Barnum comes to Barrow

When I first moved to village Alaska in 1979, I had no television, no telephone, and of course no internet. Not because I was trying to live pure and simple. The technology just wasn’t available.

If those were the good old days, they are gone for good. Will we soon be taking a similar look back at the golden days of publishing? Maybe we already are. In a recent New York Times article “See the Web Site, Buy the Book,” author Brad Meltzer says, “The days of just holing up and writing in solitude are gone. Today, you can’t be a successful writer without having a little Barnum in your bones.”

It used to be that Alaskan writers spent a fair amount of time complaining that distance hampered our careers. Promotion was a problem. New York was a world away. They didn’t understand us. No one wanted to pay for book tours. It was the price of living in a place we loved.

Fast forward to the era of no excuses. Interactive web sites. Eye-popping book trailers. Author blogs and twitters. If Barnum’s in your blood, it doesn’t matter whether you live in Kipnuk or Kalamazoo, Barrow or Baltimore, as long as you’ve got an internet connection.

And maybe some money. Authorbytes, a multimedia company, has built over 200 author websites, to the tune of $3500 to $35,000 apiece. Eighty-five percent of the time, it’s the author who foots the bill.

“But I just want to write,” you say. “I don’t want to hustle my books.” Fair enough. I feel the same, most days. Maybe Barnum’s not in my blood, or yours. But do we really have a choice?

4 thoughts on “Barnum comes to Barrow”

  1. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    I’d been meaning to read that NYT piece, Deb — several of our alert readers had mentioned it! Interesting that AuthorBytes was quoted. I hired them to develop my website ( and appreciate the professional look. Note that I, not my publisher, had to foot the bills. Like other authors mentioned in the NYT piece, I tried adding lots of fun components — music clips that relate to my plot, an interactive map of Europe. But know what? No reader/site visitor has mentioned those! Instead, people seem to use the site mainly as a way to find me, or find out whether I have another book, or download photos for an interview, for example — the basics. It was worth it, in the end, just as a calling card. I think the website delivered me more interview opportunities than anything my publisher did.

    But just because the basics matter so much doesn’t mean that’s all a website should do. Khaled Hosseini’s website is a good model for how a site evolves. For a while, he had a blog, and when his second book came out, I was disappointed to see he didn’t update it (too busy no doubt). I thought (this was back in 07) — SEE? Blogs don’t work! But now, much later, he has added a feature based on questions readers ask him. He chose top questions and answered each one in a short video, in which he comes across as a warm, likable (as well as intelligent) guy. I think that works better than a long video, or link to a print interview – or even an overproduced and dramatized book trailer for that matter. Good job, Hosseini!

    Our own Dana Stabenow has done a great job with her website and book trailer, and seems to be trying new things all the time. That’s one lesson, I guess — just as with writing, we have to be willing to try, to adapt, to revise your ideas about how books sell.

  2. Even though the marketing piece, coupled with technology, feels overwhelming, it is a fact of our lives. I like the Hosseini example – it’s okay to be a work in progress. And our efforts should be proportionate to our audience and our success. A web presence may not make a book, but at a certain level it’s expected and, yes, necessary.

  3. I went a cheaper route for my website. Once I’d published twice I was able to join the Authors Guild. They have annual fees based on writing income, and they host websites. My quartly fee are like $18.00, and if memory serves (which it often doesn’t) it didn’t cost anything to build it – or it was a minimum fee. They have software that has easy to build formats. I did my own, and you can have more sophisticated stuff. I chose the cheapest and most basic.

  4. I didn’t know about the Author’s Guild website option, Betty – so glad you mentioned it. Sonya was doing websites at Alaska Writer’s Guild, too, but maybe not anymore??

    I opted for a build-your-own from homestead years ago but need to be much more structured about updating it – it needs regular time and attention, just like everything else. Usually I’m good about that sort of thing but I sometimes feel overwhelmed by what could and should be done.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top