Write Byte

Authors and the Internet

(December 13, 2000)

Jo Beverley was one of the earliest authors on the Internet, starting with a Fidonet link an awfully long time ago. Her web page, however, is only four years old, and is fairly utilitarian because she likes to have control of it but also likes to write. Because Jo is fairly active online, and has been online for such a long time, our own Linda Hurst thought it would be interesting to hear her thoughts on authors and the Internet. Here's what Jo had to say:

It's been interesting watching the internet grow. Back when I crept onto it - before the World Wide Web - it was such a treat to be able to talk to other writers, but particularly to romance readers. Of course there weren't many in cyberspace, but I was suddenly in contact with many more, and more varied, readers than ever before.

I didn't think about promotion as such. Certainly meeting readers this way might lead to sales. On the other hand, I might irritate them, or not present a proper "romance author" persona, and scare them away! My interest was much more in hearing what was coming out the other end of the creative tube and using that to become a better writer. It still is.

True, I'm a lot more conscious of promotion through the Internet; how could I help it? I am, however, quite skeptical about a great deal of it. I have seen authors do a great deal of online promotion without budging their sales numbers, and others do nothing and shoot upward. In the end, as always, it is the book that matters. More than that, for most authors it is book, after book, after book, building a readership and word of mouth.

However, online promotion can do some very useful things for both author and reader. Above all, it can inform. As a reader, I do want to know when my favorite authors' books are coming out. I don't go to the bookstore that often, and as we all know, some romance novels can appear and disappear very fast. I see e-mail as the best way of sending and receiving this factual information since it takes no effort on the recipient's part other than opening their mail. I have an e-mail list for this purpose. I don't harvest e-mail addresses for this list. It's only for people who want to be on it. It is blind - that is, no one on the list sees the names of the other recipients. And I send out businesslike messages as rarely as possible. I have mine set up through my e-mail server since that was the only way until recently. Now it's easy to set up a send-only list through egroups.

It's also easy to set up a focused author mail chat list. When I realized that I couldn't find the time to read all the reader lists that were popping up, I set one up because I could be sure to read there, at least, even on deadline. (jobeverley@egroups.com)

In any mailing, I can point people to my web page, and a web page is certainly a boon. I remember the days when I had my booklist in a file and sent it to anyone who asked. That was a lot of work then, and it would be a huge time sink now. I have my booklist as a simple list, easy to print out and carry, and as an annotated one with a story synopsis and other details.

I can also put up excerpts, which is something I've always thought the best promotion. If our own words can't sell our books, what can? As a comment, I find excerpts much easier to read if they are presented with paragraph indents as in a book rather than with line breaks between paragraphs, and I think it's worth the time to set it up that way.

I've recently started putting up other things connected with the books such as links to background information and scanned pictures. I'm just back from a trip to England with more photographs, this time relevant to next year's books. Readers seem to enjoy extra visual context for the stories such as settings and costumes. This time I'll make sure to keep the file size small so they load more easily!

I know a lot of readers like to follow up the books and learn more about the period, characters, and special elements, so I try to put up links to such things as well.

Incidentally, I don't own jobeverley.com. Some guy in England is squatting on it but I'm not planning on paying him to get it back. Besides it being against my principles to do that, I don't see the point. Everyone misses out that last 'e' anyway! Think field. Beverley comes form field (lea) of the beaver. Beaverlea. Beverley. I know that romance readers are smart enough to do a quick search and find my page, and I have it set up so that a search for Jo Beverly pulls it up very nicely, too.

I see all this as promotion because it gives the readers the chance to decide whether they want to buy my books; the information they need to find and buy my books if they do; and some extra texture to the reading experience for those who like that. It doesn't particularly snare new readers, but I still think good old word of mouth - on line and off - does that the best.

I look forward to reading what readers think about author web pages, what works and what doesn't at generating new sales. However, unless an author has a particularly good webdesigner, most of the work takes up the author's time in some way, and I think an author's time is best spent writing.

-- Jo Beverley

Last year Jo created a separate website for Rothgar at http://www.rothgar.com. She might create one for her Company of Rogues. Or it might just be a part of her main site at http://www.poboxes.com/jobev.

Jo has three stories coming out next year, which weave back into her Rogues. First is an anthology piece, The Demon's Mistress, in In Praise of Younger Men. Next is The Dragon's Bride in which Con Somerford, a member of the Company of Rogues has to return to a scene of youthful misadventure and face his past. Then there is The Devil's Heiress in which Clarissa Greystone, who got all Lord Deveril's ill-gotten money in An Unwilling Bride, is pursued by Major Hawk Hawkinville, who is intent on claiming it for himself. BTW, An Unwilling Bride has been reissued this month. This is a very difficult to find novel, so here's an amazon.com link in case you'd like a copy for your own.

Jo Beverley at AAR