Friday, April 30, 2010

Kate's Guide to Author Websites, Part I

In my last post I offered to redesign a few authors' websites for free.  In the feedback I learned a lot of you want (and in some cases need) to get a website up and running in the first place.  I can't afford to do that for you for free, but I can teach you to do it yourselves.

People will tell you getting a website is a simple and cheap process.  Other people will tell you only amateurs do simple and cheap.  There are more facts and opinions that you can possibly sift, and nothing authoritative or neutral ever gives you anything specific enough to work from.

So I will do this for you.  Over the next several posts, I will tell you how to get your website up and running.  I won't cop out and say, "look for something like this."  I will give you actual company names, and while I won't guarantee they'll be the best choices for you, they will be good choices for most authors and I am in no way compensated by any of them.  I'll give you the pros and cons of using pros and shortcuts and hybrids of the two.

But first thing's first.  Do you need an author website?  I've been re-reading what blogging agents have to say about it (see pubrants web-related posts for example).  It comes down to this:
  • If you are a published auther: YES.  You need a professional author website for readers.  (Wait wait wait, you say.  Professional?  Is this a sales pitch?  No.  I'll explain what I mean by professional further down, and it doesn't mean you have to pay someone to design it.)
  • If you have a book deal: YES.  You need a professional website for advance readers/sales/publicity/etc.
  • If you are querying agents:  NOT REALLY.  If they like your query or meet you at a conference and see you have a website, they might take a look.  If they do, it had better make a good impression, so the real answer is: ONLY IF IT'S PROFESSIONAL.
  • If you are not yet to the querying phase: NO.  It really can't help you at this point, but it can hurt you if it's unprofessional - even if you take it down, because a cached version can show up in a google search down the road.  Don't fret if you have one, though.  Cached google results are unlikely to be a problem as long as you replace a bad site with a good site by the time you need a good one.
OK then, what do I mean by a "professional" site?  I mean that it presents you as a professional author.  A professional author website meets these criteria:
  • It is functional.  It is clearly organized, easily navigable, there are no broken links, and it looks and behaves the way you expect it to on all major browsers.
  • It is well-written. For the love of God, have it proofread.
  • It is current.  By this I mean that content is up-to-date.  If nothing has changed in a while, that's OK, but be careful when listing current and future dates.  Your site mustn't look frozen in time, all aflutter about your book release coming up in October 2008.
  • It has all the content it needs to have.  It tells about you, about your book(s), how to buy your book(s), cites reviews and interviews, lists appearances, and includes contact info.  It is targeted toward readers who already like you or are positively disposed to like you.
  • It has none of the content it shouldn't have.  It has no offensive content, nothing off-topic, no inside jokes, nothing that would embarrass your agent or publisher, no dirty laundry, no crazy, no anything that would make your readers feel they've stumbled into an awkward conversation between you and your demons.  If your blog has these things, think twice before linking to it.
  • It has your own domain name: as opposed to or  This isn't because your own domain name makes you seem more important or is easier to remember or just looks better.  You need your own domain name because only by owning it can you take it with you when you want or need to change hosts.  I'll talk more about this later.
Note I didn't say it has to look really slick or unique or have a bunch of bells and whistles.  (Look at Suzanne Collins' website if you don't believe me.)  I think people tend to stress a little about whether their site is cool enough, or has enough multi-media and whatnot.  The important thing to remember is that the real purpose of your site is to sell your books, present and future.  I'll talk more about which design considerations really matter, which are just nice-to-haves, and which can backfire.  In the end, though, content is king.

Check out Part II: Choosing Your Path.


  1. Thank you so much for posting this. It's nice to have all this info in one place. I went to a seminar at the London Book Fair this year and was told there that even if you are not yet to the querying stage it is still a good idea to be working on building your online 'presence' by which the speaker meant using social networking such as blogging, twitter, facebook to engage with potential future readers.

  2. PS It's such good advice that I posted about it!

  3. Thank you DJ. Building your platform certainly does take time, and if you can start making yourself known before you even finish your first book it should theoretically mean a larger market when you finally publish it. But you're right, that takes interaction and is much more effective with social networking than a traditional website. The website is where you'll send all your new friends once you have a book to sell them.

  4. Thanks for the compliment fairyhedgehog!