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Thread: How to promote your book like an intelligent human being and not an SEO Dweeb

  1. #1
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister Medievalist's Avatar
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    How to promote your book like an intelligent human being and not an SEO Dweeb

    You've self-published a book that you are proud of, or your publisher is a small indie press without a sales staff or marketing department.

    You know that a lot of people buy books and review books and talk about books online, and you want to participate in the conversation, and maybe, sell some books.

    How do you do that?

    First, I'm assuming you have a smart, interesting, well-written and properly formatted book with a cover that isn't going to allow a buyer to ID the book as self-published from twenty paces, or just by looking at the image in your sig.

    Second, I'm assuming that you're willing to be honest, because you really do believe in your book. That means I'm going to assume you already know that buying your own book (and then returning it) from the Kindle store until your credit card vomits, or paying some half-wit to write a five-star review for five bucks is already something you've dismissed as stupid, unethical, and likely to make readers who figure it out (and they will) think that you're a degenerate idiot. Also, you probably already know that Display Sites (Or YADS) are a waste of your time and your putative readers' bandwidth. (Some display sites masquerade as "reviews" but if it's written by the author, it's not a review; it's just pointless promo that helps the site owner, but isn't going to garner you any readers, or buyers.)

    I'm also assuming that you have a Facebook page just for your book, you have Author accounts on Amazon, and GoodReads and LibraryThing. You have an email account for you as an author, bearing your author name, you Tweet, and you have a Website, preferably one that uses your own domain, a domain based on the name you use as an author. (This doesn't have to be fancy, or expensive; it has to be readable, it has to use permalinks, and you can easily do this with free Blogger or Wordpress.com accounts to point to your domain.)

    On your Website, you have an About page, with a brief bio. The bio will include a link to your page about your book[s] with links to various purchasing options, and to reviews. You can include telling pullquotes and link to the full review. You do NOT copy a review without permission, and you always link back to the source. You have a Contact page with an email address that you alter slightly, say by using AT instead of @ to reduce the deluge of spam.

    You have a specific invitation for book reviewers to contact you for a review copy on your Contact page. (You don't just email back the file; you politely look at their reviews and what they review, and then you decide if it makes sense or not.) You are never rude or snotty; if you think you and a particular review site aren't a good fit (you've written a cookbook, and it's a site abou Harleys, you have a queer main character and they're charter members of NOMA, etc.) you politely thank them for their interest but indicate that you think you're not a good fit, or--you may simply decide to ignore the request if you can see no courteous way to disengage.

    Here's how to engage in effective promotion:

    First: Participate in the conversation. That means it's not about you and your book. It's about books, and readers. That means you talk about other people's books you love and why, and you engage with people who write books you've read and loved, and with other readers.

    You comment on their blogs. You don't constantly bring up your own book, but you make genuine, thoughtful, engaged comments. Your comments use the name you write under as your ID, and in the URL field you link to your Web site.

    You post honest, engaging, and genuine reviews of books you like on Amazon, and GoodReads and Library Thing. You don't slam other people's books, but you don't always create 5 star reviews. You are not mean-spirited, but you are always honest. Your profiles connect to your author Website.

    Second: You do not engage in the Author's Big Mistake.

    • You Never Ever Comment On a Review of your Own Books at ALL Ever in public.
    • You Never Ever Review Your Own Books Ever At All Under ANY Name or Account Or Sock Puppet. Ever.
    • You Do Not Engage With Reviewers of Your Books or Trolls
    • You DO offer book giveaways on your blog, on the blogs of those who review similar books, and you do politely email reviewers and offer them a free copy if they'd be interested in reviewing.


    1. You post on your own blog about new releases, or issues with plot or character or research you're working on, or thoughtful reviews of other people's books, or writing techniques you have found helpful. You link to other writers' and readers' posts in your posts when that's appropriate. You email people who you think have said something fabulous, and ask permission to link, or to let them know you've posted about what a super thing they wrote.
    2. You have a sig on your email that links to your Web site. You Do Not send a cover image of your book, or list its title in your sig. Your sig has your name and your Website, and possibly, your Twitter account.
    3. You may post a snippet of your blog posts on your Facebook, and other pages. You may Tweet a link. You do not splatter the Internet with the same content on every single venue.
    4. You're participating in a conversation in order to find readers, and to converse with people who share your interests in books and writing.

    You're not constantly selling your book, or making forum posts or blog comments just to market your book.

    People, because we are curious monkeys, will click your link to see "who is this?"

    But by engaging honestly, and creating conversation and community, you will have readers, and some will buy your book. And if they like it, they will blog about, or post reviews, or tweet about it.

    And thus more people will find your book.

    And if it's a good book, they will read it and find things to like.

    And they too will participate in the conversation.
    Last edited by AW Admin; 07-15-2016 at 12:56 AM.

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  2. #2
    Teh doommobile, drivin' rite by you mscelina's Avatar
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    "But...but...the more I mention my book, the more people will see it! If I keep bringing up my book on Facebook, then all my friends will run right out and buy it. And then their friends will...and so on..."

    This is one of the hardest things to teach a new author, whether their book is self-published or not. The quickest way to turn off a captive audience (ie--your friends or business associates on social networking) is to constantly beat them over the head with ceaseless self-promo.

    So how to break out of that mold? First off--read Medi's post VERY carefully. Then follow it. To the letter.

    And then, self-pubbed authors, put in your due diligence. Find review sites who are WILLING to review self-published books. They will tell you straight up in their submission guidelines whether they do or not. Then follow those submission guidelines to the letter. If you are fortunate enough to get a positive review, that's the best promotional building block you have. If you get a negative review, file it away--don't say a word or act like an asshat.

    And through all this? Your best use of energy while promoting a book is to write your next one, incorporating all the things you learned on the first book into the second.

  3. #3
    Patron Saint of Sarcasm plunderpuss's Avatar
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    Fantastic advice. I just started a self-published project, so I find it especially timely! Thank you.



  4. #4
    delicate #!&@*#! flower Perks's Avatar
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    This advice is good for all writers, because even if your work will have a publisher's publicity people on the case, you will at least benefit from your own promotional efforts - if it's not flat out expected of you.

    I do have a question, and I've got time to change my wicked ways before my book comes out. I find that beyond here, Facebook, and AuthorScoop, I don't have much energy to delve into much more social media. I tweet - a little. I have a Goodreads account and I'm joining Library Thing.

    Do you have any advice on how to make the most of minimal participation? I like to be accessible there, I just seem to get out all I need to say in the outlets I've already got.

  5. #5
    paralibrarian GingerGunlock's Avatar
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    Well. I just really want to say "Thank you" for a post like that.

    Buying and returning a Kindle book? It never occured to me. I'm either exceptionally honest, or exceptionally oblivious to the vagaries of mankind.
    My writing blog: Authorized Musings

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  6. #6
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Perks View Post
    Do you have any advice on how to make the most of minimal participation? I like to be accessible there, I just seem to get out all I need to say in the outlets I've already got.
    I'd prioritize what I could do, and what I enjoyed doing.

    1. Your Website for your book is your hub.

    2. You should certainly have some people you follow on Twitter, that you know or find interesting, and you should Reply or Retweet them when it seems appropriate. And then, when you post something to your book blog (or, in your case, That Other Really Nifty Site you write for) you post a link with a lede. I don't think you need to spend an hour a week really, just Follow people (and use a Private list for people that really want to be able to pay close attention to). There's a fair amount of traffic and interest derived from replying/retweeting folk.

    3. I would absolutely post a few reviews of book's you've really liked on Library Thing and Good Reads. And I would follow and engage as time allows with those writers there you really like. When you write a review on your blog, pick a pullquote, post it on Library Thing, with a link to your review.

    But honestly, as Ms Celina notes, your best PR is another good book, and your writing time takes precedence to your PR time.

    It's not like being solitary has hurt any number of authors we could name, present and past, because people were buying their books, not their lives.
    Last edited by Medievalist; 05-13-2014 at 09:07 PM.

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  7. #7
    Murder isn't so bad...
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    First off, Medi, fantastic advice!

    I might also add that patience is key. No, that does not mean slacking off for two months, ignoring promotion, and hoping readers will find it. It means promoting at a constant rate, but not freaking out (and therefore spamming your social media to buy your book--trust me, I've seen this before) each day you don't make a sale.

    Quote Originally Posted by Medievalist View Post
    You post honest, engaging, and genuine reviews of books you like on Amazon, and GoodReads and Library Thing. You don't slam other people's books, but you don't always create 5 star reviews. You are not mean-spirited, but you are always honest. Your profiles connect to your author Website.
    Participating in the conversation is a biggie. For me, although all I have out is one short story, not only posting reviews, but also posting in groups of your genre is extremely important. Not spamming the group, but actually being active there.

    Also, Goodreads groups like "Making Connections" and "Shut Up & Read" where you can enlist your book in the ARR program and send free copies to interested readers for review. This is amazing about spreading the word. You get your book right in the heart of readership and not in a spammy way.

  8. #8
    delicate #!&@*#! flower Perks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Medievalist View Post
    3. I would absolutely post a few reviews on Library Thing and Good Reads. And I would follow and engage as time allows with those writers there you really like. When you write a review on your blog, pick a pullquote, post it on Library Thing, with a link to your review.
    Here's a stupid question: what's a pullquote, eh precious?

  9. #9
    WTF?!?! WackAMole's Avatar
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    Thank you! Awesome post!

    Now I have this big checklist of things to do.

    I am not really in any hurry and I am so busy right now in the last term of my 'Swedish as a Second Language' course that I just don't have a lot of time to get involved like I want to.

    I am so looking forward to summer so I can focus more on what I enjoy and not so much on the things I 'need' to do.

    One more question: What is an 'SEO' dweeb...the dweeb part I'm familiar with (hehe) but what does 'SEO' mean?

    Thanks again for the post!
    ~Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. ~ E.L. Doctorow~

  10. #10
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WackAMole View Post
    What is an 'SEO' dweeb...the dweeb part I'm familiar with (hehe) but what does 'SEO' mean?
    Search Engine Optimization.

    The idea is to write text on the Web that ranks higher in search engines.

    That's not the reason they're dweebs; that's a logical desiderata.

    But there are people accomplish high-ranking in search engines by attempting to game the system. They "keyword stuff"; using the same words over and over again, for instance. They pay people to link to them.

    The truth of the matter is that good, careful, thoughtful and genuine writing trumps the more arcane SEO techniques.
    Last edited by Medievalist; 09-13-2012 at 09:33 PM.

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  11. #11
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Perks View Post
    Here's a stupid question: what's a pullquote, eh precious?
    You know when you're reading a magazine or newspaper, those small quotations set off in a title or near a title, or possible in the midst of a column?

    Those are pullquotes (or pull quotes, depending on your editor's kinks; they are often called a lift-out quote in the UK). They "pull" the reader into reading, and are "pulled" from the core article and set-off spatially and typographically.

    They go well with 'taters.

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  12. #12
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister Medievalist's Avatar
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    Here's an interesting post about a confab of professional publishing PR experts on using the 'net for PR "Don't Be Bot-Like: How to Blend Books and Social Media" on Publishers Weekly by Gabe Habash.

    Go. Read. Think about your books and your readers.

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  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW Lee HH Cope's Avatar
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    That's great advice so many thanks. I feel that I have encountered a few impatient and quite frankly rude Trolls already and I've only been here a week or so. But I shall not let it deter me from the job at hand, and many thanks again.

  14. #14
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lee HH Cope View Post
    That's great advice so many thanks. I feel that I have encountered a few impatient and quite frankly rude Trolls already and I've only been here a week or so. But I shall not let it deter me from the job at hand, and many thanks again.
    Use the Report Post button, but be aware that disagreement is not the same is trolling.

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  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW Al Stevens's Avatar
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    This thread should be a sticky.

    I recently overhauled my website to emphasize what I'm doing and de-emphasize what I've set aside. I have all the techie skills necessary to build a website, but when it comes to design, I am dissatisfied with the result. (Maybe it's the picture.) When I look at websites of others, I don't know whether they are market-savvy designs or not.

    Is there somewhere a list (or could we build one) of author websites that the marketing experts regard as being well-designed and implemented?

  16. #16
    WTF?!?! WackAMole's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Al Stevens View Post
    This thread should be a sticky
    I second that!
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  17. #17
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Al Stevens View Post
    Is there somewhere a list (or could we build one) of author websites that the marketing experts regard as being well-designed and implemented?
    I wouldn't ask marketing folk; I'd ask Webmasters and UI folk.

    The principles of good writing and good html rule the Web hand-in-hand.

    You want a site that works for non-standard users—people who use adaptive tech, or are color blind, or on low-bandwidth services, or mobile platforms.

    • You want a clear navigational path.
    • You don't want unreadable text—too small, too light, or against a background that will frustrate readers.
    • You want Contact, About, and other important pages clearly labeled, and one click away from the top page.
    • Don't have a splash page.
    • Avoid Flash, for most sites.


    Honestly, I'd urge people to use a solid template and a CMS, whether WordPress or Blogger or Typepad. All of them have professionally designed templates for free, or fairly inexpensively. I'm especially fond of clean templates with lot of white space.

    And I say this as someone who still hand-codes CSS and HTML, and Javascript, and has done since 1997.

    Amateur graphics are best avoided. Be aware that lots of people identify themselves as "Web designers," not realizing that that's a particular skill set that doesn't mean merely modifying CSS. And also be aware that some templates contain adware or malware.

    Use images as accents, rather than overloading the page with slow-loading distracting graphics.

    You want people to read your words, and want more of your words.

    Emphasize words.

    Use clear titles on posts and pages. Use explicit links—rather than the old-style practice of linking a word like this:

    You can find Google's advice about writing and links here.
    Use links like this one:


    The difference is that the text that the reader clicks describes the link content.

    • Use metadata; for instance, the html Cite tag for titles of longer works. It tells search engines that you're talking about books. That helps in terms of ranking and indexing.
    • Keep most of your posts or pages short—300 to 500 words on average (I suck at this part).
    • If you write a lengthy piece, use headings to divide it into sections.
    • Figure out your core pages and the navigation before you start creating the site.

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  18. #18
    I think I'm back.... KatieJ's Avatar
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    Thank you, Lisa, for a great post.

    I've probably done 30% of this, but I'm going to print this out and use it like a checklist. And. I'll add my vote, it should be a stickie.
    “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” Winston Churchill


  19. #19
    practical experience, FTW Al Stevens's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Medievalist View Post
    I wouldn't ask marketing folk; I'd ask Webmasters and UI folk.
    But if you want to know what draws in readers rather than simply what's pretty and what runs efficiently, I wouldn't expect the typical webmaster to know jack about the former, their claims notwithstanding.

    Quote Originally Posted by Medievalist View Post
    You want a site that ...
    Good laundry list, but I'm wondering about real-world examples. And not what you find with google "author homepage," either. Sites that actually work for their intended purpose.

    Quote Originally Posted by Medievalist View Post

    And I say this as someone who still hand-codes CSS and HTML, and Javascript, and has done since 1997.
    Good for you. Me, too. With a text editor. I like my code at the lowest possible level of abstraction. And to get deeper still into XML, PHP, CGI scripts, and SQL. And even, gak! SGML.

    But knowing the tools doesn't necessarily mean knowing the art that underpins a design's sales potential. Aren't there human factors engineers who specialize in such studies? There should be.

    So I say to myself, we have guidelines and protocol, but have we collected an impressive list of real-world examples? Or is it simply a matter of visiting the sites of successful authors and taking notice? Of course, we might not know how much of their success could be attributed to their web sites.

    (If it was easy...)

    So I went looking for websites of successful SP authors. Mostly what I've found so far are blogs, most of them built with standard blogspot templates. Nothing particularly original, although I've only just begun to search. But I'm beginning to wonder about how much a personal website (as opposed to a blog) contributes to the harvesting of readers.

  20. #20
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Al Stevens View Post
    But if you want to know what draws in readers rather than simply what's pretty and what runs efficiently, I wouldn't expect the typical webmaster to know jack about the former, their claims notwithstanding.
    Webmasters have access to the raw Apache logs.

    The Webmaster can, for instance, tell you where their users/readers come from and when, whether they're new or repeat visitors, how long they stay on the site and on a given page, what their click-path is, if the came from another site via a link, a Search, or a bookmark, what OS, and Browser etc. . . .

    That's some of the data you use when you're creating a large scale deployment; you think about the click path, and navigation.

    You think about the content and your rhetorical goals for that content. If you're professional and deploying a large site, you even do user modeling, and observation. In short, you think about your audience.

    Quote Originally Posted by Al Stevens View Post
    Good laundry list, but I'm wondering about real-world examples. And not what you find with google "author homepage," either. Sites that actually work for their intended purpose.
    Jakob Nielsen is a decent start for UI and Web content.

    Quote Originally Posted by Al Stevens View Post
    But knowing the tools doesn't necessarily mean knowing the art that underpins a design's sales potential. Aren't there human factors engineers who specialize in such studies? There should be.
    Well, yes of course. That's called User Experience. Don't over think what you're doing as an author; your books are paramount, the Website is support of your book. It's better to write another book, than faff around with your site.

    I suggest you check out Jakob, and Eric Meyer. For specific books, Above the Fold: Understanding the Principles of Successful Web Site Design by Brian Miller Ed.D, and especially Tidwell's Designing Interfaces: Patterns for Effective Interaction Design.

    Quote Originally Posted by Al Stevens View Post
    So I say to myself, we have guidelines and protocol, but have we collected an impressive list of real-world examples? Or is it simply a matter of visiting the sites of successful authors and taking notice? Of course, we might not know how much of their success could be attributed to their web sites.
    I'd look at Charlie Stross, Cory Doctorow, Doug Preston and Lincoln Child, for interesting ways of presenting their books. These are all authors who foster the conversation. Look at the sites from authors you read.

    And bear in mind that there are scads of authors who do very well indeed, but have no Web presence other than what their publisher and/or retailers and readers create.

    There's a lot of public data about how effective/popular a site is, in part because of search engine ranking, or in Google's terms, page rank.

    But the real measure of success is whether the site does what you mean it to do—and you're better off looking at your own server and site logs, and determining what works and doesn't work. If you use a CMS, it's relatively easy to tweak the layout, and the content, based on what your users are doing with your content.

    I'd look at WordPress rather than Blogger, mostly because you have more control. I'm not sure that it really matters much whether they're self-published or commercially published. I'd look at authors who have a community online, and what they're doing. The basic principles of design/layout/navigation that's effective for the kind of content you want to offer will get you 98% of the way there.
    Last edited by Medievalist; 04-01-2012 at 08:25 AM.

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  21. #21
    practical experience, FTW Al Stevens's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Medievalist View Post
    Webmaster's have access to the raw Apache logs.

    The Webmaster can, for instance, tell you where their users/readers come from and when, whether they're new or repeat visitors, how long they stay on the site and on a given page, what their click-path is, if the came from another site via a link, a Search, or a bookmark, what OS, and Browser etc. . . .
    But, of course, not how many of them bought a book. Hits is one thing. Sales is another. But that's a different discussion.

    It's like flying an airplane, playing a concerto, or removing an appendix. You can read about how it's done, but no book can teach you how to do it. I like that you've named some authors whose sites you believe are well-designed and that attract readers and that we can look at. Now I must get busy. Thanks, Med.

  22. #22
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Al Stevens View Post
    But, of course, not how many of them bought a book. Hits is one thing.
    Hits are entirely meaningless. A hit happens every time an image is loaded, or a div, or a frame. Refreshing a page reloads each item again, and increases the hits.

    Hits only have value in terms of load time, bandwidth, and overall usability in terms of server load.

    Don't worry about hits. Worry about visitors, repeat visitors, length of time on site, and incoming links.

    Quote Originally Posted by Al Stevens View Post
    Sales is another. But that's a different discussion.
    Well, no, not quite. If you're using a transaction system to directly sell your book, you have sales records. If you're using affiliate links (to retailers or fulfillment services like LS, CS, Lulu, etc. etc.) you know exactly how many copies are sold.

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  23. #23
    practical experience, FTW Al Stevens's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Medievalist View Post
    Well, yes of course. That's called User Experience. Don't over think what you're doing as an author; your books are paramount, the Website is support of your book. It's better to write another book, than faff around with your site.
    Yet elsewhere we are told that building a platform involves specifically selling the author. Conflicting signals here.
    Quote Originally Posted by Medievalist View Post
    I'd look at Charlie Stross, Cory Doctorow, Doug Preston and Lincoln Child, for interesting ways of presenting their books.
    Of those, only Preston and Child have a website. The others have blogs. Preston and Childs' website is a cluttered mess. It's colorful and animated, but it's too busy for my eye. But if that's what it takes...
    Quote Originally Posted by Medievalist View Post
    Look at the sites from authors you read.
    They're mostly dead. The authors, that is.

    From what I've seen and you've said, so far, with the small amount of time I've had to research it, I'm leaning more and more towards thinking that an author's personal website is not all that important in the larger scale of things. Mine was quite useful when I was entertaining. It's a necessity in that business, because clients can watch videos, read the kudos of other clients, and fans can buy your CDs and DVDs and keep up with your performance schedule. But for writing? I just don't know.

    I did have fun building the Javascript for the moving panorama of book covers. I did it mainly because a Flash expert told me it couldn't be done in Javascript. That's not something people should tell me.

    Looking around with google as I write this: Konrath's website is not very pretty. Bland, in fact. http://www.jakonrath.com/ Do you think it's a good example of what an author should strive for?

    Neither Hocking nor Locke have personal websites. Locke has a blog.

    They all tweet their effin' brains out, though. Maybe that's the next thing I'll be asking about. Twitter and Facebook are like the world on the Jerry Springer show. I can't stand it.

    I'll keep surfing. I sure appreciate your insight in these matters.

  24. #24
    practical experience, FTW Al Stevens's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Medievalist View Post
    You have a Contact page with an email address that you alter slightly, say by using AT instead of @ to reduce the deluge of spam.
    If anyone is interested, and even if no one is , I have a Javascript that builds the email address display in the browser so the spam bots don't see it in the html.

  25. #25
    Cultus Gopherus MacAllister Medievalist's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Al Stevens View Post
    If anyone is interested, and even if no one is , I have a Javascript that builds the email address display in the browser so the spam bots don't see it in the html.
    But that also means users using Lynx or screen readers or many mobiles/tablets won't "see" it either.

    Not a good technique.

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