The Basic Components of an Author Website

Author-Websites

I strongly advocate all authors start and maintain a website as part of their long-term marketing efforts and ongoing platform development. But one of the first questions raised when you get started is: What exactly goes on your author site—especially if you’re so far unpublished?

Before I answer that question in detail, I’ll set a few ground rules:

  • Use WordPress. It’s a robust system with good search engine optimization right out of the box. Because it now powers 20% of the world’s websites, it’s easier to find help and ready-to-go functionality when you need it. I’ve been using it since 2006 and have been able to improve my site over many years, without ever having to start over from scratch with a new platform—because WordPress has never gone out of date or folded up shop. Too many people use WordPress for it to fail or disappear, and the core system is open source and free. (Note: Try not to confuse using WordPress.com with using WordPress the content management system or technology. A customized version of Wordpress underpins many sites you frequent—including The New York Times, The New Yorker, TechCrunch, CNN, etc. Anyone can use WordPress; it does not require using or having a WordPress.com account.) If you simply can’t stand WordPress, SquareSpace is a decent alternative if you can afford it.
  • Buy your own domain. The domain is the URL where your site lives, and it should be based on the name you publish under, not your book title. Your author name is your brand that will span decades and every single book you publish. If you can’t get yourname.com, then try for yournameauthor.com, yournamebooks.com, or yournamewriter.com. If that fails, consider something other than .com (like .net or .me).
  • Self-hosting is best for long-term efforts, or use free WordPress.com hosting to start easy. I comment more on the self-hosting question here. Self-hosting gives you far more functionality, control and ownership over your site. Serious career authors self-host, while new authors or unpublished authors may want to ease into site building and management by using a free account at WordPress.com.
  • Social media doesn’t replace having an author website. It seems crazy I have to say it, but I do. In the past, some publishers have told authors that Facebook pages can replace author websites. Even though I think most publishers are no longer saying this (fingers crossed), it’s hard to put to rest this terrible advice. For background, see my post Why Don’t Publishers Believe in Author Websites?

OK, so let’s assume you have a fresh, blank slate with WordPress and you’re ready to start building your author website from scratch.

1. Collect the following assets for your website.

  • Your professional bio. If you don’t already have one, write a 100-300 word professional bio in third person that would be appropriate if used to introduce you at a reading or event.
  • Book cover images. For every book you’ve published, obtain the highest resolution image you can find. While you’ll be using lower resolution images for most of your site (to ensure fast loading time), it’s helpful to make the high resolution version available for download or as part of a media/press kit.
  • Brief descriptions of each book. Your book’s Amazon page probably has a brief description of your book that you can start with. If not, develop a 25-100 word description.
  • Long descriptions of each book. This would be the back cover copy or flap copy for your book. It’s probably around 200-300 words, or the full-length Amazon description.
  • Links to all major online retailers where your book can be purchased. At minimum, consider linking to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound. Consider adding Apple, Google Play, and Kobo as well.
  • Contact information for your agent or publicist, if you have them. Or whomever else fields requests on your behalf.
  • Links to your public social media profiles. If you have an official Facebook author page, or accounts with Twitter, Google Plus, Goodreads, etc., collect all of the direct links. Don’t bother with accounts where you’re not open to being friended/followed by the general public.
  • Your best blurbs or reviews. Collect any praise that appeared on the front or back cover of your book, or official (positive) reviews your book received from the media.

2. Create key informational pages for your website.

We’ll get to the homepage next, but aside from the homepage, you’ll want the following:

  • About page. Add your professional bio. Also include a professional headshot if you have one; if not, a casual shot will do fine. Your about page can have several sections if you like—mine does.
  • A page dedicated to each of your book titles (or all titles). Always show the cover image, but keep the resolution low (e.g., less than 500 pixels across) for basic display on your site. If you like, make the high-resolution version available for download or as part of a media kit. Add a brief description of your book; layer in blurbs, quotes, or praise that help indicate it’s a great book; and add buy buttons leading to all the major retailers. If you want, add the long description, too, and/or include a link to an excerpt—usually the introduction or chapter one. If there are any ancillary materials related to your book (book club guides, FAQs, etc), make sure those are readily available and linked to from the book page.
  • A page dedicated to each book series (if applicable). Make it easy for readers to see the order of books in the series and figure out which ones they’ve read. Plain chronological order (the order of release) typically works best.
  • Contact form. Unless you’re super famous and trying to avoid new opportunities, make it clear how you can be contacted. I recommend a contact form, which is easy to add if you use WordPress. If appropriate, add your agent or publicist’s contact info as well—or anyone who might handle communication or requests on your behalf.
  • Links to your social media profiles. If you’re active elsewhere (e.g., Twitter, Facebook), make it clear either with social media buttons in the header, footer, or sidebar—or by using widgets and badges that reflect your activity. As an example, my social media buttons are in the footer.
  • Email newsletter signup. Every author should have an email newsletter to keep readers updated on new releases and events. Many authors put the signup very prominently in the middle of their homepage. I use a pop-up.

Pay special attention to areas of your site where consistent elements appear on every single page, such as your header, footer, and sidebar areas. These are typically where you want critical information or calls to action.

3. Craft your homepage.

If you’re using WordPress, be careful that your homepage doesn’t automatically default to showing blog posts—especially if you’re not going to blog! (For instructions on how to have a static homepage when using WordPress, visit my post here.)

What appears on your homepage will be highly dependent (at least at first) on the WordPress theme that you choose. A simple homepage design will have the following elements:

  • A header with your name, tagline (“New York Times bestselling thriller novelist”), and possibly a headshot. This header will likely appear on every page of your site, depending on your theme.
  • The cover of your most recent book (or even all your books). Alain de Botton’s homepage manages to encompass the author’s many different books and interests at a glance. Andrew Shaffer also puts all of his covers on the homepage.
  • A call to action if you don’t have a book to sell, such as an email newsletter signup. See Barbara Freethy’s site for an example of an email signup on the homepage.
  • Social proof. This can be as simple as a brief quote from a brilliant book review. Or let’s say one of your books was an Oprah selection—that would go front and center. Some authors just stick with “New York Times bestseller” (assuming it’s true).
  • (Optional) A super brief description of who you are. Here’s the description on author Scott Berkun’s site: “Scott Berkun is the bestselling author of six books on many fascinating subjects. Please hire him to speak, ask him a question or follow him on email, Twitter and Facebook.”

Homepage design tends to be very subjective. The most important thing is that the type of author you are—and the type of work you produce—be recognizable quickly. You don’t want visitors guessing at who you are; you have about 3 to 7 seconds to convey a message before they leave. So don’t get too clever or cutesy with how you state your identity. I offer more specific advice about homepages here.

Make the homepage navigation or menu system absolutely clear—which usually means having a clear path for people to find out more information about who you are (“About”), how to contact you (“Contact”), and what books you’ve authored (“Books”).

4. Customize and personalize your site.

You might not have the resources to do this right away, but in the long run, it’s helpful to hire a designer to create a custom header image, or otherwise create a custom look that fits your personality and books.

This post by Simone Collins offers insight into what this means and what you should consider to transform your cookie-cutter Wordpress template into something uniquely your own.

5. Continue improving your site over time.

The great thing about WordPress? It’s easy to update your site as you have new ideas or new ways of communicating what you do. Don’t expect to get it perfect the first time; expect that you’ll improve the site incrementally the longer you live with it. You’ll visit other authors’ sites and begin to pick up on subtle details you never noticed before; you’ll want to incorporate their bag of tricks into your own site.

For instance, many authors incorporate “social proof” into their header images—you see the logos of major media outlets that have featured their work. You might not really take notice of this until you have your own site, and realize you want to reflect the same kind of “social proof” that your work has earned.

This is so important I’ll state it again: improve incrementally. Your website is never finished. It is always a work in progress. You’ll improve it, tweak it, experiment with it, and hopefully take pride in how it showcases your work.

If you’re unpublished

All the same principles apply, except you might have a more stripped down version of your site than outlined here. You might not have dedicated pages to your published books, but perhaps you’ll have a page devoted to projects in progress, or shorter works that have appeared online or in print. It’s better to get your site started now, while you’re unpublished, so you own your domain early on, learn how to use the tools, and begin the journey of expressing who you are within digital media environments.

For more on author websites

For more on website design

For more on using WordPress

Posted in Digital Media and tagged , , , .
Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. She also has a book forthcoming from the University of Chicago Press, The Business of Being a Writer (March 2018).

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

Join the conversation

81 Comments on "The Basic Components of an Author Website"

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Lynne Connolly
Most of this is good advice. But – high resolutions of images makes for very slow loading times, especially on low bandwidths. People will not wait for a page to load. If they’re on mobile, it makes the conversion to mobile very slow, too. I used to have a page for each book, but since I’ve written over 70 books, that made for a huge, unwieldy site. Some pages got a hit a year, and eventually I realised that most people are just reading the excerpts on the distributor site. So maybe – don’t follow the advice slavishly, but adapt… Read more »
Steve MC

About being consistent on each page, that should include one’s fonts and their size. I recently checked some favorite authors’ sites, and most use Arial for text, with Georgia for titles of sections and also for text. All sized between 12 and 16 points.

And thanks for this checklist. I’ve just started into WordPress, and the learning curve is steep, but I’m getting there.

Jesse

Helpful article, Jane. Lays a solid foundation for what an author should include within their website.

I would add that it’s also helpful for authors to think through their objectives with their website. The average reader online will only spend seconds on someone’s website when first visiting. Website design needs to keep this reality in mind and strive to make the objectives of the site plainly obvious. This will help the average reader online to quickly understand what the author and their site is all about.

jeffo

Regarding the point above on fonts–Comic Sans, FTW!

Seriously, we just switched to a WordPress site at work and it is very, very nice. It’s very easy to work with and it looks good. Thanks for the good advice!

trackback

[…] The super-smart Jane Friedman takes us through key author website components. […]

Robert Rapoza (@RobertRapoza)

Great advice for new writers and very direct and to the point. I can’t overstate just how important this information is for me authors and I’ll begin the transition To WordPress immediately.
Thank you!

Bob Rapoza

trackback

[…] Advice on building an author website. […]

trackback

[…] The Basic Components of an Author Website by @JaneFriedman […]

Emma Leigh

Thank you for this. I am querying now, and I happened to see this post the day I set aside to create a website. I found out it takes more than a day, but I have been and will be using this as a guide. Again, thank you.

Angie Dixon

Jane, thank you. This is perfect. I’ve had discussions with a few people about websites recently, and I’m working on a project for indie authors that could benefit from information on websites. I’ll gladly point them to this post rather than try to explain it myself. You captured everything. I especially like how well you articulated why WordPress., Thank you again. Great post.

Jennifer Tzivia MacLeod

Smile! You’re one of last week’s Write Kids’ Books Best of the Best in Children’s Writing (even kids’ writers need websites!). Thanks for sharing this.

trackback

[…] “The Basic Components of an Author Website” via Jane Friedman […]

trackback

[…] The Basic Components of an Author Website | Jane Friedman […]

Lori Henriksen

Thank you for great information. I set up a website after an online class with you. I am unpublished. The site is dedicated to information about my debut novel and my bio. I want to start a blog. Should I add a blog page or develop a new site. The blog will not be about my book. It seems obvious that the two should be separate, but then I guess I need a new domain name. I was lucky enough to purchase my own name.

Lori Henriksen

I will follow your advice. The instructions on your link are thorough and easy to follow. Thank you.

Djuna
Nice advice here. Very helpful to a new writer like me :-). I guess I would have liked more varied examples of stuff like the appearance of email newsletter sign ups and author bios and such, as the samples you provided were a little bit too much one-note for me. I’m the kind of person who prefers more subtle ways of marketing. I normally am put off by a huge font email newsletter sign up that appears smack in front of my eyes when I am on a homepage. I respond more to email sign ups that are in the… Read more »
trackback

[…] The basic components of an author website. […]

Lisa V
Thanks for the post. I’m curious about your opinion. I’m currently unpublished, and started my first blog as a chapter by chapter blog of a novella (I’ve since taken down). My question is this: when I was blogging my novella I generated more traffic and more followers than on my new blog, where I am not receiving the traffic or the followers like before. So I’m wondering, as I query agents and publishers, am I really shooting myself in the foot by keeping up my current (low traffic) blog? Do agents and publishers look at your blog content or the… Read more »
Lisa V

Thanks for the advice, Jane. Much appreciated.
Lisa V

backpackerbill
Thanks, Jane. You are both informative and inspirational. I’m a non-fiction author and publisher, founder of Backpacker magazine. I’ve been retired for twenty years and writing daily about my less salable interests . My agent has not been able to place more than two of the many manuscripts I’ve sent to her. She got lots of interest from traditional publishers, but no sales. I’m now going the self-publishing ebook route. Having virtually no Internet skills, I’ve been floundering, checking out site builders and what I need to do. I’m loading up my books on Smashwords, but no to marketing. It’s… Read more »
publishingaddict

Yep, right on the spot, I am going now over to buy the “publishing 101” book, one more thing I would like to add Jane, I think an author logo is also important to have, but of course depends a bit on the niche.

Kelsey

Hey! I’m a little late to the blog, but I love your author logo idea. How do you make one??

trackback

[…] daneoleary.com, and many of them seem to have similar suggestions. I’ve even found a helpful checklist of everything a writer needs to have on their writer’s […]

trackback

[…] Here, from Jane Friedman, is The Basic Components of an Author Website. […]

trackback

[…] The Basic Components of an Author Website […]

trackback

[…] of posts on “10 things your author website needs to include”, right? If you haven’t, read The Basic Components of an Author Website by Jane Friedman, it’s probably the best […]

trackback

[…] yet, now is the best time to set up  your author website, even if it is just a simple landing page. Jane Friedman tells you what you need. You will want a reliable host. By that I mean someone you can call when […]

trackback

[…] As I’ve written repeatedly in the past, an author website is a long-term investment in your publishing career. It should be something you own and control, and that grows with you from title to title. To accomplish that, here are three ways to avoid long-term pain and suffering if you’re preparing to establish your first author website. […]

Sarah Flores

Great ideas for laying the foundation. I especially agree, WordPress is the way to go. You can change it anytime, unlike other, more rigid platforms.

trackback

[…] Jane Friedman recommended a separate page for each title. A lot of Jane’s tips are in her post “The Basic Components of an Author Website.” The page of books that I had created was ungainly, cluttered, and disorganized. Having a […]

trackback

[…] been working and writing as usual…and I’ve been thinking very hard about this article by Jane Friedman.  I’ve explored the rest of her site a bit, but it all comes back to that […]

Amy Maroney

Hi Jane, thanks so much for this value-packed article about building an author website. I just listened to Joanna Penn’s podcast interview with you and your closing remarks about updating websites propelled me here. I am going to build my site soon and will use your advice — big time! Already a WordPress user for my blog so at least that learning curve is behind me. 🙂 Thanks again for the great content.

Cris GD

Wanted just to leave a note of thanks. I’ve been working on making my own site and this has been such a great help. This is some very good advice and resources. So just wanted to thank you Jane, I was feeling overwhelmed and you helped me realize I ca totally do this. Great blog!

trackback

[…] what is always true is that the web site is the one piece of digital real estate the author can actually own, which is not subject to some change in rules or process that will affect its discovery in search […]

trackback

[…] If your website platform does not support blogging, then it may be time to switch platforms. I talk about the basics of author websites here. […]

trackback

[…] page on our websites for each of our books: I’ve heard this from everyone from Tim Grahl to Jane Friedman.  To be honest, I never quite caught the why with this, but after repeatedly hearing this advice […]

Kathy Downs

Jane – thank you for an excellent article. I’m about to rebuild our website. Your step-by-step comments are excellent and a good outline for me to follow. I am curious about why you chose WordPress instead of a site-building tool like Adobe Muse?

Pamela Strange

I have now self published ten books and am now trying to interest a publisher as marketing is difficult on line -the best way to mix with movers and shakers of the publishing world is to join writing groups such as romantic novelists association and go to the conferences.
I did win the over fifty plus magazine true story competition last year and it was interesting to watch people read my story whilst waiting for other events. pamelastrange.com

trackback

[…] what is always true is that the website is the one piece of digital real estate the author can actually own, which is not subject to some change in rules or process that will affect its discovery in search […]

trackback

[…] page on our websites for each of our books: I’ve heard this from everyone from Tim Grahl to Jane Friedman.  To be honest, I never quite caught the why with this, but after repeatedly hearing this […]

trackback

[…] Notes – – I found an interesting article about the Basic Components of an Author Website (plus links to other resources) – – Apparently, there’s a market for a perfume […]

Steven Humphreys

Jane Friedman- Thank you for your work on your website. I have visited here on many occasions reading your blog articles. They have been very informative and helpful. Thanks, I appreciate it. I gave you a like on Facebook.

Paul
Jane. While I agree with you that an author’s website is very important I am finding that Facebook is becoming more and more significant for some of my clients. With all the specialist pages and groups on Facebook an aspiring writer now needs a presence. Fortunately, WordPress easily enables a writer to write a post on their website and it can automatically be sent to Facebook. The simplest way is to use the free WordPress plugin, Jetpack, with its setting Publicize. This allows the author to automatically send the article to their Facebook author’s page, a link to the post… Read more »
trackback

[…] Consider creating an author and/or book web page […]

Alex Lyttle
Very helpful post – thanks Jane! Except you forgot to mention the part where you set up your website through wordpress… then decide you want to make it a little better… so you download a few widgets thinking it will be easy… only to discover after you’ve installed them that they require an understanding of HTML programming… but you don’t know HTML programming… and in the meantime you’ve ruined the site you previously made… so you get frustrated and debate throwing your computer out the window but instead decide to hire someone else to make your website… other than that,… Read more »
trackback

[…] This is my own informal review of what materials you need to prepare to have a professional author website. Many unpublished writers ask me what belongs on their site, and I try to address that as well. Read my post on author websites. […]

trackback

[…] Let’s start with how to put together your website. That’s the easy part if you use WordPress. Keep in mind that you’re going to want to keep things simple and obvious so people don’t have to think twice about how to navigate it. For more information about the basic components of author websites, check out Jane Friedman’s excellent post. […]

trackback

[…] it’s because you already have a website. Maybe it’s because you hate the drama on Facebook and have sworn it off. Maybe it’s […]

Danielle

I’m self-published and I have an author website that myname.com. I wonder if I should have a site for my imprint as well. It’s called something different than my name and it is printed on my business cards. Does it matter? Thanks you for your guidance!

Paul Williams

Also – as per previous post, thank you for more valuable advice.

trackback

[…] One of the best ways to add legitimacy and authority to your author activities is to create a simple website. […]

wpDiscuz