I give lots of advice on this blog to authors on the web. It’s because I make my living building websites and recommending how to create successful author platforms, so I’ve seen lots of examples of what can be successful and what might not work as well — and I like sharing information for the sake of others. Many of my blog posts are based on questions I’m frequently asked by my clients — and lots of them offer up recommendations preceded by “it depends.”
And this is because there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to author websites & platforms. Yes, there’s often minimum criteria for the kinds of content you want to include, and yes, there are solutions out there that package “best of” functionality, but I often hear from author clients that they don’t fit neatly into these offerings. So what’s an author to do? Especially one who isn’t represented by a big publishing house with lots of resources, is just getting started, or has a limited budget.
My advice is two-fold:
1. Take everything you read about from experts (including myself) into consideration, and figure out what’s right for YOU. I’ve written about strategizing your author website here — and the principle is the same. If you hear/read advice and it doesn’t apply to you, or you’re working off of a checklist that someone else created and ticking boxes just to make sure they’re ticked, your not really considering the best strategy for what you want to achieve. Absolutely there are lessons to be learned from the success of others, but like with everything else in life, everyone is unique. Figuring out your own strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, goals and strategies (in a realistic way) isn’t something woowoo — it’s just thinking through why certain features or content might be utilized, then identifying the ones that are best for you. If you need help to think that through and have someone give you objective feedback, you can easily hire consultants who will do that with you.
And even if you do hire an expert to help you, you’ll want to do the simple exercise of writing down your own checklist for what’s important to you for your project — here are some examples of what might be on that list:
- Raise your author profile and enhance searchability
- Connect with your audience to build community
- Establish a speaking career associated with your expertise
- Drive sales of your book
- Find a publisher
And there are lots of ways to go about achieving those kinds of goals, and figuring out the best way for you make look different than someone else. This may be because of the time you have available, your skill set, your budget, or where your audience is. But if you know why you want to do something it makes it much easier to determine whether a potential solution is right for you.
2. When you’re evaluating a solution to figure out if it’s a good fit for you, try to identify the features you know you want to have and consider whether the way in which they’re presented is a good fit. Here’s an example: If you’re looking at an author template and you’re a big Twitter user — meaning you have a big following there and are regularly engaged with your audience — and all the theme offers is a the little bird icon in the header that links to your profile, then it might not be a good option. This is because there are other templates that have a built-in Twitter feed that show your posts right there on the page in an attractive way and allow Twitter users to follow you without leaving your site. So while the author template says it offers social media integration, it’s not the kind of integration that will serve you best.
And while flexibility with it comes to the visual design of the site — such as color theme options or font options — are nice, they’re less important than functionality that will serve you well. So certainly don’t discount how a prospective solution looks, but don’t let that be your only consideration.
Figuring out your strategy involves putting on a marketing hat, which isn’t always a favorite activity for writers, so I encourage you to think about it the way you strategize the writing of your book — along the way you need to figure out how to create the desired outcome of your story by leaving things out or reordering or rewriting — all with an eye towards creating an overall experience that will resonate with your audience. Everything that remains serves the story — you think about what you want the story to be, then you figure out how to get there. The process of creating your author platform is no different. Investing in the time & thought needed to create your strategy, and re-evaluating periodically, will never be wasted. But moving forward into creating a platform that you don’t fully understand or that doesn’t serve you well is time that’s difficult to get back.