I’ve spent a lot of time studying and designing websites the past ten years. I’ve done so for Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, non-profits and individuals. I’ve done it for myself. With the rapidity of change on the World Wide Web, there are constant lessons to be learned. But my author website has grown in a little over a year from 10 hits a month to over 1000. Sure, I have a long way to go. But that kind of growth shows I’m doing something right, doesn’t it? It’s taken some work, goal setting and dedication. And now it seems to be paying off. There are a few key essentials I’ve discovered which can make the difference between a successful and unsuccessful site for authors. So I’m presenting them here to help any of you who might still be sorting out your sites:
1) Your Photo. Readers what to connect with you, that’s why they visit your site. So the proper balance to capture is a mix of professional with personal touches. Your site needs to look professional, have professional design and layout and data. But also allow personal connection, in particular, through your contact pages and blog. But even more than these, it needs an author photo. Whether the photo is informal or formal is your call. Most people I’ve talked with recommend something in between. Torn cutoffs, a t-shirt and a beer in your hand probably isn’t the best message. Nice looking jeans and shirt, relaxing with a dog is ok. In part, it depends on how you want to connect. Do you want to befriend readers or be in contact but keep them at a distance?
2) Contact Information. Make it easy to contact you by providing a contact page with a text entry form to email you, links to your Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. and an address for press inquiries or sending books for autographs, etc. You don’t have to give out your personal address and phone number or email. In fact, I recommend you just don’t. But don’t make it impossible to contact you either. Plenty of add-ons are available to use a generic email that forwards to your private email, etc. You can protect yourself well, but readers want to connect with you and you should enable it, not make it a challenge.
3) List Of Works. In the past, this was always called the ‘Bibliography’ page, but more and more that term is being regarded as old fashioned and people are listing their works under ‘Works’ or separated by categories like ‘Books’ and ‘Short Stories.’ How you choose to label it is up to you but list them, the date of publication, where they appeared, and whenever possible provide links to anything readers can access online. Not just purchase links, mind you, but links to read your work and get to know you. Your work itself is your greatest marketing tool. If they read it and like it, they’re more likely to buy more. And list them in order of release so people can read the books of your series in correct order.
4) Biography. Who are you? Readers want to know. Don’t tell them too much but do tell them enough to give them some hint of you as a person. Where do you live? Just the state is fine, but feel free to mention the city if you’re comfortable. Are you married? Do you have kids? Do you work full time? Have pets? What are your hobbies? Give them a taste of the real you so they get a clue as to what makes you tick and can connect with you as a real person, not just some name on books they read or buy.
5) Favorite Authors. Part of telling readers who you are is letting them in on how you’re inspired, how you developed as a writer, where you came from. This happens in not just you Biography but also by mentioning some of your favorite authors. Every writer has such influences and often they run deep and permeate our worker. Readers may already have guesses as to who those are. Let them in on it. It’s yet another way they can feel connected. After all, they may well like some of those authors, too, and, if not, you may help them discover new favorites.
6) A Blog. It’s best to incorporate the blog right into your site, but if not, have a direct link that takes them there. Your blog is where you share your heart–your writing process, a little about life events, what you care about. It’s where readers dialogue with you through not only reading and emotional responding but also with comments. This is where you build those relationships and friendships. Fellow authors and other professionals will stop by too.
7) Links. Don’t just mention your favorite Author or websites, link directly to them. This way visitors to your site don’t have to work hard to visit those places, they just click and go. It’s the way of the World Wide Web, and believe me, it’s a distinguishing mark of a professional website. People appreciate that you provide resources and make them easy to get to. They get frustrated when you make it hard. And you don’t want your comments streams filled with dialogue about that, believe me. So make it easy and thus a pleasure to visit your site. This includes, as previously stated, making it easy to follow you on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and wherever else you are active with social media and online.
8 ) Post Regular Updates. Don’t just set up your website and leave it to rot. Update it. This should be done at least once a week, and the more the better. Post blog entries on regular days. My main blog posts go up every Monday and Thursday. Anything I post in between is extra but my readers know they can come to my blog those days every week and find new content. That makes it easy for them to know when to check in. You should make it easy, too. Reply to comments in a timely way. It shows your readers you care and thanks them for their interest. Update your news, Works, and anything else as required. Make sure things are as up to date as possible. People stop checking websites when they sit static too long with nothing new and no updates. And once they stop, they may not come back.
9) Feeds. If possible have links to your RSS feeds, Twitter feeds, etc. right on the site–on every page. Make it easy for people to click and then follow updates. It will help hold their interest. There are lots of authors with sites. You want to keep them coming back. The more ways you provide for them to stay connected, the better.
10) Appearance Schedule. People connect with you then they want a real face to face connection. Let them know where they can meet you.
11) Determine Your Boundaries First & Stick To Them. How much personal v. professional information are you comfortable sharing? Where are your boundaries? Know before you start to avoid issues later. Do not mistake blogging for anything but public sharing, so be sure you want everyone to know before you post it.
12) An Easy To Remember URL. Okay, this probably should be number one, because it’s the most important of all. But after doing all the other stuff, if people can’t remember your website address, they won’t come. The easiest way to do it is to use your name but if you have a famous property like Robert Silverberg’s Majipoor, then that might work, too, but it needs to be something readers know widely and always think of you. After all, you need to pick something you can live with forever. It’s not that you can’t change your web address, people do. But changing it makes it likely someone will not be able to find you again. So you want to start with and maintain a URL you can live with forever if possible. Choose wisely.
Think of any I didn’t mention? Feel free to list them in comments. There’s certainly a lot more one can do with an author site than what I’ve mentioned. Links to buy your work, links to interviews and reviews, etc. Sometimes these are included in your blog or news feed and sometimes you want them separated to their own pages, like I’ve done. It’s your call. But provide them so people can find them somewhere. I do know that these basic bits will get your website up and running and working well from day one. You can always expand and fine tune it later, but starting strong is very important. I wish you success with your websites and hope this is helpful.
For what it’s worth…
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.