Extreme Makeover

A. M. Homes

“It is a miracle,” says T. C. Boyle, whose twelfth novel, Talk Talk, is being published by Viking this month. Boyle’s Web site is www.tcboyle.com. “My son, Milo, put it up during the summer between his junior and senior years in high school, back in 1999, and I thought it would be nothing more than a tool to communicate with whoever was interested with regard to tour dates. I couldn’t have dreamed of what it has become. The fans swarmed to it and made it a vital community. In the pre-Web days, I’d publish a story and wouldn’t even know it until I got a copy in the mail. Now everyone goes mad. The fans have recorded every breath I’ve taken; the stories are analyzed and responded to before I know they’re out there. It’s exciting. It’s interactive. It’s molto cool.”

In the pre-Web days, I’d publish a story and wouldn’t even know it until I got a copy in the mail. Now everyone goes mad.

It took several years for Jonathan Ames—whose most recent book of essays, I Love You More Than You Know, was published in February by Black Cat, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic—to get his Web site up and running. “A fan offered to build a Web site for me for free, so I let her, thinking, ‘What the hell,’” says Ames, whose site is www.jonathanames.com. “This was in 2000, and I kept hearing about people having Web sites. So she built a sort of coming-attractions site, which was very good, but then she grew disenchanted with me and didn’t build the actual Web site. So I had this weird thing up for about two or three years, and then a friend said he would finish it for free in exchange for my books and no cover charges at my performances, and the occasional dinner. It’s been a great deal. I’ve bought him about half a dozen sushi dinners for quite a nice Web site. The design was based on what the original fan put together. I get contracted for writing gigs, performing gigs, and strange encounters through the site. It also enables me to let people know—the few who might be interested—when and where I’m reading.”

Memoirist Alison Smith was asked by her publisher to create a Web site to help publicize her book, Name All the Animals (Scribner, 2004). “Seeing as I’m a bit of a Luddite, I had never been to an author’s Web site, and I didn’t really know what [they] were for,” she says. “But I did as I was told and found a Web designer, Victoria Lau, through my agent. The site, www.namealltheanimals.com, has been incredibly useful. On average, I receive ten e-mails a week, from fans and [from] other writers responding to my book. I have also received a number of e-mails from magazine editors asking if I would like to write for their publications, and from universities requesting me for speaking engagements.”

Of course, not all authors see the need for personal Web sites. “I don’t have one. I’m not particularly interested,” says Rick Moody, whose most recent novel, The Diviners, was published by Little, Brown last year. “In general, I think more mystery about writers is probably better. I have learned this the hard way. I never look at other writers’ sites, nor do I read any book-related sites. I like the Web, and I use it for research, but I get that twenty-four-hour-flu-type feeling any time I have to read [online] about writers and books. ‘Literature and digital media’ might be somewhat anathema.”