How important do you think author websites/blogs are and at what stages in a career? Pre-publication and post-publication? How does an author build a fan base for a blog or website? Also, what are the best ways for an author to advertise/publisize? Are there any good websites with this type of information?
This is the question we sort of discussed last weekend. After looking at everyone else's opinion, here's mine.
Get a website. If nothing else, reserve the domain name - your name if possible - right now before someone else does. Yes, there are actually people who do things like reserve other people's and companies' names in the hopes of selling the domain rights to them later. There are lots of services that will allow you to reserve your domain name for a few dollars a year without having to pay for web hosting. I use Yahoo! for that sort of things. Then, once you are ready to have a site, you've at least go the name.
When designing the site, you should keep a few things in mind. If you plan to use the site primarily for promoting to adults like librarians and teachers, then you can have a simpler site with less interactivity. However, if you plan to have a site you would like kids to regularly visit, you have to up the stakes. I found a wonderful article that discusses that here on Candy Gourlay's blog.
Finally, if you would like to start blogging, feel free to do so. There are lots of places like here on blogger or on live journal where you can try it out for free. Although you can use a blog for promotional purposes - I have been known to post updates on books and the like on mine - I would primarily reccommend you blog for fun. And after all, it is fun.
As to promoting a website/blog, if you google "promoting a blog" you get some normal and some downright wacky reccomendations. Some, like printing your web address/blog address on everything you print (business cards, postcards, etc) are just common sense. When I started my blog, my goal was to improve the quality of slush submissions by alerting people to all the little, stupid mistakes that can torpedo your chances of making it past a reader. My great method of advertising was to email everyone I knew and to let them know about the site. However, I didn't find my readership particularly grew until other bloggers found me. The web is a lovely example of word of mouth. It's not something you can exactly control although viral marketing methods try. You just have to let others know you exist by doing things like posting on people's comments sections or submitting to different carnivals. And again, you should be doing it not with advertising in mind, but because it's fun to comment. Like everyone else, bloggers can tell when you are commenting because your interested or your commenting because you're trying to get your name out. Comment because you want to. After all, as Greg K likes to remind me everynow and then, our blogs are ultimately for ourselves and for own satisfaction. We're not selling ads or even books from them. Even if no one ever looks at it, there is a certain satisfaction in writing on them, just for the sake of writing on them.