Good Reading : July 2001
1001sites I t’s unfair, since what we love about our favourite writers is the magic they weave with their words, not their skill at writing html. Trouble is, spellbound readers just can’t get enough. They weep when the book is over, and want more, more, more. On a website, the savvy author (and/or publisher) can give them just that. If they’re very clever, they’ll make the site compelling enough to keep the readers enthralled, and primed to buy the next book. Few author sites I’ve visited achieve that. Most are little more than digital promo posters that follow a tedious formula: images of book covers, an author biography, copies of a few reviews, an author interview or two, some reader’s comments, and an email link. Really, one would rather read a book. Dressing up the formula with some expensive effects, like those you’ll find on Bryce Courtenay’s site www.brycecourtenay.com, adds little. Flash animations look quite nice the first time around, but they quickly pall when you have to wait for a fat file to download just so that you can read some text while listening to unremarkable music. It’s the first rule of Web design – whizz-bang effects don’t make up for thin content. Bem Le Hunte, author of The Seduction of Silence, was the object of envy in writers’ circles when her publisher, HarperCollins, built her a very slick-looking site www.harpercollins.com.au/bemlehunte/ to coincide with the launch of her novel last November. The site, promoted in the book, includes a proper, interactive message board (as opposed to those sites that simply cut and paste readers’ comments on to a page). You can post your message and it’ll appear instantly on the site. The author’s response, if you’re seeking one, might take a little longer. Newsletters are another way writers can try to keep readers’ interest simmering until the next book. Bem le Hunte has just sent out her first, and I also signed up for The Universal Heart network (actually, an email newsletter) at Stephanie Dowrick’s site www.stephaniedowrick.com. Nick Earls’ site www.nickearls.com is a treat. It blows the formula away with a witty site organised according to a restaurant menu (main dishes, side dishes, blackboard menu). The restaurant is the Sunny Garden, from his book Bachelor Kisses, which you can also visit in a virtual tour. Each of his books has their own snapshots (delightfully grungy, as befits his suburban settings) accompanied by appropriate lines from each book. Writers with message boards on their sites quickly discover that they’re like gardens. They need tending, otherwise prickly weeds sprout. Take this message directed at Yasmin Boland (Carole King is an Alien) on www.yasminboland.com: ‘I have not heard your reply. We must pay more (sic) carful attention! For if the message spoken by angels was 10 As if writers don’t have enough anxieties, they’re now expected to be online as well as in print. If they don’t have their Suelette Dreyfus, the Melbourne-based author of Underground, a real-life thriller about computer hackers, has recently published a second, digital edition of her book, which can be downloaded from her site at: www.underground-book.com. So far, 250,000 copies of the book ( all 500 pages) have been downloaded in the US, and figures are yet to be collated for the mirror sites in Australia and Europe. It’s an extraordinary success for a book that had almost no promotion and wasn’t published at all in the US in its first edition. Thanks to the digital edition, Dreyfuss now has a fan club in Tunisia!