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Related questions:

A possible duplicate of, even if I'd like the question to be more generic:

Website is a pretty generic term that covers blogs and forums alike.

An author website supposedly has a lot of functions, such as:

  • Promoting one's latest book;
  • Keeping one's audience engaged with weekly updates;
  • Keeping track of events or conventions where the author will be;
  • Presenting additional materials, such as cut drafts, character descriptions and whatnot;
  • Serving as a contact point for affectionate readers ...

and so goes the list.

A website design usually highlights some features and suppresses others. For example, a website where the visitors have no way of leaving comments has little to offer in terms of communication, and it's clearly not meant for that purpose.

Surfing the net you can encounter author sites from each side of the spectrum: some are only meant to promote a certain book (mostly cover art, some excerpt, and nothing more), others offer lenghty drafts and whole user-accessible forums, some others are daily-life blogs, and so on.

Roughly speaking, I can split those websites in two groups - promotional and interactive. Interactive websites have sections and built-in mechanisms to allow user interaction (be it through comments, reviews, topics, and so on). Promotional websites expose material and are meant to be read only.

Both are, of course, viable options. The question is:

Should an author include user-interactive sections in his website?

Of course while user interactive sections are potentially more engaging, they don't come without cost (e.g., they usually need moderation).

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    My suggestion is, put your content first, address the related/possible dupe second. Let the readers of your question read your content first. – AGirlHasNoName Mar 3 at 18:06
  • I hate to keep VTC your questions but this and the last one are really way too broad and they're asking people for lists, which we're not supposed to be doing. They're not bad questions, they're just more discussion/brain storming/list making. – Cyn says make Monica whole Mar 4 at 4:55
  • @Cyn You are right; I do have the tendency to ask brain storming questions - i do like brain storming as a method. I've edited it to focus on a more specific aspect. – Liquid - Reinstate Monica Mar 4 at 8:22
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    Much better. I retracted my close vote. I would like to see more about what you mean though. Forums? Comments on posts? Guest posts? Live chats? – Cyn says make Monica whole Mar 4 at 15:15
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User interaction is a commitment.

Moderation, as Galastel discusses, is one important component of it (use software such as Wordpress that emails you all new comments and allows you to set moderation parameters). Remember, your website is your private domain and you do not have to allow "free speech" (this has no meaning in private forums). On my personal blog, I've left up comments that disagree with me but I did not allow the tiny handful that were obnoxious. I had one calling me "fat" (as a way to dismiss my opinion, it's in fact a common way to dismiss women; it had nothing to do with how I look) and one that stated crudely that I'd change my mind if I just had more sex (it was a restaurant review, seriously).

Interaction is the other important component. If you allow comments, you need to respond to them. If there are just a few comments (fewer than 10 a week), respond to all of them (you can address multiple comments from the same page together). If there are many, then respond to a decent percentage, at least the ones that ask (reasonable) questions.

Forums are a much bigger step. If you're now big enough that your fans want and will use forums, you're too busy to moderate them yourself. You need to hire someone or use trusted fans (probably on their own site that you can link to if they prove they're doing it well).

Guest posts are not too hard if you don't have very many, or much competition. This is a fun way to show fan views and increase the value of your site.

Live chats are not uncommon and shouldn't be hard if you have the right software. You will want someone else to moderate and deal with keeping time and tech stuff before and during the chat. These can be spoken or typed. Video is possible with smaller numbers but not practical with a lot of guests, unless it's just you that is in video. Again, it depends on the software.

Columns are a fairly low key way to include fan feedback. Here, you solicit questions ahead of time, usually with an end date, sometimes on a theme, then answer a selected version of them in print, in a podcast, a video chat, etc.

Curated comments is similar to columns only they aren't questions. Many people use comments on a review page. Make sure you have permission (soliciting them will work).

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If your website allows interaction - leaving comments etc., there is the hidden implication that someone on your behalf keeps an eye on those interaction, at least to the extent of keeping things civil, if not to the extent of answering questions like "when is the next book coming out" and "why did you write X instead of Y).

If somebody is called a moron in the comments section on your site, that will hurt your sales. It doesn't matter that it wasn't you who called them a moron. If somebody starts saying that your work is in fact a hidden paedophilic message, it will hurt your sales even more, no matter how stupid the claim is. It's on your site, people see it, it stays up so it must have merit.

Moderation takes time. Time is money. Can you afford the time and money required to moderate the "interaction" on your site? That seems to me the main consideration with regards to whether or not you want an interactive section.

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An author website supposedly has a lot of functions, such as:

  • Promoting one's latest book; Keeping one's audience engaged with weekly updates;
  • Keeping track of events or conventions where the author will be;
  • Presenting additional materials, such as cut drafts, character descriptions and whatnot;
  • Serving as a contact point for affectionate readers ...

and so goes the list.

None of these require user-input

Based on the examples you have provided, I suggest that none of these require any sort of reader input. These are not necessarily the "interactive" parts of the website, this is all meta content from the author for the reader to explore, or keep up-to-date with in-person appearances.

The only part where you mention something that requires member generated content would be a forum. A forum sounds like a good idea for non-fiction topics where readers might form a community around the topics in the book, or follow up with on-going news and info.

For a work of fiction, I would not host a forum unless the goal is to host fan fiction. I think there are problems that leave you vulnerable to legal issues, like if a sequel in any way resembled a fan story that had been hosted on your site, it would remove your legal ability to say you had no contact with the material.

Non-fiction: YES, try to grow a community around the book and make it a destination for anyone researching the topic.

Fiction, no. Provide as much meta content as you wish, but avoid hosting member-generated content that could cause a legal headache, or jeopardize your reputation with toxic commentary and harassment which you wouldn't feel comfortable pruning regularly.

  • I see your overall point, but a possible for of interaction on meta-content for a fiction book would be letting readers "comment" at the end of each post (or any form of media). As simple as that. – Liquid - Reinstate Monica Mar 9 at 17:41

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