OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
Your author website is important, wherever you are on the author journey.
Your site portrays your author brand and gives a sense of your personality as well as your professionalism. It's how people judge you online.
It's the first place a journalist, publisher or agent will look if they are interested in you. They will click away if it's not what they're looking for.
You can attract your target audience with content that inspires, entertains or educates, and hopefully they will go on to purchase and join your email list.
It's your home on the internet. You can list all your books, products and services and have buy links and information in one place.
Your website can be the engine of your business online. Yes, it can actually make you a living!
Of course, everyone has different aims for their websites and your needs will also change over time.
If you have just one book, you might only need basic information about the book, author and buy links. If you are an established author, you will need at least a page per book as well as more detailed information about you as the author. If you want to run a business from your site, you'll need appropriate content to drive traffic to your site.
In this article, I go through the most important things that you need on your website, as well as what is negotiable, plus some technical setup that will help you optimize your author site online, wherever you're at in the journey.
(1) Book covers and description
You're an author and primarily, you are selling books. So your book covers should be prominent on your website as an eye-catching way to entice readers into your work.
Of course, these should be professionally designed covers that resonate with your genre and target market.
You also need a sales description to go along with your book. Try starting with a tagline or a headline that entices the reader.
For fiction, open a hook that makes the reader want to answer the question. For non-fiction, you can include more details from your table of contents so the reader understands the benefits of purchasing. More on creating a book sales description here.
(2) About the Author
Your About page is one of the most viewed on any website. People click on it because they want to know more about you personally. They are actively interested in learning more about you. They also want to know whether this is the right place for them. Do they resonate with you as a person?
So are you giving them what they are looking for?
People connect with people so your face is one of the most important things to use on your About page, in my opinion. Of course, it should relate to your brand, so I use happy smiley on non-fiction and brooding thriller author for my fiction.
If you are using a pseudonym or protecting your identity, then you could use a cartoon avatar or a picture of something that still has meaning e.g. your cat 🙂 Anything to make a personal connection with the reader who has arrived on your site.
If you're worried about how you look, get some professional photography done. It's an investment you will need as an author as your picture will go on the back of books, on marketing material, interviews and much more.
Be personal and interesting and include things about yourself and your life as well as about your writing. Of course, you can still draw that line to protect your privacy as well as that of your family, but sharing personal anecdotes and pictures will help people connect even more.
(3) Buy links to all the places your book is sold
It should be easy to buy your book with one click if the customer is interested.
Use the icons per store so the customer recognizes where they can get your book in the easiest way for them.
Many authors complain about not making more sales at stores other than Amazon, but often, they are only putting the Amazon button on their site. Make sure you're not one of them!
(4) A way to sign up for your email list
We all need to build our own email list of readers for the long term so that we can always tell buyers when our book is available.
Giving something of value away for free is one of the keys to building up an email list. I use the free Author 2.0 Blueprint for non-fiction and a free novella, Day of the Vikings, for my fiction list.
You also can't just email people from your own account, especially as the list grows into the thousands. You need to use a mail service that complies with anti-spam laws like Aweber or Mailchimp.
For more in depth help on growing an email list, I recommend Nick Stephenson's How to find your first 10,000 readers free video course here.
(5) Contact information
Your website might lead journalists to contact you, or agents, foreign publishers or people who want to pay for you to speak at a festival or event.
So make sure it's easy for them to contact you and have a Contact link in an obvious place on your website.
If you don't want to directly state your email address, then you can use a plugin like Gravity Forms as a way to collect the inquiry.
(6) Testimonials / Review quotes
There's a reason that Amazon uses reviews so prominently on their product pages.
Reviews are social proof, and they are critical to a reader making a decision about whether to try a book.
On your own website, you can also use reviews or testimonials to build trust. You can also use pictures and URLs so people know they can trust the reviews.
One little tip: Don't ask authors in other genres to review a book that isn't suitable for their niche. Only ask authors whose own work resonates with your own.
(7) Ways to share
Ideally, you want to harness word of mouth using social media so your book spreads.
There are some 1-click sharing tools and plugins that you can use on your website. For example, Sociable plugin will give you social sharing buttons on the bottom or side of posts and pages.
Make sure you always list your own social media accounts somewhere obvious. I will often find posts that I am happy to share on Twitter, but I won't do it unless I can attribute it to the person who wrote it. If your twitter handle isn't prominent, I will click away and share someone else's article instead.
(8) Portray your author brand
As soon as people arrive on your site, they will make a very quick judgement of whether it is the right place for them. Some people will decide it is not for them and will click away.
No worries at all.
Our aim is not to be right for everyone. Our aim is to be right for our target market.
Some people will stay and have a look at your books, hopefully sign up to your email list and maybe click through your pictures or your blog. We want to make sure the right people stick around.
The colors, words and images that you use will make a big difference to that immediate impression.
For example, my JFPenn.com site uses dark colors, a black and white, brooding photo that match my darker books. A romance reader will know that it is not for them within a millisecond. My Creative Penn site is more smiley and welcoming, with red as a dominant color. Each will attract a different type of audience.
Your site also gives an indication of professionalism.
If you are using a free Blogger site, it is assumed you are a hobbyist and not taking your author life that seriously. If you're using a free WordPress site with a standard theme that doesn't set you apart, then you are probably not taking a long term view of your author career.
Both of those options are perfectly fine, but if you want to have a long term career as an author, you need to invest in your website as the hub of your online presence.
Of course, you will change the design over time. We all do. But if you are committed to being an author for the long-term, then make sure your site portrays this impression. Yes, there is a learning curve, as with anything, but it's worth it for the long-term.
(9) Optimize for mobile and tablet browsing
I checked my website stats recently and found that 43% of my fiction audience view my site through mobile or tablets, and 30% for TheCreativePenn.com.
That's a lot higher than I expected, to be honest.
Google has also announced that from 21 April, 2015, they will include mobile friendliness as a criteria for ranking. So your site needs to be mobile friendly in order to be found in the search engines.
Mobile and tablet adoption are only going to continue growing over time as more people access the internet that way, rather than through desktops/laptops.
To cater for these browsers, your website needs responsive design.
This means the site adjusts size and design per browser, so that people can read it whatever device they are using.
There are a number of options for this, and we'll get more into the technical side later.
(10) To blog or not to blog …
Whether you blog or not will depend on what you want to achieve with your website, with this particular book and your future books as well as with your time.
If you have a business that is more around speaking, back-end products and services that result in a higher income, then blogging, podcasting and other content marketing are brilliant ways to get traffic to your site.
This site, The Creative Penn, brings me income from professional speaking, from affiliate sales and also from sponsorship and advertising. I have a business model around the blog itself, so it is definitely worth doing financially these days.
Of course, when I started the blog in Dec 2008, I had no clue it would turn into the site it is now! I started blogging and podcasting because I wanted to share what I was learning on the journey – and I still do. So I would still blog even if it made me no money at all, because I love to share lessons learned and I love the community. I am an addicted blogger, and there are certainly other rewards for blogging other than financial.
You can develop your voice as a writer, grow a community around your site, as well as attract opportunity.
My blog has brought me international speaking events, new friendships and opportunities for promotional campaigns like the one that led to the NY Times and USA Today list.
So certainly for non-fiction, it can be gold.
For fiction, I do blog occasionally, but it is more around the research for my books, or interviews with other authors in my niche.
If you have to ask what to blog about, then probably don't bother. It's only worth doing if you just can't help but share what you're passionate about.
(11) Multimedia – video and podcasting
People connect with people, and humans have been communicating with body language, voice and facial expression for millennia. So if people can see your face or hear your voice or watch you on video, they will be able to connect with you much faster than through your written words.
Of course, if you want to do videos or podcasting, you do have a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it, it's not that hard. And I have personally found that my podcast is one of the most brilliant things I could have done to build my own network, grow my audience and provide valuable information for people.
I have over 250 podcast episodes now, so many of the listeners have spent a lot of time with me over the years! I also get comments from podcast listeners who feel like they ‘know' me, and in many ways, they do, as I share a lot in the introduction to my interviews every couple of weeks.
I also have a YouTube channel and I find that the audience for video differs to the blog audience and differs again to the audio podcast audience. You don't have to try to reach everyone, but have a think about the people you are targeting and consider what might be most effective. Click here to check out the book trailer for The Successful Author Mindset, another option for video.
What are your options for your author website?
Of course, there are so many options for building your home on the internet and I am not going through them all. You can evaluate your own setup against the above criteria.
For now, I will give you a couple of options based on my own experience of running an online business as an author entrepreneur for 6 years.
(A) Just getting started? Try free sites
If you're just getting started, then you can, of course, use free sites – but I would still advise that you use a professional looking option that is also optimized for mobile and tablet browsing and that enables you to use all the main functionality listed above.
If you want to blog or use content marketing like podcasting or video, then you can use WordPress.com with a great looking responsive theme. If you get more serious with your journey later on, you can export the content and import into a site you own yourself, so it is an easy transition.
But if you just want a book page to send people to without the hassle of a full-blown site, you could try BookLaunch pages.
It's free to set up for as many books as you like.
You just drag and drop the elements to the screen and you'll have a professional looking, responsive book page in a few minutes. I am super excited about this tool, because it offers what authors need without too much effort and it's free for the basic setup.
(B) Taking your writing seriously?
If you are taking your writing seriously and wanting to build for the long term, then check out this tutorial on how to build your own author website in 30 minutes.
So wherever you are on your author journey, consider how your author website helps people find you and your books.
And remember, we are all works in progress, so don't worry if you work on your site over time. I am still making changes after 8 years online, and I expect to continue changing into the future!
Please do let me know any questions or comments below.