Author Websites: Are You Missing These 5 Crucial Elements?

From BookBub Partners:

A well-optimized author website can help an author brand themselves and sell more books. It’s an important marketing tool that provides readers, publishing professionals, and members of the media vital information. But designing one can be overwhelming — and on top of writing and other marketing activities, remembering to update it regularly can seem like a chore.

So what should an author’s website include (and keep up to date) at the very least? What crucial elements should you ensure aren’t missing from yours?

We scoured dozens of successful authors’ websites to see what elements they include with the most regularity and showcase several examples of each below. This way, you can see different formatting possibilities when you’re deciding how to incorporate these details into your own site. (Some elements may overlap, as authors often include multiple on a single page.)

  1. Books (with retailer links)
  2. Author bio (in the third person)
  3. Author headshot (with photographer credit)
  4. A way to get updates (via email and/or social media)
  5. A way to get in touch (with you or your publishing team)

Link to the rest at BookBub Partners

19 thoughts on “Author Websites: Are You Missing These 5 Crucial Elements?”

  1. With all due respect to the marketing geniuses at BookBub:

    Never, never assume that item 3 is appropriate. Especially not for survivors of domestic abuse, or ex-cons and present/former government employees (if, that is, there’s a distinction), or… well, the less-photogenic among us. An author’s website isn’t a dating profile. I hope.

    Someone is probably going to object that this is what “works” in publishing. Fine. Show me the double-blind, replicable evidence demonstrating that it actually has a measurable positive effect on sales for all types of authored works. And demonstrate for me how that has harmed Thomas Pynchon’s sales over the years… measurably and replicably.

    • But at least consider item #3. In my case, I don’t have classic “headshots”; I have “action/editorial” shots that are related to the subject at hand. In my About, when I’m talking about giving seminars, I show a pic of me giving a seminar; when I’m talking about my swimming background (which figures into a lot of my writing), I show a picture of me in the pool.

      One of the reasons people visit author websites is to see some “behind the scenes” content. And using photos is one of the best ways to do that. YMMV.

      • It’s neither mandatory (as implied by the OP) or even “crucial.” That’s my point: The purported “need” for a headshot of the author is received marketing “wisdom” not supported by any replicable data. My point is that a fair number of authors have darned good reasons to not include a headshot (or any other photograph of themselves), and that the implicit message of the OP — that if you don’t have one, you’re sabotaging your author page — is wrong.

        Besides: This might be 2002, and the author might be trying to hide being a dog.

        • In the context in which Bookbub gave this advice, photos are mandatory. Here is the context:

          Similarly, make it easy for event organizers, bloggers, and members of the media to find a high-resolution headshot of you. This not only makes their jobs easier, but it will also prevent you from feeling frustrated when a pixelated or old photo of you shows up in an important article. Remember to credit the photographer, reducing the need for back-and-forth over email.

          Note that some authors with pen names prefer to remain anonymous. Even then, having a graphic instead of a headshot is helpful to decrease the chance that you’ll be excluded from an article or opportunity because someone couldn’t easily locate the right assets.

          Emphasis mine. I know you posted on this before when you were angry about the using high-res photos, but you were wrong then, and you’re still wrong now.

          The context you repeatedly miss is that the photos are for media purposes: Press releases are not for customers, they are for publicity. To play in that ballpark, you must play by the rules of that park. If an author does not want, or seek media publicity, then an author can safely skip the photo requirement.

          If an author has a secret identity, but also wants media publicity, then they’ll have to work with a photographer to create a face-obscuring photograph. Case in point: the restaurant reviewer at my old paper used a staff photo that did not reveal her face. At most you could see her eyes; the photo was cleverly done. She had to be anonymous; someone else always paid the bill at the restaurants she went to. The need for anonymity is not a new problem. It can be readily solved.

          And these days, the latest CMS (content management systems) used by the big conglomerates will not permit you to post a story without a photo. When my old paper switched to such a CMS, I went through and audited the news morgue for photos that could serve as stock images, for those breaking-news situations where there are no ready photos. All just to avoid that problem.

          Where this applies to authors: on the web, just having a photo of the book will be misinterpreted by the reader as an ad. We saw this happen in real time, even in news stories (not book reviews) where we used maps and other graphics that were part of the story. The author photo helps avoids this problem, especially when paired with a high-res photo of the book.

          Data analytics in media are a thing now, and if a media outlet has issued a requirement, you can be sure they’ve taken the analytics into account. I’ve had nightmares where I’m stuck in talks about those damn analytics. Everything, including where I placed ads or links on a webpage, was based on those analytics.

          However, I don’t know if Omniture (now known as Adobe Marketing Cloud), and Chartbeat et al have reports available for the general public. I have blissfully managed to forget those cursed names, until just now. Point is, a lot has to be done differently now than they were in the print-only days of Thomas Pynchon.

          TL;DR: skip photos if you don’t seek media publicity in 2020 and beyond. Follow BookBub’s advice if you do.

          • That begs tbe question of whether old media publicity will move the needle for you or if the *possibility* of it is worth the effort or cost.

            Don’t forget we’re in the age of dillution. The publishing establishment doesn’t try to ignore indies as much as possible solely out of loyalty to the ancien régime but also because they don’t have the resources to properly deal with the Indie, Inc onslaught.

            I suspect you need to be pretty well established before old media stops sending your PR efforts to the circular file. Like, how many releases can they even look at per day if even half the working Indies are jumping up and down for attention?

            Dunno but I thing nothing has the quite return as just writing some more.

          • tl;dr I’m apparently wrong when I question received wisdom that is not supported by replicable, scientifically acceptable data from assertion to conclusion.

            Longer version: I’ve been working with traffic analysis professionally for over three decades. “Data analytics” is a descendant of traffic analysis, nothing more and nothing less. It is a more-granular descendant, but the underlying statistics, mathematics, data validation requirements, and correlations are not just analogous but identical.

            The required chain to validate the assertion made by BookBub is that having a headshot has a predictable positive effect on sales that is greater than the cost of installing the headshot. And that chain fails if any step in it has no supporting, replicable data. My perhaps-too-subtle point was that the cost to be considered is not limited to the fee paid to the photographer and the fee for adjusting the presentation itself (the latter of which is probably minimal); there are other often substantial and sometimes prohibitive costs. And that still assumes the beginning-to-end high correlation on the benefit side of the equation… the data for which is lacking.

            Note, too, that I did not reject headshots for everyone; I merely pointed out that there is no reason to make them mandatory, especially since their efficacy has not been established (and, in particular, how much that efficacy exceeds other efforts <sarcasm> like better proofreading of the page on which they appear, such as Major Author X’s and Major Author Y’s publisher-sponsored websites, and IndieMajor Author Q and IndieMajor Author R’s websites, which each got snarky remarks in credible review sources in their respective markets in the last year </sarcasm>.

            My objection is to both the tone and the substance that “You must do x to successfully market your book(s),” which is largely driven by undergraduate-business-administration-marketing-course ideological and textbook predispositions. If after considering all of the costs and benefits, you choose to do so, that’s fine; but you’re not a failure if you come to a different conclusion based on your own needs and data than did BookBub’s denizens (who were not considering any particular author’s context in the same level of detail as their recommendations).

    • Show me the double-blind, replicable evidence demonstrating that it actually has a measurable positive effect on sales for all types of authored works.

      God Bless common sense, for too often feeling masquerades as fact.

  2. I’m not convinced by Felix’s point as I believe that – even if you never interact with mainstream media – a picture and bio on an author’s website is an important attraction to many – not all – fans (and particularly to the any superfans who invest heavily in the author and buy everything they publish).

    However, CE’s worries are overstated. The author is probably using a pen name – especially if there are real safety concerns – and nobody is saying that the picture or bio have to have anything to do with the author.

    It is probably unethical to use a random image from the internet, but there are now free sites which generate highly realistic though totally imaginary headshots. The author can now decide exactly what they want to look like and generate images until they find a close match.

    As for the bio, this is just an opportunity for a bit of practice fictional character development.
    To pick up on Felix’s earlier example, here is one from the back cover of a book by a not untalented “new” author:

    Robert Galbraith is married with two sons. After several years with the Royal Military Police he was attached to the SIB (Special Investigations Branch), the plain-clothes branch of the RMP. He left the military in 2003 and has been working since than in the civilian security industry. The idea for the protagonist Cormoran Strike grew directly out of his own experiences and those of his military friends who have returned to the civilian world. Roger Galbraith is a pseudonym.

    The final sentence as actually true.

    • My main concern is we’re in a transition era where a series of disruptions are still working themselves out. And in those periods people tend to hold on to the practices of the earlier era long after they cease to be useful.
      (The oddball laws of the early days of autos, for one, or more recent, the plethora of combination computer/mainframe terminals of the 80’s.)
      I’ve no doubt the old practices of previous decades are still useful for some but I doubt their universality; things like author tours, book fairs, etc.
      As PG points out from time to time, Indie publishing is by and large a cottage industry not an industrial assembly line like corporate publishing. Different processes are to be expected.

      FWIW, my prefered author bio might go: “The author is a nobody who has lived a life of little consequence. You might find their scribblings amusing. Or maybe not.”

      • Or you could try the path established by my client (and friend) the late Harlan Ellison with bios, starting in the 1970s…

        My objection is not to a carefully considered strategy but to arrogant propagandistic BS that every successful strategy for publishing success necessarily includes (not considers, includes) x specific elements that aren’t “write a good book,” combined with rhetoric amounting to shaming of those who don’t… all tinged by potential, unstated conflicts of interest considering the source. The reactions here were, umm, predictable.

          • He should have been addressing authors, saying, “Don’t work for free.”

            When you offer it for free, someone will take it.

            • The problem isn’t agreeing to work for free but rather publishers who turn “payment on delivery” into “payment on lawsuit”. Hugo Gernsback was notorious for it. And even today, Hollywood has a good share of shady operators.

              Where others swallowed the scams as “learning experiences”, Mr Ellison fought back.

          • Harlan’s ghost called, and told me to ensure that you understood the need to quote him accurately. So: Where would you like your reminder dead gopher delivered?

              • (It was supposed to trace back to Felix; he left out the wicked phoneme fricative between “the” and “author.”)

                I can’t link to it directly; it’s in a copyrighted audiovisual presentation, which Harlan assured me was canonical. Dreams With Sharp Teeth has a number of extracts up on that Alphabet Inc. website with all the videos, this among them, and almost all of them technically copyright violations.

  3. A lot of people who write about writing are firmly convinced that if X works for some, X works for all. How else to write, “Five Simple Steps To The NYT Best Seller List.”

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