Friday, March 11, 2011

Do You Need a Website?

Websites.

Do unpublished authors need them? Do published authors need them?

Spring Tree Blossoms
Photo by allenmcgregor

In my opinion, published authors absolutely need a website. Readers like me love learning about our favorite authors, and we need a way to find their back-lists, new releases, and scheduled appearances. We also devour author biographies, and we e-mail authors to let them know we loved their books. Readers are flocking to the Internet to purchase e-books, so it makes sense for authors to make it easy to find information about them and their books.

I also believe unpublished authors can benefit from having a website, but it's not essential. Unpublished authors who want a website can either hire a designer, design their own site, or they can use a blogging service to create a website. When I started blogging over two years ago, Blogger didn't have many of the exciting features it currently does. One fabulous improvement is the ability to create static pages to make your blog look and function like a website. You can also direct your blogspot URL to a custom domain. (Wordpress offered both of these features long before Blogger, but I chose Blogger for a variety of reasons, one being the ease of following, finding, and linking to other blogs.)

Anyone can simply set up a blog, create static pages, and have an instant website--for free.

The drawbacks to creating a simulated website through a blog service include less freedom with overall look and design, and less support. Most web-hosting services offer 24 hour support, e-mail addresses, protection from hackers, and tons of online storage, whereas your blog account can get hacked and deleted, support exists only in forums, and you won't have access to many features a web-hosting service offers.

Still, I think creating the look of a website through a blog service is a terrific way for aspiring authors to promote themselves and their writing.



Here are essentials for an unpublished author's website (in no particular order):

1. Easy navigation.

There should be links to every page in the site and the navigation bar should be in the same spot on every page.

2. A biography with a good picture.

Keep the biography engaging, list your credentials, tell why and what you write. The picture does not have to be professional, but do wear a tasteful outfit and have someone take the best picture possible.

3. A page about what you write.

This could be as simple as stating the titles, genre, and word counts of completed books, a short story or article, or back-cover-like blurbs for each book. I don't recommend putting up sample chapters. Sample chapters belong in a requested submission, not on an unpublished author's website.

4. Links to your social networks.

Only include those you're active on. Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, Goodreads, and so forth.

5. An e-mail address to contact you.

I understand wanting to maintain privacy and block spam, but there is no good reason for an author to withhold a contact method. Create a dedicated e-mail under your author name. I regularly e-mail authors of blogs, but if there isn't any way to contact them, I can't.

Published authors should publish a website before their first book is published. Good author websites make the reader want to buy an author's books. They also give numerous options for the reader to connect with the author through signing up for a newsletter, following the author on Twitter, Facebook, or other social networks, and by clearly stating upcoming appearances and when the next book will be released. Book covers should be linked for easy purchasing.

Here are essentials for a published author's website (in no particular order):

1. Easy navigation.

There should be links to every page in the site and the navigation bar should be in the same spot on every page.

2. A detailed author biography with professional picture.

Readers want to connect with the author, so include a picture. Franchises such as Portait Innovations offer business packages for around $70.oo and this includes copyright releases of certain poses to use online. The biography should be engaging--less business-like, more friendly.
3. Clearly stated achievements.

If the author won a prestigious award, made it on a best-seller's list or any other fabulous achievement--this should be prominently shown throughout the site. You're not bragging--you're simply informing anyone who stops by that other people like your books. The implied message: this author's books are good so buy one.

4. An updated appearance schedule.

Speaking at a library? Having a booksigning? Include the place, date and time. This shows you're actively promoting your books and that you encourage readers to interact with you.

5. A page dedicated to your books.

Feature book jackets, reviews, blurbs, and a link to purchase the book. Include a complete backlist. Readers like me are salivating to read every book by the author, and we do buy backlists.

6. Contact button.

A pop-up to e-mail the author should appear. A page with other contact information such as a P.O. Box can be included if desired.

7. Newsletter sign-up.

There are many great newsletter services. It's up to the author how often to send a newsletter, but most of the authors I sign up with produce them quarterly.

8. Blog.

If the author blogs, this should be either incorporated into the site or linked on every page.

9. Social media links.

Every page should have buttons for readers to connect with the author on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Linked-In, Shelfari, or whatever sites the author is active on.

10. Press kit.

This is for members of the media to easily access information about you and your writing in the event they want to interview you. Need an example? Check out Alley Blake's Press Release Page.

I only touched on the basics of websites today. I'm full of opinions, right or wrong, on them and will gladly share my thoughts if you have any questions.

Is there anything you would like to know about author websites?


Have a terrific Friday!

27 comments:

  1. These days you can get a website for a really reasonable price. I really enjoyed working with Jason Walker at Website Ministries.

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  2. What a great break down! This is a must read for everyone! Thanks.

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  3. I'm bookmarking this one, Jill! I'm hoping to get a website set up as I get closer to my release date.

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  4. I totally agree! You really do need a website that is your own.

    Blogger, Facebook, etc...you don't own so anything can happen to them and then you'll be stuck.

    I'm going to bookmark this list too!

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  5. So, so good! I need to spiffy up my website and I know just who I'll go to. I will invest in it.

    I followed your tips originally when I developed mine. You are a guru!
    ~ Wendy

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  6. I am unpublished and had asked my web designer about getting one. He suggested I wait to do more because the search engines would try to pull 2 different ways to find me. As I get closer to publication, I will definitely be getting one. :O)

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  7. I used Wordpress for my website, and have found it to be very effective. I like having access and control of its design and content. Though I haven't pubbed a book, I have had smaller works published, and it's a nice way to collect them all in one place for anyone who might want to see more of what I do.

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  8. This is a great list. It reminds me to add the social networking buttons on my site, which I haven't done. Thanks!

    I also like it when emerging authors whose books are slated to be published have a site. When I cannot find one for a book I hear buzz about, it makes me cranky. :)

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  9. Having recently sold my first novella, I'll be revamping my blog/website over the next few months. I've found self-hosted WordPress to be a great alternative--something I can easily change and update myself. Thanks for providing a handy checklist of pages to include.

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  10. Another good post to keep and store away for later use. Thanks.

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  11. I love that Blogger has these added features. I'm working on creating a few pages to add to my blog.

    And, when the Lord leads me further down the publishing road I look forward to a real website professionally designed!

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  12. Thanks for this post, Jill. I don't have a website, and you gave some great ideas for the unpublished author. I would like to create a page that is dedicated to the books that I have written. I don't have that on the blog.

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  13. Great topic Jill. Actually we were discussing it at work just the other day. Another question, does an author need a website if they have a blog? A blog can build out static pages and integrate navigation to function just like a website. In fact a lot of people are using wordpress and other blog tools as a CMS to build websites out of them. Everyone needs a presence on the inter-webs but what is the difference for visitors if a blog and site can look identical? Is a site necessary or does the blog become a site with a blog piece?

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  14. This is a great list, Jill! I'm going to remember it for the future. I think having a website is smart for published authors and those who are well on their way, and it's so simple now to create something professional and easy to navigate.

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  15. Hello everyone! I appreciate you chiming in on this topic. I'm on the road today, so will keep this brief.

    Jennifer S: I agree--a website is something an author owns and controls--another plus of having your own site!

    Joanne & Valerie: Wordpress is a great service--it gives the author so many options over the look and function of their site.

    P.W.: I agree. Blogs that look and act like websites are more popular and a smart option. The only downsides are they are more vulnerable to being hacked, less online support, no dedicated e-mails, and less features for businesses. Also, unless an author uses a custom domain name, search engines do not pick up Blogger.com's content as well as content on websites or Wordpress.

    Thank you so much for stopping by!

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  16. I love the updated Blogger features. Until I signed my first contract, it was enough. Now I am working on getting my website up. Thanks to my iWeb program on my Mac, I can design my own site and have it hosted by Apple for less than $100/year. The site looks professional and has almost everything you mentioned already. I hadn't thought about adding a press kit, but now I will consider it.

    Great post! Thanks!

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  17. I've had a website for about three years. I'm in the process of choosing a web designer to help me spiff it up now that I have a contract and will refer to your post when I think about what to include.

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  18. Great post. I agonized over the blog/website decision for a long time. But with Bloggers new features, I went the blog route. I've never regretted it. I have most of the features you've mentioned and it's worked well for me so far.

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  19. Thanks for your posting, Jill! You and I are on the same wavelength this week, haha! :)

    http://laurenspathtopub.blogspot.com/

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  20. Thanks, Jill, for all of the helpful information. I'm definitely bookmarking this post!! It's nice to know you'll be around for questions down the road, too!

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  21. Great post, Jill! Thanks for all the information.

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  22. Those are good lists, Jill. I started blogging with WordPress to tiptoe into cyberspace. Once I was more confident I found it easy to improve the features my blog had to offer. I'm sure if I get a novel published I'll want my own domain name and a website that meets different needs. The domain name is something that, in retrospect, I would recommend getting sooner rather than later.

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  23. Thank you for this information Jill. I"ve been spending a small amount of my time learning how to design a web-site when really I should just be tweaking my blogspot, especially adding a tab with current writing projects. Great tips!

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  24. Thank you all for stopping by, chiming in, and leaving a comment!

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  25. Great practical tips by a great blogger in a great blog!

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  26. Richard: Thank you very much for your kind comment! I appreciate it!

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  27. The hardest part in being an author is launching your career. Many talented writers weren’t given the breaks they deserve, simply because they lacked visibility. Enter the internet. Through this innovation, the world became such a confined space. Hence, it is not hard to spot a budding artist, for example, anymore. Creating your own website is like handing your resume to the world. Because you have a chance to showcase your talent and personality to a broad range of audience; you will be recognized more easily. Or if you just want to share your wit, that’s fine too.

    Sage Aumick

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