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How to Build (and not Build) an Author Site

6 December 2015

From Andrew Updegrove: Tales of Adversego:

When I released my first book four years ago, I wasn’t convinced I needed an author site. After all, an Amazon Author Page includes most of the basic elements needed to establish a web presence, and it’s free to boot. I decided to build one anyway for the experience I’d gain in doing so, and now it’s time for a major rebuild. Here’s why.

As in every other aspect of learning how to self-publish, there’s an endless amount of low-value (and sometimes downright wrong) “how to” stuff out there, as well as an infinite number of service providers that care a lot about getting your business, but little (if at all) about helping you get business. They’ll be delighted to sell you a formulaic site, take your money and say “good luck” (others are very good, by the way, so shop around). Finding the straight story about what’s worth doing and what is simply a waste of time and money is a challenge and a chore.

In point of fact, having a simple, static web site is likely to have little to no value at all. So paying hundreds of dollars to set one up, or spending a lot of time to figure out how to do it yourself for free, will be right up there with buying a press release – an almost complete waste of time and money. At the other extreme, setting one up and going wild with it, but in the wrong ways, may be an even larger, unproductive time sink.

. . . .

It’s important to start by recognizing that there are four things an author site must do as well as possible:

  1. It must provide a clear, compelling reason for a visitor to buy each of your books, and make it as easy as possible for a visitor to make an impulse buying decision (e.g., include buttons linking to your book or author page at each major distributor through which your books are available).
  2. It should help build your brand, which includes you as well as any sub-brands it would be smart to create (e.g., specific book series and characters).
  3. Along with related promotional activities, it must help you establish a growing number of identified followers with whom you can communicate, both independently as well as via posts at the site. That way you can let your readers know when you release a new book, and hope to enlist them to help you promote it.
  4. It must be easily discoverable by people making appropriate web searches.

. . . .

Many author sites (including this one) devolve into efforts to connect with other authors rather than acting as effective sales tools. Why? Because authors are more likely to interact, and it’s nice to be noticed. So the author starts to serve the audience they’ve been able to attract rather than continue directing their efforts to the more difficult goal of acquiring a reader base.

. . . .

So let’s take it the next level down. What types of features should your site include?

  1. Obviously, your books should be very prominently displayed. Those authors that don’t have lots of news and opportunities for engagement to update should be sure that their books are the most prominent elements of the home page. I said “obviously,” but surprisingly enough, there are many author sites where this is not the case.
  2. You should tell your readers enough about yourself to allow visitors to connect with you as a person, since the person that writes the books is – or should be – part of the brand in order to permit your brand-building efforts to be as effective as possible (again, not as obvious as it sounds). If you are a fiction writer, consider making the style of your bio hip, flip, provocative, confessional or whatever in order to support the particular brand image that you want to create (that’s another serious topic, but one for another occasion). In any event, the text that introduces her to her readers shouldn’t be something appropriate to embed in a resume. If you want, you can stop here. But you can take this a lot further with a blog in which you share insights about, for example, how and why you write what you do, and what may be coming up next (much more on this topic to follow).
  3. Further to the same point, the banner of the site should feature your  name, and not that of a specific book or book series (in some cases it may make sense to have a separate site to best build the brand for a series).
  4. For each book, the site should have a separate page, with a description, large size image of the cover, as well as other features of the author’s choosing, such as outtakes from reviews, references to prizes the book has won, endorsements, etc. But keep each book page short – no more than a screen or so. If you want to include more, do it via links to additional pages or sources. And, of course, include those Buy links.
  5. Include sample chapters from each book, with more Buy buttons at the end.
  6. Include a newsletter sign-up form in the side bar on every page, as well as invitations to use that form (with links) wherever appropriate within the main body of other pages.
  7. Never use your home page as your blog page. Put that under a separate tab.
  8. Keep the structure of the site and the navigation clean and traditional – make it easy for a visitor to find what they’re looking for by putting things under tabs with titles they’re used to.

Link to the rest at Andrew Updegrove: Tales of Adversego

Here’s a link to Andrew Updegrove’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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19 Comments to “How to Build (and not Build) an Author Site”

  1. That ‘include a chapter of each book’ is fine if you only have a few books out and even the ‘separate page for each book’ only makes sense if you only have a few books out. In a trilogy or series it wouldn’t emphasize that they go together. Once you have quite a few books out that would be horribly unwieldy. Much of what the piece says is good advice but I’d be careful taking it as blanket advice.

    • I realized that as I had more books and stories out I need to focus more on groupings and collections. Still working or reorganizing things.

      • I realized the same. As a reader, when I see a new-to-me author with a list of 12 or more titles, I feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start.

        I used that realization to group my own books. What I still need to do is develop a tag line for each grouping – a short sentence that tells the potential reader what the big appeal is in each group of titles.

        • If you use WordPress, there’s a plugin called “MyBookTable Bookstore” by Author Media that is extremely useful. It will create book pages for your whole catalog, plus each book. You can set up series, etc.

          I use it, and the paid version allows you to insert some of your affiliate IDs too, so that you earn a little extra from people clicking through to Amazon. Even has a note already in place to let them know the links are affiliate links.

    • A simple way to handle this in any content management system, or even a static site, is to make the series page the one you link to in your navigation, and have links to individual book pages on the series page.

      The main reason to have pages for every book is SEO. You want to be able to get H1 tags around the titles of your books, and you also want the title of the PAGE (in the metadata) to include the title of your individual book. This increases Google’s awareness of your titles, and tells Google (a dumb machine) which words are important. This goes back to his #4 about what an author site must do.

  2. You know what the secret of author sites is? It’s this: Your readers don’t care how great or sucky it is. Readers don’t find authors they want to read THROUGH an author site; they find an author site only AFTER they’ve read and liked the author. They’re not then going to punish you for having a lousy author site.

    The only people pushing great author sites are people who make a living making author sites for people.

    I’ve had lousy author sites, great author sites, somewhere in-between. It doesn’t cost me readers or earns me readers. You know what does? MY BOOKS.

    • +1

      ETA: Creating the fan club that the OP describes sounds like a lot of work, as well as something that the vast majority of readers would have little interest in joining. Most just want to read a good book. Just sayin’. But, hey, maybe it will work for him. I certainly wish him the best of luck.

    • +1

      None of this matters. Readers are very good at finding the information they are looking for. If the site looks reasonably good and the information is presented in a way that makes sense, it doesn’t have to be in any special order. This isn’t 1998. Readers know how to navigate a website.

    • Doesn’t hurt to have both.

      A good website can be as entertaining as a book. A little insight into the authors world, a hint of what they are working on, some interaction with the readers, all of this may not attract them to the writers work in the beginning, but it might inspire them to pick up the next book or even better subscribe to a mailing list.

      Its working for Wendig.

    • I think an author website is more about creating loyal readers who buy your new books right away than finding new readers. Building your core audience and keeping them informed is critical. Your website is the second most important thing to selling YOU as a brand after your actual books. Selling your brand is something you do to people who are already aware of you and have read one of your books.

  3. The only times I’ve ever bothered to hunt down an author’s website are the times when the listing at the POS hasn’t made it clear what order their series should be read in.

  4. I also think it’s important for readers to be able to contact the author, whether through the site or via an email address (I have one that I publicize and haven’t had problems with excess spam). Sometimes readers have a question or request that’s perfectly reasonable. It sure builds rapport.

    And I agree that every author has to consider his/her circumstances. With 100 novels out, I can’t possibly have a separate page for each. More importantly, I focus on books that I’m reissuing or self-publishing and downplay those on which my old publisher keeps most of the money. For some reason, nobody addresses that issue in discussing promotion & websites. Am I unique here?

    • I’m confused, why can’t you have a page for each novel? Why does 100 or 15 make a difference? With proper organization, an unlimited number of book pages is perfectly feasible in regards to user experience. After all, Amazon has, what, over a million book pages?

  5. These are good observations (e.g., including contact information, which I meant to add and forgot to, and what to do about large numbers of books, which I hadn’t). I’ve taken the liberty of updating my post to incorporate them.

    My thanks.

  6. Thanks, Andy, for the post and for coming by to see the responses. I have an old, unwieldy website I keep meaning to update… and this is a reminder to do so!

    Good information.

    • Thanks, Patrice, and I know the feeling. I’ve known that my site needed serious rehabilitation for a long time and it just never got to the top of the to do list.

  7. Generally a good article. I’ve concluded that an author must have a web site that they control; that it must have the books, excerpts and links to the various bookstores. Anything else is optional (including blogs).

    My reasoning:

    1. When I hear about a book, I’ll check Amazon. When I hear about an author, I Google it. If an author is here, I’ll click on their link. I rarely, at Amazon, click on the Author Page link.

    2. I don’t mind plain HTML coded author sites. I love good-looking ones (like MelJean Brook’s), but even a basic site will do.

    3. Here’s the important thing: Many authors still do not have a web site. Or even an Amazon author page. The number is getting smaller (I think about 2 in the last 10 I’ve hunted up don’t have one) but it still puts you potentially ahead of them in discoverability.

    4. Anything that makes it easier for people to find you and your books will increase the opportunity for sales. Even if you don’t do what I do, other people will. And having ancillary material on your site that’s similar in the types of books you write will help draw potential readers too.

    For example, I’ve annotated a couple of Agatha Christie novels, so I did an online annotation of her Orient Express book (it didn’t take long; she really streamlined her books). That page draws a good number of readers to the site. Don’t know if it leads to sales, but it can’t hurt.

    • It builds your audience, especially if your books are mysteries. This is no different than non-fiction writers blogging about the subjects they write about. Its really good practice.

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