The Last Word : Web-stir
A few years back I decided that a website would be a good thing. Everybody is doing it, so says conventional wisdom in the 21st century - everybody being anyone who wants to reach out to a broad audience. As a novelist I have a product, the success of which is dependent on getting it out there into the public awareness. When a book is new, or when the paperback version is released, there is a flurry of publisher-generated activity. Reps shill it to bookstores, a little print advertising, sending it to reviewers, that sort of thing. But once the magic eight to twelve weeks of shelf life have passed, it is up to the average writer to do the rest. A book has to perform - or at least its author does, much like a dancing bear - in order to keep the public's attention.
A website is a great thing as a means of keeping the titles and their author accessible to the world. And a glance at authors' websites show a plethora of styles and formats, buttons and links. Publishers provide web pages on each of their authors, with links back to that writer. Although it's no longer a new tool in the toolbox, a website is vital. Some authors have slide shows and advertisements on their web pages (think I'll check into that) others are fairly plain with FAQs, books, reviews, etc. available to the visitor.
So, I got a website. Very exciting. I have a very nice website designed by a very nice web-master (mistress). Good. Great. I'm in the swing of things now. I can link and be linked, I can get my words out into cyberspace via key words. I can do so much. Except that, like everything else in life, there's a catch. It takes time. It is incredible how fast weeks go by and suddenly I realize I haven't changed my greeting page in months. It still says, Merry Christmas. And now it's June. Well, maybe not that dramatic, but you see what I mean. A website is work. I need to go in and put in all those key search words. I need to add photos, which means I have to take photos I would like uploaded to the website for the world to see. I take a horrible picture. Which is why, at the top of the column you see the photo that is more than six years old, and apparently taken from the website. I have a completely different hairstyle now, but I haven't updated the home page to reflect my own update. Quelle horreur! But, it's a good picture, so I'm loath to meddle.
Time is precious to me. I eke out my writing time with jealousy. I resent anything and, frankly, anyone who interferes with it. I have myriad other responsibilities, many of which I have taken upon myself voluntarily (more or less), and each one encroaches on my morning time with pop-up demands: a mother's phone call, a plumbing emergency; walking the dog. I start early, then a staff meeting time changes, so I start even earlier. I'm forgoing my hour of reading in order to squeeze in both the novel that is underway, which my agent is anxious to get and, well, this column. They are both serious commitments, both professional commitments, but then there is the other professional commitment I have every day, the one that is the steady paycheck. Until and unless I write the break-through novel, I will, like most other authors, have to have a day job. And I am committed to that. I don't have the luxury of starving for my art.
So every time I think about my website it is with pangs of guilt. Is it doing the job that I wanted it to do? If it isn't, is it because I'm not paying close attention to it? There seem to be lots of 'hits' according to the little administrative mechanism that allows me to see the traffic on it. Do people come more than once and are disappointed that it hasn't changed?
The other day my daughter suggested that I start a blog. I confess I squirmed. A blog is an on-line diary, but how does it differ greatly from a website, and if I can't find the time to update my website, how in tarnation will I ever find the time to write additional entries into cyberspace?
The reality is, my writing time, my personal time, is so limited that I have to make a choice. What is the best and most important use of my time? Is it better to spend half an hour tinkering with yet another greeting letter that will be seriously out-of-date in a week, or finish the revisions to the first 150 pages of the next attempt at the break-through novel that will please my agent? Is it a better use of my time to pound out a 500-word blog entry so that some random reader will find it when Googling around and become a fan? Of a woman without a new release? Because she's spent too much time blogging? Is this the state of self-promotion today, that it takes so much time to sell oneself, that the product is never produced?
Susan Wilson is a freelance writer and novelist who lives in Oak Bluffs. Visit her web site at susanwilsonwrites.com.