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The Truth About Author Websites

30 September 2013

From Digital Book World:

For some writers, their author website is a thing of pride of beauty. It’s an active well of new material, a place of engagement and connection, an extension of their books, even an invitation into their writing life. It gathers email addresses, expands audience, benefits SEO, and is their personal beachhead on the Web.

For others, the author website is an annoyance, an obligation, and a static reminder of all they hate about digital media’s encroachment on their writing life. The landing page is three books old, and the author photo three years outdated. The blog page whose latest post is dated 6 months ago makes them feel both guilt for not updating weekly as they’d promised, and resentment that anyone would expect them to.

. . . .

During the pre-lunch panel at Digital Book World’s Marketing and Publishing Services Conference (DBWMP), Rachel Chou of Open Road, Kristin Fassler of Penguin Random House, Brian Parsons of Houghton Mifflin and Peter McCarthy of McCarthy Digital debated the value of the author site.

Their consensus: for most authors, it’s not very valuable at all.

  • Parsons: Facebook has replaced author sites — especially for comments…
  • Chou: I don’t believe in author sites for most authors. I’d rather them spend time on social…
  • McCarthy: I think about the first page of Google. Author websites don’t often help you get there…

. . . .

The difference in perspective derives from where you’re sitting. From a publisher’s chair, there’s very little to gain in the near-term from most author websites (big author brands are exceptions, of course). Author websites don’t often sell books, they don’t often drive traffic to retailers, and they don’t often find their way into conversations on the web. Social does. So it makes sense that, when asked, publishers would privilege management of Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, etc over an individual author site.

But in an author’s calculation, short-term gains are weighed against long-term results. In an email exchange after the panel, Jane Friedman: wrote me:

I have a hard time endorsing a social-only approach when you, the author, are at the mercy of the social media tool for reaching your audience. You can never control what Facebook or any other site does—with its design, with its user interface, with your likes/followers, with its functionality, with its ad displays. And if and when it goes out of favor, you’ll have to rebuild somewhere else—whereas with a website, you only get stronger and better over time, assuming you don’t abandon it (and why would you, if you’re still writing and publishing?). This is part of being a capable author in the digital age, if you want to grow your career over the next 5, 10, or 20 years.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

This item will probably generate comments about author web sites pro and con.

PG’s only observation is that he doesn’t think big publishers know much about effective websites.

Exhibit A supporting his argument would be the websites of big publishers.

Social Media

30 Comments to “The Truth About Author Websites”

  1. TheSFReader’s first observation is that he doesn’t think big publishers know much about effective social media…

    TheSFReader’s other observation is that he doesn’t think big publishers know much about effective Internet presence.

  2. “Agreed. I didn’t want to look like I was piling on to big publishers.”

    Oh, that would never happen here 😛

  3. Your website is your anchor position on the web.

  4. This article strikes as the equivalent of asking the NSA about whether or not you should prefer face-to-face communications over electronic communications. The NSA would certainly advise you to prefer electronic communications and make all sorts of reasonable arguments. What they wouldn’t say is that they prefer you to use electronic communications because it makes their job easier.

    The larger question is why on earth would anyone ask the NSA that question. I don’t fault the panelists for their answers. I fault the worldview that led to those people being asked that question. Who could be so blind as to think that these people didn’t have institutional biases that would affect the answers? Only someone who is immersed in the same worldview.

    If you want to know about author websites, ask some folks who use them effectively. Here’s four people who can tell you a million times as much as these panelists:

    Lindsay Buroker (http://www.lindsayburoker.com/)
    M. Louisa Locke (http://mlouisalocke.com/)
    David Haywood Young (http://davidhaywoodyoung.com/)
    David Gaughran (http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/)

    I didn’t even have to mention Konrath or Eisler. See, it’s not that hard.

    • Konrath mainly uses a blog rather than a website. I think you are conflating two different issues.

      • “I think you are conflating two different issues.”

        Then so did the original piece.

        “The blog page whose latest post is dated 6 months ago …”

        It seems to be the two terms, while implying something about what content you’ll find, are really the same for this discussion. Do you have a home on the web.

    • Thanks for the mention! Just read this, after cleaning up cat litter from the floor of an elevator in Wyoming. I’d explain, but the gist is most likely clear.

      Perspective.

  5. Jonathan Gunson advocates the “hub” idea of a website where http://www.authorname.com is the go-to place for links to all of the social stuff you do on the web. Then you don’t have to worry as much if any of the social sites goes away, authorname.com is still there and you just change the links leading away from it. That sounds much more sensible to me than what the big publishers are saying.

  6. I would never listen to what Random Penguin or any other big publisher has to say about social media or marketing in general. Honestly, if they were any good at any of this stuff, wouldn’t every book they published earn out?

    It seems to me the people over at BookBub know far more about marketing than any of these guys do.

  7. I use an affiliate code for all my links on my author website. I link to the site at the back of my books and that’s all I do to promote the site. I get sales through my website because the affiliate sales reports say I do, so I don’t agree that author sites don’t make sales. I’m also #1 on Google for my author name and #2 after Amazon for most of my books. I don’t mind Amazon being ahead of me there. But all of this means I’m definitely on the first page of the search results. I haven’t had to make any effort to get there other than to update when I have a new release. I’m not a blogger and I only use my blog to post about my releases. So really, I disagree with much of what was said in the article.

  8. [Oops, I think I included too many links in my first comment. It’s in moderation.]

    This article strikes as the equivalent of asking the NSA about whether or not you should prefer face-to-face communications over electronic communications. The NSA would certainly advise you to prefer electronic communications and make all sorts of reasonable arguments. What they wouldn’t say is that they prefer you to use electronic communications because it makes their job easier.

    The larger question is why on earth would anyone ask the NSA that question. I don’t fault the panelists for their answers. I fault the worldview that led to those people being asked that question. Who could be so blind as to think that these people didn’t have institutional biases that would affect the answers? Only someone who is immersed in the same worldview.

  9. Are these author sites for authors with only one book or one series? Because I have 50+ titles in multiple settings, and until Amazon, B&N and the other retailers make it much easier for readers to see that kind of info, they need to find it somewhere. :,

  10. Hahahahahaha…listening to publisher shills is the best way to wake up in the morning/afternoon. The same people who don’t know diddly-squat about the digital market and self-publishing pretending to know about things like websites and social media? Hahahahahahahaha.

  11. I think of social as whatever is the shiny, new thing. Shiny, new things eventually become dull and old.

    Use your website as a hub to direct people to the shiniest, newest thing. There is something to be said for controlling your own site. Did anyone lose blog followers when Google Reader closed down?

  12. Unless you are serving ice cream, don’t use social as a noun. This isn’t some language peeve. The term “social” as it is used above (“I’d rather them spend time on social”) is a harmful mental construct that will blind you to reality.

    Go check out Lindsay Buroker’s website and tell me she isn’t being sociable there. Then go look at my Twitter feed (@WilliamOckhamTx) and see how to be antisocial on Twitter. It’s not the technology, it’s what you do and who you are.

  13. In other news: Bike Thieves Advise Cyclists Not to Use Locks

  14. Well, I decided that my major social media outlet is Facebook. But of course I have a website. I also have HTML skills, so it’s a no-brainer for me. But Blogger and WordPress are way easier than they used to be. Any author can have a nice-looking, inexpensive website using those two tools.

    I would suggest, however, that if you think white type on a black background is really cool, you don’t use it for your author website. Reverse type is so hard on middle-aged eyes (and younger) that I refuse to read any website that has it.

    There’s a reason it’s been used sparingly in print publishing all this time. You don’t want to blind your readers.

  15. My author website isn’t intended to sell books. It’s intended to give readers the ability to find and contact me. I have received many important (to me) emails through my contact page, from fan letters to serious publishing and marketing opportunities. My website also offers links to my twitter, facebook page, and newsletter. It’s not hard to maintain, and it’s not expensive. I got the artwork for free and did the (very simple) design myself. I just update it when a new book comes out.

  16. Your commentary made me laugh, PG. 🙂

    There isn’t much more to be said after that, is there?

  17. There’s no way I’d ever make Facebook my home site for anything.

  18. I’ve been building author websites for more than 10 years and can’t believe some of these comments. Maintaining a social presence on Twitter, Facebook etc is extremely time consuming. Maintaining a static author website without a blog or other time related content to go out of date only takes time when you need to add a new book or change other info. The rest of the year, it just sits there advertising your books and making you locatable without any effort from you at all.

    And I’d be interested to hear Peter McCarthy’s justification for his comment that “Author websites don’t often help you get on the first page of Google.” I googled my name, as he suggested, and there was my website in number 1 position. Then I googled lots of other authors and their sites were all at number one too. Which suggests to me that author websites are vital.

    Some people use a site that doubles as both an author website and a blog. That’s fine if they want to blog but no author should feel that they have to. A static website works too.

    • I don’t think any Big Publishing executive understands Google, Diana. Nor do they really understand how readers find books online.

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