5 Ways to Create an Effective Author Website

The inflexible reality of the self-publishing boom is that author websites are everywhere. Whether you’re publishing through traditional channels or independently launching your book as the flagship product of a one-person press, you need a website that immediately grabs the casual visitor’s attention—in a good way. Your author website can either mark you as an amateur or exude a clever, market-savvy professionalism that sets you apart from the pack. To ensure the latter effect, follow these five guiding principles.

  1. Match your design to your content. Dayglo color schemes and an author photo that’s been redubbed in pop-art style could work well if your books are gonzo coming-of-age stories, or even social commentary in the breathless style of Tom Wolfe. If your work is literary and your style mostly restrained, a minimalist theme does you justice. If you’re not certain about the impression a given design leaves, test-market it: ask friends and acquaintances who aren’t already familiar with your writing to assess the design elements and let you know what type of book/s they would expect to be sold on this website.

    Good examples: John le Carré (https://www.johnlecarre.com/) and Gillian Flynn (http://gillian-flynn.com/)

    John_Irving_by_Kubik_01
    John Irving: a genius at more than just writing. Photo by Mariusz Kubik, http://www.mariuszkubik.pl
  2. Prioritize your content. As an author, this typically means that your newest work needs to be featured front and center. Once you’ve built up somewhat of a reputation/image within your category, it’s also important to prominently showcase some of the more compelling features about you. Similarly, as you establish a body of work, your history of success needs to be on display. In the “good example” listed for this item, the author, John Irving, gives due attention—in a tidy presentation—to his newest novel, his own biographical details, and his substantial publishing career.

    Good example: John Irving (http://john-irving.com/)

  3. Grab your visitor’s attention. Here, it’s helpful to take your cue from some of the sagest writing advice through history: catch your reader’s attention from sentence one—but not in a gimmicky way. It’s still important that the design arise naturally from your content (see item #1). Unless you have a wealth of experience in graphic design, or endless time and patience for tinkering with WYSIWYG blogging hosts, your best route to achieving this is to hire a professional designer or design team. Sometimes the financial investment is significant, but when you tell a professional designer what your goals are and what your content/brand centers on, that designer can brainstorm and then demonstrate several approaches to catching the viewer’s eye while remaining true to your personal aims.

    Good examples: Peter Carey (http://petercareybooks.com/), Lindy West (http://www.lindywest.net/#about), and Rachael King (http://www.rachael-king.com/).

  4. Interact with visitors. This factor is especially important when it comes to turning first-time readers into loyal fans and stoking word-of-mouth publicity. Allowing for interactivity also just makes good sense—in most cases, readers who want to buy your book can easily do so through either their local bookstore or Amazon/Kindle; they go to your website for you. Capitalize on this existing interest by availing yourself in whatever way you’re comfortable with. Some authors host fan forums on their websites (e.g., Stephen King: https://www.stephenking.com/) and others focus on chat, FAQs, responses to comments, or social media channels.

    Side note: if you do have a robust social media platform, or are diligently building one, take advantage of widgets to direct website visitors toward your Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram page. Even if you’re not hiring a professional, embedding these widgets is usually a simple process if you use one of the more popular site- and blog-hosting services, such as WordPress or Squarespace.

    Good examples: Joe Abercrombie (https://www.joeabercrombie.com/) and the peerless J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore site (https://www.pottermore.com/

  5. Update regularly. If you don’t touch your website for a year, it will show. An outdated website can manifest through older publications displayed first, front-page design motifs or pop culture references that have faded from popularity/attention, and—more obviously—blog posts and news releases from months and months ago. Regularly updating your website sends the message that you are active in the field and that there’s always more to come. Your updates can take the form of a widget that displays the most recent mentions of you from the news, blog posts, new blurbs added to your front page, and more.

    Good examples: Stephen King (https://www.stephenking.com/) and the peerless J.K. Rowling’s regular website (https://www.jkrowling.com/)

In the age of all things Internet (if not yet the Internet of Things), your website is your business card, your sales platform, your showroom, your publicity department, and more. It’s hard to overemphasize the importance of creating, and maintaining, a website that conveys your unique literary offerings in an eye-catching and professional manner. An established book editor can help you pinpoint the attention-grabbing aspects of both your writing and your own publishing history so that these factors can be properly translated into website design.

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