What Should an Author’s Website Include?
There are as many types of author websites as there are types of authors – or at least genres of literature. A site for a romance author will have a different look and feel than one for an author of cyber-punk westerns or, more to the point, authors of non-fiction: business advice, self-help, biography, history and so on. Fundamentally, your website should reflect you, as an author, your personality, your voice.
Moreover, no matter what type of literature your create, you must never lose sight of the needs of your primary users: your readers. The website exists to serve your readers, not your ego. (This is also true of websites for companies, businesses, solopreneurs, and yes, web designers!)
That being the case, what is it your readers need from your website? Your first consideration — even more important than a gorgeous design — is ease of use. Website users want to be able to find the content they want as quickly and easily as possible. “Don’t make me think” is the watchword of site users everywhere. Do they want to get in, punch the “Buy” button and get out with a quick download? Do they want to explore characters and your fictional created world? Do they want resources for learning more about your topic? Read about and get in contact with you? Their needs will dictate the “architecture” of the site, and the layout of your home page.
What are the Basics?
The simplest author website will include a bio, a headshot, some way to contact you, an image or images of the book cover(s), blurbs for each book (including forthcoming books). I cannot overstate the importance of high-quality images for your site. A professional headshot is a necessity. There’s no faster way to ruin your credibility than to use a poorly-lit, poorly-cropped snapshot that’s obviously been taken on your phone. (That doesn’t mean that it should be devoid of personality — by all mean, pose with your pet rabbit, or your vintage Royal typewriter, or in your snazzy den!) A good logo or logotype is nice to have, though not a strict necessity; a branding package can be prohibitively expensive for a new author. The site should be updatable by you or a non-technical person or assistant; not everything on the site can be done by non-developers, but the basics should be easy to manage. And of course, a good domain name, reputable hosting so your site isn’t always going down, and someone to maintain it — that should get you started.
What features do I need?
Do you have a book tour? You’ll need a calendar of events, with as much detail as you can. Include links to ticket purchase if possible. Do you want to connect with your readers? A blog, with regular postings, can be a great tool to keep readers informed and involved, add to your mailing list, and help your SEO. Include links to your professional social media accounts (it’s worth setting these up and keeping them distinct from your personal accounts). Do you have many volumes, series, or recurring characters? Custom sections and layouts to allow readers to access overviews as well as drill down into individual and family histories make a site rich and personal, and bring readers back again and again. I once created a huge, downloadable family tree, covering three families over eight novels in three different series for an author of sweeping romance epics. If you’re the author of a single book, the focus will be different: blurbs, reviews, excerpts, relevant images, and of course, purchase links. The more books you have the more challenging it can be to present great features with simple navigation. A clear sitemap can be a great aid for readers, and for Google to send your users to the right pages.
The Personal Touch
Once you’ve covered the basics, you’ll want to consider beefing things up with some great extras. A press page with photo gallery of downloadable high-res headshots or other candid photos, a PDF CV if that’s relevant. Some authors include bibliographies, FAQs, resources, travel photography, artwork, upcoming projects, the aforementioned fictional family trees, interactive timelines, a shop for merch, other idiosyncratic stuff like astrological charts, pet blogs, recipes….the sky’s the limit — as long as you keep it legal and interesting. And always consider your audience: if you specialize in academic or serious research publications, think twice about writing your blog in the whimsical “voice” of your French poodle. Most of these things aren’t time-consuming or difficult to add to your website, though do consider whether these items will need to be updated often, and who will be handling that.
Find your style
The best way to discover what you might want to include on your own site is, of course, to look closely at other writer’s sites. What do you like or dislike? Think in terms of design elements — general style, color palette, mood, contrast, evocative of some place or time period or sleek and modern— as well as the functionality and layouts you might wish to emulate. Of course, your mileage may vary.
Finally, you want to be sure to house your site with a reputable web hosting provider. If you’re a DIY type, you’ll want a company that has a good reputation for tech support — more and more companies don’t offer phone support (only chat and email) so consider that if it’s a deal-breaker for you. There’s a bewildering number of hosting providers at many price points, and just as many folks out there ready to recommend their favorites, so do a little research; even if it’s just to start thinking about what features you didn’t know you needed. Have a look at my ever-growing Tools and Recommendations page to get you started. There are plenty more resources on the web, so look around, gather your ideas, and have fun!
Need some inspiration? Check out my new Tools and Recommendations page.
I’ll be adding to it as I discover cool new web-related stuff.