With so many opportunities to reach readers provided by social media, is it really worth going to the time, trouble, and expense of setting up and maintaining a dedicated author website? Not only is it worthwhile, it's crucial, says self-published US novelist Karen Myers. Here she explains why, and offers her top tips on how to use yours to best effect.
Over time, I have evolved some firm opinions about what should be on author websites, having seen too many that look gorgeous but miss the point, frustrating readers and potential buyers. I’ve also seen plenty of authors use social media sites as pseudo-websites. Bad idea, when first you consider:
What is the point of an author website? To own and control all the information about your products so that you can tell readers what they want to know and turn them into fans who will buy your next book. Yet almost no-one builds their first Author website with that in mind and it can take quite a while for them to clarify what they’re doing with it.
Here’s how I think it should be done. (There’ll be a link at the end to a much more detailed discussion on my own author website, with helpful instructions on how to do some of the things I’m suggesting.)
Your author website is the central point for all information about books & author. It must be owned and controlled by the author. It is your fundamental platform, and it belongs to you, and you don’t want to ever lose control over it. You have to own and control its domain name (URL) which, if possible, then should match your author name. You should also own its web hosting.
Your site should be maintained in industry-standard software (WordPress is a common choice with many lovely templates). It must be mobile-friendly. Big companies can afford to hire techies to write and maintain custom websites — you can’t.
There’s no reason for any of this to cost much. I pay about $12/year for the HollowLands domain. I own about a dozen websites, and the cost of hosting all of them is well under $100/year. Each lets me set up unique email addresses (e.g., [email protected]) that I forward to my single primary personal email for convenience.
If you don’t feel that you are capable of figuring out how to do this then call someone in to help you. The best help would be someone who sets you up in a standard environment like WordPress, instead of a custom-built one. That one-time cost is a trade-off for you acquiring the knowledge to do it yourself, and if they explain it well to you, you might become empowered to do your own support when the time comes.
All the “look-and-feel” of an author website is determined by the brand imagery. The actual template used (assuming WordPress) also matters, but it’s the images that people remember. Consider components such as the header, colours, fonts, photos, publisher imprint, covers, taglines, etc. It should match the branding you use elsewhere, e.g. newsletters, business cards, book covers, flyers, social media.
Your presence anywhere else on the web should funnel readers back to your website – Facebook pages, Amazon Author pages, Twitter and other secondary platforms. These are no substitute for your author website, no matter how many followers you have there, because you do not control them. Sites like Facebook already restrict how many of them see your messages without extra fees. You control the links that you put into your books. Those should go to your book’s page on your website, and that should never change. If you use URL shorteners like Bitly or TinyURL, remember that those businesses can go away and take your shortened links into oblivion with them.
Your author site should cater for more than just your debut book. You can have a dedicated book page on your general-purpose Author site, and a page for each series, too, so that a reader can easily see what else they might want to buy, but one-book sites are a bad idea and not what readers want.
What do readers care about? Well, I can tell you what they don’t care about — the issue of independent author publishing vs traditional publishing. There is absolutely no point in making that part of your website’s message. I’m proud of being an indie, but why would I expect my readers to know or care about that? Be a professional, and look like one. Your Author site should be an indicator of quality, even if all you’ve published so far is one short story. Professional author websites have two things: information about their books, and links to their publisher. They might also have links to retailers and a blog and contact information, but not necessarily.
Publisher vs Author site
Virtually every independent author begins with a single site — an Author website — even if they’ve created a publisher imprint. I was no exception. It becomes awkward over time to put both the author and the publisher function into the same website. More importantly, that’s not how the professional publishers do it, and it’s not what bulk buyers expect. We want to indicate our professionalism by doing what other players in the industry do, because that’s what readers (and bulk buyers) expect. So consider setting up a separate publisher website, particularly if you have your own imprint. Mine is Perkunas Press and it doesn’t look like my author website in any way. The imprint has its own look-and-feel, and all the brand materials that go with that. The only people who go there are wholesalers, or anyone sent from my author website looking for more detailed purchasing information. It’s updated infrequently, just when new products are published. There are thousands of publisher websites like this for micro-presses, and yours can fit right in. If a bookstore looks you up (as a publisher) he shouldn’t think twice about ordering from you.
OVER TO YOU
Do you agree with Karen, or have you found a way to bypass the need of an author website while still making great sales? Please feel free to disagree – or to add further weight to Karen's argument.