Author website essentials: a 9 part writer toolkit

You’re an author. You need a storefront. You could put a sign up in your front garden or (better idea) you could build a website. Here’s everything you need to know.

1. The book comes first

Do you have a book cover already?

If not, you just have to get that in place before you start to design your site. That cover will define your brand as an author. It’ll be the primary way that readers ‘know’ you. That book cover will define the fonts and images that are part of your visual brand. Your website needs to support that, not conflict. There are no exceptions to this rule!

That means: if you are an indie author and don’t yet have a cover, then get one. (Use this guide for how to commission your cover.) If you’re a trad author, then wait for your publisher to produce a cover before you start to build your website. Either way, start with the book, then roll that look out to the site

2. Build for the long term

It’s really easy to think small, early on. That means limiting your budget. Limiting the design energy. Using a free domain such as yourname.wordpress.com instead of just yourname.com. (Or yournameauthor.com, if some celebrity has got to the domain name first.)

On the whole, I’d advise writers to pony up the extra money needed to do this right. As your writing business expands, you’ll want your core assets to be strong enough to support that expansion – and that means getting the site right from the off. And if you have problems with your writing career, then you don’t want to be sat there wondering if the site was the issue. What’s more, doing it right doesn’t mean a lot of cash. Once you have your book cover, you’ll have the basic look of the site right there – together with font selections and images. Generating the rest of the site should not be hard or expensive. If you’re paying more than £1000 / $1500, you’re probably paying more than you need.

So: if you’re a pro or semi-pro designer yourself, then build your own site. Anyone else: commission a site, but make it clear from the outset that the designer should use the fonts and images that are used in your book cover. You’re essentially looking for a technician to plug things together for you, not an artist to create something wonderful and new. And definitely pay the small amount needed to get your own proper domain name: harrybingham.com, not harrybingham.wordpress.com. Those little things do count.

3. Your site must be mobile-friendly

These days, it would be a crazy designer who didn’t generate a site that wasn’t mobile friendly – but still: do be explicit in your brief. And when you see a draft site, then check it! If you’re working on a laptop not a phone, just resize the window so it’s phone-sized/phone-shaped and take a look at your site now. If your key assets and messages are being buried at the bottom, you need to re-order those things so that they float up to the top. This isn’t hard to do, and any competent designer can do it fast.

4. SEO doesn’t matter for fiction; it’s essential for subject-led non-fiction

Are you writing fiction? In that case, Search Engine Optimisation basically doesn’t matter. If people want to search for your site they’ll almost certainly search you by firstname lastname, in which case your site should pop up at or close to the top of any search. (If it doesn’t, just go out and do a few guest post with bloggers active in your niche. Make sure there’s a link through to your site at the end of the guest post. Those links should be enough to tickle Google’s algorithms that it figures out what to do.)

If you’re writing creative non-fiction (a travel book, a personal memoir, or bringing some little-known historical narrative to life) then much the same thing applies. Those sort of books can pretty much forget Search Engine Optimisation as a source of readers and traffic.

If, on the other hand, you’re writing subject-led non-fiction (a book on ‘How To Build a Great Author Website’, for example), then SEO matters a lot. Your first step is probably to ditch the idea of using your name as the site’s domain name, and instead use something like GreatAuthorWebsites.com – basically embed your core search term in the website title itself. Then give proper, search-engine-friendly titles to every page on your site. Make sure the content is good. And go build some links. That recipe basically works every time . . . but this isn’t a blog post on SEO, so I’ll leave it there. Suffice to say that for this type of non-fiction author, SEO does matter and it’s a big, important subject. Go research it with people like Brian Dean and Neil Patel.

5. Don’t confuse the brand

Are you an eclectic, interesting person, with numerous interests and passions? Great. Please don’t tell me about it – or at least not on your author website!

Your website is there for readers of your books. You need to target your site at them. You need to leave everything else at the door. If you want a more personal site that shows the full range of you to a wondering world, then fine. But your author site needs to stick to its knitting, which is your books and nothing else.

If you write two very different series – slasher horror fiction under one name and heart-warming children’s books under another – then you’ll need two websites. Sorry, but again no exceptions. You can of course link between the two, so readers from one can easily navigate to the other . . . but keep the core message absolutely clear.

6. Figure out your priorities

What do you want your site to do?

Your answer is quite likely to be ‘help sell my books’, but remember it will basically never achieve that objective. If people haven’t heard of you, they won’t come to your site. If they have heard of you and are curious about your work, they will go to Amazon. The only people likely to visit your site are readers who have read your work and who are passionate enough about it to investigate further. Certainly, you may achieve some additional sales by providing a warm and interesting experience . . . but the truth is, you can probably only convert one or two percent of people that way. It’s not a priority.

Huh? So if a author site isn’t there to sell books, what should it do?

For me, there’s one very, very clear answer to that – and only a fraction of author sites do this properly.

Your author website is there to collect the email addresses of passionate readers.

Why does that matter so much? It matters for two reasons:

  1. When you next release a book you can contact your core readers and tell them directly about the launch. A high proportion of those readers will make the purchase and those are nice easy sales to make – one email, to sell hundreds or thousands of books.
  2. Better still, you can time the sales you make. When I send out a sales email relating to my Fiona Griffiths novels, about 30% of my list will buy within 8 hours of my hitting send. That causes a huge wave of sales to hit Amazon . . . which drives my book way up the salesrankings . . . which means that (because most Amazon search pages promote high-selling books over low-selling ones) my book becomes more visible right across the Amazon system . . . which means I start attracting the interest of completely new readers

Of these two issues, it’s actually the second one which will make you the most money, so don’t neglect it. You can get a ton more help with all this right here – and don’t forget to check out our post about Instafreebie here.

7. Connect, connect

These days, the first thing that someone will do if they want to learn more about you is seek you out on Google, on Facebook or on Twitter.

You don’t actually need to be a social media junkie to succeed these days. Personally, I’m more or less Trappist on both FB and Twitter and I’m perfectly happy to stay that way. But you do want to make yourself open to the world for all sorts of reasons. For example:

  • you want your site to be easily shareable for those who do use Twitter and FB
  • You want to be easily contactable
  • You want to have all channels open so you can, for example, make contact with a key blogger in your area who is contactable via Twitter, but may not be easily reachable via email.
  • Your super-fans need a way to reach you direct. You don’t have to answer every email that comes your way – and you certainly don’t have to answer promptly – but those super-fans are the absolute heart of what will drive your

 

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  • Aonghus Fallon

    That’s a great point re email addresses, Harry. I would never have considered setting up my own blog until now (there are so many of them) but you got me thinking….

  • Points 1 and 2 are in conflict. If you design your site around one book, you are not designing for the long term! I have around 200 books in print. Which one should dictate the style of my website? That’s a rhetorical question, as my website has been up and running with intermittent redesigns for 20 years. (And publishers often won’t release the cover in advance for authors to put on a website.)
    “If people haven’t heard of you, they won’t come to your site. If they have heard of you and are curious about your work, they will go to Amazon. The only people likely to visit your site are readers who have read your work and who are passionate enough about it to investigate further.” Entirely agree with the first part but a very important group of people who will look at your website are publishers (or agents) you approach.

    If collecting email addresses, you need permission to use them to send marketing gumph – at least in the UK, it’s illegal to harvest and use email addresses for marketing unless the person has given their permission, so it is is important that they tick a box saying you may contact them.