An author website has a lofty goal: it needs to not just be, but also needs to perform and respond.
No longer just a fancy, static, online business card, it is an author’s ‘homebase‘, a marketing and networking hub and a portal that allows communication to flow between an author and his or her readers.
Visiting an author’s website is one of the leading ways that book readers support and get to know their favourite authors better. The stronger the relationship, the more likely zealous advocates will spread the word about the author to friends, family and peers.
And website visits can translate directly into books sold.
Therefore, even if you are on social media or actively promoting your work offline, operating without a website is just silly. Why invest the time and energy in writing your book, getting it published and developing other marketing strategies only to be absent online? In today’s market, it is a huge drawback and a valuable promotional opportunity missed if your readers can’t easily locate you with a few quick key strokes.
Learning how to design a website and incorporating the ‘must have elements’ requires some skills.
In the past, it was a higher hill than most authors were willing to climb. Even if an author perceived the need for a website but lacked the skills to create one, he or she would often end up paying big money to a professional website designer for a site that was rarely updated and poorly optimized for its intended purpose: to connect with readers and sell more books.
Thankfully, technology has simplified the process. Now, all authors who recognize the benefits of an online hub or homebase, can have one.
1. Designing Your Author Website: Ensure a Good First Impression
Your author website is an essential piece to the successful book marketing puzzle, but as always, first impressions matter. It is tempting to just get something up quickly, that requires little cost, and get back to the joyful torture of writing your novel.
However, while it’s certainly possible to set up your website quickly and with relatively little expense, it is extremely important to remember that your website represents who you are and what you have to offer.
A website will help to increase not only your book’s visibility across the internet, but yours as well. In many cases, it may be your future fans first impression of you–especially if you have not yet published. Make sure that your site reinforces the image you wish to portray. (For more on discovering your author brand, go here.)
With your author brand in mind, ask yourself the following questions about your current or new author website:
- Will people know what I write within seconds?
- Does the voice, tone, attitude and mood of the site resonate with my ideal reader?
- Will they understand the page they are on and what it’s about?
- Will they know what to do next?
- Does the site appear credible?
- Is it clear why they should buy my book or subscribe to free updates?
- What does the site provide the reader?
Just like it’s important to have fresh eyes editing your novel, ask others for their answers to the above questions and get their opinions on the first impressions your site gives rise to. You might be surprised at their answers!
As you design your site, keep both aesthetics and functionality in mind. You don’t need to run out and hire a $12,000 designer to have a professional looking site, but do keep the following in mind:
- Your site should look clean and uncluttered. Less is more, especially in your sidebar. And white space is your friend 🙂
- Your site is polished, legible (go for clear, not clever) and spell checked. Choose larger font sizes and colors that are easy to read. Light fonts on dark backgrounds or minimal contrast between font color and backgrounds are difficult to read.
- Keep navigation easy and clear, so your readers can find the important stuff.
- Use color to draw attention to select elements. For example, pick one color to be your “action” color. Whenever you want a reader to take action by clicking a link or subscribing, ensure you use that color only for the link or button, and no where else. (Can you guess what my action color is on this site?)
- Avoid a chaotic mix of colors. Instead pick two to four colors for your design template and don’t try to make everything stand out–then nothing will.
- Avoid anything unnecessary like Flash (Apple currently doesn’t support Flash), animated backgrounds or music. If your site takes a long time to load, or doesn’t work on a mobile device (iPad), you will lose a large number of visitors to your site.
- Keep elements consistent from page to page.
- Is your site branded for longevity? Is it book/genre specific or limiting, given your future writing plans? You do not want to rebrand or redesign the next time you publish.
- Remember, your site has to be compatible with different browsers and devices, so check how things look on multiple browsers, tablets and phones.
- Create content that is useful, engaging and well organized. Your posts and copy must be easy to scan. (Ugh, I know! As a fellow writer who bleeds over every word, I feel your pain!) People read differently online, so use bulleted lists, section headers and short paragraphs to convey your message, and learn the importance of writing a magnetic headline.
2. About/Bio Page
About pages are among the most frequently visited pages on the internet. Your readers want to know more about you, and this is the place to tell them.
Even as a visitor is delving into what you’re all about, what they are really thinking is WIIFM? (What’s in it for me?) Keep this in mind as you incorporate some of these ideas into your about page:
- Consider having a professional headshot and short blurb from your homepage with a link to your About page for more information.
- Break your About page into sections. Derek Halpern of Social Triggers does a great job of this. Here is what he recommends:
1. Start with a persuasive headline, that lets your visitor know what they can expect. (For an example, check out the YWP About page.)
2. Reassure your readers that they are in the right place and tell them what your site will give them.
3. Strengthen your credibility with some testimonials, reader quotes or other forms of social proof (more on this below).
4. Tell your personal story. Frame your content around what led you to writing, why you write the kind of books you do, what you love about it. Make sure your personality shines through! You can also include your writing credentials and professional associations.
5. If a visitor gets to this point in your about page, you’ve got them interested. Ask them to join your email list, and provide a link to your books, services or other products.
Here are more ideas:
- What do you want to know about your favourite author? Include that.
- Keep your About page and Bio up to date.
- Link to your Media Kit/Press page if you have one.
- Be personal, but be careful not to over share; stay professional.
- For more tips on creating a fantastic about page, check out this post from WriteToDone or get some ideas from these great examples of About pages from Smashing Magazine.
3. Contact Information
It’s surprising how difficult authors will make it for their readers (media, agents, publishers…) to contact them. There might be a tiny email address buried at the bottom of their website or noted on some obscure page deep within their blog. DO NOT make your visitors hunt for your contact information!
“If your goal is to engage with your readers online, don’t play hard to get.” (click to Tweet)
Make it as easy as possible for someone to get a hold of you. Here’s what to do:
- Have a contact tab in your top main menu that leads to a page with your preferred ways to be contacted. Don’t list every possible way you can be found, just the best ways. If you use a contact form, make sure it’s simple and you’re only asking for the info you require to get back to that person. If you note your email address, use yourname[dot]com to avoid spam harvesters.
- You can also encourage your readers to get in touch with you via the social platform(s) you are most active on.
- Provide multiple ways for people to contact, follow and Like you. It’s not your readers job to find you. It’s your job to be where your readers are.
4. Email Sign Up/Updates
It is never too early to start collecting email subscribers. Early sign ups are the most likely to be your biggest fans and most ardent supporters. These are the people that will forward your new releases and insider updates to their friends, evangelize you on Twitter, attend your events or push up your sales rank on Amazon when they hurry to get your new book.
I highly recommend using Aweber to manage your email list. Using a high quality, industry leader for your email list management is important to ensure your emails get to your fans and not their spam boxes. It’s easy to use, with tons of step by step videos, and very helpful customer service if you get stuck. And putting your form on your site is as easy as copying and pasting.
For more on building your email list, go here.
A few additional tips:
- Don’t panic! You do not have to produce a newsletter every week. Catherine Ryan Howard at Catherine, Caffeinated makes a point of letting you know up front that “nothing much happens… an email about once a month will cover it…” Just keep in mind that you should not be ‘selling’ something every time (and the only time) you contact your subscribers.
- Just an email address, or first name and email address is enough info. You don’t want to scare people off by asking for more.
- Your email optin box should be bigger and bolder than other elements on the page, but don’t overdo it.
- Make all links and buttons your ‘action’ color (as above). And make sure your links and buttons look clickable.
- Consider including a signup incentive, like a promo code for your latest book, a bonus chapter, a sneak preview of your next book, or a free chapter from a different character’s POV.
Social proof, testimonials and positive quotes from fans and reviewers can go a long way in increasing your credibility and authority with visitors to your author website.
Place real, short and powerful testimonials on your site. Include positive reviews, quotes from fan mail, notable media coverage, and if you have a significant following on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Wattpad and so on, note it.
Great locations for your fan testimonials are your About page, Homepage and on your sidebar, just under your email sign up form.
6. Social Media
There are two areas to focus on when it comes to social media and your site. The first, is to provide visitors the ability to find and follow you on your various social media platforms.
To encourage follows and Likes, add links to your social media profiles (Twitter, Facebook) on your Homepage, About page, and Contact page. Then ask people to follow or Like you. It’s just crazy enough to work. Let’s try it 🙂
The second area to focus on regarding social media, is making it super easy for people to share your site and your content with others. To do this:
- Write amazing content
- Add a sharing plugin to every page on your site, so visitors can share your pages via all the major social networks.
The free plugin I use on YWP is called SumoMe, but there are many to choose from.
7. Books, Products and Services
Depending on what you have to offer, you may have separate pages for your books, products and services, or combine everything in one. For books, include a large cover shot, an enticing blurb and clear details on purchase options (with links).
You may want to feature your current project on your Homepage. Provide a link to your Book page for visitors to get additional information about the book, get some behind-the-scenes info or promotional materials. (A Press/Media Kit for each book would be ideal).
Tip: If your books are available on Amazon, join Amazon Associates and you will be provided a code to link your book. You will also get a percentage of whatever a buyer purchases after they click your link–even if it’s not your book (lets hope it’s a T.V.). Once you have signed up for an account, type in your book title. When your title pops up, click “get link”, and Amazon will give you a variety of options to customize your link. Just copy and paste that code where you want it on your site (sidebar, Book page), and your book will show up with a buy link.
8. A Blog
Websites with blogs get 55% more traffic than websites with no blog. As well, having a blog creates fresh, additional pages of content which is great for SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
If your goals are to be seen by more people, drive potential book buyers back to your site, and establish yourself as an industry authority and thought leader, you need to include a blog on your site.
Here are a few more additional benefits:
- You can entice your current and future fans with exclusive, unpublished content, inside information and downloadable extras, like sample chapters.
- Readers find it especially appealing to find out who their favourite author reads or recommends. This is often a missed opportunity to not only engage with your readers, but network with and support your peers. No matter how famous, everyone loves recognition and appreciation, so share the love! This is also a great way to get inbound links–other sites linking back to your site. This too, increases your importance in the eyes of Google.
- Utilize your blog’s comment section to converse and engage with your audience. You can even encourage interaction between your readers by encouraging them to comment or reply to each others comments.
- You can have excerpts of your most recent blog posts on your Homepage, which will dynamically update each time you publish. This keeps the content on your Homepage fresh, and encourages people to return for more.
- A blog gives you the freedom to add additional content and bonuses (see below) without cluttering up your Homepage.
9. Appearances/Speaking Engagements/Latest News/Events
Include a section or page on your site that allows you to inform your fans of your whereabouts and upcoming events. Include things like:
- Latest News/Events: interviews, blog mentions, reviews and other media coverage items you can share with your audience.
- Appearances: book readings and signings, speaking engagements, interviews, conferences and professional events, workshops and so on, so your fans can find out the details and attend.
10. Press Page/Media Kit
The purpose of a press page or media kit is to easily provide the media, or anyone wishing to profile you, with the info they need to feature you in their piece.
The contents of a press kit will vary, but here are some of the basics of what you should include:
- Basic author bio, including contact info.
- Author photo (use a professional-looking headshot), and any additional photos that can be used when writing about the book.
- Information about the book, including a sample review, sample chapters.
The simplest way to make your media kit available is to turn the contents into a PDF. Provide a brief description and a link on a page on your site. Make it easy to find, and consider carrying around a few hardcopies at conferences/events, in case you receive a request for a copy.
Get the creative juices flowing! There are many fantastic ways to build value into your website for your readers and to keep them coming back for more.
- You can include a slideshow of photographs, sketches, illustrations of characters and locations in your book, and other meaningful images.
- Add other multimedia like audio files, a podcast, YouTube video and video trailers.
- Additional research material.
- If you are an expert in your field, and your book is an extension of your career, include things that spring from the larger context of your work and experience.
- Younger fans are often interested in contests, games and prizes (autographed books).
- An author’s favourite book, music, and movie recommendations are also fan favourites, so include these and some of your other influences.
- Include sneak peeks, additional content that isn’t in your books, main character bios, extra chapters, alternate character POV’s and any other bits that didn’t make the cut. Your readers will love it!
So there you have it! 11 of your author website ‘must have’ elements.
This is a lot of information, but don’t let it overwhelm you. You are building your writing platform and career, one plank at a time, so there must be some effort involved.
Bookmark this page and come back to it over and over again if you have to. The thing to remember is that if you put the time in at the beginning, you will reap the benefits ten fold over the course of your career.
But, know when to stop tweaking. You should be spending five to ten times as much time on creating content as fiddling, changing and rearranging your website.
To keep on track, have a clear goal for your author website (sell books, build a platform, connect with readers), keep your author brand in mind while you design, and create great value for your readers so they can’t help but come back for more.
So what about you? Any elements I’ve missed that work well on your author site? Please share in the comments below.
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