Authors find few pieces of marketing advice repeated more often than this: Get thee to a website!
But once you have a website, what do you do with it?
The primary purpose of your website is to promote yourself and your book. Part of the process of selling your book is in connecting with your reader, and a good author website offers many ways to do that.
The basic components of your website should be:
1. Contact information (if you don’t want to provide an email address, then include a message form)
2. Your social media contact information (to Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads or any others you use)
3. Information about your books
4. Biographical information – all about you, your professional background, why you decided to write this book
5. News about your books
6. Events where you will be appearing
Aside from a good photo (a professional shot is recommended), include some memoir material. Kate McMillan, a web designer for many books and authors for more than a decade, advised in a 2012 web article, “frame the content around what led you to writing, and why you write the kinds of books that you do and what you love about it. If you’re also promoting yourself for speaking engagements, or if your book is one aspect of your larger professional career, consider making your photo larger or putting it in a more prominent position on the page.”
This is good, basic advice but not enough to pull lots of people to your site. To do that, remember what the cable television channel AMC does when it promotes the web pages attached to its programs. It points out specific files, video material, games, links of all kinds available only through the website, and uses the tag line, “there’s always more on AMC.com.” It’s an approach worth keeping in mind as you design your site. The more extra information you post, the more traffic you’re likely to get. So as you post it, use the social media to let people know it’s there.
R.C. Butler of Bulldog Press, advised, “The key to a good website or blog, however, is not the information about you or your book. It is the alternative information you post that adds value to the visitor. It is this information that will keep your readers returning to your site which will help to increase your SEO scores, incoming links, and overall presence in the market.”
McMillan suggested that “Depending on the kinds of books you write, you might include a slideshow of photographs, or an audio file, or a YouTube video, or a quiz, or myriad other things that tie into the content of your books. Some authors are experts in their field and their books are an extension of a larger career – this is a great opportunity to include something interesting from the larger context of your career, such as a discount code for signing up for a related service.”
One article from USA Today (January 15, 2015) suggests more possibilities: “leaving their more compelling content on the site longer; creating clutter-free website designs to make it easier to find the best material; posting more quizzes; using prominent “embeds” of videos, links and tweets in stories; assigning long-form articles; creating never-ending pages that just scroll on with more content loads; showcasing photo galleries that stay on one long page rather than flipped pages.”
Dropping by the websites of some of your favorite writers could help too. Observe how bestselling writers, indie and traditional both, use their web space. The site for novelist E.L. James (www.eljames.com) includes soundtracks and wine lists – all background material for her novels. The site for Paula Hawkins (The Girl on the Train), www.paulahawkinsbooks.com has excerpts and useful material for readers’ groups. Blake Crouch (www.blakecrouch.com), of the Wayward Pines series, posts videos and a regular weekly show to keep in touch with his readers.
Blogging – if it’s done regularly – can keep the site fresh. Writer and marketer Joanna Penn strongly endorses blogging: “Starting a blog changed my life – seriously. It has freed my writing style up completely, and given me the confidence to get into fiction. Without the millions of words I’ve written on my blog, I would never have been able to write Desecration, my latest crime novel.”
A couple of other points to keep in mind as you pull together material for the site.
Make sure your site is “responsive,” which means smartphones, tablets and other devices will be able to read it easily. That’s a good idea generally, but Google has started to give “responsive” sites an extra push, saying that “non-responsive” websites will be downgraded in search lists. Early in 2015 I threw out a web theme I’d had in place on my site for years and replaced it with another one which, unlike the old one, is fully responsive. Fortunately, the fix for this probably won’t be especially difficult if your website is relatively small and simple: It may only involve changing the design on the web site, which often is just a matter of pushing a few buttons.
Be sure also to incorporate keywords and tags that will make the site more visible to searchers.
Visibility and two-way communication are, after all, the key to any successful wevsite.