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Building a Good Author Web Site:

Spread It Around

by David Dvorkin

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"Trying to do business without advertising is like winking at a pretty girl in the dark. You may know what you are doing, but nobody else does."
    - Clever quote for which various people have tried to take credit

Creating an advertising or marketing tool and then not doing anything to get it in front of people's eyes is not much better.

Of course, there are the search engines. You'll get a certain number of hits just because people will find your Web site via Google searches. You can hope that they'll then pass the URL to their friends, and those friends will do the same, and so on. That's very passive, though, and there are a few active things you can do to spread your URL around.

Signature Lines

Every e-mail you send to anyone for any purpose should have your Web site's URL at the bottom of it. Use your e-mail program's signature function to create a signature line with the URL in it.

If you have a new book out, add a signature line for that, along with the URL that points directly to the index.html file in the special directory you created on your site for that book. (For lots more on the subject of such directories, see the section titled Directory Structure.)

If you ever read Usenet newsgroups, the software you use for that purpose probably also has a way to add a signature to every Usenet post you make. Create the same signature line(s) as described above.

Exercise restraint, though. One sometimes sees signatures that are too many lines long. (This is a more common problem on Usenet than in e-mails.) Most of us perceive a huge signature as visual noise and ignore it. Try not to exceed three lines.

Business Card

You do have one, don't you? Why not? They're not just for businessmen, or for gentleman paying a call in a Victorian novel. They're the handiest and simplest way to give people your contact information in a reasonably lasting form.

Needless to say, in addition to your name, phone number, cell phone number, and perhaps address, your card absolutely must include your e-mail address and the URL of your Web site. Everything else is secondary.

If anyone expresses even the slightest interest in having your contact information, give him a card. If someone asks about your books, in addition to answering the question, offer your business card with the explanation that there's much more information about your books on your Web site. If you go to a restaurant and see a bowl in which you can drop your card for a drawing for a free meal, drop in that card; someone might read it.

Don't hoard your cards. When you order a new batch of business cards, your goal is not to preserve them but to get rid of them as soon as possible. Having to order a new batch is a victory.

About the Author

When you sell a book, your publisher will almost certainly ask you for some sort of biographical information to include at the back of the book. When you're writing that biographical piece, in addition to telling about your experiences as a lumberjack, merchant mariner, and professional assassin, add a sentence urging readers to visit your URL. (Don't forget to include the URL itself!).

If readers like your book, they'll probably visit your site and might tell others about it. They'll keep visiting the site to see when your next book is coming out.

Exchanging Links

In the section titled It's Not Just about Your Books, I talk about exchanging links. You should have a Links page on your site, a page whose purpose is to contain links to other Web sites. (To see my links page, click here.)

Some of those will be giant sites, commercial or non-commercial, to whom you and your site are so insignificant that they won't know or care that you link to them. For example, on my Links page, I have a link to the main BBC news page. Why, I've never received so much as a thank-you note from them!

But you'll also have links there to the sites of people you know and like. And they in turn will have links to your site. Obviously, this can benefit both you and them.

Don't limit yourself to friends, though. Strangers have Web sites, too! And if they have anything in common with you - if they're also writers, say, or if they share your politics or hobbies - then they'll very likely be interested in exchanging links with you. If you stumble across such a person's Web site, whether by accident or by Google, and if you react positively to his site, send him an e-mail and ask about exchanging links.

The meaning of "having something in common with" will expand as your Web site does. As you add pages of more kinds, covering a broader range of subjects (once again, see the section titled It's Not Just about Your Books), the number and range of Web sites with which it would make sense for you to exchange links will keep increasing.

Writer of the Evening

In general, never pass up a chance to push your Web site. Remember what Damon Runyon said: "He that tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooted."

The opportunities to mention your URL can show up in unexpected places.

For example, you might belong to a few listserves, or e-mail lists - for job searching or gardening, for example. Because you've put your URL in your e-mail signature, any message you send to such a list will show your URL (unless it's what's called a moderated list and the moderator strips such signature lines off before passing on the e-mail). But don't depend on your signature line. You might see a message on the list asking for URLs for some purpose or other. If you think your Web site comes at all close to the criteria given in that message, or even if it doesn't, respond with your site's URL.

Push, push, push. Push that URL. You may find it awkward to do so. You may find it embarrassing. Try to develop a thick skin. Telling stories is one of the world's oldest professions, and selling those stories has always had a lot in common with one of the other oldest professions.


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