This blog was supposed to go up last Sunday – December 6th. That it didn’t was down to some bloke called Desmond, who walloped the northwest of the UK. He huffed and puffed and blew down if not my house, then at least my local electricity substation. Flooding, power cuts and much chaos ensued. More about that at a later date.
Last time, I wrote a blog about author photos, and what they say – or don’t say – about the author involved. I think I’ve now got something sorted that says what I want it to about me and the kind of books I write. But more about that at a later date, too.
Meanwhile, I’ve been working on upgrading my website to a WordPress site, which is currently a work-in-progress. Getting a new look and feel is high on my list, as is making it easier for me to add to in the future, rather than having to rely on an expert. This is a bigger problem than it sounds when you consider that I approach anything computer-related with all the self-confidence of a novice bomb-disposal officer …
Just about every author has a website these days, although a few still rely on author pages provided by their publisher. You may think they’re missing out, but in reality, what does an author website do?
It provides information about the author and their books, of course. It usually has extracts of the books for the visitor to browse, or links to online sites such as Amazon, where there’s a Look Inside feature. The books will probably have reviews and blurb quotes to show what the pros think. There could be a News and Events page, to announce where the author is next appearing or the fact they’ve sold their latest epic to Hollywood. There might be a press kit of photos for journalists to download and a brief and witty biog that might have some small basis in fact. Many authors also have a blog. Some of them even contribute to it more than once every few months.
Does that about cover the basics? If the author is more au fait with technology there are often video interviews too – featuring him or her either interviewing someone else, or being interviewed. There might be a new release or special offer mentioned somewhere prominent, and a sign-up page for an e-newsletter.
The site may rank highly on the search engines when that author’s name is fed into Google or the like. It may be packed with entertaining information and reflect that author’s personality and style. But, when it gets right down to it, other than vanity, what is the real purpose of an author’s website?
It’s there to sell books.
Not in a ram-it-down-your-throat crude and obvious kind of way, but that’s the bottom line. It’s exactly the same reason authors go to events like Bouchercon, or appear at their local library. We may or may not enjoy the process, but we hope to gain readers and, ultimately, to sell books.
Bottom line: If nobody buys our books, we don’t get paid. If we don’t get paid, we can’t write.
So, the most highly stylised and polished website, if all it does is tell you how wonderful the author is and has their attractive face splurged across the homepage, is useless if it doesn’t make it equally attractive for the visitor to take some kind of action while they’re on that page.
What kind of action? Well, the first one could well be subscribing to a newsletter list, perhaps by taking advantage of some kind of incentive special offer. The second is following the link to a bookstore and buying a copy, or deciding to turn up at an event and maybe buy a copy there, or checking out one of the author’s books from their local library.
If your website gains you a new reader, one who has stumbled on the site by chance and has never heard of the author before, that’s a huge success. If the website enthuses an existing reader to pick up a copy of the author’s latest offering, then ditto. Or if the visitor happens to be involved with a library or bookstore, and their visit leads to an invitation to appear, guest blog or be interviewed, success again.
So, how does someone stumble on your website if they’re not looking for you by name? That all depends on what they are searching for. Are your books similar to someone else’s – someone who sells far more than you? In that case, should you be trying to ensure that your website comes up on the first search-engine page for that author so you can tempt them in? Making sure your keywords correctly reflect the fact that your books are in a series rather than standalones, for instance, or that they feature a strong female main protagonist. Or they’re set in a particular field, location or sphere. All these things may help you lasso a new reader who happens to be passing by.
So, what I want to know is, what do YOU want to see on an author’s website?
What’s the most important feature for you of the first page you land on?
For a series, do you want a précis of the characters’ stories so far?
Do you want:
· to read an opening chapter, or an excerpt from later in the story?
· competitions and chances to win prizes related either to
the books or to books in general?
the books or to books in general?
· opportunity to read advance copies of the next book?
· special offers, e-boxed sets and two-for-one deals?
· bonus features like snippets behind the writing?
· insights into the writing process?
Any advice or suggestions welcome! Also, if you can cite any examples of websites you think are particularly interesting from a design and use point of view, please let me know.
This week’s Word of the Week is anthropodermic bibliopegy, which means the covering of books in human skin. One of the few surviving examples in the UK is held by the Bristol Record Office. It was made from the skin of John Horwood, who was hanged at Bristol Gaol for murdering Eliza Balsum. Another is of the Red Barn murder of Maria Marten by William Corder in Suffolk in 1827.