Write Tip: 12 Essentials For A Successful Author Website

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.

Write Tip: 15 Web Resources Invaluable To Writers

We all have our favorite tools we use when writing. But one of the advantages of the modern age is having a lot of great resources available right here on the World Wide Web. What are the tools you never write without? Here are 15 of mine:

1) www.dictionary.com This great website is a quick and easy way to look up any word you need and quickly right on the web. Other similar sites exist, such as http://www.merriam-webster.com/, but this one has become my go-to source. In addition to the dictionary, it also has a companion http://thesaurus.com as well as a reference, translator, quote engine and more. Very useful for writers of both fiction and nonfiction.

2) http://www.behindthename.com/ A source for etymology and history of names which can be invaluable for helping pick names not just at random but for their deeper meanings. Again other similar sites exist, such as http://www.thinkbabynames.com/. Either way, they’re quite handy to have around for naming characters.

3) http://geology.about.com/ and www.geology.com. Great resources for current and past information on everything geological. Wanna build a realistic world? Don’t forget your geology. What kinds of plants and trees grow in which type of environment? What might a map of your world look like? What exotic plants exist in a climate far from your own? These sites can tell you, stimulating your creative process and helping you make a more believable world.

4) Reference.com offers hundreds of links to references of all shapes, sizes and types from almanacs to dictionaries and literature. Sister site to www.dictionary.com but worth its own separate listing because it’s such a great resource.

5) Encyclopedia.com an online encylopedia with short articles on all kinds of topics to aid your research or even story generation. Offers links to published resources like Oxford University Press and Britannica right online.

6) Internet Public Library  a site offering links to full text books, articles and references for free.

7) Library of Congress access photos, manuscripts and an online library of books from the U.S. government’s key gatekeepers and copyright warehouse.

8) http://www.authorscopyright.com/ a blog offering news and other up to date information on copyright which every writer should be aware of.

9) Creative Writing Prompts offers over 300 writing prompts for writers to help stimulate you and get you started.

10) http://www.sfwa.org/for-authors/writer-beware/ a site from SFWA providing information helping weed out scams. There are lots of people preying on our dreams out there. It’s good to have a resource to help avoid them.

11) querytracker.net find agents, see sample query letters and schedule email follow ups on your queries all from this handy database.

12) writenews.com Up to the minute news for writers on the publishing business.

13) http://duotrope.com/index.aspx Looking for a home for your story? This is a go-t0 source for many writers. View listings by genre, pay rate and more. Get weekly reports sent to your inbox. Easily find new markets. All in one handy online database.

14) English Usage, Style, & Composition A collection of reference works which includes American Heritage, Strunk & White, Fowler’s King’s English, and other indispensable public-domain works.

15) http://www.copyright.com/ The copyright clearance center is a go-to resource for finding out what’s in the public domain and what isn’t. Especially invaluable for nonfiction writers.

These are just a few examples of the numerous resources out there. What are your go-to web tools for writing? Please add to the list in the comments. In the meantime, I hope this list proves helpful to you.

For what it’s worth…