Top 10 Tips: How to Create an Effective Author Website

When I read an author who is new to me one of the first things I do is google her name and look for her website. Why? Because I want a complete list of her books and I think her website is going to be the best place to find all of her books in order ie. how they are connected.  And I hope she will also tell me when the next book is coming out – if I loved her enough I am going to remember and buy that book during its first week on sale, because I am that kind of reader. I may not read it that first week, but I need to own it (it’s sort of like having to see a movie on opening weekend).

Kresley Cole’s website gave me all the information I needed when I became obsessed with her books last summer. Unfortunately, the summer before when I became a major fan of Lois McMaster Bujold the website I was redirected to after typing in www dot lois mcmaster bujold dot com was not very good. It seems like it’s been created by a fan (which is why you need to own your name as your url) and the information is hard to follow. Lois’s Miles Vorkosigan novels have been printed in anthologies and as 2-in-1s and all kinds of wacky configurations, with frequent title changes. I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out the order of the novels and the website did not help me. And because none of the content is from the writer, I didn’t develop any kind of stronger connection with her. I still love her, but I could love her even more….

Even authors who have websites sometimes miss some easy steps that will help sell  books and develop a relationship between author and reader.

Here, then, are 10 easy steps to build an effective author website. By effective I mean one that readers will find informative and entertaining and, if you do it well, will help engage the reader. After all, what can be better than readers who know the pub date of the next novel she wants to read (for me, July 28 Meredith Duran’s next novel, Written on Your Skin). Her website covers the basics, I like the history section, but she could make the book links more obvious (the covers take you to Amazon). A ittle more personality and “extras” would help be a nice benefit for fans and help with that engagement secret we publishers and social media types are always going on and on about.

  1. You must have a website. There is no excuse not to have one. If you don’t want to maintain it yourself, and learning basic html may not be a good use of your time, there are plenty of freelancers at a wide variety of prices. Ask your publisher for recommendations if necessary. Look at some of your friend’s websites and incorporate elements you like. Do make the design readable.
  2. Register your name/URL. Your website is part of your brand. Your name is important so that search engines will find you when a reader conducts an online search.
  3. Show your books! Your homepage should have your current release(s) including the cover, ISBN, release dates, other formats (audio, eBooks) and foreign editions.
  4. Offer a  complete booklist and make front and center in your navigation – make it so readers can find it quickly. Also list all of your connected stories and the order in which you should read the books. I would include out-of-print titles, but indicate their status. Readers may want to try a library or used bookstore to find out-of-print books.
  5. Offer extra content e.g. excerpts, reviews, background information, character profiles, deleted scenes, writing diary, photos, whatever your imagination suggests! This is the added extra or benefit for fans who return to visit your website on a regular basis.
  6. Show how to buy the books. You can belong to more than one affiliate program so if your publisher offers a better commission take advantage (Harlequin’s commission is much better than the online retailers), but if the online retailers have all of your titles, link to both!
  7. Remember eBooks. eBooks don’t go out of stock/out of print, so do link to eBooks.
  8. Integrate social media tools. This is my rather awkward way of saying link your properties. Are you on Facebook, Shelfari and Twitter? Make sure there is a link between all of these. If you have a blog make sure the link is obvious – the blog may be the content you update most frequently so you want visitors to find it. Who did this really, really well? Barrack Obama with his Obama Everywhere widget.  Add widgets and other publisher tools. Use all of your publisher’s online resources (get to know the digital team and learn about opportunities in the newsletter and bookstore programs). Ask yourself if  you should  participate in your publisher’s  community.
  9. Include contact information. And, of course, reply.
  10. Keep it updated. How often you want return visitors to your website should establish how often you update content. I suggest you need to update your website at least monthly. Listen to your audience feedback and the traffic results and do more of what is popular, less of what is not popular.

And if I could have one more tip I would suggest creating on author newsletter (future topic). Gather names and start a newsletter. It can be one of your most effective marketing tools and I’ll write more about newsletters another time.

What’s missing? What else do you add to your website that makes it stand out?

I received a few questions from yesterday’s post about author branding. I’ll be posting about the how’s and why’s of author branding  on Monday.

Here are some examples of excellent author websites:

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