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Timing: While I don’t think it’s necessary for unpublished authors to have a website, it can help.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.