Jane Friedman

The Basic Components of an Author Website

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the first questions raised when you get started is: What exactly goes on your author site—especially if you’re so far unpublished?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:

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.

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:

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:

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