The meeting of the directors of a writers organisation had gone on for more than a couple of hours and was just coming to an end. Fair City conditions for writers had been discussed, contracts for playwrights at the Abbey had been examined and some new information about Red Rock, the new TV3 drama series, was aired.
“Who has a website?” I asked.
Puzzlement, distaste, looks that said: “Why would you want one of those?”
The lady screenwriter to my right, who had a screenplay credit for one of Maeve Binchy’s novels, said, “I don’t want one of those.”
I knew I was outnumbered. “It’s the way to go,” I said.
Shrugs, shakes of the head, the six other directors let me know that even thinking about having a personal writer’s website was an upstartish thing. After all, the writers around the table, mainly playwrights and screenwriters, had at least several hundred credits between them.
Finally, a younger female writer spoke up from her computer in the far corner of the room.
“It’s a generational thing,” she said.
This caused a few moments silence, then I spoke.
“I’ve got a website….”
A few months earlier I had contacted a website designer who specialised in writers. He put straight forward questions to me. What was the purpose of the website? That was easy: to promote my writing. Then he asked me to look at other websites. Some he had designed, others I admired, websites I didn’t like. The first important decision was the name of the website – I picked martinboylan.com – he checked that it wasn’t previously registered and booked it on my behalf.
Obviously, a lot of it is personal. A website is a visual medium – a representation of you and your writing. The designer asks personal questions – what colour would you like it to be? These kind of questions may seem unimportant, but the answers do make a statement. For example, one writer of romantic fiction had a lot of bright pastel colours – pinks, pale blues, curves and flowery designs – a backdrop to romance. No one so far has described me as a writer of romantic fiction, so that colour scheme was out. I pointed him to other websites where I thought the colour scheme was more appropriate to my personality.
The layout of the website is extremely important. I thought some writers’ websites gave far too much information – page after page of narrow-spaced writing. Attention spans are short these days. I thought potential readers would skip a lot of it and be put off by the denseness of the material.
The essentials I wanted in the design were:
- Simplicity – easy to see all the items at a glance.
- Visual attractiveness – the easier the design is on the eye, the longer a potential reader will stay.
- Ease of negotiation – from the writer’s biog to the novels and plays he has written. Where can I read a sample of his novels, listen to his plays etc?
- Amenable to change – if I want to add or subtract something it should be straightforward.
At the beginning of the website construction, I was asked to answer a lot of questions using a web format called basecamp. You answer questions, provide text – a writing biog, brief descriptions of your plays and novels etc. This happened over a few weeks, after a few stumbles at the beginning. The latter arose because basecamp didn’t come with a simple operating manual and you had to get the hang of it on the job, so to speak. But after this initial phase it did become easy.
Teething problems: my website, martinboylan.com, is probably a bit more complicated than others. For example, I wanted potential clients to be able to listen to episodes of my radio comedy series, Councillor O Toole, by downloading a couple of episodes to listen to for free, and then purchasing the complete series if they wished. This was sorted by the web designer, after a bit of toing and froing and is now operating the way I want it.
Cost: The cost for my website was six hundred euro, paid in two phases. Two hundred after a couple of weeks, and the remaining four hundred just before the final handover. There were two maintenance models – one providing a continuous hands on by the website designer over the full year, costing a bit over two hundred euro, and a second, minimal maintenance, where you pay for specific tasks to be carried out – I went for this latter model.
Conclusion: this is the age of the world wide web. Every writer will need a website – the earlier you look into it and get one, the easier in the long term. Now that mine is up and operating, I will use it to advertise my writing on other sites. Publishers, agents and producers will have a ready reference point for my novels and plays and I will have a platform to launch all my future writing. And, of course, at the next meeting of the directors of the writers’ organisation, my first question will be: how many of you methuselahs have logged onto my website to listen to my radio comedy series or read my novels?
(c) Martin Boylan