Five things novelists should do when writing for the web

Frustrated man at a laptop
Rajesh Sundaram/

In my day job, I manage the content for a large charity website. I spend lots of time training my colleagues on writing for the web.

When I visit authors’ websites, I’m sometimes struck by the simple ways they could make their sites easier to use. Last week Roni Loren wrote about the ten components to a rocking author website. Her number one tip was to make sure a drunken monkey could navigate it. Excellent tip.

My post today will show you how the content you write can make your site easier to use. I won’t focus on how you use your voice or how to market your books. Instead I’ll show you easy ways to ensure your message is clear and easy to act on – whether it’s “Buy my book!” or “Get to know who I am!”

Though I’m writing this mostly for my fellow novelists, the principles here can apply to all websites.

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My wordy Valentine

I might be making a huge assumption here, but as writers we must all be fond of words, especially their ability to evoke a certain feeling or express an idea that’s formed in our heads.

Where would we be without words?

I’m a week late for Valentine’s Day, but this post is my public declaration of love for words. And I have one particular favorite word: serendipity.

Serendipity refers to the accidental discovery of something good. I love it for its meaning and its sound. It also reminds me of the first time I heard it applied to life.

When I was 14, I started my first day of high school eager for more challenging and interesting classes. I walked into my biology class full of a love of science and a desire to one day be a doctor. Written across the white board in massive letters was the word SERENDIPITY. Our teacher started the year by explaining that most of our scientific knowledge was based on serendipity. She illustrated the point by telling us the story of Fleming’s discovery of penicillin.

I also love the story of how the word was coined. There is an old Persian fairy tale called The Three Princes of Serendip – ‘Serendip’ being an old word for Sri Lanka, meaning “Dwelling-Place-of-Lions Island”.  Horace Walpole called it “a silly fairy tale…as their highnesses traveled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” This story led him to coin the word serendipity in a letter in 1754.

See? Great stories are made of great words, but great words also are made of great stories.

What’s your favorite word? Do you like it because it evokes a memory, a feeling? Is it the sound you like? Is it the etymology? The meaning?

Differences in British and American English (for writers)

Pop quiz.

What’s wrong with these sentences?

1. The Ireland rugby team are playing today, so my husband will be glued to the TV.

2. If I hadn’t got up so late, I would’ve got the bus.

3. I’m going to work at the weekend.


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Training your brain to shift focus

Illustration of person dragging @ up hill
Sergio Roberto Bichara/

For me, the most difficult part of being a writer is not the writing itself. That’s something I enjoy more than almost anything in life.

No, the most difficult thing is keeping my eyes off my email whenever I’m waiting to hear back from someone. Without fail–whether I’ve sent off my manuscript for feedback or entered it in a contest–I start checking my email for a response Way Too Early.

Seriously, you should’ve seen me on March 25 last year when the Golden Heart finalists were being announced. I kept checking my phone and refreshing the announcement page. Basically, I acted like a complete saddo.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who glances at my email thirty times in a minute, just to make sure I haven’t missed something. Here are some of the ways I try to manage my mania.

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Embrace your imaginary friend

Illustration of women's silhouettes
Credit: Laiju Mod/

Results of a study into children’s imaginary friends have recently been published, and apparently they’re not such a bad thing as people always thought.

Funny thing is, as someone whose parents never made a big deal of my imaginary friends, it never occurred to me that they might be considered unhealthy.

My imaginary friends were Bibo and Da. One of them (don’t ask me which) had a blue square head, and the other one had an orange triangle head. Can you tell I was in preschool at the time? Bibo and Da didn’t always get along.

Eventually I added more friends: Kaa the snake living in our backyard (The Jungle Book was one of my favorite movies) and a wolf named Christian followed me around to protect me (he appeared to me in a dream one night).

As I grew older, I said goodbye to these friends and let them go. But my imaginary life stayed vibrant.

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