A summary of our May 2010 speaker, Sonya Senkowsky
By Kay Vreeland
Sonya Senkowsky, founder and current Webmaster of AlaskaWriters.com, a site offering a Web presence and networked community to Alaska writers, spoke to the May 6 APC luncheon on “How I Stopped Worrying & Learned to Love My Web Site.” She described, with explanatory slides, the process of creating a site that includes DIY Web pages for Alaskan writers. She also told of the unexpected professional benefits that can come from such a project, like the book offer that resulted in the recent publication of Alaska Then and Now: Anchorage, Fairbanks & Juneau (co-authored with Amanda Coyne).
Senkowsky is Creative Services Coordinator and Webmaster for Bristol Industries, LLC, an Anchorage-based company owned by Bristol Bay Native Corporation. In 1996, she began her Alaskan career as a features writer for the ADN. In 2000, to jump-start a transition to freelance biological sciences writer, she decided to create a Web site to introduce herself to prospective clients. She kept it simple: her resume, her writing samples, her travels, and her contact information. From there, she expanded into the Alaska Writers Homestead site, which she created herself after she found that only pre-made templates for retail stores, small businesses, or professionals, like doctors, were available for building a site. Because those wouldn’t work for her purposes, she fashioned her own template that has evolved into the complex site she runs today.
The heart of the AlaskaWriters site is an information page about each author who is a member; these pages make up the nexus centered on the Alaska Bookshelf page. Senkowsky created the template a member can use for a personal page to showcase their own content as well as give off-site links to their Web site, booksellers, or other relevant information. Outgoing, as well as incoming, links are essential for showing up at the top of today’s search engine results, and interaction with members’ sites keeps these links active and relevant. The whole process also strengthens and helps the larger writers’ community.
To make all this happen, a member simply signs in and updates their page on a Web form. The Alaska Writer Laureate, Nancy Lord, uses her page to change photos and add fresh information about her work; another writer wanted to find an agent via the site, and the page she created did, indeed, bring an agent to her. Another wanted to show editors her writing samples and to promote her book, and another’s goal was to promote her book with a photo of herself and of her book’s cover and a link to show how she was active in her writing career. Senkowsky’s husband’s book and CD set include an order form, a first for the site. Senkowsky herself was signed by a book publisher whom she repeatedly redirected to suitable writers and who, in the end, made the book deal with her.
As she planned her site with the idea that it be hers forever, Senkowsky knew she could not use free providers of Web page creation tools because if their company disappears, the site does, too. A personal domain is important for this reason as well. For licensing reasons, the main AlaskaWriters site is on Expression Engine, which interacts with a second content management system licensed for its use on individual author pages. A dynamic site, that is, one that is constantly updated, the AlaskaWriters community grows constantly with fresh content and new members.
Senkowsky looked back to tell of all her site has brought her: in her freelance business, Web design clients; in her writing life, exposure to the publishing community and early information about it; in her public life, speaking engagements; and in collaborative projects, work with people who came to the site with plans in mind, like Web site developer Susannah Gardner, whose Buzz Marketing with Blogs for Dummies (2005), Senkowsky contributed to via her site.
The most recent reward from her site is her current job. As she consulted with writers, she got a request from a CEO who wanted her to re-do their Web site to better serve the five companies in their industry and she agreed to take on the oversight of this project rather than its actual site design. As the project grew she moved into a fulltime job with Bristol Industries and has developed their writing and creative services department. This, along with publication of her recent book, shows some of the wonderful unanticipated consequences of her first small personal Web site started six years ago.
Always happy to share her expertise with others, Senkowsky invites everyone to check out the free-application Google site she created in preparation for this presentation, “5 Web Facts for Writers.” Here she explains basic Web vocabulary, pre-planning, how to build a site, the need for a host and a domain name (your URL), a decision whether to make a static site or a blog, the proper care and feeding of a site, and tips on promoting the site, including using social media (Twitter, Facebook). In conclusion, her advice, especially to those who are overwhelmed with the prospect of making and running a Web site, is to slow down and take it one step at a time, like she has done so successfully.
Senkowsky is a member of Alaska Professional Communicators and a two-time winner of its Sweepstakes award, given to the person who garners the most points in the annual Communications Contest.
After working a short stint in a suburban New Jersey bureau of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sonya Senkowsky came to Alaska in 1996 to escape the persistent smell of oil refineries on her daily commute, and to write for the Anchorage Daily News.
At the time, the newspaper had a vibrant Lifestyles section, which she served first as a features reporter and later as a part-time copy editor; in 2001, she left to become a full-time freelancer. As such, Sonya specialized in documenting and reporting on science fieldwork throughout the state – from dinosaur digs above the Arctic Circle to geology at the bottom of the Gulf of Alaska.
It was then that Sonya started her first websites, including AlaskaWriters.com, an online service offering a web presence for writers through “do it yourself” websites.
Through her websites, she has offered consulting and coaching to writers and scientists on freelancing, multimedia content management and Web outreach. Clients of AlaskaWriters.com include a number of prominent writers, including the state’s writer laureate. The site has also been home to numerous Alaska writing organizations, including the Alaska Press Club, the Alaska Writer’s Guild, and the Alaska chapter of Romance Writers of America—and Alaska Professional Communicators.
Sonya earned her master’s degree in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and her undergraduate degree in English/Communications from La Salle University, Philadelphia. In addition to having written numerous newspaper and magazine articles, she is co-author—along with Amanda Coyne—of Alaska Then and Now: Anchorage, Fairbanks & Juneau (2008), and an author of Alaska’s South Coastal Wildlife Viewing Guide (2009).
In addition to being manager and editor of AlaskaWriters.com, Sonya Senkowsky is currently Creative Services Coordinator and Webmaster for Bristol Industries, LLC, an Anchorage-based company serving the administrative and communications needs of more than a half-dozen engineering, construction and environmental remediation firms owned by Bristol Bay Native Corporation.