Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
In this final installment of my mini-series on where to start in terms of indie author websites, it’s finally time to talk about just what should actually appear on the website. There is a touch of crossover with picking an approach to getting a website up. For example, if you go the DIY route or use WordPress, you don’t need to know everything that is going to appear on the site up-front. If you’re going to hire someone to build it for you, however, you need a pretty clear idea of everything that is going to go on the site in order to get all the work done.
Author sites vary a lot in terms of complexity, but no author website can do without certain basic elements.
Home Page – The homepage on an author site presents certain problems for authors. Since your primary offering is books, rather than some kind of service, and you probably don’t sell your books directly, there’s a gap straight businesses normally fill with that kind of information. Nonetheless, you should still create a homepage. It can feature things as simple as an author picture and a blurb about your latest book, which is the approach used on Nora Roberts’ website, or it can be a cross-section stuff from several sections of the website, which is the approach used on Stephen King’s website. No approach is fundamentally better, but the Nora Roberts’ website model probably offers the least work-intensive approach for DIY types.
Author bio – If your readers are even sort of committed to your books, there is a distinct possibility they’re going to want to know a little more about you. Author bios provide you with a chance to do some branding, particularly if you write in a particular genre and intend to keep writing in that genre. If you write thrillers, it should probably say something about that in your bio. Is there something offbeat in your background, like spending a year working in a bakery in Paris? Information like that should definitely be in your bio because it gives you some character.
Books – There needs to be a section devoted specifically to your books or areas dedicated to specific series, if you write one or more series. Even if you’ve only written one book, you should still have a spot designated for books, because you’re probably going to write another one at some point. Each book entry should include links to where people can buy the book, especially mainstream outlets like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the iBookstore.
News – There are a lot of ways to handle/title this section, but you ought to have some space dedicated to providing author-centric information, such as links to interviews and press releases, upcoming projects, as well as information about where you might be doing book signings or other appearances. Put this under the mental category of “making it easy for fans.” The harder it is for people to find out about where you’re going to be and what you’re doing, the fewer people there are that will make the effort to show up or find out.
Contact Info – This one is sort of a quandary for indie authors, since they don’t have agents and publicists to handle media contact. The simplest approach is set up two kinds of contact info. One set of contact information is for fans, such as a dedicated email address like email@example.com, where readers can contact you. The other contact information should be clearly labeled as Media Contact Information, with an email such as firstname.lastname@example.org. There should be an explicit notice stating that fan contact will not receive a response if sent to the media contact address/email.
Even if you do nothing else, these things must appear on your author website. Consider these the baseline for being taken seriously.
Of course, hitting the minimum is not the same thing as knocking it out of the park. There are some best practices in terms of what should be included on your author website.
Integrated Blog – Among a list of other very good ideas, Thomas Umstattd recommends the inclusion of an integrated blog on your website. If you’re using WordPress, this is taken care of for you since it’s a blogging platform. Author blogs are just an expected part of author self-marketing. Having the blog integrated as part of your website makes
it easier for readers and helps keep readers on the site, increasing the chances of them deciding to pick up another one of your books.
Social Media Links – As Caitlin Muir so succinctly puts it in this post: “If you aren’t on social media, you might as well be dead to the majority of the online world.” Your readers want to connect with you and you want to make it easy for them. Since the odds are good that you’ve set up author profiles on most of the major social media outlets, you should have “connect with me” icons that link to those profiles. The other side of this coin is making it easy for your readers to tell people they know about your site/blog posts/etc., which means you need social sharing buttons as well. Be sure to keep your social share buttons separated from your connect with me social buttons.
Images – You may be a writer, but not having images on your author website is a no-go. The internet is an inherently visual medium and you should take advantage of that fact. Put up pictures of yourself at events. Make sure you have cover images for your books up. Another fine suggestion from Thomas Umstattd, have a spot for fan art (if you get fan art). Posting fan art is a two-for-one for an author. One the one hand, it provides you with visual content that you didn’t have to commission or exert any extra effort for, and it helps to entrench your fan base.
There are lots of options for additional things you can have on your site, ranging from fan forums to selling signed copies, but I take the above as the most functional and necessary elements.