On Writers Without Websites

My husband and I have started a little website business, of sorts. We’re not looking to build or expand, mind you. We have one client, my yoga teacher/massage therapist. I’ll call her Violet. She runs a studio out of her lovely historic home. I go there a few times a week and do yoga in her dining room and get acupressure massages in a little room off the kitchen. Violet’s been doing this work for over 30 years, and working with her has made a big difference in my life.

The Findability of Violet

I only found Violet because a friend of mine, Nancy, introduced me. I would never have found Violet on my own. There would have been no way to find her.

From the image search “Yoga Muncie”

See, I knew Nancy did yoga, but I didn’t know where. So I Googled “Yoga Muncie.” This made me very depressed.

Go ahead. Try it.

One day I was walking home from the bus station and saw a sign in a storefront window of women doing yoga postures.

A yoga studio?! Three blocks from my house?! Hooray!

But as I got closer, I saw that the sign was advertising “the Christian alternative to yoga.”

Really? Really!?

This made me even more depressed.

But finally, I ran into Nancy and said, “Hey, I had back surgery. I’ve gotta get back into yoga.” And so she took me to one of Violet’s classes. I don’t know how I would have found Violet’s house otherwise, or known when to show up, etc.

See, Violet doesn’t have a website.

She does have a phone number and an email address, but obviously, since she’s teaching yoga classes or giving massages all day long, you have to leave a message.

Another image that comes up when you search for Yoga Muncie

When are her yoga classes? You can’t look it up on her website, so you wait for her to call or email you back. Which she does of course, as promptly as she can.

She’ll add you to her email list, and that’s the only way for you to find out that she can’t do Wednesday’s class this week, but she’ll be back next week, and next month, she’s having a yoga retreat, etc.

What I’m trying to say is that I desperately needed Violet to get a website and start communicating with me more effectively. But this is a hard thing to say to the woman who’s palpating your psoas muscle.

Bartering

But one day, I finally did it. Shortly after creating the website for my Literary Citizenship class, I asked her if she’d be interested in letting my husband and I make her a website in exchange for some massages and yoga classes?

She said yes.

We met with her and got a sense of what she needed her website to do. The different hats she wears. The big picture. We went home, and I told my husband, “You start and I’ll take a look at it.”

A few days later, he showed me the theme he’d picked out.

“Why would you pick that theme?” I asked.

“It’s good for images,” he said.

“Exactly.”

“Isn’t that good?”

“No,” I said. “You don’t go to her page to look at pictures. You want information.”

[Then we had a fight. I’ll spare you the details.]

The next day, I went through the WordPress themes and picked ones in which:

  • The name of Violet’s business would be big, prominent.
  • The navigation menu would be the first thing you saw, as if to say, “Are you here for Yoga reasons, Bodywork reasons, Food reasons, or Retreat reasons? Click here.”
  • Then you’d see Violet. Because after all, she is owner, sole proprietor, and only employee. You’d see her phone number and email address, as well as her impressive bio.
  • The next thing you’d see would be her calendar.
  • Then you’d see a Google maps widget so you’d literally know how to find her house.

I built the pages and the architecture in one hour. I’m a client. I knew exactly what someone would come to her website wanting to know.

Why did I expect my husband to know this? I have no idea.

Being a Small-Business Owner

Being a writer or artist means you’re the owner of a small business called Being Yourself.

That’s what finally got me over my technology hump, actually. My aversion to having a web presence. I thought about all the businesses that drive me crazy because they won’t adapt. The ones you can’t Google and find out when they open or where they are or what they’re like. The ones you want to recommend to your friend, but there’s no link to share, no page to like. You can’t use a credit card there. They have a sale, and you never hear about it. Everything about this business is hard, and you stop going because God help us, you need something easy.

Websites are like airports. Good ones anticipate your needs and why you’re there and route you where you need to be. They’re easy to find, easy to leave. They piss you off as little as possible. They’re aesthetically pleasing.

I told Violet not to be afraid of technology. “You’re just making it easier for more people to find you. Which means you can help more people. And that’s a good thing.”

Getting to the Point: Writers Without Websites

I know a lot of writers who won’t go online, or will only do it in very limited, very guarded ways. I keep a list of them in my head: Writers I Wish More People Knew About.

Maybe they can’t afford a website. Maybe they think social media is evil. Maybe they think they shouldn’t have to do this work, or they think they don’t have time, or maybe they simply don’t want to.

Seriously, if you know a writer nobody knows about because they’re not online, offer to help them. Show them. Barter with them.

Believe it or not, there was a time when the very idea that I needed to own cathyday.com and blog and update and Tweet filled me with rage. God, how I resented what publishers expected of me, what you, gentle reader, expected from me.

Now, I can’t imagine my life otherwise.

[This week’s post really crosses over with my Literary Citizenship class, so I’m going to cross post there, too!]

Literary Citizenship Writing

11 comments

  1. April Line says:

    This is a fabulous post, and so, so true. Thanks for putting this out there. I feel like small business lessons should be part of all MFA programs, b/c we need them. I’ve taught myself, as I imagine you have, and that is a long, uphill trek.

  2. Cathy, thanks so much for this thoughtful article about “adapting.” I teach a Unit called “Building Your Brand” where I ask my students to become more active members of the literary community. Since this is 2013, that includes creating an online presence and interacting with authors, lit mags, and lit orgs. I’m going to share your blog post with them.

  3. Beth Sheets says:

    Along with Building My Brand in Prof. Murphy’s class, I also started a website at weebly.com as part of an assignment from my editing professor last semester. Although my husband is a web developer by trade, I never have had my own site! I’ve begun working on my own Reiki site now, too, because that can be as hard to find as your yoga class! The woman who taught me operates much like your yoga instructor, emails and phone calls. Yes, she has a business card. No, she has no online presence or social networking outlets whatsoever. She is a Shaman with a lot to offer in the community, and it is frustrating to try and track her emails about upcoming drum circles, classes, and moon meditations. Maybe I will follow your lead and offer to have my husband build her a website in exchange for some Reiki sessions!

  4. Great post, Cathy. I think more than a few writers have a bit of the luddite in them (myself included). They need pushing. Also, being natural introverts they might be inclined to think, “Well, who would want to hear about this?” But it only makes sense that if you expect to enter the world with your writing and have it pay attention, you need to tell the world what you’re doing.

  5. It is so timely that I stumbled across this post today, as I finally decided this weekend that my resistance to technology can be no more. I started a blog, made a LinkedIn account, AboutMe page and more. (Maybe I went a little crazy.) My fear of the vastness of the cyber world and permanence and vulnerability of an online presence must subside. As a writer, I am my own small business. Thanks for the great words!

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