Speak Up or Butt Out?

In a comment thread, Amanda asked:

If you were a writer who had a new website that was RIDDLED with spelling and grammar errors, would you want a reader to email you about it?

An author I like has a terrible website, the errors are all over the place. I’d like to mention it to her, because I don’t think it represents her well. I’m sure the site is outsourced and she doesn’t actually do the rotton spelling, but you think she might look at it every once in a while…

Or should I do a big butt-outski?

Her question was a very good one and I didn’t want it to be missed in the discussion.

My thought is: a kind email pointing out some errors would be welcome. A snide one would not. But everyone knows better than to be snide, right?

Pointing out spelling or grammar errors is not the same as saying, “Your website sucks,” but then, what if you go looking for information that isn’t there? So I’d also like to widen the question to more than grammar: if you thought there was a feature that an authors website could benefit from, should you suggest it? Some sites that I’ve seen don’t list the books that an author has published, let alone information about the books themselves. Would it be rude to ask for that info, or should you head over to Amazon or another site for that info?

What’s your call?

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Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Jen says:

    I’d speak up—the sooner, the better. It’s like having your slip show or your fly down or a big piece of spinach caught in your teeth… You’d appreciate someone letting you know!

    J

  2. 2
    Laurel says:

    I agree. Speak up. Be kind about it and make sure you mention you tracked down the site because you like her books so much, think she’s a great writer, etc. If I were her, I’d want to know.

    If it makes her mad or gets taken the wrong way, that’s on her. Not your problem. I’d be surprised if she reacted that way, though. Writers have to be willing to take and apply a great deal of criticism before they get published and should understand that the point is to make their work better.

    If I were researching a book before I bought it (and I do, frequently) this would affect my decision to buy. I’ll forgive a lot on a website, even something so absurd as not listing work or linking to sites that sell it, but I do expect the text on the site to be representative of the author in some way. Bad writing on the site would lead me to believe the book I was considering might be poorly written, as well.

    Bottom line is it might help her in a real dollar way to have this called to her attention.

  3. 3
    Randi says:

    That’s a good question. I’ve run across a number of author sites that, as SB Sarah mentions, don’t have bibliography info. Or, my pet peeve, which books occur in series order (I’m looking at you even though you’re deceased, Catherine Asaro[yes, yes, she does have a bibliography on her website, but it’s sooo complicated, I can never figure out which book comes next]. Loretta Chase, too, has her books in order she wrote them, not in series order. Soooo annoying). I’d also like to know when the next book comes out, or when the PPB comes out – those types of things.

    I suppose a nice note would be OK. I’m usually just too lazy to do it. I’ll be interested to hear what the authors say.

    ten92: isn’t that a tax form?

  4. 4
    Randi says:

    PS. I can’t seem to load Lauren Willig’s site. Is it just me?

  5. 5
    Peggy says:

    As part of project to update a database of “Maine authors” (quotes used because none of us has a really tight definition yet)  I’ve been looking at a lot of author web sites.  Many of them leave a great deal to be desired.  It had not occurred to me to contact them with suggestions.  I really don’t need more to do but perhaps I should make an attempt at contacts.

  6. 6
    SB Sarah says:

    Funny enough, and I swear the penny just dropped in my own brain, I’m giving a talk this weekend at the Chicago RWA Chapter’s Spring Fling conference about online marketing 101, and I mention the things an author website must have, and the things people tell you you have to have but you really do not.

    For the love of all that is holy, do not autoplay music. PLEASE.

  7. 7
    Pussreboots says:

    Mistakes happen on websites. They happen to big sites, small sites and in between. It’s really easy to get blind to the text when you’re concentrating on the over all design of the site. So by all means, send a polite note.

  8. 8
    Ros says:

    I say a polite email mentioning no more than a couple of the most egregious problems and see what response you get.  If the author is friendly and grateful, then you can follow up with some other suggestions.  If not, then move on.

    And I totally agree about autoplay music and videos.  When I am Queen, I am going to ban all websites that do that.  Right after I ban chewing gum.. Ugh.

  9. 9
    Ros says:

    Oh, and Sarah, since you’re giving that presentation I thought I’d mention the awesomest author website I’ve come across lately.  Abby Gaines has a whole series of After-The-End scenes for her books, so that when you’ve just turned the final page and don’t want to say goodbye to her characters immediately you can click through for a little extra treat.  I think this is a totally brilliant idea and I wish all my favourite authors did it.

  10. 10
    Diatryma says:

    The potential outsourcedness gives you a polite way to say it.  “You may want to check on the people who run your website; there are some pretty bad errors.  I know they didn’t come from you and may not be in your control, but…”

    I’ve done that with published books before.

  11. 11
    Kalen Hughes says:

    I took it as a kindness when a reader emailed me about a typo on my site (hello, dyslectic girl here; I need all the help I can get with that kind of stuff).

  12. 12
    Tabetha says:

    I agree that an email pointing out any mistakes or even things that aren’t working would be appreciated by just about anyone.  I also think it’s entirely ok and not rude at all to request a feature that isn’t currently available like an author’s backlist.  I’m not an author and I don’t have a website but that’s all feedback I’d think that anyone would welcome. 

    But what about when an author has a website that you think is just poorly designed even though all the information is there?  I’ve been re-reading some old Julie Garwood books this month (still enjoyed Lion’s Lady and Saving Grace but absolutely hated Gentle Warrior :o) and looked up her website.  It’s really lovely with birds chirping in the background, tons of interesting point & click junk but it’s an absolute nightmare to navigate and find information even though it’s all there.  She obviously puts time and/or money into the site and there’s weekly and monthly drawings and give-aways but I don’t imagine I’ll ever visit her site again.  On one hand I think she’d like to know that but on the other hand I imagine she actually likes her website and nothing positive would come by mentioning it. 

    So what do I do?  I just keep my mouth shut about all of it,  bookmark the author websites where I can actually get updates and information and rely heavily on Amazon and Fantastic Fiction.  Even though the majority of author websites I go to are pretty bad (I think) it still surprises me every time when I can’t get basic information in an easy to read format from a site. 

    An example of a lovely yet horrible website (in my opinion, of course):
    http://www.juliegarwood.com/

  13. 13
    SheaLuna says:

    I’m definitely in the camp of “letting the author know”.  Preferably with a shit sandwich. 

    Tell her how much you love her books and admire her work, mention the problems you found with the site, then finish up with another sincere compliment.  It takes the sting out and lets the author know you aren’t being a nasty know-it-all.  Sometimes an author’s website or blog is the first introduction a reader has to her writing.  One that’s full of typos does not a good impression make!

    Can we elect Ros the Queen, as in NOW?  I can live without chewing gum as long as auto-play music is banned forever!

  14. 14
    SheaLuna says:

    @Tabetha

    Just went to Julie Garwood’s website and GACK!  You are right.  I LOATHE those types of websites.  There’s another author who has a very similar one and while it’s beautiful and everything is there, it’s a nightmare to navigate!

  15. 15
    Mfred says:

    I create & code web sites as part of my job and I will totally underline, bold, highlight and re-emphasize what Pussreboots said:

    It’s really easy to get blind to the text when you’re concentrating on the over all design of the site.

    At some point, I just stop seeing the text completely.  I have made horrifying, egregious mistakes—like, I am a librarian and I published a page called ASK A LIBARIAN. 

    Also helpful: include links to the exact pages with the mistakes, and be detailed.  “BTW, I noticed xyz.com/you has three spelling mistakes in the third paragraph” is way better than “You misspelled librarian on your web site”.

  16. 16
    GrowlyCub says:

    Randi!

    I’m pretty sure Catherine Asaro will be surprised to hear she’s dead… lol.

    I find websites completely useless that do not list backlist with summaries; or current books that have excerpts but no summaries; or that do not list series (Chase); or that show the book from last year under ‘current books’ (Carlyle).

    Why do they bother having a site and most likely paying for it?  It’s often easier to go to FictionDB and get the info.  That’s counterproductive and, yes, I’ve not bought books I had planned to because the websites pissed me off so bad.

    wanted57 Wanted: 57 websites that are informative and easy to navigate.

  17. 17
    Randi says:

    GrowleyCub:

    WAH!!?? I swear I had read something recent about Asaro passing away. Well, welcome back to the living, Catherine. LOL. What a hoot.

    hot54: well, no, not yet. But I sure am fine blaming my mistake as a “senior moment”.

  18. 18

    A properly designed website is essential for an author today. If there is a typo, a properly worded email to the author should not offend. A few things on websites while we are at it… Backlist. Important. Also, I find that many authors fail to put a FAQ on connecting books. Many readers hate picking up a book in the middle of a series and regardless of how many times the author says “it can stand alone” the presence of previous’ books couple playing HEA makes you realize there was a story there and you missed it. It’s a book the author is not going to sell because I already got ‘spoiled’ by reading out of order.  PLEASE give me a FAQ.
    Someone mentioned the music… Kill the music. For those with poor internet access it just makes navigating the site slow and annoying. Don’t create a Flash Player driven site (like Garwood’s) because the version you used can become outdated and those that cannot upgrade to the new free flashplayer are out of luck.
    Don’t make me guess where your content is.. just put it out there. I could go on forever.

  19. 19
    KimberlyD says:

    Totally agree about speaking up but politely. What if the author is not a computer savvy person and doesn’t really look at his/her own website all that often? They’ll never know about any problems unless someone tells them. I agree that its frustrating to look for an author’s bibliography, especially series order, and not be able to find it. I wouldn’t have thought to send an email about it but now thats its been suggested, I think its a great idea. Just a simple request, politely worded. If the author chooses to take offense at that, then that might not want to be an author I want to support anyway. I wouldn’t bombard anyone with any ridiculous or difficult requests, of course. And an “I’m working on that and will have it up sometime in the future” response would be perfectly acceptable as well. But I really think authors who take the time to listen to the people who actually visit and browse their webpages will end up with the cleanest, most stream-lined websites, which will encourage visitors to linger and maybe buy a book. ;)

  20. 20
    Randi says:

    OH OH OH!

    Here’s something that Lora Leigh USED to do, that I just loved. She had a private stash of her books and I was able to buy them FROM her, signed and everything. Super cool. I noticed recently she no longer has that option, and I’ve never seen another author offer that service; but I totally loved it. Would LOVE LOVE LOVE if authors sold some of their own stash w/ signage.

  21. 21
    Margaret says:

    I like the idea of letting the author know, however, there’s one author whose website is *full of errors (broken/incorrect links) and when told about major MAJOR spelling issues, she dismisses it with a, “perfectionism isn’t the goal, I am just getting the information out there.” It’s frustrating! Specially when I am trying to find information and have to spend another fifteen minutes of hunting around to find the correct link because the official site uses the wrong URL, or has repeats of the same information which is all completely incorrect. As a fan, I’m not asking for perfectionism, just a modicum of professionalism.

  22. 22
    KristieJ says:

    If I were an author, I think I would most appreciate having errors, bad ideas etc pointed out if done in a nice way.  After all, their website represents them in a way and for that they would need to have it right.

  23. 23

    I’d just toss it out there very casually: “You might want to run your website text through spellcheck, because I noticed a few misspellings.” Then move on—quickly.

  24. 24
    Emily says:

    I contacted Patty Briggs once about an expired link on her website.  (The link took one off site to an interview on another site.)  I got a sweet thank you email from her husband.  Boy, that’s the way to handle it.  Personal thank you?  Oh my.

  25. 25
    terripatrick says:

    I would want to know what worked or not about my website.  It’s the most important marketing tool for a writer today, and will become even more so in the future.

  26. 26

    There is no way that I would NOT email the author.  I hate spelling errors with a passion and make every effort to get them corrected, whether on a website or on signs in my local grocery store (they’re well aware of my handy pen).

  27. 27
    Lori says:

    Or, my pet peeve, which books occur in series order

    This. A thousand times this. I can’t stand reading a series out of order. It’s a total OCD thing with me. Seriously. If it’s too much work for me to figure out the correct order, or worse the author doesn’t tell me that the books are series, I’ll just move on to other books. It’s definitely one of the top 5 ways to lose me as a reader, and I mean permanently because it makes me angry.

    I’m also willing to give me vote for Queen to anyone who will ban autoplay music and video. No. Just no.

    As a general rule I don’t like sites that are over-designed. I don’t visit author sites for the pretty, I visit them for information. Having complete information, updated on a regular basis and presented clearly on a site that’s easy to navigate counts far, far more than the color of the background or having a fancy font. In fact getting too wild with colors and patterns and fonts just makes the site hard to read, which defeats the purpose for me being there. If it’s enough of a problem I won’t go back and that can lead to me missing a book that I would otherwise have read.

  28. 28
    robinjn says:

    As a professional graphic designer who does both print and web design, my viewpoint is admittedly a bit more, um, strict? Harsh? Unforgiving? than some. But for what little it’s worth, here’s my viewpoint.

    I actually don’t get that bent out of shape for a typo or two (not talking “riddled with” here, but one or two doesn’t automatically make it a no-win site for me). However, I really, really dislike with an unholy fury badly designed sites that impair the visitor’s ability to find out the information they want to know, which is usually, what books do you have that I haven’t read yet? When is your next book due out? If this is a series, what is the chronological order? If you write under other pseudonyms or in other genres, what are they and where can I find those books?

    On top of that, I confess to being surprised and appalled at the truly amateurish sites out there. It’s pretty easy to be dismissive of good design, a lot of authors really don’t have design experience themselves so it’s hard to tell what IS good.  Garwoods site is the glaring exception; she probably paid somebody big bucks for that thing and it’s basically useless.

    An example of a very nicely done site is Norah Roberts (http://www.noraroberts.com/). Obviously professional, simply done, well organized, clean, elegant. You can find what you need and it’s done in CSS so it’s very fast loading AND accessible to the visually impaired. No flash. No blinking anything. No music. Here’s another nice one, Kat Richardson, http://www.katrichardson.com

    Authors, your website, more than almost anything else about you, informs readers about you. Readers will gain an impression of you overall based on your website. It is well worth paying a professional to do your website. Of course then the trick is finding a professional who doesn’t want to throw every bell and whistle at the code. The key is to do nothing that is not functional. A cutesy flash movie NOT functional.

  29. 29
    Tina C. says:

    I’m all for sending someone a politely-worded email that points out spelling errors or asks for further information, but sometimes contacting the author is all but impossible.

    Back in October, I saw the ad for an author on Smart Bitches and thought, “That sounds like an interesting book!”  I followed the ad link to the author’s website and, after reading a few synopses and first chapters of various books, decided I actually wanted to read a different book of hers.  In the interest of comparison shopping, I put the title into Google and found that I could buy it in paperback from Amazon for over $10 or I could download it from a couple of sites for $3.50.  As many of us have noted, it’s pretty unusual to find the ebook that much cheaper than the paperback, so I did a little more digging and discovered that the print version is 156 pages, but one of the two reviewers must have read the ebook version, because she lamented the fact that the book is only 75 pages long.  I desperately wanted to get in touch with the author to find out what the difference between those two versions could be—did she re-write the book and make it longer for the print version?  Use larger type, but keep the story the same?  Add some pages from another book to pad the print version?  I went to every site that she has listed for herself and, I swear, you can’t contact this woman anywhere!  I would have left a comment at the one site that accepted comments, but it said at the top that she planned to move the thing and I didn’t even know that she would bother to check her comments there.  I was so incredibly annoyed at what I now felt was a colossal waste of my time, I decided to not buy anything of hers.

    At the bare minimum, there should be some way to contact the author or leave a comment or why even bother to have a website?

  30. 30
    Kimberly Nee says:

    I would want to know, absolutely. It’s so easy to see what you think should be on the page, rather than what actually IS on the page, no matter how many times I’ve proofed. I also want to know what works/doesn’t work, and I welcome all suggestions. I can’t imagine being offended because I misspelled something. It happens. I’d rather do a **facepalm** rather than lose a potential reader. :)

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