Whether you think it is the best thing since sliced bread or you hate it with burning passion, the reality is that the internet has become an inseparable part of our lives. As we have all learned over these last 20-odd years, the Age of Internet comes with all kinds of strings attached and for independent writers; it has also been a mixed bag.
On the one hand, the web has further shortened already miniscule attention spans, causing many a potential reader to turn to Twitter and Facebook instead of books. It has also allowed absolutely everyone to express their opinion on a work of art, which tends to gravitate towards the negative for some reason.
On the other hand, the web allows independent writers easier networking and added publication avenues, which is definitely a good thing. A great one, in fact. It has also enabled writers to be more in touch with their fans.
The Age of Internet also requires an independent writer to be present online in the form of an author website. The good news is that if done right, an author website can do fantastic things for an independent writer. The not so great news is that there are quite a few things to keep in mind when designing and managing such a website.
The Purpose of Your Website
The goal of every writer that has ever lived is the same – to get their writing in front of as many readers as possible. If this also results in making a decent living, all the better.
An author website is a perfect way to spread the word about your books and you as a writer. It is the first contact agents and publishers will have with you and your work and you need to ensure that they read only the good stuff about you.
Yes, the term “personal brand” does sound very like marketing and buzzwordy, but the truth is that an author website can do wonders for the personal brand of a writer – the way their readers see and think of them.
Let’s take Dan Brown’s website as an example. Now, he may not be your favorite writer in the world, but his website is in perfect harmony with his brand and work so far. It is also an extremely elaborate and expensive website, by the way. John le Carré’s website is yet another example of getting what you expected; with a marble backdrop and a very subtle and sober overall design. These are the perfect examples of websites that know their audience and that know what this audience expects.
In order for an author website to work, it needs to include a couple of features that will serve this singular purpose of having such a website – getting as many people to read the author’s work.
The Welcome Text
A nice piece of welcome text can go a long way in setting the tone for a website visitor’s experience. It is the perfect way to introduce them to your website and what they can expect from it.
A spectacular (and probably insanely expensive) example of this is J.K. Rowling’s website which explains visually how to use the website and what to look out for. A less-than-spectacular example of this can be found on Bernard Cornwell’s website. Besides sounding like the opening lines of The Rifleman’s Creed, it just feels too factual. It reads like a manual.
The About Page
The About Page sounds like the ultimate exercise in narcissism, but it is an integral part of an independent author’s website. Your readers (agents, publishers, as well) want to get to know the person behind the writing. They want a behind-the-scenes peek into the person that has written all this great stuff.
Be as personal as you wish here, let your readers inside. Unless you have decided to write under a penname and wish to protect your privacy, share a photo or a few.
Some authors put their books (or at least the most popular among them) on the home page, getting straight to the point. Other authors decide to have a dedicated page where their books will be presented in their full glory so to say. The first choice gets them in front of the readers straight away, while the second one gives your books the attention and the space they deserve.
Whichever way you choose to go, there are a few things you have to do here. For one, your book covers need to be clearly visible. Write short taglines that will accompany the image and entice the visitors to learn more about the books. When people click on a cover of a book, they should be taken to individual book pages where they will be able to learn more about it.
Besides learning about it, they should be able to buy your book from that page and this is where online bookstore buttons will come in handy. Make sure to include links to ALL the stores that feature your book. Let your readers decide where they wish to buy it.
In case you have created a literary world like many fantasy and young adult writers do, creating a page with a timeline or a short introduction of the universe might be a cool bonus. Maybe have someone do a few maps for you or something similar.
Reviews and Quotes
In case your work has been reviewed by someone, you should definitely share a few positive quotes from those reviews. Even if you hadn’t had the chance to have your books reviewed, you should ask some of your readers to share their opinion of your work and then feature their testimonials on your website.
This is a great article on customer testimonials and even though it is aimed at ecommerce and business websites, there are a lot of insights there that will work for your author website too.
Getting In Touch
It goes without saying that you will also want to allow your readers and potential publishers to get in touch with you. This is why a Contact Me page is crucial. It should feature a phone number and your email to begin with.
These days, social media has become a big part of people’s lives and whether you like it or not, you will want to be at least present on the biggest social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. No one is asking you to spend hours every day tweeting or anything, but you should get involved. This is also a great way to stay in touch with your readers and find out what they are saying about you.
You will also want to entice people to sign up for your email list so that you can inform them of new publications, deals or news in general. Doing this is an art and there is simply no room to even begin to cover it here. This article covers this particular issue very well.
A Few Final Tips
Starting a blog on your website is another great way to engage your visitors and give them more insight into your process. Cory Doctorow’s blog Craphound is a great one, as is Holly Lisle’s, despite the insanely outdated website design.
You might also want to feature videos and podcasts; of course if you feel like it. There is nothing worse than forcing it.
Last but definitely not the least, make sure that your website is mobile-friendly. Truly mobile friendly.
A great author website can truly be a huge ally for an independent author. It will take some work and/or money, but it is an investment that definitely makes sense.
Emma Miller is a Sydney based writer with a degree in marketing. Interested in digital marketing, social media, start-ups and latest trends. She’s a contributor at Bizzmark blog. Enjoys dramas, camping, geometry art, and jazz.