Recently, I did some informal research about how authors view and use their websites, and the results were a little disheartening.
Many authors have a website simply because they have been told that they should have one as part of their online marketing strategy. The problem is, there is very little strategy involved at all; rather they build a site without really knowing why they’re doing it.
Without truly understanding why having a website is necessary—or what its full potential is—a site will collect virtual dust. In some cases having a bad website can be worse than having no website at all!
I like to think of an author’s website as the homebase of their online efforts. It’s the hub where, unlike with social media, you are fully in control of the content you can share and the image and brand you project. It’s a place that allows you full-on engagement with your readers without distraction.
In between book releases, you can keep the momentum going and communicate with your readers as frequently as you want. You can also attract new readers through your blogging, video blogging or newsletters hosted on your site.
Here’s a list of 6 things that a good author website could—and should—be doing for your career. It’s not an exhaustive list, so I’d love to hear your advice in the comments below!
1. Build your mailing list.
Many people avoid collecting e-mail addresses because they think that having readers and followers on their social media accounts is enough.
But you can speak to your readers much more directly through a newsletter: give them “sneak peeks,” cover reveals, let them know about promotions, share your news, etc. And the response rate is usually much higher than if you did this on your Facebook Page or on Twitter.
If you can collect the e-mail addresses of even a small percentage of the people who visit your site during the launch of your first book, then, when you’re ready to launch books two and three, you can let your readers know directly without depending on them seeing it on their fast-moving social media feeds. Since they’re already your fans, you’ll have a “ready to buy” audience, which helps your book launch gather momentum and be successful early on.
Action Tip: Not collecting e-mail addresses is one of the biggest regrets of authors who are publishing their second books, so learn from their mistakes and get proactive! Mailchimp is a great e-mail management system that is free up to 2,000 subscribers.
2. Host content that YOU own.
The writing and content you build on your website is YOURS and no one else’s! Communicating with readers on your Facebook page or other social media accounts is an important part of your online marketing, but social media platforms change all the time—and the content built there can get lost. It was recently reported that Facebook recently closed down the Cool Hunter’s page with 788,000 members on it and five years of content that was non-retrievable.
Action Tip: Your website is evergreen for as long as you want it to be. It gives you brownie points with Google, and it can’t be deleted. (It also doesn’t compete with baby pictures, vacation snaps or news of engagements, which soon distract even the most loyal reader-fan!) Split your marketing time between social media and creating content on your own site.
3. Provide media with info about you and your book.
You should have a dedicated media page with cover images, blurbs, author bio, purchase links, and so on—a “one-stop shop.” Bloggers, site owners and other media will love you for it! It avoids the need to e-mail big attachments back and forth and makes their lives easier—meaning they’re more likely to feature you.
Action Tip: Create a dedicated page on your site just for media folk. Check out this post for tips on how to build a great author media page.
4. Engage and interact with readers.
Engagement is becoming a clichéd word in the online marketing world; I prefer the “I feel like I know you” effect! There are people online whom we feel incredibly familiar with, even though we’ve never met them in person. Through video, e-mail newsletters and two-way conversation on your blog, you can create this same feeling about you in your readers. Jane is a wonderful example of how this can be done; Gretchen Rubin of the Happiness Project is another great example.
Action Tip: Respond to blog comments and social media mentions as much as possible to engage with readers. Think of it not as you in front of a classroom speaking to an audience, but as you standing side-by-side with friends and having a conversation.
5. Showcase yourself as a professional.
Your site should show that you take your career as a writer seriously. No matter what publishing route you are planning to take, if you want to do a book signing, an event at your local library, be featured in the local press, or land any noteworthy gig, a professional-looking site that’s easy to navigate makes a big impact on others. People judge a book by its cover—and by its author’s website!
Action Tip: Looking professional doesn’t mean spending a ton of money on website design. Using WordPress along with a nice theme will take care of design, then including specific content on your site—such as a media page, a well-written about page, high-quality images of your book cover, and quality author headshot—will also go a long way toward showing that you’re adept.
6. Persuade potential readers to take a chance on your book!
In one place, you can curate a sizzling book description; showcase reviews from your various platforms (Amazon, GoodReads, screenshots of Tweets); add social proof, such as awards you’ve won or bestseller status; and write a blog that your ideal readers will enjoy and respond to. What better way to convince a potential reader that they’re going to enjoy your work?
Action Tip: Be sure to include buy links in several visible places on your site, and make it as easy as possible for readers to purchase your books if they want to. Your website is, after all, the perfect place to find you more readers.
Now over to you! What is your website doing, or not doing, for your career as an author?
Laura Pepper Wu is the co-founder of 30 Day Books, a book studio that provides marketing tools and resources for authors wanting to find more readers. Her latest projects include Authorlicious, a website theme built for authors, and the short yet powerful e-book 77 Ways to Find New Readers for Your Self-Published Book. Say hi @LauraPepWu.