Thursday, May 6, 2010

Kate's Guide to Author Websites, Part III

This is part of Kate's Guide to Author Websites.

Design Considerations: Business Before Cool (A Prologue)

Web design is a vast, multidisciplinary field.  In order to boil it down to the most important points, I need to start by making one thing very very clear:

The purpose of a commercial website is to compel the user to take a specific action.
This is a point that tends to get lost in all the creative and technical geegawry, one that even a lot of professionals forget, so I'm going to say it again.

The purpose of a commercial website is to compel the user to take a specific action.

Your author website is a commercial website.  You may not want to think of yourself this way, but you aren't stupid; you know this is business.  So approach your website design as a matter of business. 

I'm going to discuss design considerations in three parts: visual, informational, and functional.  But since all of these play a role in getting your user to do something, your first order of business is to determine what that is.  For fiction writers, the purpose of the website is probably going to look like this:
  • If you have a book on the market, you want your visitor to buy it.
  • If you expect to have a book out at any time in the future, you want your visitor to pre-order it as soon as becomes available.
  • You want agents and publishers to request your work.
  • You want retailers to stock your book.
  • You want potential reviewers to review your book, and review it positively.
  • You want potential interviewers to interview you.
Make your own list now, and keep it next to you as you create your site.  Now you agonize over how to actually make these things happen, right?  Well, the general answer is of course to make your books and yourself sound interesting.  And while that may be the grossest oversimplification since "the world is big," there is one little secret about the web that should make you feel better:
Making a person want to do something is not difficult; real success is determined by how easy you make it for them to carry out.
So now put yourself in your various visitors' shoes and make a list of all the ways you can make the above actions easy for them, easy enough to overcome whatever objections or obstacles they might have.  Here are some examples:
  • Including interesting facts about yourself and your relationship to your subject makes it easier for a reviewer to write a compelling article.
  • Demonstrating that you are articulate about yourself, your book and your writing process assures interviewers that you would make a good guest.
  • Displaying an email address (your's or your agents') allows industry folks to get in touch as well as fans.
  • Having purchase links displayed everywhere a book is mentioned makes it easier for a visitor to buy your book the moment they decide they want it.  Especially mention if it is available on kindle/nook/etc.
  • Fair linking (including all major retailers and indies) helps buyers get your book from their preferred retailer, and assures retailers you aren't undermining them.
  • Having direct links to your twitter, facebook, and blog pages makes it easier for them to stay connected.  Likewise, allowing them to sign up for email notification of new books lets newsfeed-weary users get just the information they want.
You're probably thinking this stuff all sounds obvious, and that you were planning to include it all along.  I'm making a big deal of it because I want you make a big deal of it, and not unthinkingly bury it as so many amateurs do.  When I worked at WellKnownInternetCompany, we received 100% of our revenue directly from consumers who purchased services on our websites, so we had to make a science of ushering them to the finish line.  I know first-hand what a significant difference you can make designing purposefully, so I'll be discussing visual, informational, and functional design explicitly in terms of how it efficiently it compels and facilitates users to take the actions you want them to.


  1. Very helpful, Kate! Thanks for posting this series :)

  2. Thanks maybe genius! I appreciate the feedback!

  3. I am bookmarking this post, it's so useful. Thank you!

  4. *fluffs up feathers* Why thank you, JJ!