Extreme Makeover

A. M. Homes
From the July/August 2006 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

It’s probably not something I should admit to publicly, but I am one of those rather naïve people who never thought the Internet would catch on. When I first became aware of it—back in the 1980s, when phones still had cords and people didn’t walk down the street absentmindedly talking to their friends on wireless headsets—the Web seemed like a fleeting thing, a kind of hocus-pocus for geeky brainiacs, the same people who would dare to write books on their computers. I, along with a lot of others, didn’t know that our society would quickly grow dependent on the Internet, and that we would be using it to order groceries, read the news, look for love, locate long-lost relatives, and do our Christmas shopping.

It turns out, the Internet is the perfect place for a writer who is simultaneously shy and in need of contact and confirmation.

My only defense is that I am a writer, and most writers are, by nature, shy. I chose a profession that is, for the most part, accomplished alone and in silence, the fruits of which are then offered up for public review. As novelist Jill Ciment has described it, every time you write a new book, it’s as if you make yourself as thoroughly naked as you can and then walk outside and ask strangers, “What do you think?” Despite the shyness and the fear of exposure, one of the reasons I write is to reach outside of myself and make contact with the world, hoping to find like-minded readers, fellow travelers—fans! It turns out, the Internet is the perfect place for a writer who is simultaneously shy and in need of contact and confirmation. It’s the perfect combination of the intimate and the distant—and, of course, it is still communication largely dependent on the written word. It is, in essence, a writer’s form.

So how did a reluctant and sometimes overexposed novelist decide it was time to launch her own Web site? First of all, I put it off for years. It was only after Paul Slovak, the editor of my new novel, This Book Will Save Your Life, published by Viking in April, asked in passing, “Do you have a Web site?” that I decided it was time to take the leap.

It was certainly time to take the leap, but how? I started looking at other authors’ Web sites for clues, and found that many were inconsistent, out of date, and of less-than-professional quality. But I also found some, like Jeanette Winterson’s (www.jeanettewinterson.com), that are incredibly well developed and offer a wealth of content; and others, like Kathryn Harrison’s (www.kathrynharrison.com), that also contain a lot of well-organized information for readers and reading groups. I started asking other writers about their experience and interest in author Web sites, and found the responses as diverse and idiosyncratic as the authors themselves.