Why have a website?
In days of yore, a writer didn’t really have a ‘presence’ at all.
Back in mediaeval times, it was actually considered a virtue to have your work be based one someone else’s, usually someone from the ancient past — to be ‘original’, to come up with ideas that were all your own, was thought of as worthless and ephemeral. If your notions had any value, the thinking went, then the old masters would have come up with them back in antiquity — no one cared for ‘new ideas’. Authors were humble creatures, begging for forgiveness for their own ignorance and asking for the indulgence of readers. They kept a low profile personally; advertising themselves would have been considered vanity.
This positioning of the author as a mere via, a vassal of something greater, carried on through the High Middle Ages and into Shakespeare’s time, in which the concept of ‘ripping off’ another’s storyline or work was a foreign one. Copyright didn’t exist; writers were two a penny (sometimes literally, no doubt). Indeed, even the notion that there was such a thing as ‘fiction’ and that it had inherent worth was a later arrival. Early novels like Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Moll Flanders (1722) had to some degree to position themselves as journalistic, reporting on actual events. The rise of fiction as a thing in itself (as we see through the rise of the novel) is generally associated with the growth of the middle class in England in the 18th-century. Gradually, the novelist became an entity in his or her own right — in many of the earlier novels, he or she directly addresses the reader, for example, interrupting his or her narrative to pass judgment on a character, to express pity or praise or to discuss some other relevant issue, as though the whole thing is still journalistic.
But authors as independent identities or celebrities remained very much in the background. The public at large, for example, thought that the Brontë sisters were male writers for a long time. The cult of the author was still a rare thing, growing less rare throughout the Victorian period until Dickens and Thackeray, for example, were celebrities in their own time.
What has all this to do with whether or not you need a website?
Well, in the latter part of the 20th century it could be argued that the combination of widespread literacy in the society, plus the introduction of more and more technological means of flooding the marketplace with fiction, changed the above picture. While it might not be quite true to say that writers began to outnumber readers, it is certainly true that in the latter part of that century and the beginning of the 21st, a vast amount of fiction swamped the marketplace, much of it without any kind of filtering. This trend continues today. Some estimates suggest that there are between 600,000 and 1,000,000 books published every year in the US alone, with perhaps half being self-published. On average, they sell less than 250 copies each — but they are out there nevertheless, taking up cyberspace and shelf space. And — and this is the point — potential headspace.
In order to register any kind of impression these days with an audience (which didn’t necessarily receive a proportionate amount of extra attention to match this tsunami of books) an author needs some kind of web presence. Think of it as a cyber-sandwich board which you carry around with you, at least saying to the world at large ‘I am here; I do exist; I have written something’.
The website doesn’t have to be complex, but it needs to contain the essentials about you and your work, preferably with links which open up the possibility that a visitor to your site may follow through and purchase one or more of your books.
So yes, you do need a website.
If you can’t afford one, or don’t have the time or attention to spare maintaining one, I can ‘rent’ you some space in my website and maintain that space for you. This has the advantage of being much cheaper and easier than setting one up for yourself, plus it has a certain amount of traffic flowing through it already, usually readers looking for things of interest. Contact me if you are interested.
We may hearken back nostalgically to the days when authors could be invisible, but that era has passed to some degree. Now we need to manifest ourselves, at least partly, in the readers’ world to have the opportunity to stand out a little bit at least from the faceless ocean of other authors.