As an author, you are probably well aware that having a web site is essential. What you may not realize is that it needn’t be expensive or high-end. It’s great to have a fabulous web site, of course, but many of us don’t have either the technical knowledge or the budget — and when it comes down to it, you simply need to have an online presence. You need a place where readers, potential reviewers or interviewers, and anyone else interested in your book can find and contact you.
A question I hear often from not-yet-published writers is: “Do I need a web site if I don’t have a book?” And there are a couple of answers to this question, depending on the writer and his/her goals. For one, if you have a book in the works with every intention of publishing it (i.e., you have a contract or plan to self-publish), you might go ahead and start planning a web site. And “planning” can mean anything from surfing around to see what author sites you like best to interviewing web designers. But if you don’t have a completed book just yet, your time will be better spent finishing the book than creating a web site. For now, anyway. (Trust me, writing the next book is even harder when you have a web site to procrastinate with.) There’s really no downside to having an author web site at any time, but if you don’t have a book to sell or events to list, there’s no huge hurry to get it up there, either.
However, even if you don’t have a book yet, I would recommend that you start a blog. This will give you an online presence and help you start building your audience and that “platform” that is so crucial to selling your book. Then, you can add your blog to your web site when you’re ready to make that leap. (See Book Promo 101: Creating a successful blog for more details and for tips on blogging.)
So, how to go about creating a web site? There are a million ways to do it, but these three tips will offer a good start.
– First, find web sites you like. You’ll want your own site to emulate what you like about your favorite author sites, whether it’s the bio page or the navigation bar.
– Second, figure out how much time and money you’ve got to work with. A web site needn’t be flashy (in fact, the too-flashy sites, with bright colors or lots of animation, can actually irritate visitors) — it only needs to be pleasing to the eye and easy to navigate.
– Third, define your goals as a writer and how your web site will serve these goals. If you’re on your sixth book and are ready to step into high gear to brand yourself as a writer, you’ll have a lot of content to manage and you might want outside advice and a professional designer. If you’re about to publish your first book, you may want a simpler site that focuses on your book and your bio.
Here are a couple of examples from two of my writer friends — wonderful and very different writers, with successful and very different web sites.
Anjali had her web site professionally designed by Authorbytes (if you ever see an author site you love, look for the designer credit on the home page), and her site is comprehensive, visually lovely, and user-friendly.
Elizabeth Austen is a poet and the author of a new book of poetry, two chapbooks, and a CD audio recording of her work. Her web site is through WordPress, which offers free blogging software with templates that allow you to create anything from a simple blog to a gorgeous web site like Elizabeth’s. Here is a snippet of her home page:
Elizabeth’s site is elegant, easy to use, and, like Anjali’s, it contains everything an author site needs. Elizabeth wisely uses a lot of photos in her blog posts, which keeps it visually engaging.
And I am somewhere in between … I have a domain name, no budget, and a techy husband who is not only very talented but also very patient. He built me a web site I love (and as thanks, I bought him many beers). Here’s a glimpse of my own home page:
So whatever your style or budget, with a little research and effort, you’ll be able to create the web site that’s perfect for your needs. And whichever route you take, keep in mind that your web site should have these essentials:
– a home page, updated with the latest news. Because I don’t always have breaking news, I update the date on my web site so that visitors know I’m still alive, still writing, and still doing events and classes.
– a book or publications page. Because Forgetting English contains only ten of the dozens of stories I’ve published, I’ve listed these other publications on my publications page, under the book. This is nice for readers who may want to know more; also, it makes me feel very prolific.
– your bio, as you like it. Some authors write long bios that include their childhood forays into writing; others are short and to the point. Go with what you prefer — as long as it’s not so short that it doesn’t offer enough relevant information, nor so long that no one will read it. Always include a good, professional photo (see Book Promo 101: The author photo).
– an excerpt from your book. This is essential not only for letting readers do a test drive, but it’s also helpful for book bloggers who may decide to review your book based on a few pages. I’ve heard from several readers that the Forgetting English excerpt on my site was what made them take a chance on reading a story collection, sometimes for the first time.
– your reviews, blurbs and awards, of course! Show them off wherever you can (this is not the time to be modest), preferably on a dedicated page.
– a reading guide and/or book club info. My Forgetting English reading guide is on my blog, but I link to it on my book page so that readers can find it easily. Anjali has a book club form to handle book-club requests, along with a link to her reading guide.
– a link to your blog. My blog is listed on my navigation bar, but if your blog is separate from your web site, be sure to include an easy-to-find link.
– links to where readers can buy your book. This is a bit obvious, but it’s amazing how often this info gets buried. These links should appear on your home page, or, if you have many books, in prominent spots on your individual book pages.
– links to your Facebook and/or Twitter pages. Use those perky little buttons, which make them easy to find, and put them in the upper right corner of every page of your web site, where visitors can’t miss them.
– a contact form or email address. One of the main purposes of a web site is to connect with readers — as well as to be accessible to reviewers, reporters, etc. If you are worried about being inundated with spam, use a contact form. And do your best to respond to every (legitimate) email you receive.
– a way for readers to “subscribe” to hear about your news and events. If you haven’t already, begin collecting a mailing list of readers — this way, you can send Evites or email newsletters to announce your events (use a service like Evite or Mail Chimp so that you don’t get busted for spamming people). Note: never sign up people for news unless they’ve asked, and never share their information with anyone else. Here’s the form that I use.
During the process of creating your web site, ask friends, fellow writers, and others for their feedback — it can be hard to take a step back and see your site objectively when you’ve been immersed in the process. Ask them whether they’ve found everything they need, whether anything was confusing or hard to find, and what might be missing.
And, finally, consider updating your site every few years — and particularly when you have a new book to promote. You don’t want to redesign your web site so often that you lose your connection with readers, but a nice remodel keeps your site looking and feeling up-to-date. And keep in mind that it doesn’t need to be a complete overhaul; even an occasional touch-up helps, such as a new photo.