It's harder than you think to get it right and yet appearance matters. Just as the cover images of my eBooks tell you something about what you might find inside, so the background of a blog or website tells you a lot about the person writing it.
Which is why I've been experimenting with available backgrounds.
But whenever I found one I liked and no matter how much I tweaked the settings, the text became quite difficult to cope with. I've spent hours at it. For the moment, I'm settling for this seascape especially since so much of what I write seems to have the sea somewhere in it - even The Physic Garden involves a trip to the Isle of Arran for my main characters!
Linked to this is the fact that I've been reading and trying to learn a bit about creating a brand. Not cynically, but with the intention of trying to target those readers who - for want of a better explanation - are the people who will enjoy the kind of books I write.
There's an excellent blog post about this here on Stephen T Harper's blog. The wonderful Seth Godin sums it up, when he writes, 'Unanimity is impossible unless you are willing to be invisible.' And goes on to say that we have to learn to say 'It's not for you.'
This doesn't mean that I want to deter anyone from giving my books a go. But it does mean that we don't all love the same kind of work. (Just as well really.) And as writers, we're always trying to connect with the readers for whom we're really writing, the people who 'get' it, the people who will get some pleasure out of it, become lost in the world we've created - and hopefully, come back for more.
Although we badly want everyone to love what we write, we have to accept that some people won't. Why should they? And we have to learn to say 'it's not for you, then. But that's OK.' and move on.
Which is hard, because most of us remember the occasional negative review far more clearly than any number of positive comments.
It can be an interesting exercise to go to a book by one of your favourite authors on Amazon, one with a lot of reviews, and glance at the one and two star reviews. You can be pretty sure that - even with the most successful writers - there will be a few, sometimes more than a few, negative reviews. Sometimes these are quite illuminating - especially when they are well thought out, well written, but still negative. You may not agree with them at all. You probably won't. Especially if this is a writer whose work you love. But if you pause for thought, you can see why it may be that you disagree, that you're enthusiastic about a particular book while somebody else isn't, just as you may adore a particular piece of music while somebody else can't bear it.
A few years ago, when I had aromatherapy massage, the therapist asked me if there were any herbs or scents I particularly disliked (rosemary, when it's too intense) and any which I particularly loved (neroli, always, but any variation on orange and orange blossom.)
She took these preferences into account when preparing massage oils.
I think it's the same with books really. I'm invariably on the look out for whatever the equivalent of neroli is in fiction.
Some of my close friends much prefer rosemary!
On the whole, it's all pretty subjective - and that's quite heartening. Even if you are writing for a tiny, experimental niche market there will surely be somebody out there who will say 'this is definitely for me!'
And why not? It's one of the joys of this brave new world in which we find ourselves.
Meanwhile, the trick with branding isn't to indulge in crazy blanket marketing. It's to find out about your own work, what it is, what it's like, what characterises it -. and then try to find and connect with those readers who have been searching for exactly this kind of book.
Which is all VERY much easier said than done!
(All helpful suggestions gratefully received.)
Meanwhile, for anyone who wants to sample the kind of books I write, The Curiosity Cabinet will be free to download for five days, from 26th February to 2nd March. Quite a lot of people already have this book in paperback, but this means you can get the Kindle edition too if you want. One reviewer has described this as a 'rich tapestry of a book'. Two stories, historical and contemporary are intertwined on a small (fictional) Scottish island. What mostly emerges from the reviews is that people have quite simply found this to be an enjoyable read, one which stayed with them long after they had finished the novel. That's more than enough for me. If you haven't yet come across it, give it a go. I hope you enjoy it too! If you're reading this in the US, you can click here instead.