CALLING IN THE EXPERTS
In 2003, when author websites were a relatively new phenomenon, one of my generous and ambitious graduate students offered to create a website for me. With my second adult novel Where No Gods Came newly in the world, my former student convinced me of the value of the website, and in the end I was delighted to have her do it. She purchased www.sheilaoconnor.com, gave me my password, designed the website, and sent it live into the world. If anyone was looking for me, I could be found; there was a link to my email, information about my two novels, my work as a teacher, a brief biography. This was long before Facebook and Twitter, before authors were expected to keep a constant pubic presence on the web, and I was grateful for the gift.
In truth, I forgot about that website. When I visited it a number of years later, I saw my public presence was the sort of site you’d see at an antique shop, if such a thing existed for the web: quaint; rudimentary, my author photo as outdated as my site. This wasn’t the fault of my former student; in 2003 she was a maverick, but she’d created a website for the time, and that time was gone. I was a writer in a new world, a world where the internet was the central source of information, a world where a writer’s website was now standard, and if a new one was to be created, this time I’d have to hire an expert to get the job done right.
In the early stages of that project, I immersed myself in research. I visited countless author websites and tried to track the trail to their designers. If there was a website I admired, I emailed the author, asked them who they hired, and if they’d be willing to tell me what it cost. Surfing through a host of possibilities, I began to identify the kind of site I wanted, and at last landed on a company, Carbon Creative, that could take it from my hands and make it happen.
I don’t remember the exact sequence of events, but I remember an initial sunny meeting full of warm air and wide screen windows at a neighborhood office in
South Minneapolis. I remember lots of conversation about what I
had in mind, what I liked, my history, and finally we came around to the
subject of my books. At that time, I
was publishing Sparrow Road,
my first novel for middle-grade readers, and the challenge-- as I saw it-- was
the creation of a website that reflected my sensibilities as an artist, as well
as the range of my literary work past and present. Michele, my designer for the project, told me
to send her everything I had (teaching, writing, biographical information,
photographs, blurbs, reviews, etc.) and then she asked for copies of my
The day the site was ready for reveal (there had been many exchanges, perhaps a couple meetings), I brought my husband with me. This time, we walked on icy sidewalks to the office, the city transformed by winter. My heart was full of fear: What if I hated it? What if they’d taken it in a direction that didn’t suit me or my work? “It’ll be okay,” my husband said. But when we sat down at the table and the monitor lit up, it was more than okay—it was its own work of art: a site that captured my sensibility as a writer, a site that reflected the intention of my books, a site that captured the spirit of Sparrow Road, and most of all a site that welcomed readers of all ages. This was the work of an expert, a designer with talent, experience and vision. And she’d brought all that to bear in the creation of her own original work of art. It was akin to the way I’d felt when I’d been sent the cover for
for another artist’s creation, gratitude for the care that artist took to honor
“It’s not meant to be forever,” Michele said gently. “A good website’s redesigned every few years.”
Secretly, I hoped that would never happen—I’d spent the money; I’d gotten everything what I wanted and much more. Another site seemed as far from me as this one would have back in 2003. But a few years down the road, with Keeping Safe the Stars newly in the world, I see now she was right; just as she was right about it all. In the not too distant future, I’ll need a fresh design; I can’t let this site grow old the way the last one did. But the good news is I have my expert now; I don’t have to do this by myself. I can rely on someone else’s experience and talent, and in the meantime, I’m free to write my books.