There’s no doubt the ‘net has revolutionized the relationship between the author and the reader. In days gone by, the reader got a book jacket photo and the knowledge the author lives in Connecticut with her husband, four children and six dogs. If the reader were truly moved, she might craft a letter and pop it in the mail.
Now, of course, readers have as much access to the author as she’s willing to put up on her site—even photos of the six dogs. And almost every author site has a contact button. Many also have blogs, message boards, Yahoogroups, tagboards and guestbooks.
But have readers become used to authors being accessible to the point of being less inclined to buy books from authors who aren’t quite as open?
I'd say no, because I've yet to be convinced that author blogs, websites, and other internet activity, in general, has any appreciable impact on book sales to begin with. So an author's nonparticipation is unlikely to hold back a flood of sales.
You may think that's an odd opinion for me to hold, given that I have an extensive website, encourage people to communicate with me via e-mail, participate on various blogs and message boards, and blog right here six days a week. Surely, you're thinking, she must believe all that is going to sell her books. Why else would she do it?
Elementary, my dears. I do it for two reasons. Here they are, in order:
1. It's fun.
2. And it might sell some books.
So there you have it. My big secret. If you are an author asking whether you should set up a website or start a blog, I am going to tell you no. Don't do it unless you want to, because this stuff takes a great deal of time and emotional energy. And here's the salient point: Nobody knows what impact--if any--these activities have on book sales.
Your editor may be leaning on you to set up an author website, but it's not her time and money she's volunteering, is it? She has nothing to lose, and your website or blog might sell some books. But do you really want to spend a couple of hours a day on the internet for something that might increase your sales? Perhaps you'd rather put that time and effort into writing more and better books. Or in promoting your books through other channels.
As your mother always said, if a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing well. So any author who puts up a website or begins blogging because all of the other authors do it and readers expect it and that's how we sell books in these modern times, is probably going to fail miserably. If you don't put your heart and soul into your blog or your website, nobody's ever going to read it but your mom and your three biggest fans--and they're already buying every book you put out.
So here in a nutshell is my advice to authors who are considering launching a blog or handing money to a web designer: Love the internet or leave it alone. Any author who lacks the passion to participate fully is not going to find a pot of gold here.