Hanging Your Shingle: The Author’s Website

I don’t think I need to tell authors that a website is imperative. Every author should have one, just like every business should have one. Having just gone through the process of re-establishing the BookEnds brand and website I have some thoughts on what a website needs and what, maybe, it doesn’t need.

Address: The best address you can use for your website is your author name. While even that can change, committing to a title or series name could be problematic if that series dies or your publisher changes it.

Timing: While I don’t think it’s necessary for unpublished authors to have a website, it can help. Agents and editors love checking out a potential author, and seeing a bio, links to Facebook and Twitter and knowing the author is marketing savvy helps. If you choose to wait, the minute you get an offer from a publisher you need to call your designer. Your website should be up and running at least six months prior to publication. This is when publicity and promo starts and you absolutely need a place for reviewers and bloggers to find you when they get your review copies.

Well-Designed: While it is easy to design a website these days, with all of the options at places like WordPress, make sure you have some knowledge of design. A poorly designed website reflects on you and your writing. Think about it. If you’re choosing between two restaurants and one has low-resolution photos of ugly food, versus high-resolution photos of professionally photographed plates which are you likely to go to? The same holds true of an author’s website. Whether we want to believe it or not, a bad website makes editors, agents and readers think that the book will be as sloppy.

Contact Page: Imperative and something every website should have. Reviewers, readers, bloggers and press need an easy way to find and contact you. On the menu bar, or in an easy to find location, you need a link to an email contact (or form). If you have an agent, include your agent’s contact information for subsidiary rights sales, and include the name of your publisher and your publicist’s contact information. The more ways people can reach you the better.

Promo Material: This is something I’ve also suggested my clients have. Some do and some don’t. Make sure you include accessible high-resolution covers for each of your books as well as a headshot. Journalists don’t always write from 9-5 and being able to easily access and download this material not only makes their jobs easier, but gives you a leg up when they’re looking for art for their story. Whenever possible you always want to be the one with the headshot and cover shot. You could include a separate page for this, maybe a Press page, or simply make sure that the headshot on your bio and your covers are all easily downloadable. It’s also a good idea to include different bios for different books, series or even just different lengths.

Home Page: One of the big changes we made on the BookEnds site was not to be like everyone else. Our Home Page is not static, it’s ever-changing, just like the agency. Our blog, news and even tweets appear on the Home Page which means every time you stop in you’ll see new information and news. While you certainly don’t need a Home Page that’s as active as ours, you also don’t need to look like every author out there. Look at some non-Author sites for inspiration.

Links to Social Media: The nice thing about the new BookEnds blog is we can choose to link every post we make on the website to social media. That means our blog posts, and even deal news can be tweeted out and appears on our Facebook page. That way not everyone has to always go to our website for the latest at BookEnds. Obviously we also have links on the website to easily access our social media sites.

Bio: I’ve mentioned this, but make sure you include it. I always like when a person’s bio gets personal. We’ve done some of this with the BookEnds bios. People don’t want to just read your resume. They’re going to your website for a reason and that’s to learn a little more about you. Don’t be afraid to change-up your bio too. If you got a new cat add some pictures or information, if it’s Fall and you’re craving apple pie all the time, add that in. The more you change and alter your website the more people will return, and talk about it.

Bookseller Links: Amazon is the easy go-to when it comes to linking your books to booksellers, but don’t alienate others who might support you and your book. Make sure you’re including as many other options as possible (Barnes & Noble and the independents).

Book List: Every website should include a list of your books in the order you recommend they read them. In other words, series order if you have a series. This is the first place I go when I’m discovering a new author and want to read her books in order.

I’m sure my readers will have a number of other suggestions about what can be done to make a website personal, and I’d love to hear them. The most important thing to remember though is to make it personal and way to connect with readers, not just a billboard that they come to once and never return.

Category: Blog

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14 comments

  1. I think it’s really important when having someone design your website to specify that it be fairly simple. When I go to a website I want the information laid out in a simple fashion; intuitive, yes, for navigation, but most of all I don’t want entry pages or flash intro’s, or anything too fancy. This is vital, too, because as writers we need to remember that many readers will be accessing our websites from a tablet or phone, so simple is best.

  2. This is excellent information. I’ve often wondered if it were prudent to have a website before publication. Some say yes, some say not really. It seemed like a large investment of time and money when you haven’t had a novel published yet. I chose to spend my time on the novel. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

    1. And for all of those reasons I think that makes sense. It is time and money and that’s why I don’t expect authors to have one until an offer is made.

  3. Check out Weebly and Wix for free and/or inexpensive do it yourself website building. Very handy for starving writers like me!

  4. I agree with ^Victoria. You want your book information and covers to shine through as the focus of the site. If it’s too flashy or (help >.<) filled with ads, the message gets lost in the muck.

    One thing you definitely want to ensure is that your site is optimized for a variety of devices. So many people access information via mobile phones nowadays that 'desktop only designs' are fading.

    And… always make sure it loads quickly. ^_^

    Great article!

  5. This is the first time I’ve heard this, but even as an unpublished (yet) author I can see the point. It will make it easier to describe the mystery series I’m writing and why I think it’s different than anything else out there. Thank you!

  6. My advice is to keep it simple until you have built a good-sized audience. Until then, readers just want to look up your books, see what’s next, and then move on.

    However, if you’re debuting with a lot of push from your publisher and/or your debut lays the foundation for a huge series (e.g. Gail Carriger, Marie Lu, etc), then you’ll want all the bells and whistles, merchandise, and so on.

  7. Thanks, Jessica. This is very helpful. I have a basic about.me page but I too have struggled to justify the cost of a better website before I get better publications. I also have FB and Twitter pages specifically for writing, so there are some links for publishers to find out a bit about me. I’ve also signed up with Wattpad. The good thing is they’re all free.
    @Chase Canyon. Hugh Howey would agree with you. He wrote his ass off for a decade before he bothered about any marketing and self-promotion.

    1. That makes total sense to me, Merran. I’m actually not an unpublished author; I just haven’t published a novel. I had a website back when I was dabbling in writing articles and found it to be a HUGE time suck. The work suffers when you’ve got too many things to focus on at once. Now that I’ve decided to focus on writing the novel, the website was just sitting there like a dud. It’s no good to have a website if you’re not promoting ways for people to find it, either. So I just linked each of my articles up to my Google+ account, and ditched the website until I have something worthwhile to post. I still own the website name, though. It seems I share my name with a location where people can zipline over a canyon. And they can’t have it 😉

      1. Hah! That’s hilarious.
        Thankfully my domain name is still free as my name is a bit weird, (It used to be Merran Due. I had a sucky time in school.) so when I do finally get around to building a proper website, I plan to secure it. You’re right though. There is a time suck involved when it comes to maintaining an online presence. Even social media often feels like it takes more of my time than I’d like. There are arguments for and against having them. And some people only work on promotion stuff once they’ve finished their word quota for for the day, which is a good rule. Whatever works for the individual I guess. As long as the writing is getting done somehow 🙂

  8. I do have a website/blog and I know I don’t add to it often enough. It’s on my list of things I need to start doing this year.
    I hadn’t thought of changing up the other pages, but it’s a good idea. I could probably go for a new look as well, I’ll add it to this weeks list of jobs.

  9. I’ve been bookmarking web pages I like for ideas when I create one. Looking at them they are all fairly clean, show clear branding of the author and are easy to navigate around. Will now also take into consideration the other points you’ve made, Jessica. Timely post, thank you!

  10. Thank you, Jessica!! So helpful!!! I’ve printed this out and will use it as a to-do list once Jessica Alvarez gives me the go ahead. But I did buy TaraLeighThompson.com & register it on twitter too. Very excited for the next phase of my career!!!

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