Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Whether you’re technologically savvy or not, in this day and age every author needs a website. In this article I’ll tell you the features you need to create a professional fiction author’s website that works for you, but first you need to know exactly what it is you’re trying to achieve. If you are looking for a good value hosting company with excellent support, I recommend SiteGround.
The two fundamental truths to build your author website around
1. You are a brand
Go look at the shelves in your local book shop. In fact, just look at the ‘crime’ section. No reader is going to examine every one of those books to find the one they want to read. A catchy cover design might help you get noticed but absolutely nothing attracts a reader quicker than the name of an author they trust.Nothing attracts a reader quicker than the name of an author they trust.Click To Tweet
That’s why the titles on books by Ian Rankin and Patricia Cornwell are dwarfed by their author’s names. Readers who have enjoyed your work in the past will use your name as an indication of tone, writing style and quality before they’ve even seen your latest offering: you are a brand.
2. You must advertise yourself
While you’re at that bookshop, take a look at any ‘recommended’ displays. Even the books the shop is specifically recommending are stacked side-to-side with the competition. Your author’s website is the only place that exclusively advertises your brand and you need to make the most of it.
The features your author website needs
• The Hub
This is your front page and the only page many visitors will see. People are fickle, especially with the browsing ease the internet offers, so your hub page needs to make navigating the site as simple as possible. Your site’s pages should be indicated clearly on a tool bar with simple, direct labels. You can utilise the space underneath to advertise features or pages of the site, but make sure your labels are still distinct.
Crime writer Kathy Reichs has a busy, stimulating hub but note the simple, detached toolbar at the top of the page:
Everything you mention has to pertain to you as an author. This is how the reader relates to you and this is the specific part of yourself that you need to address. Your biography should still be in your voice, the reader is interested in hearing about you, but it needs to stay on message. Feel free to mention your hobbies but your readers don’t need to know you just achieved grade three in kayaking class. Understand that visitors to your site are interested in you through your books and that’s what they want information on. Consciously relate everything back to that. This excerpt from Ian Rankin’s ‘Background’ section is ideal:
Ian Rankin graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1982, and then spent three years writing novels when he was supposed to be working towards a PhD in Scottish Literature.
The reader is given a little bit of Rankin’s history before being brought right back to his writing. This section even uses the initial context of education to make his writing seem roguish, while subtly conveying that he’s a well-educated man. Writing a biography in the third person makes this kind of trick less apparent and lends an air of professionalism.
It’s a good idea to have both a short and long biography. Your long biography is for fans who want to know more, but the short biography is an introduction to new fans and the press. A journalist should be able to use your short biography as the first paragraph of their article.
• Profile Picture
What’s a brand without a logo? Your picture needs to look professional and it needs to gel with the tone of your books. Observe these three profile pictures from author websites:
Imagine every book just has a picture of its author on the front. Imagine that picture is the only thing an author can use to signify tone, genre and style. That’s the picture that should be on your website.
Here’s our complete guide to getting a professional author photo.Your author picture needs to look professional and it needs to gel with the tone of your books.Click To Tweet
• Book Page
This is the purest form of advertisement on your site and you should revel in it. Your readers are coming to the only place in the world that is just about your books, so show them the collection. Here’s a sample of Sir Terry Pratchett’s ‘books’ section:
This is a virtual shelf that only sells your product. If possible adhere to the rule ‘allow depth but sell range’: show your readers as much of your work as possible and allow them to dig deeper where they want to. Readers treat reliable authors like life rafts and they like to know there’s a wide selection of books before they have to find another. You also don’t know which book attracted a reader to your site, so if your ‘books’ page is one big advert for your latest work then you’re only advertising to people who haven’t read that book. If you don’t have a range to offer, consider something along the lines of a ‘coming soon’ feature; assure any interested parties that you’re going to be around long enough to be worth their attention.
• Blogs and Social Media
Blogging about the writing process can be fascinating for readers when they know they’re going to hold the finished product in their hands, and for writers just starting out it can help maintain an audience’s awareness of their work. It also helps you to build your brand directly, interesting readers in you as well as your books. Social media creates a bond between author and reader that helps your brand. Twitter allows readers to address you directly without it seeming strange if you don’t reply, although one reply to a reader on Twitter or Facebook will win you a fan for life. Fantasy writer Neil Gaiman regularly interacts with his fans over Twitter and, at the time of writing, it’s helped him amass a following of 1,915,515 people.
— alan pryke (@harriet1dog) November 8, 2013
— Charlotte Moore (@cavaticat) November 8, 2013
Of course it depends how much time you’re prepared to put into social media. Social sites are relatively easy to keep up with and since every author has their own preferences you won’t be lambasted for underuse as long as you’re consistent.
Blogs can be more challenging simply due to length, and you need to be relevant, interesting and reliable. Promising content that you don’t deliver won’t endear you to anyone. However much you intend to use it, your brand should be on Facebook and Twitter and icons for those sites should be easily visible on your site. It’s free exposure and opting out shows a lack of willing that might turn some readers off. Social media can help with media attention; increased availability is helpful when you’re trying to get noticed.
• Media Kit
Your media kit is a collection of the above details designed to make it as easy as possible for a journalist to write about you. Imagine a beleaguered reporter has been told to write about three authors; provide easy access to everything they need or they’ll move on to someone else. Include your short biography, a complete list of works and as many professional quality pictures as anyone could want. If you’re the subject of any articles, reviews or interviews, then include them as links or downloads. Provide an email address journalists can use to get in contact. This page is about utility rather than sophistication so make sure it’s immediately apparent what’s available.
If you need some help with your media kit you can check out this template here.
Author Lorrie Thompson makes things as easy as possible for anyone wanting to write about her; you can see everything in her media kit without even scrolling down:
Neil Gaiman is well known for giving that little bit extra to his fans, and his website has a ‘Cool Stuff and Things’ section that includes videos, short stories, essays, audio clips, book excerpts and interviews.
Everyone loves free content and, like interacting with fans on social media, this is the kind of thing that takes you from an author someone likes to an author whose books get pre-ordered six months before release. That said, the price of producing free content is the money you’d have made selling it. It’s difficult to say how much of a draw extra content will be for each individual author, but in the ten minutes since the ‘blogs and social media’ section was written the number of people following Mr. Gaiman on Twitter has risen to 1,915,533.
If someone has found your website it’s because they’re interested in you. These tools and tips are designed to help you build the best site you can for your readers, so don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s something for people who love your work. Trust and represent yourself and remember that your website is a tool of self-promotion over which you have total control.
If you need help creating an effective but affordable author website then check out our author website design service.The 6 Essential Features Of A Fiction Writer’s Website (And 1 Bonus You Should Try)Click To Tweet