Authors on the web

7th April 2000 at 01:00
Living authors have one advantage over dead ones: we can still interact with our readers. But having my own website gives kids, parents, and teachers a chance to check in with me. It also gives me a chance to respond cheaply and rapidly rather than wait for letters to be forwarded from publishers.

My initial opinion of the Internet was that it fell far short of the hype. But then I began to realise what a suitable medium it is to connect readers and creators of books. People interested in my books could have a detailed glimpse "behind the scenes" and then have their questions answered. And I would benefit from hearing what readers had to say to me outside the strangeness of the audienceperformer relationship characteristic of many events at schools or festivals. Maybe that shy kid who didn't get a chance to talk to me at a school would be more comfortable gathering his thoughts and contactingme online.

After my wife, Helen Cooper, won the Kate Greenaway Medal for children's books illustration last summer, I reckoned it was time we put extensive information about her on a website to meet requests for photographs, biographical details and background information. A comprehensive list of books and some excerpts seemed like a good idea, too.

At the same time, I thought I might as well fly my own e-flag and I set out to place our road cone on the information superhighway. Helen and I came up with the idea of cyberspace bookworms, and quickly registered the domain name WormWorks.com.

I wanted our site to be well signposted and easy to move around. I hoped to give the website an artistic integrity equal to that which Helen and I strive to put into our picture books. It wouldn't do to have a dodgy site representing us on-line. What surprised me was that, in spite of all the hi-tech jargon that surrounds the Internet, websites themselves are quite lo-tech and crude; the animation, sound, and interactive capabilities are pretty crummy copared to what can be achieved with film, CD players, and the telephone. The main difference is that anyone with a computer can create content at home with fairly limited skill, and publish it whenever they want for peanuts.

The constant limitation is the size of the computer files one can reasonably expect to jam down a telephone line. It's a bit like trying to feed someone on the other side of a door by stuffing a peanut butter sandwich through the keyhole and hoping they aren't put off by what comes out the other side and don't starve while waiting for it. Some of the size limitations I didn't mind - rather than pretend I was Walt Disney, I was keen to use the inherent cheesiness of on-line animation to humorous effect.

Unlike a book, which can actually be declared finished, a website is in constant need of resurfacing. But when "traffic" starts flowing on the site, it all seems worthwhile; I get a kick out of looking at the statistics available from my website host that show how many people visit the site at any particular time. I can even see when a whole class has logged on after lunch.

At the moment, WormWorks.com receives no sponsorship, and neither do most of the other authorillustrator websites I've seen. A modest amount of revenue is generated from a tiny commission granted by Amazon, the on-line bookseller, for any books bought by people coming to Amazon via my site.

It's extremely unlikely that the Amazon commission will ever come near to covering the cost (time as well as financial) of maintaining the site. WormWorks.com complements my (infrequent) visits to schools and festivals, and publicises our work around the globe, inviting comments and criticism from visitors - including you. It's also a great excuse for not getting on with any real work.

Do you think I must be mad to be doing all this unpaid work? Why not e-mail me and let me know?

Ted Dewan can be contacted through www.wormworks.com


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