We’ve been discussing author web sites and blogs for quite a while now. A couple of weeks ago, I posted a set of important questions you should ask yourself before you build that site or blog. I’ve now discussed most of those in some detail, but there are a couple left to deal with. We’ll hit those tonight.
But first, a couple of questions came in today:
I have a question that is not exactly related to the topic but I have needed to ask for a long time. Does it cost anything to get your work copyrighted? How do you go about it? I have some ideas for stories but I haven’t written them on my blog yet because I was afraid someone would steal my idea.
Randy sez: My standard disclaimer: I’m not a copyright attorney and am not qualified to give legal advice. So everything I say here should be considered as just my understanding of the copyright situation. When you write something, it belongs to you and is yours under copyright law. Nobody else has the rights to use it, although they do have some limited rights to use parts of it if they give you due credit and they follow the rules. Getting your work formally copyrighted is a way to prove that you are the real author, but it doesn’t change your actual rights. Normally, my publisher pays for the copyrights for my novels. I put a copyright notice at the bottom of my web pages.
Putting your stories on your blog might be considered as publishing them, and many publishers would therefore not be too interested in republishing them. And if you put your stories on your blog or web site, your ideas might well be borrowed by others. (You can’t copyright an idea — you copyright the expression of that idea. If somebody writes their own version of your story, you might be out of luck.)
While learning what all those icons were for I found IWeb pages that have a selection of styles to use for a simple site. They don’t have the flexibility other sw has, but for a first time exposure site, I’m hoping it will do fine. I haven’t selected a hosting site yet, but have bought all my domains and anything similar, as you suggested.
Now, Ran, you know your talking to someone that when it comes to computers I don’t know my keyboard from my cat food, but, if I host these IWeb pages on a site by GoDaddy, will I be able to change things later when I need to apply PayPal or links to Amazon?
Randy sez: I love my Mac too, but I was not real jazzed with iWeb. I played with it just a little and found that pages it produces are actually pictures of pages. They are still searchable because the text is saved in something called “alt” tags, but it seemed to be not the sort of tool I need for my own web development. There is no denying that iWeb is super easy to use.
To answer your question, yes, you should be able to change things later, no matter what hosting system you use. To see an example of a small web site made with iWeb, check out James Scott Bell’s web site at www.JamesScottBell.com.
Now let’s get to those last two questions that every author should answer. I’ll consider some of the possible responses, and discuss the implications of each choice.
Question 8) When do you want your site done?
Answer a: Yesterday, when my book came out!
Randy sez: It would have been good to create your site a few months ago, so you could put the URL in your book for interested readers. That way, your book would be a nice advertisement for your web site (although the web site would probably not be much of an advertisement for the book — it’s simply too late for that to happen). But all is not lost. Create a web site today with a domain that exactly matches the name on your book if you possibly can get it. Put a blog on it. You can do that in one day. Some of the folks who read your book will guess you might have a web site and will guess what it is. Have something on your blog that will meet their needs. This might be as simple as: “Sign up for my newsletter so you’ll know when my next book comes out.” You can use this base to help promote your NEXT book. You may think this is dumb, but this is in essence exactly the strategy most authors use. It’s not a great strategy, but it’s SOMETHING.
Answer b: Today would be great
Randy sez: Decide why today would be great. Is there something very urgent that requires it to be today? If so, see my response to (a) above. But if not, take things a little slower. Answer all nine of the questions. (You can find them all here). Write down your answers. Make a strategy. Find a good webmaster if you plan to hire that task out. Give them your answers. Talk to the webmaster. Talk to web-savvy friends. Buy me a Snapple at a writing conference and pick my brains. Then build your site. A little design goes a long way. Fixing a badly designed site is five times the work of doing it right the first time.
Answer c: This week
Randy sez: See my response to (b) above. There is rarely a good reason to rush into a web site or blog.
Answer d: This month
Randy sez: It’s very reasonable to work through all the questions, find a webmaster, and get a good prototype done in a month. It might take longer. It might be quicker. If you’re in a rush, make sure there’s an excellent reason to rush. People say, “Marry in haste, repent at leisure.” I say, “Build a site in haste, repent for all eternity.”
Answer e: Within the next few months
Randy sez: There’s nothing wrong with taking a lot of time and doing it right, especially if you have many other things going on. A few months is a reasonable time span, although it’s leisurely. You could do it all in a month, if it’s a high priority. If it’s not, then take those few months.
Answer f: Someday
Randy sez: See my answer (e) above. My response is the same.
Answer g: I have a web site, but it needs revamping
Randy sez: It’s never too late to think everything through carefully and define your requirements precisely. This may be a golden chance to do it right this time. If you’ve had a web site up for months or years and the thing is starting to look like all the vamp has gone out of it, then a revamp might be just the ticket. You may want to totally restructure your web site. But that could lead to a problem. Suppose you’ve got a ton of incoming links to your site, and now you want to move all those pages around (or even move to a new domain?) There is something called a .htaccess file that will help you redirect all those links. I did this a year ago when I moved my domain from www.rsingermanson.com to just plain www.ingermanson.com. I set up a .htaccess file on the old site to repoint all those precious links to the new site. For a time, the search engines got a little confused, but my high rankings for many search phrases recovered pretty quickly.
Question 9) Do you want the search engines to bring visitors to your site?
Answer a: Yes
Randy sez: Good for you! You do need to make sure that each page has a dominant topic. Webmasters and internet marketers often talk about “search engine optimization”. There are few topics where so much misinformation is so widely believed. If you look around the web, you’ll hear many different opinions. It is best to listen to those who actually achieve high rankings than to listen to those who haven’t. My own source of info is James Brausch, who I think has done simply the best job of anyone on the web of doing hard numerical research. Check out his blog at www.JamesBrausch.org. I’ve not found anyone who knows more than he does.
Answer b: No, I could care less about search engines
Randy sez: Wow, that’s a rare attitude. Why in the world would you have a web site if you don’t want search engines to bring people to your site? I’m not criticizing, of course. I’m merely aghast.
Answer c: I have no idea, but I suppose it sounds good
Randy sez: Yes, it’s good. Search engines brought order to the web. It’s because of search engines that I can sit down at my computer and find out critical information in less than sixty seconds that used to take a trip to the library. And I can do it a 1 AM, the night before my book is due. (Yes, I have done this. I have literally done exactly this.) If you have a web site that you want people to visit, you should care about the search engines. If you don’t want people to visit, then, um . . . why bother?