Thoughts on Websites: Editor Alison Weiss

Alison Weiss editor photoToday we welcome the amazing editor Alison Weiss, who is hilarious and wonderful! She shares her thoughts on when and what author websites should exist and have, from the unique perspective of an acquiring editor. (If you didn’t catch the first in this series, check this interview with agent Jennifer Johnson-Blalock!)

Q: When do editors view an author’s website? Upon receiving an agent submission, requesting material, or at the offer stage?

AW: I will freely admit that I am a bit of a stealthy spy when it comes to author websites. And I look at them at different points in the submission process for different reasons. If an agent sends me a pitch that sounds deliciously intriguing or I’ve heard the author’s name, but I can’t recall why or they’ve published books and I want to know more about them, I may go and nose around their sites. If I’m halfway through a manuscript, and I’m getting excited, I may go snooping at that point. I need to know if I’m getting excited over someone who is crazy or just a genuinely nice person. (It’s almost always the latter.) If I know I love a book and I want to take it to acquisitions, but I need to build my case about why not only is it a stunning prospect for the list, but the author has the greatest platform and interesting background, which make this acquisition a slam dunk, I’m definitely looking at your website.

In short, I will be looking, so make it a good one.

Q: Many writers — agented and unagented — are very active on Twitter. What information are you hoping to get from an author website, and how is that different from a social media presence?

AW: On Twitter or Facebook or, really, any social media, I get a sense of how many followers someone has, how often he or she engages in the community and, perhaps, a sense of his or her level of comfort using social media. On a website, I want to get a sense of the writer. What’s your story? How did you come to writing? Who is the audience you’re hoping to reach? Do you have a family? Do you have a job that takes you away for long stretches at a time? (a.k.a. I spend 4 months at a stretch every year in the Amazonian rainforest and am absolutely unavailable). Obviously, you have a life and you need to, well, live it! But as an editor, I like to start to get a sense of how accessible you’re going to be to work with me on your book and your availability to promote once the book hits the market. (Again, at a pre-acquisition stage, this is hardly a make-or-break but I need to know for those pesky editorial letters.) I expect a level of basic professional information: any books you’ve had published, by whom, buy buttons; if you have an agent, contact information; links to social media. You should have a little about your book or if you don’t have anything published or soon-to-be published, some insight into what you write. This is your chance to define you on your own terms. I use that information when I’m pitching you and your book.

Q: How much does branding, design, and presentation help when you are considering a client?

AW: I like a clean site. One that’s easily navigable. I don’t need all the bells and whistles. This is your business card on the internet. It should reflect that you are a professional and have thought about your presentation. But it certainly isn’t make-or-break for me.

Q: Does having a blog matter or is this really just personal preference about keeping one?

AW: You should have a blog only if you are going to regularly post to your blog. If I go to your website, and see that your last post was in 2014, and the one before that was in 2012, well, that’s not very useful. I firmly believe that social media (and I count blogs in that mix) is a very important factor in building your brand, but you need to choose the social media that you enjoy and works for you because you’re going to be there a lot. If you feel great on a blog, wonderful. If you love hopping on to Twitter all the time for 140 characters or less of chatter, super! But if you’re going to post a couple things and flee, you’re not helping yourself and actually seem like you’re not investing in your brand. And that’s going to make me question if you’ll have the commitment to making your book the best it can possibly be.

Q: How does a website with poor design or questionable content reflect on an author when editors research potential clients? What should an author NOT put up on their website?

AW: As I said before, I like a clean website. I don’t need all the bells and whistles. They may be fancy and pretty, but they can also create serious loading issues.

I want to know about an author, but I don’t need to know everything about his/her life. If you’re writing about raising kids, great, but otherwise, I don’t really care if your darling is being potty trained. If you’re writing about travel, of course I want to see gorgeous shots from your journey. Do I need the family photo from vacation ordinarily? Probably not. This is a business page for your brand. It should cater to you as an author and take into account your audience–if you’re writing for kids, obviously, your site should be kid-friendly.

I will admit I have seen warning flags on websites or social media that have made me really consider if I’m interested in working with someone–questionable content, engaging in bullying behavior, a large number of typos! Don’t do these things.

Q: Is it better for writers to have a domain name (www.bigauthor.com) or a free blog (bigauthor.blogspot.com)?

AW: From my perspective working for a publisher, having a domain name is better. It isn’t that expensive to buy your domain for the most-part, and then you can control that piece of your brand. It is far more likely that someone interested in you is going to type in joeshmo.com and if it isn’t you, they may take the time to search and be properly directed, but they may not.

Q: Do you recommend setting up a website ahead of querying agents or going on submission? If not, then before announcing a pub deal?

AW: I think it’s better to start building your brand before you start querying agents and then, by extension, your agent starts querying editors on your behalf. It gives us somewhere to go learn more about you. It does not need to be your final, my-book-is-out-on-the-market site. But if there’s nothing in the ether, it makes it harder for me to gather information about you for me to sell to the decision-makers inside my publishing house.

Q: Post-sale, what should author websites have? How long in advance of the publication date should authors begin to establish their brand?

Post-sale, your website is going to be your hub for all that is you and your publishing career. And it will change over time, as there is more to share with would-be readers, or your fanbase as it grows.

I want to see the following on any site for a soon-to-be released author’s book:

  • Cover front and center
  • Release date
  • Author bio
  • Links to all social media: If you’re on it and want people to find you there, you need a widget
  • Buy buttons: You should be covering all major channels–B&N, Amazon, Indiebound at minimum
  • Contact information for your agent
  • Contact information for your publisher
  • FAQs: They save you so much time
  • Reviews as they come in
  • Upcoming events

If you have these, you have a good place to start.

Thank you, Alison!

Alison S. Weiss is an editor at Sky Pony Press, where her focus is on chapter books through YA. Recent and soon-to-be released projects include Jessica Taylor’s Wandering Wild, Kristina McBride’s A Million Times Goodnight, the Project Droid series by New York Times bestselling author Nancy Krulik, Amanda Burwasser, and illustrated by Mike Moran, dotwav by Mike A. Lancaster, Timekeeper by Tara Sim, Monsterville: A Lissa Black Production by Sarah S. Reida, Fear the Drowning Deep by Sarah Glenn Marsh, and It’s a Mystery, Pig Face! by Wendy MacLeod McKnight. She’s worked with New York Times best-selling author Jessica Verday (Of Monsters and Madness), Agatha Award winner Penny Warner (The Code Busters Club series), YALSA-Award winning Sarah Cross (Kill Me Softly and Tear You Apart), ITW Award Finalist Kristen Lippert-Martin (Tabula Rasa), Amalie Howard, and Sarah McGuire, among others. She also assisted on Christopher Myers’s H.O.R.S.E., which won a 2013 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award and the 2014 Odyssey Award. Follow her on Twitter @alioop7.

Submission guidelines are here, and people can submit to skyponysubmissions@skyhorsepublishing.com.

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