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Psychotropic Site Management
By Rowdy Rhodes
February, 2007, 07:20

What it takes to manage a website is like a balance act between heaven and earth.
In a psychotropic drug induced haze I write this piece, enjoying myself immensely, knowing that it'll either turn out to be a piece of completely boring, self-indulgent drivel or an article actually providing a little entertainment and education.

Recently, an innumerable amount of questions teemed into our site's main email account. Many of the questions so generic or ambiguous that it would take books to answer.

A few in particular caught my attention that I'd like to share in the hopes that they offer some form of insight into what is done around here and what makes me crazy.

"What needs to be done to run a successful website?"

I might as well join the gurus/experts and write a book to answer this. Then again who reads the manual when firing off an email might provide the answer? Once answered though, additional questions of the same ilk from the same person will follow. So, in part, to run a successful website you need to discern what cans of worms to open and what to shelve.

"Who are you?"

This is amusing, often asked. Does it matter in the large scope of providing writing resources? Not really. Although, I do understand why I'm asked. They want to try and put a name together with a background. I'm me. To know me is another voluminous tome. Just hang around IN and read for a while.

"Do you know of anyone who specializes in books in the French language?"

A legitimate writing question, especially since I live in "bilingual" Canada. However, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that I don't speak or read French and further more have no idea what French the question refers. Parisian? Quebecois? Acadian? Lousianna Bayou? Lack of clarity in emails kills me.

One that I enjoyed answering (the questioner smart enough to give me all details): I was asked if a writer should, after verbal agreement with a publisher to provide a book outline and sample chapter, continue to provide additional chapters so the publisher could decide whether the topic was financially viable.

The answer is not all that simple. Any professional writer's gut would immediately drop, and they'd step back to review the situation. Hint: No paperwork, more writing requested, no advance. This was an aspiring writer wanting to see the book published. Often is the case where desire outweighs logic. Answer: Stop sending in anything. Check out the company and lawyer involved. Search writing communities asking other writers about this publisher. Start getting everything in writing. Use your own lawyer to represent your interests. Stop using the publisher's lawyer to negotiate the deal on your behalf.

There were also multiple questions from multiple users regarding HTML programming and website design. Again, very large answers needed. The variations of site design and what is considered ascetically acceptable on behalf of the creator and the audience may widely vary. This has to be well thought out, taking a lot into consideration. HTML is also a language, just like French, Spanish, or German, and has to be learned if you want to do it yourself. The basics of HTML are not that difficult to understand and many sites offer free advice on the topic, but it can be overwhelming for a layman to see something like:

<img src="images/writing_hand85x64.jpg" width="85" height="64" alt="writing_hand85x64.jpg" border="1" align="middle"> <a href="FWOSignup.html" title="Free Writing Resources Sign Up Page" onMouseOver="window.status='Free Writing Resources Sign Up Page'; return true" onMouseOut="window.status=' '">

I believe that all of the HTML questions are coming in because the questioners trust me to be honest with them, and I'm actually quite honoured. But why all the questions now?

It's winter and many writers are snowbound. Looking at sites they'd like to see change. Writers are such procrastinators. Shouldn't they be writing? There's really two ways to go about HTML: Learn it yourself and/or hire someone (or pray someone who knows what they're doing is nice enough to help.)

"How do I get my a classified ad or event listed on your site?"

These questions tell me that I've just been spammed or the person is too lazy to read. Most often I ignore them, which is probably one reason why the FREE Classified Section of IN is a little bare and why we build our own events listings each month in Global Offerings.

Another lazy email received far too often: A well-established author, assuming their name carries enough weight they can ignore guidelines, fires an article into the site bypassing the simplest of requests like: "Send all submissions to our email account. No attachments other than graphics." Of course their submission arrives in Word, attached, no graphics, their email reading something like: "Here's an article for you. Hope you like it. Get back to me for further information." Yeah right. King, Rowlings, et al., I'll definitely get back to you, otherwise read our guidelines - please.

Email address change requests are another example of inattention. Every mailing we send contains instructions on how to make these changes. It's also explained on our Sign-up Page.

Publicists: I have to admit I don't know whether it's me, fate, luck, God with an amusing sense of humour, or miscommunication; however, of all the publicists I have ever worked with, only three actually followed our requirements, which are pretty standard and easy to understand. I seem to have no luck here. I'm guessing it must be the name Rowdy.

Advetorials: No faster way to make me crazy. Send in an 800 word "article" filled with self-promotion. Albeit some pieces are interesting, but when a company writes a "how-to article" and presents themselves as the end-all solution, I admit my mind responds with "Buy a bloody ad." Of course I can't respond that way, it wouldn't be politically correct. Then again anyone who knows me knows that PC is something I never really quite adopted. Is it wrong for me to say that a publication sucks, or your food isn't fit for man or beast?

Then there are the "drive-bys" who tell me they're not subscribers, haven't contributed bupkiss to our system, and want something. Sometimes I think it's a joke, but they're not joking. They want to know where to find whatever. After almost eight years of collecting writing stuff, odds are we already have it - sign up and look for it - and if we don't, do me a favour: Let me know, I'll find it and add it.

So what does it take to successfully run a website? I don't know about the successful part. You be the judge whether our system is successful in educating, entertaining, and easy to work with.

What do I know is that to run a site currently with 900+ pages, more than 10,000 subscribers, and over 4,000 resources, the above are just some of the daily gems that accompany website management. And everyone wants everything, now.

Add to this, perseverance, patience, compassion, balance, understanding, insight, knowledge, organization, determination, a desire to learn and experiment, hardware and software knowledge, the right combination of people (like our INsters), even political correctness if you're so inclined. There's more but I'm out of space and our editor is going to shoot me, if she even decides to run this.

I have to close with this thought though: Every moment, every email, every writer's successful project that we are, or have been, a part of (small or large) makes it all worthwhile. For me to be doing anything else would be insane, which may be why my doctor prescribed these psychotropic drugs, I've been a little side tracked lately. It's starting to feel good to be back.
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Rowdy Rhodes is the Site Manager of The Freelance Writing Organization International and General Manager of Inkwell Newswatch (IN). He is also known to freelance an article or two when the fancy strikes him. If you are looking for written content for your web site, ezine, or print publication, drop him a line at and he'll get back to you as soon as possible.

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