What Should an Author Website Include?

by Jami Gold on March 21, 2013

in Writing Stuff

A web

Some writers—understandably—don’t want to blog. Blogging can take away from our writing time. Thinking of post topics can be difficult. And if we don’t gain a readership (or our blog readership doesn’t cross over into the target audience for our books), it can feel like a waste of time and effort.

However as I mentioned last week, if an author doesn’t want to blog, that’s no excuse not to have a website. Websites can be just as free as blogs, require less maintenance, and most importantly, act as our online home.

When we think of author websites, we might think of the fancy, flash-based, custom-designed sites of our favorite bestselling authors. Kudos to those who can justify that cost.

Personally, I use the WordPress platform because it can handle the static pages of websites just as easily as the changing posts of blogs. We can choose the free (WordPress.com) or low-cost (WordPress.org) option that works for us and create a basic website with or without the hassle of a blog.

Whichever way we choose, creating website pages is easier than we might assume. Next month, I’ll be teaching two workshops on WordPress for beginners to help writers build that online home. Now, let’s talk about what we should include on those website pages.

Who Are You?

A visitor to our site should be able to discover who we are.

  • At the very least, include an “About” page for our author bio.
  • State what we write (fiction, non-fiction, both?) and our genre(s).
  • Additional pages can include FAQs, links to interviews or guest posts we’ve done, lists of our favorite things/songs/other authors, etc.

In short, visitors should feel a connection to us. Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, they want to know we can tell a story. (Even non-fiction without any voice is boring.)

It’s up to us and our brand to decide how we want to create that connection. Do we have a great “this is how I got published” story? Do we have interesting pets or hobbies? Or do we have the perfect background and experience for writing our book?

What Do You Do?

A visitor to our site should be able to find what projects we’re working on or have completed.

  • At the very least, include a “Books” or “Works in Progress” page.
  • Published books should have buy links and back cover blurbs.
  • An “Extras” section can include pictures that inspired us, soundtracks, deleted scenes, book trailers, etc.
  • The more information we include, the more important it becomes to include a search function on our site.

This is our opportunity to create a deeper connection between visitors and our work. Our focus in this section should be to make the information as easy to find as possible, such as by providing book lists (with series books in order).

Even websites need some maintenance, and this section should be kept up to date. A website that hasn’t been touched to include our latest news is next to worthless. Do we have updates about our publishing journey? Have we started a new book? Do we have a new release?

How Do You Connect?

This broad question covers everything else. Essentially, we should give our visitors a “call to action” or some homework. *smile*

  • At the very least, offer a newsletter sign up for future news.
  • At a close second, provide a Contact Page with an email and/or snail mail address or a contact form.
  • Link to our social media accounts.
  • If we have a blog, include a tab for the blog page or for a link to a separate blog.
  • For sites with blogs, include ways to follow new posts, like an email sign up and RSS.
  • For sites with blogs, a search function is a must.

The number one thing we can do to encourage visitors to connect with us is to promise and provide good content. And as I mentioned in the What Do You Do section, we have to make it easy for visitors to access that content.

I’m constantly surprised by how many blogs are missing a search function. All that great content doesn’t do any good if it’s lost once it’s been buried under new posts.

But Wait—There’s More…Website Tips!

My friend Roni Loren has a great post with lots of ideas about how to make our websites “sticky.” She lists suggestions for the extras that can be included in each of the sections above. The Writers In The Storm blog has a post about how to keep our website professional.

For branding and technical reasons, I also recommend using your name as the domain name (yourname.com and not yourname.wordpress.com). This is an upgrade on the free WordPress.com platform and is the only upgrade I recommend for the WordPress.com version. If you want more customization, you’re probably better off going the self-hosted WordPress.org route.

The Cheap Way to Have a Website

Yes, a blog is better in the short term for gaining traffic and making a name for ourselves, but in the long run, especially for fiction authors, a website is far more important. Most readers will never follow the blog of a fiction author, but they might check our websites for book lists and extras. And for unpublished authors, websites give a quick summary of our work and our experience for any visiting agents or publishers.

None of the suggestions here requires a fancy, custom-designed website. The WordPress platform can handle every bullet item in this post. We might discover we have more freedom to implement some ideas if we pay for a self-hosted WordPress installation (WordPress.org) rather than stick with the free WordPress.com option, but many of those limitations depend on which theme (i.e., template) we choose for our site.

No matter which direction we choose, websites don’t have to be as expensive as we fear. They can also be easy and straightforward to set up. Those of us on WordPress already can simply add Pages to create those “About” and “Books” sections above. And if we have a theme that allows a static (unchanging) home page, we can create a welcome or landing page for the website separate from our blog.

Ta-da! A static home page with other static pages? That’s a website. *smile*

Registration is currently open for my two workshops designed for those with no knowledge of WordPress, websites, or blogs. Interested? Sign up for only one of the workshops: For a free website/blog: “Develop a Free Author Website in 60 Minutes (or Less!)”; or to set up a website/blog you own: “A Newbie’s Guide to Building a Self-Hosted Blog or Website.” (Blog readers: Use Promo Code “jamisave” to save $5 on registration.)

(Note: I don’t want to be a workshop presenter who occasionally fits in time to write, so unless I have tons of requests to run them again, this might be the only time this year I present these workshops. Plan accordingly. *smile*)

Do you agree with my “at the very least” must haves? Can you think of other “must haves” for our websites? Which suggestions above do you think are most or least important? If you have only a blog so far, what’s holding you back from adding static pages?

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24 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

AngstyG March 21, 2013 at 5:51 am

I actually make author websites freelance, and Wordpress is honestly the best you can do. Clients can work it with zero HTML/CSS knowledge, and you can expand it at your every whim.

I find that most of my author clients use the blog as more “News and Updates” than an actual blog. It works out for them just fine.

I’d also like to point out that those little Goodreads widgets are super easy to add. So readers won’t have to copy-title/open-new-tab/paste-in-search to find it and add to their to-read shelves. I offer a pretty involved version in my website packages and they’re almost always requested.

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Jami Gold March 21, 2013 at 9:24 am

Hi AngstyG,

Oh that’s right–you design websites! Thanks for sharing your knowledge about website design. 🙂 (I usually include my disclaimer about me not being a designer at all, but this post was based more on what I, personally, notice about a site. LOL!)

You make a great point about future changes to our websites. If we pay someone to make a fancy website on a custom platform (unlike basing it on WordPress or the like), we’ll probably have a harder time making any changes ourselves. While if we stick with the WordPress platform–even one that we pay a designer to make look better–we’re more likely to be able to keep it updated ourselves. I know authors who have been stuck with outdated information on their websites because their designer isn’t responsive enough.

You’re also absolutely right about how non-blogging authors can still use the blog function of WordPress just for news updates. I’ve seen that many times. And that’s a great tip about how other sites like GoodReads provide widgets we can include on our sites for more functionality. (Depending on the widget, many of these will work only on the WordPress.org (self-hosted and not the free WordPress.com) version.) Thanks for the fabulous tips and comment!

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AngstyG March 21, 2013 at 1:42 pm

I just took a looksie, and you’re totally right about wordpress.org not offering any good goodreads plugin options for self-hosted sites.

*puts on developer hat* I might have to fix this!

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Jami Gold March 21, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Hi Angsty G,

Really? It’s the .org ones that don’t have a Goodreads plugin for buy links? I’d assumed it would be the .com that had issues because they don’t allow plugins. Interesting… Thanks for the comment!

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Carradee March 21, 2013 at 8:43 am

I agree that your “very least” is useful, and one thing I find that’s likely to make me buy something is an excerpt of a significant size. No excerpt, I might bookmark you if the story looks interesting, but your site won’t lead to me directly buying your story.

But if you have an excerpt? Even if I’m not visiting your site with the intention to buy, I’m a lot more likely to open the wallet.

For example, there’s one author whose publisher will put something like 30–40% of the book as an excerpt, and by the time I hit the end, I’m invested enough in the story to want to read the rest, so I buy it. That happened three or four times before I even consciously realized, “Hmm. I should probably put this author’s stories on my to-buy list, because I’m just going to read the sample and buy them anyway.

I’m not very good about putting excerpts on my site, but on my to-fix list, behind replacing the WordPress installation.

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Jami Gold March 21, 2013 at 9:49 am

Hi Carradee,

“…if you have an excerpt? Even if I’m not visiting your site with the intention to buy, I’m a lot more likely to open the wallet.”

Excellent point! Yes, if we have published books, we should have excerpts. Like you said, for me that’s the difference between “oh pretty cover” and “ooo I must have this.” 🙂 Why wouldn’t we have our website be at least as enticing as Amazon’s Look Inside feature? Thanks for the great comment!

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Rinelle Grey March 21, 2013 at 6:26 pm

Ohh, some great advice here. I was already planning on adding a subscribe by email form today, but now I’ll also be adding a search box, a goodreads app, and an excerpt! Thanks Jami (and commenters).

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Jami Gold March 21, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Hi Rinelle,

Yes, it’s amazing how many blogs/websites don’t have some of these elements. 🙂 I’m glad this helped. Thanks for the comment!

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Widdershins March 22, 2013 at 12:37 am

What is this ‘search function’, you speak of? Is it the same as a list of ‘Topics’ or ‘Categories’?

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Jami Gold March 22, 2013 at 9:18 am

Hi Widdershins,

Great question! Categories or Tags can be used by visitors to look for certain subjects, and that’s another element we should include, especially if we’re good about categorizing and tagging. 🙂

But if we’ve ever noticed the bizarre Google search terms that bring people to our blog, we know we can’t predict what someone will look for or how they’ll word their search. In my sidebar (between Subscribe to Jami’s Newsletter and Latest News), I have a text entry field that will search this site for whatever someone thinks of or remembers. In most themes, this should be a widget available under Appearance in the Dashboard.

I’ve noticed that many sites don’t have this because I’ve gone to someone’s blog to find a post I wanted to read again or to share the link with someone who needs that information. Sometimes I want to find a post after they reorganized their site and a post I linked to from here needs me to fix the broken link. Many of us have categories too broad to be useful in such a case, and many of us don’t use tags well (and that’s a whole ‘nother post but I’m not a great tagger either 🙂 ). Not to mention that many people don’t have tags available on their sidebar either.

In those cases, I’ve looked for a search function and a majority of blogs don’t have it. Our posts can be lost in a black hole that once they’re not on the top of our blog, it’s difficult to find them anymore. I figure if we’re going through all that work to create great content, we want to make it easy for people to find. 🙂 Thanks for the fantastic comment so I could explain that better!

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Rhenna Morgan March 22, 2013 at 8:35 am

Excellent bits of advise, Jami. Thanks for sharing them.

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Jami Gold March 22, 2013 at 9:21 am

Hi Rhenna,

Of course. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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ChemistKen March 22, 2013 at 9:55 am

This is great information, Jami. Assuming I have no scheduling conflicts (I’m going out of town the weekend of your classes), I’ll be stopping by your workshop. I have lots of question about Wordpress.org vs Wordpress.com.

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Jami Gold March 22, 2013 at 10:17 am

Hi ChemistKen,

Nope, the workshops are in April–not this weekend. 🙂 One falls on a Tuesday and one falls on a Thursday.

I’ll be guest posting at Kristen Lamb’s blog on Tuesday, April 2nd with a rundown of the differences between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. I’ll also be holding a FB Q&A session on WANAIntl’s FB page at 7pm Eastern on Thursday, April 11th to help people decide which way to go. 🙂

Since people should sign up for only one of the classes, I figure several people are waiting for those to help them decide before they sign up. 🙂 No worries–it’ll all happen. Thanks for the comment!

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Marcia Richards March 23, 2013 at 10:31 am

This post confirmed my plans to make changes to my site, Jami. I have most of these things on my site already but you did give me a couple great ideas to add! Very helpful post!

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Jami Gold March 23, 2013 at 9:15 pm

Hi Marcia,

Yay! Yes, I know there are many other posts along these lines out there, but I always try to tackle subjects from a different angle and bring up things we might not have thought of before. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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Tamara LeBlanc March 25, 2013 at 1:26 pm

TOTALLY agree with your “at least haves”!
This is an incredibly beneficial post and I just pinned it so I’ll have constant access to it 🙂
Thank you for your wisdom, Jami.
Have a great evening,
Tamara

Reply

Jami Gold March 25, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Hi Tamara,

I hope it helps! Sometimes seeing the basics like this helps us prioritize. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!

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