First of all, I would like to thank everyone who has contacted me here and on twitter. I will do my best to reply to all of you in a timely manner. Some of the issues you have brought up will of course be addressed here on the blog.
One of the most common pet peeves among writers (in any other business, they would be called potential clients, you know) appears to be website accessibility and usefulness. Although things like the tunnel can be wildly annoying, they’re just cosmetic, after all. Don’t get me wrong - maintaining an aesthetically challenged and outdated website is unprofessional. After all, would you show up at an important business meeting in your favorite 1980s power suit complete with shoulder pads and extravagant accessories? Hardly. So why do you allow your website to wear the equivalent to all first meetings with potential clients?
However, potential clients tend to be less forgiving when it comes to what really matters - information. Sometimes it’s plain wrong. Sometimes it’s contradictory. Sometimes it’s just not there. An educational example can be found at The Seymour Agency’s website. Now, apart from the cosmetic issues (But seriously, just because you work with books, doesn’t mean you have to put them in the background/header/footer/border of your website. It really is the equivalent of the inkwell-adorned query letter. Oh, and 1995 called - they want their teal-burgundy palette back.) this website has some problems.
1. Information overload.
Do not weigh down any section of your website with excessive information. This index page is three or four different pages all in one. Generally speaking, a visitor would expect some information on the agency here - that would be considered great index page content. Tell us briefly who you are and why you are awesome. In this context, awesome would encompass the agency’s long history and its successes. Possibly something about its structure - is it a one-woman operation? Are there fifteen other agents lurking in the shadows? You know, a blurb.
Instead, here we get something about awards, something very personal about adopting a soldier, then something about ordering help materials for writers, then a frantically flipping, diminutive thumbnail slide show of current titles, a very long and completely irrelevant list of all the conferences the agent has ever attended, then the history of the agency, then a professional bio, then some more personal bio content, then - unexpectedly - an updated list of the conferences the agent will be attending, and then the never-ending scrolldown of death containing unclickable, hardly visible thumbnails of the agent, random children, Disney characters and, lo and behold, the occasional author.
You’re left with the impression that Mary Sue would never be around to answer any of your queries or shop your books around, because she attends every single conference in the western hemisphere. You have a very vague idea of what the agency does, because you were distracted by the soldier adoption, confused by the seemingly random structure of the text, and also because the slide show made you slightly woozy. The real deal breaker, however, was the big block of text that turned out to be a mere enumeration of conferences attended. Because at this point, you were expecting something relevant, say, some information on the agency. On the other hand, that Mary Sue can really, really rock a hat and she seems generally fun and awesome to be around - both definite pluses in an agent, believe me. So you’ll keep reading, which brings you to the next point.
2. Information inconsistencies.
Keep it simple. Don’t contradict yourself, particularly not if you would prefer to receive relevant queries.
On the first page - I doubt anyone would ever make it there without using the ‘find’ function in their browser, but still - is it stated that the agency is on the lookout for “clients who write any type of romance including historical, contemporary category, contemporary mainstream, suspense, paranormal, regency or inspirational - basically any type of romance.” That’s pretty all-encompassing! However, if you go to the contact section to get your query on, you run into this - “The only fiction The SA handles is romance, Christian books.”.
Read that to yourself. Experiment a little with the intonation. Is it Christian romance? Or is it romance and Christian books? There really is no way of knowing, unless you have more information. The entry on the index page would be helpful, if you knew when it was posted… which brings you to the next point.
3. Information senescence.
Make sure your website is up-to-date. This is one of the many things twitter and blogs are good for - they show the world you’re alive. (Don’t appear too alive, though, you do have to maintain the illusion that you’re actually reading all those queries.) This is why the website should only contain information that is set in stone, or in any case not prone to constant fluctuation.
So you scroll down. All the way down. Designed in 2005? Well, we’re closer to explaining the teal-burgundy, I’ll give you that - but nowhere near close enough. Then, right above that, you’ll note that the site was last updated in 2007. So apparently someone predicted that the agent would be attending all those conferences more than three years later? You know, the ones that are posted on the first page? Probably not.
At some point, I’m sure this website was more consistent. Then the nephew went off to college, or GetSet! Communications actually got set and whoever is responsible for the site just decided to put everything on the first page, seeing as most of the people who query are completely nuts, anyway.
In short - don’t post too much information, avoid inconsistencies, and update your website more than once every three years.
To round this up, my favorite part:
“Mary Sue is a spiritual person and often attempts to soften a rejection with a prayer card; if this would bother you, you may not want to query her.”
Whoever prompted this addition to the website - I hope you queried someone else, too. Seeing as an overwhelming majority of agents tend to soften rejections through making fun of the query on their blog, forgetting the name of the writer or the proposed title or just not responding at all, a prayer card would honestly feel like a grand prize in comparison.