Your website basically gives you world-wide publicity at next to no cost. It gives you a chance to promote your work and become more accessible to your readers. But before you rush out and post a page to the web, you need to stop and consider what sort of image you’re going to present to the world. The web is filled with sloppy, difficult to navigate, too cute, too loud, or simply too uninviting websites. As a writer, you’re a professional, and your site needs to reflect that. It also needs to say more than click here to view my stories and see a picture of me. Keep in mind that visitors aren’t going to be impressed with a site that is little more than an electronic ad for your novel. You have to give visitors a reason to keep coming back and-more importantly-a reason for them to tell all their friends to visit.
SO WHAT SHOULD BE IN AN AUTHOR’S WEBSITE?
- Home Page
A home (or index) page that clearly lists your name, e.g. Keri Arthur, novelist. Remember that fans who don’t know your web address might use a search engine to find you, and the closer your name is to the top of your homepage, the easier it is for search engines to find you. (preferably, your name should be in the page title-which in FrontPage is accessed through the file/properties section). Your front page should also include links to your other pages, either a list of your novels or images of them-complete with links they can click if they want to find out more. It should also include a copyright statement (to protect your work and everything else on the site) and a hit counter (so you know how much traffic you’re getting).
- Your Bio
Fans may want to know more about you, so tell them how you began writing, what types of books you do, and even give them a brief picture of your family life (eg married, ten kids, 1 mad husband and two demented dogs. Don’t go in-depth, and don’t tell them all your woes.) Include a photo of you (preferably minus the hand shot, feather boa, or ridiculous hat)
- A bibliography
This can either be a separate page (which I prefer) or part of your bio page. List all your writings, awards and any other credits you may have. This is also a good place to provide links to excerpts of your writing, but remember, never place a complete piece of writing on the web and do check with your publisher that they’re okay with excerpts (in some contracts, the publisher needs to approve). Always provide links to Amazon or your publishers website, so that if visitors decide to buy your books, they can just pop straight over.
- Book Descriptions, Excerpts and Reviews
This can be a part of your bibliography page or simply have a link from there. Book descriptions provide you with an ideal opportunity to give readers a clearer idea on what your book is about (lets face it, sometimes the blurbs they place on the back of the books leave us no wiser even when we’ve read it!). Excerpts of current or forthcoming novels are an excellent sales tool. Choose a section of your book that a reader can easily understand without having read the rest of the book (I recommend the first part of the first chapter, but you can easily use others). If you have lots of titles, consider using a separate page for each-otherwise your page might take too long to load. Reviews are also another great selling tool-particularly if the reviewer has raved about your book. Never include the full review, however. Just have a snippet, and a link if the reader wants to read the full version. And always remember to ask the reviewers permission to place the review on your site-remember, reviews are copyrighted material.
- A “What’s New” Page
Let readers know that your latest book is out, what awards you’ve won, when you’ll be appearing on radio or TV, if you’re doing any book signing and anything else that may be newsworthy. Always keep this updated.
Conventional wisdom is that you shouldn’t have too many links out of your site, but if people bookmark your site because it has a lot of useful links, then you’re still getting their traffic. But you should keep your links as writing related as possible.
- Articles Page
If you’ve written any writing articles, post them on your site for others to view (copyright allowing). Your articles could form the base of an overall writing tips page. There’s lot of readers out there who also dream of writing their own books-so share some of your experiences with them. Make your website a useful resource for writers as well as readers.
- A Means for People To Get in Contact with You
Always include an email address on your site-and always reply to mail you may get from people. It’s also a good idea to have a guestbook so people can make comments (make sure it’s obscenity restricted, just in case your site gets visited by juveniles who enjoy leaving abusive little messages).
- A Reason to Keep Coming Back
If your site remains static, people aren’t going to keep coming back. You have to keep enticing them in. Things you can do include setting up a blog, running regular contests, setting up a newsletter or mailing list so you can send out periodically discussing your new releases, book signings, any conferences/ workshops you’re attending/giving. And put a date on your index page so people can see when it was last updated.
THINGS A WEBSITE CAN DO WITHOUT…
- Content that could offend some readers
You can’t make everyone happy all the time, but you might want to stay away from religion (unless you’re writing inspirationals) and politics. Always be careful in what you say. Remember: Have fun but be professional.
- Unpublished Writings
By this, I mean full short stories or complete novels-basically, anything you want to sell later. Many would-be’s post material on the web in the vague hope of attracting agents or publishers. It won’t. There’s so much self published stuff out there right now that self publishing or web publishing has become a sign of desperation rather than professionalism. There’s also the issue of first rights to consider. Increasingly, publishers are regarding anything published wholly online as previously published-which means that once you post something online, you may no longer be able to sell first rights to that material (if you can sell it at all.) So, sell first, then post.
- Too Much Personal Information
I said this earlier but it needs repeating. A professional website is no place for holiday pics or family mugshots or pictures of the grandkids. Take it elsewhere.
- A ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude
Yes, you’re published. Or close to being published. But whether you’re a success or not depends very much on whether people like your books-and like you. Don’t ignore your fans. Don’t turn them away from your site with an ‘I’m so much better than you all’ attitude. Be personable, friendly and approachable-whether it’s on your site or at a book signing or a conference. Remember, readers will make or break your career.