|How well do YOU know author websites? Take our quiz and find out.|
by Ruth Jordan
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Mystery is a big world.
Thanks to the advent of the internet and a variety of ambitious pioneers there's a wide selection of the web sites for the mystery reader to go to for information. This month we'll explore the "Author Site" and profile a company that does it with a punch.
"Author Site" itself is a new concept. For many readers, myself included, it is the best tool on the internet. Have you ever read a book late into the night and been so taken that you wanted to thank the author? In the last decade we've been able to turn on our computers and do so. Ever pick up a book on the recommendation of a review or because a jacket blurb drew you in and then wanted more by the same author? Their website will have a complete back-list. Do you like to stay informed about when the next book is coming out and where you can go to meet the author while they're touring. Website. These are the basics. The best websites offer more. CincinnatiMedia does a lot of the very best on the net.
Beth Tindall started the company in 1996. Like many of my generation, Beth was introduced to the P.C. as a work tool. She worked in non profits for twenty years and then one fateful day…..
"My husband was teaching himself HTML and I kept poking fun at him -- "Why would anyone want one of those web pages, anyway?" Six months later I was building my first site for a county non-profit agency. Boy, does he like to remind me of that statement! I taught myself HTML, graphics, and all of the other things that go along with web sites, Jeff has always helped a lot. He taught himself, and showed me some good tutorials and checked my work."
The journey to becoming a Webmaster was not yet complete. For Beth is a reader. She has a resounding love for the mystery genre and consumes four to five books a week.
"Ironically, I moved to author websites as a means to get free books. I thought I was going to be the big "non-profit webmaster" in town. I mean, I do a lot of non-profit business, but my first love is author sites. Well, and free books.
"Two of my favorite authors and I began a conversation back in 1997 or so about how readers could help 'mid-list authors.' We brainstormed ideas such as publishing books online, selling books online, getting "author advocates" together... It came about through conversations on rec.arts.mystery. The authors were Jerome Doolittle, of the fabulous Tom Bethany series, and Katy Munger, whose Casey Jones series is one of my favorites, as well. I was just amazed to be talking to "authors," you know? Authors hold a special celebrity for me even to this day."
And now Beth Tindall with her company, CincinnatiMedia, has found her calling. As author Reed Coleman puts it, "There are just some people on this earth meant to do what they do for a living. Beth is one of those people"
Rick Mofina is another of Beth's clients. He had this to say,
"What makes Beth special? She understands struggling unknown authors. She is sensitive to their budget and their needs. She gives you exactly what you want. She is lightning fast. She keeps her word, acts on what she promises. And she goes beyond that, making efforts to get you known where she can. She is terrific. An author's dream."
Content. Web sites can be flash or bland but in the end what keeps an internet surfer coming back is the content. That touch of individuality that allows you a glimpse of the author and the characters they write about. Beth can do the flashy. One only has to go to Tartcity.com to see that. Sparkle Hayter did the original design and many of the graphics but Beth added additional graphics and design elements.
For a look at something entirely new you may want to visit www.likeacharm.co.uk (beware, you will buy the book). The book is a collection of short stories and the draw is a puzzle, literally. Of the unique feature, Karin Slaughter, the book's editor, has this to say
"Beth came up with the idea and worked very hard to make it work. I think she was dealing with software 'support' in Russia for about two weeks. I just wanted something that lent itself to the concept of the book and basically set her loose to come up with whatever would work. We tried a crossword and some other ideas, but the puzzle just seemed to click. People seemed to enjoy it and we got a lot of folks signed up. What surprised me was how many different countries participated. We got readers from Japan, Norway, Sweden, Bulgaria...incredible." I agree with Ms. Slaughter, I don't think Beth could be bland if she tried. Her content sings.
When you visit www.lauralippman.com you're treated to her blog of the month. A letter from her to her fans. Nothing fancy, just what she's been thinking about lately. You are immediately enveloped by the lady's personality. Then, and only then, you realize just how many pages her site has and how much information you can get about her series and her stand-alone work. Ms. Lippman says,
"The site is very much a collaboration. I credit Beth with helping me put together exactly the kind of site I wanted. It feels very casual and breezy, but it's actually darn stingy with personal information. More importantly, I credit Beth with pushing me to make it better -- to think about new features, to try new things. She really has vision. And it's all tax deductible!"
Shamus Award nominee Jeremiah Healy had unique needs when he put up his web site.
"Beth and I both puzzled over how to use four names (two authors: Jeremiah Healy and Terry Devane, and two main characters: John Francis Cuddy and Mairead O'Clare) in a way that would be both informative and intriguing. Beth's use of a rotating clock-face with these names in it was, I think, just brilliant and very effective in orienting the reader as well."
Beth added, "The tagline 'either way, it's about justice' really pulled the site together. The Cuddy books and the O'Clare books share a lot of themes, which I knew because I loved both series."
On the subject of content the Webmistress herself says,
"It's a challenge to get clients to understand the different options for web sites. They are just another marketing tool. but they are different than most others, too. Websites are instantly changeable, accessible to people around the world, able to provide tracking data of how many people came by your site and how long they stayed, we can learn how people found you or what they searched for that led them to you.... even what they searched for once they were there. And, we can adjust the site to adapt better to this feedback. For all of that marketing info, the cost of a website is a bargain."
All of Beth's client's agree that dollar for dollar nothing surpasses the website in their advertising budget. Lauren Henderson puts it simply,
"You HAVE to have one now as a writer. It's such a great tool." New voice Blake Crouch sums it up, "It's an atomic bang."
Running throughout all of the interviews I did for this article were three statements. As summed up by Jerry Healy they are "Beth is creative." "Beth can explain the technical jargon in plain English." "Beth is a fan of mysteries and therefore reciprocally understands what the author is trying to tell her."
I wanted to ask Ms. Tindall one final question. Her answer speaks volumes. There is a reason she is so successful at what she does.
What is Mystery to you?
"I suppose mystery is where imagination and creativity collide with a question. The creative parts are where someone provides me with a groundwork or a set of guidelines, in a way that my imagination runs with it. The writer (or speaker, or director) provides the creative components and the freedom to allow my imagination to run with the question -- whodunit? why? will they get caught?. My imagination alone isn't enough, and someone's creativity alone isn't enough -- they both have to go together with that question. I think that's why I like reading mysteries best -- I'm an active part of the equation."
Her mission is one done with love. Mystery is a world made intimate by people like Beth Tindall.
A Surfin' Safari !!
How well do you know your author websites?
Beth Tindall is not alone. The mystery author has been lucky enough to lure quite a few talented individuals to the title of webmaster. Sue Trowbridge threw herself into the fray for Sujata Massey's first novel in 1997 and now works on 40 mystery-related sites. Jane Davis started creating web pages for Michael Connelly in 1998. Heidi Mack's first author site was Ridley Pearson's and debuted with her company, www.xuni.com, in 1998. They've all been lured by other authors since then. As one, these women agree that the author web site is an important tool for a writer, whether they are a best selling novelist or someone who's just had their first book published.
What makes it a challenging and rewarding career is going beyond the basics. Author biographies, book news, tour schedules and order links are necessary and valuable tools but to capture the essence of who someone is and what their books are about is where the fun lies in this demanding job.
These ladies, with Beth, have gotten together to provide you with a little test. Are you up for it?
- This writer had an incredible amount of information (20+ books, movie deals, and even a rock band!). All needed to be organized in a creative but logical way... 140 pages worth.
- This author wants to reach his international readers too, so we offer information about international translations and tours.
This writer wanted the site to feel like a community where his readers could interact with him personally. It also has a sense of humor and teasers to draw people further and further into the site...
- This author wants to add the reading experience, so we offer additional chapters, short stories, interviews, and bonus features about the books on the web site.
- This author's site includes several non-fiction articles she has written about animal trafficking and endangered species issues.
This writer's books encapsulate a sense of the West, and she wanted her site to have that feel.
This author wants to educate his readers about the world of publishing, so he shares information about the process with them in a newsletter.
- This author writes about a jazz musician/amateur sleuth and is a musician himself. His site features a listing of upcoming live dates.
- This author programs an annual noir festival in San Francisco every January and promotes it on his web site.
- This author wanted to do a contest that emphasized the book covers, as well as the names of the contributors to the limited edition serial novel being given away. Flash jigsaw puzzles that got increasingly more difficult were the very popular answer.
- One author, 2 pen names, 3 series, plus standalones. Books for adults, young adults and pre-teens. Main characters range from horses to innkeepers to witches. A real design challenge.
- This author has such a strong sense of history and place in his books that we needed even those who've never been there to identify with the location. The surroundings are just as important as the background story in establishing his/her character and story. We needed recognizable nostalgia for people from all over the US and abroad. A photo the author already had of him/herself inspired a lot of the site.
- Bill Moody
- Michael Connelly
- Stephen White
- Mary Stanton
- Eddie Mueller
- Jeffery Deaver
- Reed Coleman
- Karin Slaughter's
Like A Charm
- Brad Meltzer
- Margaret Coel
- Jessica Speart
- Ridley Pearson
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