After asking a couple literary agents what their thoughts were on an unpublished fiction author having a website, I got mixed results. One said, “You will need it at some point.” Another said, “It’s not necessary.” But the third is what convinced me that it is a must-have. She said, “Agents and Publishers like to see that you are ‘publishing-ready’, and having a website shows you’re committed to becoming published, that you’re invested. Consequently, they take you a bit more seriously.”
That was all I needed to convince myself that I must have a website… but what do I put on the website? Should it be dedicated to this one book/series? Or should it be dedicated to me as an author? What artwork do I put on the website (it can’t just be all text)? So I did some research to see what other fantasy authors have done with their websites. Terry Brooks http://terrybrooks.net/ made his to support himself as an author and all of his books. Christopher Paolini http://www.alagaesia.com/ made his just to support his series. I decided that I would make my website about me as an author, so that it’s flexible enough to support all my future books, but currently, it just supports my novel and the proposed future Black Smith series.
I knew I needed artwork, so I commissioned Natalie Salvo for the task, and I must say, it was everything I could have hoped and dreamed. (If you need cover art, you should hire her too! See my Contact page for details). Getting the cover art was not solely done for the website, of course. I whole heatedly intend for it to be my actual book cover (unless a publisher strong arms me otherwise). But, what it really allowed me to accomplish was a professional web-presence, and a never-ending marketing campaign. Every photo, avatar, and icon across all social media and the entire web became my book cover. In addition, once a reader sees the cover, it brings their imagination to life. They can visualize my characters around a common baseline; considering my characters are of an entirely new race of creatures known as elkin, it can be useful.
I recommend that any aspiring author should do the same. I have already begun to experience the benefits of having a website and cover art; though however small, it does not belittle their significance: 1) Beneath my signature when querying agents, I can post a link to my website. 2) On every website that requires membership, I am able to provide my website URL and picture of my cover art for widespread marketing. 3) After reading a query letter, a curious agent will click my link, see the incredible art that was born from my imagination and even be able to read a sample chapter (my prologue). 4) Begin capturing a following early on, so that as THE SOUL SMITH nears publication, I have a much wider audience to tell. 5) I can elaborate on my Bio, where the guidelines of a query letter prevent me from telling my story. 6) It has created a future haven for fans of The Soul Smith. It will be a place where I can reward my fans with additional info (like providing them the short story that I am writing), and keep a record of news on the developments for the rest of the series.
There has only been one drawback. When it was time to submit my full completed manuscript for consideration, I debated heavily as to whether I should put the cover art on. In the end, I erred on the side of caution and held true to the traditional manuscript format. All too often, I’ve heard agents warn authors not to try to deviate from the “rules”. Anything that you do to make yourself stick out is just a red flag to them. You simply just have to wow them with your voice and your writing alone.
The last benefit that it provides is it supports my backup plan (which I hope I will never have to implement). I have all the tools necessary to self-publish, but that is my very last option. If I don’t get an agent this time, I will publish my short story in a magazine, join SFWA, enter my short story in contests, and then put all that in my bio. Then I’ll query more agents. If I still don’t get a favorable response, then I’ll query publishers directly. If I am still unsuccessful, then and only then, will I self publish. My dreams are too big to rely on self-publishing. I want to create an audio book, I want to sell supplemental books that detail the world and contain my short stories… I can see The Soul Smith on the big screen, I can see action figures, video games, board games, replica swords, and other merchandise. My book will be a success, it’s just a matter of how much.