Hope the new year is treating you well thus far. I know, I know. It’s just begun, but regardless. I hope it rocks for you.
I was thinking today (I do that sometimes) about websites. Specifically, sites that authors put up to provide info about themselves and their work.
Now, I do not pretend to be an expert on what the hell you’re supposed to have on your website or how it’s supposed to look. Please do not think that I’m sitting here all high n’ mighty with my fan-freaking-tastic website sipping wine with my pinkie out looking down my nose at all the rest of you. I do not pretend to have the end-all be-all awesomest website ever in the writing biz. What I have tried to do is make it relatively easy to find things on my site. Like, say, information about what I write and how to get in touch with me.
I say this because I was recently on a couple of author websites and both of them ended up frustrating me to the point that I actually had to go find images of their book covers on other sites. That is, these authors’ sites had no designated pages that clearly said: BOOKS or PUBLISHED WORKS or something that would indicate that if I clicked the link, I’d be treated to another page that would display the author’s fine wares.
So here’s what I’ve learned in my journeys through publishing and book land about author websites.
1. Is it clear that your author site is, in fact, your author site? When someone does a web search on your name and/or book title will your site come up? I know it’s kinda boring, but generally the best name for your site when you register it with a hosting service or with a registration service is your author name. “Misty Velcro Peppermint Drops” might sound really cool and chances are, it’s not a name that’s currently taken for a website, but draw people to your site via the name that’s printed on your book covers. Unless, of course, your name actually is Misty Velcro Peppermint Drops or you’re a Cocteau Twins tribute band.
2. On your home page (the first page that opens when someone goes to your site), make it really obvious what you’re about. In your banner across the top of your site, put your name and what you do. My site’s banner is “Andi Marquette” then “Author of mysteries and sci fi.” I threw in a little silliness and added “Space banditry optional.” But it’s pretty clear from the banner who I am and the genres I write. A lot of authors put their latest book covers front and center on their home page. That’s a good idea. Do it if you want to. But make it clear at the outset what your site is about and what you do in terms of writing.
3. Provide really, really obvious page links to really, really obvious things and put those links in really, really obvious places. My site lists the pages right at the top, under my banner. They are: HOME, ABOUT/CONTACT, BOOK LIST, BOOKS AND NOVELLAS, STORIES, and THE SITUATION ROOM. Those are all self-explanatory (one hopes), with the possible exception of the name of my blog, which is “The Situation Room.” Nevertheless, I let you know what that is right on my home page. And if someone’s curious, they can click on THE SITUATION ROOM and figure out pretty quickly what it is.
4. Make sure that the really, really obvious page links open onto equally obvious pages. For example, when you click the ABOUT/CONTACT link on my site, another page opens that says, at the top, “About” in big letters.
5. You’re an author. For the love of God, provide a link to a BOOKS page or PUBLISHED WORKS page so readers (potential and current) can go there and see, at the very least, the following things: book cover, synopsis, excerpt, and links to sites from which they can purchase your fine work.
6. Make it easy for people to contact you. I don’t recommend posting your email address right there for the world to see because spambots scour the web looking exactly for things like that so they can then send you the gift that keeps on giving in megapixel cans of internet spam. So install a widget/app/whatever your hosting service calls them that provides a generic contact form that, when filled out, automatically forwards to your email address. I’ve got one on my site. When you’ve got it goin’ on, make CONTACT one of the really, really obvious pages on your site.
7. This is a personal thing. Some of you may not feel this way. But I like a site that doesn’t have a whole bunch of text crammed all over the place in various text boxes with different fonts/colors. That’s way too busy, and in today’s world of short attention spans, if someone can’t find organized info fast, they’re done. They don’t have time to dig through your font explosion to find a link to your books page. They’ll leave your site or maybe click around onto other pages trying to figure out where something is and if that doesn’t work, then they’ll bail.
8. Provide links to other blogs/authors that you dig in your blogroll. I like seeing the blogs/links other authors post on their sites because then I can go and check those out and learn even more about various genres and publishing and writing and all kinds of groovy things like that. I also like posting links like that in my blogroll because I’m a member of an author community, and I like to provide what support and props I can.
9. Another organizational thing, and again, this might be my preference, but I find it works well for me on my site. Use the home page as a really, really obvious intro to what you do and who you are. Post a photo, a book cover, and say “I’m so-and-so, author of such-and-such. Welcome. You’ll find information about my published works at my books page and updates about what’s happening in my writing world (or just nutty things I like to talk about) at my blog, here on my site.” Then use your blog to post your news/updates/musings/pensive navel gazing/pictures of ponies and happy unicorns. Whatever. Don’t use your home page as your blog. You want your home page to be the static marker of who you are, and what somebody can expect on your site. At least I do. I mean, if you want to use your home page as your blog with lots of lolcats and dancing monkeys, feel free. But I’m thinking that’ll prove frustrating to someone trying to figure out who you are and what you do when they open onto your home page. Even if they like kitties and monkeys. And there are exceptions to this suggestion. If done well, it works. See below. AND it works if you use your home page/bloggishness to specifically update readers on what’s happening in your world o’ books. Jim Butcher’s site is a good example of that. But notice how he has static elements that serve to inform a reader who he is and what he writes.
10. Your site is a reflection of who you are as a writer. It should evoke your writerly persona, as well as provide some bits of your personality. My banner’s image is a photo I took in a series of photos of Shiprock, New Mexico. One of those photos graces the cover of my mystery The Ties that Bind. Ultimately, however, your website is an info clearinghouse about what you write and what you’re going to write. So make that info easy-peasy to find.
Some other examples of author sites on which info was easy-peasy for me to find. Notice, too, how the sites evoke the personalities of the authors and the genres they write.
Dana Stabenow She also has bloggy stuff on her home page, but there are static elements that indicate who she is and what she does.
Cherie Priest I’ve made another exception here to number 9, above, because of the clean, sexy lines of Priest’s site and the nicely organized page links at the top of the page. Sort of like Jim Butcher’s site.
There you go. Some thoughts from the “damn, that’s a hot site and I wish mine looked like that” file. Ultimately, what you’re trying to do is get information to your readers as easily and quickly as possible, and you want to throw in some sexy-time stuff so they’ll stick around and peruse your wares and, hopefully buy them.
Happy Thursday, happy writing, happy reading.