The title of this blog is a little misleading.  In fact, this article will target a slightly different demographic.  The focus of this blog is on the Contracted-and-soon-to-be-published-for-the-first-time Author. (Way too long to fit in the subject line…)

So here’s the first bit of news, which might be startling wake up call to those of you who fit into either of the above categories.  If you are newly published, which means your book is already on a shelf somewhere (virtual or real), and you don’t have a website?  You’re behind the curve.  In fact, you might be approaching D status on the Marketing Report Card.  A new author’s website provides a multitude of functions – ones that include helping you to gain readers, reviews, attract attention and more.  As an Author (with a capital A, cue the drum roll), your audience is wider, more varied and has different needs.  Therefore, your website now has a checklist of elements it should provide.

If you don’t have a website and you have a book out, then print this article out, find a website designer you love, and get ready for the sprint of your life.  You need to catch up.   If you are an author with the contract under your belt and a “release date” looming in your future, you are right on track.

Do You Need A Website?

Yes.

It may seem blunt and unnecessarily scare tactic-y, but the truth is that for an author in today’s world, a website is your best marketing line of defense.  It is an absolute necessity.

And for an author with a release date on the horizon, the website isn’t going to be the only marketing consideration you have, but in all likelihood, it will be the one that everything feeds.  Think of ads you see in magazines, on book review websites, bookmarks, business cards – everything lists a website address.  A website is the place where most everyone will come to find you when they want more information.

You need to provide that information in a timely, professional manner.  According to Kristin Nelson, of Nelson Literary Agency, “that website should be up and running when the catalog copy is being done for your book.  Why? Because your publisher is going to be sending out ARCs to reviewers and to other terrific people who have the power to give you a plug, and it’s at that moment in time when they might want to find information about you and the book quickly and easily.”

Which leads to one other point of distinction: Easily.  At this point, you need to have a domain name secured with your author name.  JaneAuthor.com if it’s available or if not, some of the variations I’ve seen are:  janeauthorbooks.com or authorjanesmith.com.  A domain name is a small yearly expense and it’s very simple to set your domain name to forward to any other location.  There is no good reason not to have one of your own.

Mostly, an author at this stage needs to create a professional appearance, top to bottom.   Think of how much attention you have paid to your appearance on a first date. That first impression is important and you need just the right “outfit” to achieve just the right look.  If you present yourself as professional, then people will think of you as such.  If you present something half-hearted, people may assume you feel the same about your career.

Who Is Your Target Audience?

Before looking at what to put on your website, we need to focus on who will be viewing it and what their specific needs are.  In our previous post, we discussed how an unpublished writer’s audience is more inclined toward attracting an agent/editor and building a network of connections with other writers.  A new author has a bigger audience to provide for.  Not only are you trying to attract readers, but you’re trying to establish yourself as a professional in the marketplace among other professionals who have the power to help propel your career.

Your website might be visited by book reviewers, librarians, book buyers, and big name authors as well as readers.   In all cases, two things are true.  These visitors want to delve deeper into the book and they want to know more about you.

Your readers are going to want to feel connected to you and your work.  Whether they’ve read the book already or they are considering buying it, your website can give a nudge into buying this book or remembering you when the next one comes out.  It’s possible that they’ve seen mention of the book somewhere else – an ad, a book review, a comment on a website or social network, or a recommendation.  They are now coming to you to convince them the book is worth their time and money. Ultimately, they are looking for someone they can trust.

How do you build someone’s trust through a website?  Present the authentic you, keep any promises you make and respect the relationship.  Remember that your website, for a reader, is about building upon the relationship you’ve started with your book.  Your work is your shining glory – everything stems from it.  But a relationship is often nurtured by the little things, the small details.  And especially when there might be months to wait in between your first and your second book, your website can maintain that bridge.

Industry professionals are going to want to trust in you, as well.  They want to know that they are putting their name to someone who is professional, serious about their career and knows what it takes to stay in the business.  Every review a book reviewer puts their name on builds upon their reputation.  Same goes for other authors.  When someone is giving their name to further your career, the way you show respect and consideration for that is to present yourself in a way that enhances their trust.

What to Put On Your Website?

So with the audience firmly in mind, what should your website look like at this stage?  We break that down into Design and Focus/Content.

DESIGN

As I mentioned in our last post on websites, I believe the best litmus test you can give your website design is whether or not you would print it out and hand it to someone in person as a representation of you.  Would you be confident that you’ve handed them something that will steer their perception of you in a positive light?

It’s easy to be lax when it comes to what you put on the web, because you aren’t face-to-face with the person viewing it.  But if you had to hand them a printed version of your site and watch and receive their response in that moment, would it change how you look at what you’ve got?  Imagine the best-selling author in your genre who you’d love to get a quote from.  Would you immediately start to think of excuses for why your site looks as it does? Or could you give a big smile and say, “This is the extension of me and my work that I want you to put your name on with a stamp of approval.”

That’s what your website is – an extension of you.  And because authors put reviews and quotes on their marketing material, you are asking for Mr. Big Author’s stamp of approval on you, the Author, and all that encompasses you.  That includes your website design.  Be 100% confident that it represents your brand as a writer well.  Dress your site for the job you want: Successful.

FOCUS & CONTENT

As an about-to-be/newly published author, your website audience is looking for more information to establish their opinion of you and your work.  To meet the barest of basics, you should always have:

A Front Page that provides basic information about your upcoming book.  People should be able to type in your domain name and get immediate facts: what you write, when your book comes out, and where to find it.  They want to know what to expect and when, as quickly as possible.

  • A Bio – A few paragraphs and a photo of you.  People want to see who you are.  This photo should be professional and simple.
  • Book page – Your book’s page should include a summary of the book (back cover/jacket copy), a cover image, excerpt if possible, and links when available on where to buy the book.
  • Coming Soon Page – Have a page that gives details about what’s next from you.   Both readers and industry professionals will appreciate knowing that you’re building a career, not just a one-hit wonder.
  • Contact information.  An email address and/or a contact form where someone can get reach you.
  • Events & News.  If you are planning a book tour in bookstores, any booksignings, conferences or blog tours, be sure to put that information on your site.  Include dates, links and any relevant information.
  • A Way To Capture the Connection.  Don’t let a visitor walk away from your website, waving their hand as they turn their back and saying, “I’ll call you sometime.”  Nail down the next date now by giving them options to let you connect to them:
    • Social Media Links:  Your links to Facebook, Twitter and other social media networks that you actively maintain should be accessible easily.  Preferably on the home page.
    • Newsletter Subscription:  If you have a newsletter, offer an easy-to-find place to subscribe to it.

Beyond the basics, there are plenty of “Added Features” you can adopt. Think of the extras sort of the way you would a DVD release of a movie.  You get the movie and you get more– behind the scenes information, deleted scenes, the ‘making of’ features, and whatever else enhances the viewer’s experience.  That is the goal for everything beyond the basics on your site:  Enhance your website visitor’s experience.

I did some searching on author websites, looking for interesting, unique ideas, here are some websites that get an A for fresh website content.

Character Quotes

Janet Evanovich’s site – the header contains quotes from the characters in her books.    I LOVE this idea – and for a new author trying to establish a name, what better way to give glimpses of your style?   Where you put this on your site depends on a number of factors – genre, style, site design – but it’s a wonderful way to intrigue a viewer into wanting more.

Deleted Scenes

Every book has them and sometimes, they are scenes you loved, found interesting but ultimately cut from the book.  So share them!  Pick one or two, make sure they shine and add them to your website.  Therese Walsh, author of The Last Will of Moira Leahy, does just this.  A word of caution though:  Choose carefully so your scene doesn’t provide spoilers or ruin something in the reading of the book.

Research Notes

Therese Walsh also provides research articles to share how she researched aspects of her books.  Once readers have delved into a world of a book and loved it, they want more.  Personally, I love the way she’s laid out her pages here and shares photos and words, including quotes from people she spoke to.

Research here, for me, is different than offering a “research for writers” page.  Because here you are trying to instill the same sense of magic and personal voice in the aspects you included in your book.  Did you learn something that fascinated you?  Share the fascination as well as the fact.

Sneak Peeks

You have a Coming Soon page that talks about what is ahead from you.  Include a sneak peek of your work – maybe a few lines, or a character article about your favorite character.

Author Christyne Butler (http://www.christynebutler.com) has a Coming Soon section on her bookshelf that gives all the facts about her upcoming books – as well as includes a picture of the hero and heroine, in her mind’s eye, of each book.   I love this – it’s a bit of whimsy and always fun to connect a book that’s not yet out with a recognizable face.  When the book comes out, the images are removed and replaced with the cover.  But for something that is months out, it’s a great way to instill some interest.

Brand-Specific Interactive Extras

Depending on your brand and the tone of your book, look for fun, interactive extras you can include on your website.  Angie Fox (http://www.angiefox.com), author of The Accidental Demon-Slayer (and others), has a quiz on her website that asks what your ‘biker bitch name” would be.   This fits perfectly with her voice and tone, and it’s fun for the reader.   (Mine is Spaghetti Neck Stella Fast Pants, if you were curious…)

These are just a few of the extra ways you can enhance your visitor’s experience.  And don’t forget the ones we mentioned for unpublished writers, because those will work as well:

  • A music soundtrack for your book
  • Favorite Things Lists
  • Links
  • Highlighted elements of your books – recipes, causes, an historical era, whatever you can pull from your book and share in a way that furthers your voice and style.

I’d like to add one note about pulling elements from your books.  Be sure it’s something this section fits YOU, the author, as well.  For instance, I’m not a fan of cooking.  Most anyone who has read my blog posts knows this.  So if I included a Recipes section on my author website – unless they existed of “Get in Car. Drive to Chili’s.” – it would seem disingenuous.

Everything you put on your website should have a purpose.  And when you’re considering what to include, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it enhance the visitor’s experience and connection with me?
  • Does it further my brand?
  • Does it feel genuine?

And since I haven’t said it yet…congratulations on your new or upcoming book!