All writers need a web site.
That's really the main point of this post, so if you're in a hurry, you've read all you need to read.
Get a web site and get your domain name reserved now. What is a domain name? It's that www.yourname.whatever address that folks are going to type into their web browser to get to your web site.
There is a lot of domain name "squatting" going on, so I advise you to grab whatever name you want now, pay a domain name registration service such as www.register.com, or www.namesecure.com or www.godaddy.com or any one of a number of other services. For less than $9.95 per year you can reserve your name, e.g. www.amypadgett.com, and make sure that some cyber-squatter doesn't grab your name for whatever nefarious reason they have. (Don't forget the www.whitehouse.com versus www.whitehouse.gov debacle where some folks of ill-repute got the www.whitehouse.com domain name before the legit presidential folks could get their big-brother governmental hands on it. What a mess. Don't let that happen to you!)
This is not an idle remark and it's not just the White House that has had the problem. I have a wonderful fellow writer friend who has been publishing a slew of novellas and whose agent is working to get her published as a single title. This friend had a web site but due to some issues with her web hosting service, she had to move it to a different service and in the process, some cyber-squatter got her original domain name, forcing her to move from www.charlottefeatherstone.com to www.charlottefeatherstone.net. Since most people will automatically add the .com to the end of a web site name, it makes it a little awkward.
If you run into a situation like that, where your name and most versions of it are already taken, I would recommend using the country extension instead of the .net extension. (I don't like the .net extension because it's generally used by folks in the computer industry to indicate organizations/companies/industries related to the networking industry, which is not particularly applicable to writers and will make propeller-heads like me, crazy.)
Each country in the world, including the U.S.A. has an extension which can be used instead of the regular .com, if the name you want to attach to the .com extension is already taken. For example, the United Kingdom has the .co.uk extension for the country extension. The United States has the .co.us extension.
All this naming stuff, however, is not exactly the point I wanted to make in this blog.
I just spent the weekend going back over my website and making some modest changes. One of the changes is relatively important, however, and it's a change I would encourage others to make.
Of course, it may be that others don't need to make this change and as usual, I'm just weird.
When I originally started my web site, I did not have an agent and I had no idea when I would be published. I didn't want the site to be a "writer wannabe" site. As it turned out, I became heavily involved in the Wilmington Cape Fear Rose Society as the newsletter editor, and I also began writing articles about the history of roses. So, I made my web site a sort of "all my interests" site with sections on gardening/roses including newsletter issues (I'm still working on getting the old issues up there), birding, and writing.
That's fine, but what that made it was a hobby site.
Now that I have an agent and am closer to being a published writer, I realized that one of the writer's biggest tools in the publicity toolkit is their web site. I had to do a makeover to begin to change it from being a hobby site to a writer's site that just included sections on other things such as rose gardening, instead of the hobbies being the main focus. I couldn't take down the rose gardening sections, however, because I get a lot of visitors on those pages and I maintain the newsletters online for my rose society. Besides, it's writing even if it's nonfiction, and it provides information to writers on...roses. And roses during the Regency period.
The importance of turning it into a more writing profession and less hobby-oriented site was brought home to me by another writer, Mai Thao, www.maichristythao.com. She has a gorgeous web site and actually got her first writing contract when someone visited her web site, read her excerpts and contacted her.
Don't go all crazy at this point and think this is the answer to your prayers for getting published.
This was most likely an aberation. I seriously doubt editors and agents are cruising the internet looking for new writers, because they get enough manuscripts in the mail to keep them occupied well into the next century. However, this is one example of how important a site can be. You just don't know who is surfing the net out there and who may discover you at random.
Nonetheless, fantasies aside, the most critical thing a site does for you is to provide a avenue for publicity and a place for fans to go for more information and news. Do not pooh-pooh this aspect. It is incredibly important. And since it takes time for search engines, such as www.google.com to find your website and catalog the pages, the sooner you can create one and get some "content out there," the better it will be when the time comes to actually use it professionally to publicize your books.
Over the past year, I've noticed a lot of major authors have done amazing web site overhauls, which to my mind means they have also realized how critical this is. I would encourage you to take a look at three of my favorite sites. They have beautiful designs and give you a feel for what should be on an author's site:
Surprisingly enough, I also use sites like www.microsoft.com to see how they lay things out because they really are web site professionals and know exactly how to present a lot of information in a graphically pleasing way. Or, just look at your favorite web site.
If I had to give one (okay, 2) piece of advice, it would be:
Keep the site visually clean. Use a lot of white space. And watch what words you use, particularly if you include excerpts. If you use a lot of dirty words, your pages may be found, but they may be put on the "porn" site list so people with parental filters turned on may not get to your site. Your site may not even be listed as a choice when people use things like www.google.com to search. Think about it.
I'm a little torn on the excerpt issue. I've heard pros and cons. Last year, I had excerpts, then I took them down and now I've got some very short ones back up. The pros are that they can give your audience a feel for your writing and they may gain you new readers. The cons are that you're providing "free reading material" which may not make your publisher happy. There are a lot more pros and cons. This issue deserves a lot of consideration. I have noticed that most professional, big-time writers like the ones I have listed above do not have excerpts. I find this very telling.
On the other hand, I've heard readers say they like the excerpts on web sites because they can more easily determine if they will like an unfamiliar writer's voice and they are more likely to buy a book to try them.
This leads me to the conclusion that it may be good to have excerpts until you are well-known enough to despense with them.
Anyway, that's about it. Web sites are important to writers; and readers, too!