Enabling Authors to Improve Their Catalog Listings

By Neal Comment

Jury duty has kept me from surfing the web as much as I would normally, so it wasn’t until last night that I was able to spend any substantial time with Avon‘s new AuthorAssistant site, much of which then turned out to only be available to registered users, and since I’m not a HarperCollins author, that leaves me out. (Which is a shame, because I would’ve liked to have had a look at the blog from Avon publisher Liate Stehlik.) But the author home pages I could access, like the one for Kim Harrison, seem pretty spiffy: the basic framework of, say, MySpace, without all the friends, which enables a much crisper, cleaner layout.

But is it enough? Seth Godin has some serious objections, especially when it comes to publishers being the source point for author home pages. “Few readers know which authors are published by which publishers, so there’s no way they’re going to visit a particular site,” he writes. Furthermore, “authors aren’t going to spend the time to build (and maintain) fancy pages… [and] because publishers have (legal/sales) trouble picking one bookseller over another, it’s really hard to close the sale and sell the book.” There are exceptions, I think: Genre fans are more likely than your average reader of literary fiction to be aware of publishers, which could make a publisher-centered directory useful, but at the same time, author resistance to “fancy pages” is steadily crumbling. Take, for example, another Avon author participating in the new program: What makes Sophia Nabb‘s HarperCollins home page more useful to a fan, or a potential fan, than the pre-existing home page with a domain name keyed to her identity?

But on one key issue Godin is absolutely correct: “Authors are brands. Some are billion-dollar brands, some are tiny ones. The web is custom made for authors, but so far, it’s largely going unused.” The question is, who’s going to take charge of establishing those brands: the authors, the publishers, or both? Avon’s move is, at the very least, a significant step in terms of publishers giving authors the tools to promote themselves. Now they just have to unspool the apron strings even further…

(Ultimately, it should be noted, Godin’s post is aimed at directing people to his new SquidWho system, a variant form of his Squidoo startup, which enables people to build “fanpages” for people they like, or even themselves.)