April 07, 2009

Where I'm Going, Where I've Been

Aw, what kind of poet am I? Celebrating the the first week of April with...blog silence. I'm quiet, but that doesn't mean I haven't been busy. I'm rebuilding my website--new host, new CMS, new design--and I only have so many hours in the day that I can sit in front of a computer screen.

Sites providing inspiration (both things-to-do & things-to-avoid):

Steve Almond
A.J. Jacobs
Jennifer 8 Lee
Victoria Chang
Erika Meitner
Richard McCann
Cate Marvin
Sarah Manguso
Joseph O. Legaspi
C.M. Mayo
Jonathan Weinert
Stephen Burt (and here again)
Neil Aitken
Julie Klam

Not too long ago C.M. Mayo wrote an essay for Foreword Magazine that offered smart advice for writer/bloggers (my favorite: don't use white text on a dark background: Mark Doty, I'm looking at you!). But I think there's still some room for thoughts on the subject...

Things that irk me:

-Lists of readings where, because the year is missing, you're for not sure if you're looking at the recent past or far-off future.

-Calendars, unless hyper-linked to author-related events (and there has to be TONS going on, at least one event each week).

-Word clouds and generic widgets that don't serve any purpose beyond filling space. Fun to see once, useless on return visits.

-Flash-driven sites, stunning to watch, that don't let you select text (and may not be accessible for sight-impaired people).

-Images of words that look like navigation bars (you mouse over to click) but are just static invocations: Poet | Guitarist | Guru.

Elements I love:

-Snapshots of the author giving readings, signing books, showing off the latest beard length. When the only photo is the official back-cover portrait, it can feel a little Dorian Gray.

-Author interviews. Sample poems/prose I have probably read already (leading me to the site), or I can Google easily enough. Good interviews can fall off the radar pretty quickly, especially if they are archived offline or in a way that search engines won't find. If you can link to an audio interview AND provide a transcript, that's the best of all possible worlds.

-Thematic visuals. Could be random (bugs!) or from your book. If you don't have hi-res files from your book art, talk to your press. They might pass along a Photoshop file (PSD) where the "layers" can be separated and used for the web. Publishers like author sites; they're inclined to be helpful.

-Fresh content. Basic, I know. But nothing makes me sadder than an "Upcoming" 2008 event trumpeted on your index page.

-Whimsy. Sure, author sites have clear-cut duties: events, bio, buy the book. But if there's an X factor--something you can't find anywhere else--all the better. Miranda July drew me in with enigmatic dry-erase scrawls; Sloane Crosley built (and Flickrd) dioramas.

Also, as someone who hosts readings, I like to see publicity files available for download:

-a short bio (100 words highlighting major accomplishments

-a full bio (3-4 narrative paragraphs) or a c.v. in PDF format

-a hi-res JPG author photo (300 dpi or greater). Make sure the photo is hosted via a link, NOT posted to the page--which takes forever to load in someone's browser. Use a low-res (72 DPI) thumbnail to display the image.

Note that I'm guilty of some of these sins on my current site--and missing some things I am praising. Hence the rebuild!

Hope these thoughts are helpful to some of you if you decide to create or update your own sites. What are your favorite sites, or your pet peeves? It's a bit of a wonky subject, but I'm in a practical headspace these days. At least, until I can tell you the thing I can't tell you yet.


Ivy said...

Good idea about those downloads. I'll try to incorporate that on mine. :-)

Collin Kelley said...

All very good and relevant ideas.

Maggie May said...

Things that bug me?

The way so many 'poet blogs' (by that I mean blogs that focus almost exclusively on poetry, a group I don't include myself in ) are so DRY.
You'd never know us poets are supposed to be a passionate bunch. By the blogs, we appear to be obsessed with three things:

Detailed descriptions of our accomplishments that read like the most boring texts ever: ie long lists of schooling and reading dates from birth through the next decade

Interviews ( sorry Sandra! but so many of those interviews are only interesting to like ten people, and those ten people are the editors and five subscribers to the lit mag) Not that interviews CAN'T be interesting, of course! But interviews detailing the poet's most abstract thought process on say, the origins of post modern feminist poetry? Well, um. I didn't even FINISH college and I've read plenty theory. I'd like some LIFE. Some living, some thinking about writing I can hold on to.

And lastly, long drawn out listings of OTHER poets merits, schooling, hometown, publications- boring. Boring. Boring. Give the meat of the poet's history and then move to the point. Otherwise I can Wikipedia or Google and get the info, most likely in a less boring narrative.


Maggie May said...

oh! i just clicked on the quote you have at the bottom of your page Sandra, and thought 'yeah, that sums up my points about the blogs...'