Because I frequently work on author & book websites, I often spend time looking at examples of all different kinds of websites so that I know what creative & effective things are being done that can translate into a successful author site. Author, publisher & book websites have specific needs and require a familiarity with the lifecycle of a book, bibliography or series, and how an author can communicate with their audience in a way that works for them.
And while there are unique solutions that are put in place depending on the specific needs and goals of each site, there are some common elements that the best author websites should have.
But before I jump in and talk specifics, I want to talk about the single most important thing you can do with your author or book website: make sure it’s up-to-date.
Part of the process of designing a successful website is making sure that it’s helping you meet your goals. And to determine those goals you need to think about the people who you want to visit your author/book website and what you want them to do. Beyond that, you need to think about the skill set of the person/people updating the website and how much time, realistically, they want to put into it and what they can actually do.
I completely understand the desire to have a visually compelling website, but if your visually compelling website is so difficult to update that it doesn’t actually get updated (for time or financial reasons), it’s not working for you. In reality, anything that would prevent you from keeping your website up-to-date should be removed. And remember, there’s no reason you can’t have a beautiful website that isn’t also easy to use.
If you’ll be updating your site yourself, and you’re not really comfortable with the internet and don’t want to spend much time updating your site, then don’t have a website where the information will quickly become irrelevant (such as appearance dates). And if you’re going to have a blog, but aren’t going to update it frequently, don’t list the post dates on it and don’t blog about time-sensitive topics — consider, instead, topics that have a long shelf life.
Realistically, think about keeping your site very, very simple. Put an image of your book(s), a brief description, purchase option(s), and a way to get in touch with you. If you just need your site to act like a business card, then present it that way. The important thing to keep in mind when it comes to thinking about what your website should be is what is best for you. What’s best for someone else might not be right for you, not matter what I or any other website that covers these topics tells you — so take advice like “make sure you have a blog” with a grain of salt. Maybe it’s right for you, but maybe it’s not. Talk with an experienced web designer who can guide you towards what’s best for YOU.
If you love Facebook, but hate Twitter, don’t have a Twitter account that’ll just sit there empty. If your publisher tells you that you won’t succeed unless you have a Twitter profile, they’re not telling you the whole truth. If you have a Twitter profile but aren’t engaging with anyone there and updating it regularly, it’s not doing ANYTHING for you and may, in fact, make you look like you don’t care about your publicity — you could be putting your energy into something that would work better for you, and that’s the right thing to do. Even if your publisher will be creating social media entries on your behalf, have a plan in place for what happens to those profiles when they stop. And this is just one example, the same might be true for an email newsletter, or a blog, etc..
So, with all that said, what do the best book and author websites have in common? Here’s a short list…
- They’re easy to use. This should go without saying, but LOTS of people break this rule. It doesn’t matter whether you have a single book or dozens, if your site isn’t easy to use, it’s not working for you. Before I got into the business of building websites fulltime I worked in software usability, so I’ve sat there watching people struggle to use things that are “super obvious.” Trust me, no matter how simple you think your website is to use, someone will struggle with it. Remove all barriers to usability, even if they’re beautiful or fancy or “the latest technology.” You can have a beautiful website that is easy to use & there’s no reason to do otherwise. Sometimes people are worried that their website won’t be “unique” — but I’m here to tell you that no one else is going to visit an easy-to-use website and think to themselves, “wow – this is sort-of similar to that other website I visited so I’m not going to their book!” Instead, they’re not going to have to think about using your website at all and are going to (hopefully) follow through and buy your book because you’ve made a compelling case for them to do so. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to be memorable, creating an immersive visual experience that coordinates with your book cover(s) art without sacrificing usability (for the site updater & the site visitor) is ideal.
- Visitors know exactly what the website is about. If you’re an author, and that’s not immediately obvious when someone visits your website, it’s not a good website. If you’re marketing a book, and someone visits your site and it’s not immediately obvious that you’re marketing a book, it’s not a good website. This is often as easy as just putting a 3d graphic of your book(s) front and center. Even if your book is only an ebook, or is 130 pages and not 180 pages like the page count in the graphic might suggest, it doesn’t matter — just pick a clear 3d book graphic and make sure it’s on the Home page right at the top. No one is going to count the number of pages in the graphic and think to themselves, “but this graphic shows at least 210 pages and the book is only 160 pages!” — instead they’re going to see the graphic and know, “oh, this is about a book.” And that’s exactly what you want — making sure your site visitors don’t have to think about what you do. And Step 2 is to make sure site visitors immediately know what kind of book(s) you write — this will be helped (hopefully) by your book cover art, but the introductory text and the look of your website will help with that too. Beyond that, there are lots of ways to bring your particular personality to your website to engage the reader and you can learn more about that here.
- They provide a way to get in touch. You don’t need to give everyone your cell phone number, but you do want to make it easy for people to contact you. Remember that the point of a website is to market yourself and your book. You WANT people to get in touch with you to write about you, interview you and include information about your book(s) in their articles, etc… If it’s not easy, there are lots of other people they can talk with instead. I’ve written about that in the context of what to include on your website’s media page.
- They’re playing the long game. You absolutely want to market your most recent release, but don’t set up your site so that if you release another book it has to be redone. Also don’t let any books you’ve already written get totally lost in the shuffle (unless you want them to). Your publisher is most likely very interested in sales of your current book (or series), and will focus on that when working with you without really thinking about how your website will fit into your career in the long term. But you should never lose sight of that. Keep your author branding consistent across not only on your website but also your social media profiles from release to release — being a writer is a business, for better or worse, so learn what it means to brand yourself and then implement your brand strategy on your website and beyond. If your new book doesn’t fit in your brand strategy, it’s time to reevaluate how your web presence & brand can accommodate that.
- It’s easy to engage directly on their website. This one isn’t relevant for you if you’re not active on social media (and that’s likely a minority of folks), but if you are, make sure it’s easy for people to connect with you on your favorite platforms. Don’t just link people to your Facebook page, put the “Like” button right there so people can engage directly. If you have an interesting & dynamic Twitter feed, put it on your website so people can participate right there without having to leave your site to go to Twitter. Even if your website doesn’t have much more on it than information about your book(s) and your social media widgets, it’s acting as a central hub that you control to point your audience to the relevant places they can find you online. There’s tremendous value in aggregating your online presence in one place that you control. For more information, you can read the blog posts I wrote all about integrating social media into your author/book website.
If you’re looking for specific ideas about what kind of content to include, here’s a great list to help get you started.