Monday, February 16, 2009

Oh, What a Wicked Web(site) We Weave: A cautionary tale.

I’m sharing my story with you in the hopes that you won’t make my mistake. I won’t name names.

It starts back in 1997 with a newly published writer who realizes she needs internet presence. A website. Having no design experience, and no one she feels comfortable asking for advice, she latches onto a website for writers in her genre. It’s a group site with lots of authors, so it has to be good, right? And the web mistress has lots of ongoing activities to draw in those important readers. Wow.

Where does this new author sign?

Oh. No contract? Okay, no problem. The new author pays the design and hosting fee, and she’s on her way. She’s got a website and a domain name. All she has to do is send in her updates and they appear like magic on the first of the month.

Except when they don’t appear and her webmistress is mysteriously incommunicado.

But they eventually do, although a week or a month late, and only after many urgent emails are sent and phone messages are left. And always with apologies from the webmistress who had a horrendous catastrophe happen and, well, you know how life goes. What can she do but suffer bravely through them? Of course new author is sympathetic to her plight and all is forgiven.

Fast forward to this year. New author has become well-established author who depends on her internet presence to promote her books and boost those important sales figures. Her career depend on word getting out. And her webmistress goes MIA yet again, and her updates don’t get posted. In fact, for author’s last three releases, no new book information is posted in a timely manner. Yet those apologies are still coming, along with more tales of horrendous catastrophes. It’s become an all-too familiar pattern, but it will have a happy ending one day soon.

What should you learn from this? First, own your domain. Don’t hand that control over to anyone you can only contact by phone or email. You have to be able to go into your website to post information.

Second, bad things happen to everyone, but business is business. You wouldn’t forgive your doctor for not showing up for your heart surgery because his water pipes burst at home. Do not be suckered in by sob stories.

Third, ask for a written contract with an opt-out clause.

Fourth, before you sign up, talk to people. Find out what kind of experiences they’ve had. Don’t be afraid to look ignorant. It’s better than being a sucker.

Trust me on this.