety!). One of the main reasons for blogging is to start a conversation with readers, so please don’t be shy! One of the reasons that comments on, for instance, An Awfully Big Blog Adventure and The History Girls (the two blogs I’m involved in) tend to be mainly from other bloggers is that we look out for each other – when you’ve written a post, it’s very nice to see that it’s been interesting enough to attract comments, and a bit sad if it’s not! So join in – you’ll be more than welcome.

  9. Ooh, thank you 🙂 I’ll wander over and see if I’m feeling brave enough to stick my nose out! Thanks!

  10. Hi Sarah! Thanks for this great post and all your thoughts and advice on the day. Fab to talk over lunch with you and Katherine too. The thing I love most about having a website is the direct contact with my readers – I can reply to them personally and I find that they start chatting between themselves on the message boards too – they love to connect with each other (every comment is pre-checked by me before it goes up of course) and it generates lots of content for other site visitors too, as we have themes like biggest cringe or best sleepover ever! Am off to do my latest round of replies now! Thanks again,

  11. On the software side of things I’d highly recommend WordPress too – the amount of support, plugins and themes that surround the software is astounding considering it’s free – it can even be used to set up a static site if you only want to update it infrequently with basic information.

    Then you have the flexibility of changing to a more blogging style approach later without having to worry about wholesale changes – change one little setting, start writing posts and you’re done. (well, then write more posts 🙂 )

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