Building a Website

Once I decided that I really need a high-quality author’s website, the work began. My Weebly site was okay, but I’d never put as much thought into it as I should, and I always felt uncomfortable with Weebly. I didn’t really want to spend money on a site, but I wanted maximum design flexibility, among other things, and free sites just don’t offer that. I’ll probably go with Squarespace, but I won’t use the free introductory period until I have the content well worked out, and a solid idea for the design.

In the meantime, I’ve been looking at other author’s sites to get ideas, and haven’t been impressed by many of them. Trying to see them as a reader would, I wound up wondering why readers would bother to come back after one visit. So I’ve been picking up ideas, always keeping in mind that I want the site to be well-organized and easy to navigate, offer reasons for readers to keep visiting, and, above all, that it be representative of the kind of writing I do, both fiction and nonfiction. That’s a pretty tall order, but it’s beginning to take shape.

Of course I’ve also been reading articles on website design, particularly on what an author needs for a successful site, and some of those have been very helpful. One of the best is Amber Ludwig’s Make Your Website Do the Work: The 6 Site MUST-Haves to Sell More Books, Improve Your Credibility and Grow Your Following. It’s a quick read. If you are considering building a website to promote your writing, I’d consider it a must.

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12 thoughts on “Building a Website

  1. The problem with most of the “6 things” in the article is that they don’t work (or even make a lot of objective sense) for authors, and especially for authors of fiction. The essential problem remains that there’s very little that an author can post to their blog that’s worth while for a reader to come back to read. As a result, authors tend to blog about things that are of interest to other authors. But since those other authors aren’t visiting to learn about buying your book, there’s no positive promotional result.

    I do agree that getting an email list is very valuable – but then don’t use it for anything but to tell people that your new book just came out.

    Back to book sites; Here’s a test that I use: what can you do at a book site that your Amazon page doesn’t already do, but that would help promote your book? Answer, not a whole lot, and to the extent that you do come up with something, how are you going to get anyone to come to your site to read it? Tough question. How many author sites do you visit for the purpose of someday buying a book from the author? Any?

    The same goes for social media: what can you actually say in social media that will (a) attract lots of followers that (b) also want to buy your book? Answer: it’s a lot easier to succeed with (a) than (b).

    When the dust settles, lots of time and money spent on web sites and social media are likely, first and foremost, just to keep you away from writing another book – which IS something that can help you sell more of all your work.

    Andy

    1. Granted, maybe not every author even needs a website, but if you’re going to have one, I think the six points can be fairly helpful, at least give you something to think about. It’s going to be difficult to make a site stand out from millions of others unless you have exceptional design skills or can pay someone who has them. But I don’t really think standing out is that important. It isn’t as if readers are going to be comparing sites. Still, it should, in some way reflect you and your books.

      As for blogging on my site, If I do that at all, it will be about the books, and there’s always something interesting you can say that doesn’t necessarily look like promotion. I’m going the website route specifically to separate my books from what I do here, which is address writers.

      I don’t agree that an email list should be used *only* to announce new books. A lot of writers use them to keep readers interested, and that can include sneak peeks, news about upcoming books or stories, giveaways, and freebies. I’m thinking about adding character sketches, background information about the worlds I’m writing in, and I’m sure I’ll be able to come up with more idea as I go along.

      I notice that some authors barely use their Amazon pages, except as links to their websites, which I think is probably the smart thing to do. I have no idea how many people bother to look at Amazon author pages, but I suspect it isn’t very many. And you can do a great deal more on a website because you can include much more material than Amazon will allow.

      Do I visit author’s websites? Yes, quite a few, in fact, if I like their writing and want to know more about them, as authors, including what’s coming up.

      How do you get people to a website? I don’t do social networking, so I expect that most people, initially, will come from this blog, and from my Live Journal blog. I also participate on Quora and will provide the link there. I’ll add it to my Kboards sig. And it will be on my Amazon page, of course.

      I agree that any time spent on social networking, blogging, or building and maintaining a website might be time taken away from writing. But I don’t spend all my time at it, so any promotion efforts I make are just part of the *other* stuff I do besides write. I don’t think everyone needs to have a website, and I don’t *have* to. It’s something I want to do. If it works, fine. If it doesn’t, I’ll still have learned some new skills at very little cost.

  2. Sorry; it was a bit of a rant. And as a matter of fact, I have a book site/blog as well. I view it more as part of a hobby and for the experience of setting it up, though, rather than assuming that it will have much impact.

    What bothers me a bit is that there’s an entire industry built around selling authors on all sorts of things that work marginally at best – like press releases, expensive web sites, book trailers for sites with no visitors, and advice that doesn’t work. To a very large extent, the self-publishing scene (I believe) is an Emperor’s new clothes update of the Vanity Press days.

    Self published authors are constantly being told by web designers, promotional people, and so on that they should do all these things, but in fact the impact that they have is almost non-existent, absent an enormous amount of ongoing slogging.

    Andy

    1. No need to apologize. They were all points that were worth addressing, which is always helpful. And I absolutely agree that writers are too often conned into feeling that they *have* to do this or that, and wind up spending too much time, and sometimes money that they can’t afford. But I’ve been at this for two or three years now, feeling my way as I go along, and figuring out what works for me. And the only way I can do that is by experimenting. The website will actually be the first thing that will be a significant expense, and it’s only significant ($10.00 a month unless I sign up for a year) because I’m on a fixed income. But I do my own editing, covers, and formatting, so except for design software (at budget prices), and a few books, my financial investment has been very, very low, probably less than $100.00 over that time period. And I do enjoy new challenges, so putting up a website is just one more.

      All the other stuff, book trailers, blog tours, advertising, press releases — not for me, even if I had the money to throw around. I read an enormous amount of advice about writing and publishing, so I have a good basis for making comparisons and avoiding bad decisions. Tracking the Words is my way of boiling things down to what seems most useful, and talking about my own experiences and what I’ve learned from them. And every one of my recommendations should be taken with a few grains of salt.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing my article Catana! It really means a lot. Actually, on my YouTube page you’ll see a free 30min video I did about this same topic (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQqTXCWt_ao). I don’t offer it to promote myself further, but instead, thinking it may be more helpful (especially for Andy).

    I think it is absolutely CRITICAL for any author to have a website. It doesn’t have to be a $10k website, but it needs to engage your potential customer/reader. Think of it like a view into your world. An example of this (fiction-based) is MaraPurl.com. We built her site so that you instantly get transported into her world.

    She has optin offers for building her email list where she keeps email subscribers updated on book tours and launches, shares short stories, offers contests and more. If you want to create a loyal long-term following email list-building is a MUST so you can continue the conversation. Social media offers a similar experience but email is often more personal.

    One of the biggest things I see authors need improvement on is really capturing their voice and using it full throttle on their website. Instead, the website is often stuffy, professional or boring. If you have a “bigger than life” personality, that needs to come across in every webpage, social media post, ezine, product and phone call. It’s your essence, your brand and what draws the right audience to you.

    I wanted to expand because Andy made a good point that this article made objective sense, but of course there’s a whole lot more to these strategies than I could knock out on an “overview” blog post. If you look at my blog archives, or YouTube page you’ll see a TON of specifics covered. (Another example, this is a free 30-min video all about Social Media and it’s very detailed as to what to focus on, why and how: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ab8-dS65_20)

    Again, truly just trying to add more value and offer my insight. I’ve been working with authors since ’07 and we’ve seen great success online but it’s hard work and you have to know what’s worth you’re time and what’s not.

    Thank you again for the share!! 🙂

    1. Amber, My original link to your article was actually to someone else’s site. It isn’t there now, so I’m guessing (because I don’t remember exactly) that maybe they had posted the whole thing without your permission. I corrected the link a few days ago when I realized it was dead. And credit to where credit is due.

        1. I’m going to be doing another post my website progress, so I’ll also mention your article again, with the updated link. It will be a few days, but I want to make sure readers know about the corrrection.

  4. Amber, I think the main problem with over stressing a book site is that unless an author has a lot of worthwhile material and information to share, there aren’t many ways to take advantage of a sophisticated site. Unless you have promotions (including price control), signings, blog tours, and so on, you don’t have anything to offer. People aren’t going to visit a book site unless there’s value to be found there. Some people will have what it takes to provide that (time, ideas, talent), and others won’t. Those that don’t will have a nice site and no payoff – it’s what you do there, not the site itself.

    Right now I have one book – a cybersecurity thriller, and only so much I can say about it, or the subject matter, or my progress on the second book. Hence, the traffic at my book site is low. On the other hand, I have another site, which you can find here, http://www.consortiuminfo.org/ that I’ve built over the last 11 years. It has more than 10,000 separate pages, millions of words of content (all written by me), serves from 200,000 to 1,000,000 page views a month to 100s of thousands of unique visitors, has a 7,000 person newsletter list, and contains several resources that are the largest of their kind in the world. So I am well familiar with how to build and use a web presence successfully. I derive many concrete economic and reputational benefits as a result of that site.

    The big difference between the two sites is that in the case of my book, I have hundreds of thousands of other thrillers, and millions of other authors, to compete with, and basically nothing to distinguish myself with from all of those other books and authors. Nor anything to bring visitors back to my site of *real* value.

    Here’s an example: for a normal, author-related blog entry at my book site, I’ll get 25 or so viewers. On the other hand, when I post chapters from a book where I already had a reputation via my other site, on a topic where I’m an acknowledged expert, I get 1500 reads a day. The difference is the content.

    Here’s another example: at my other site I did a series called “Adventures in Self-Publishing,” where I went through every step of the process of self-publishing. Each post drew 8,50 – 5,000 unique visitors, and you can find them here: http://bit.ly/1eOv7UG As you’ll see, each has a display ad next to, and one embedded in, it. I’d guess that at most it helped sell about 30 – 50 books over a 2 year period. Serializing my second book had little impact on selling the first, either. And yes, the book has been very well reviewed, so that hasn’t been the problem – you can see the reviews here: http://tinyurl.com/ly6ta8l

    So while I agree that a site is a necessary tool for a beginning author, I think that a very basic one will do until he or she has figured out how to make proper use if it. Just building it will NOT make them come. And sadly, even high traffic won’t necessarily result in significant sales, either, unless the people that are there are there for the right reasons.

    Andy

  5. Interestingly, I just ran into this post in my WordPress Reader – it’s an update by a young writer named Therin Knite who is doing EVERYTHING right at her blog (called KniteWrites). She’s personable; she’s gathered a following; her posts are interesting and engaging; she posts many times a week; she’s generous and welcoming to everyone; her book is very readable – in short, she’s someone you really WANT to see succeed.

    And here’s her report on the results of her first two months of very, very actively promoting her first book at her site: http://knitewrites.com/2014/03/27/my-first-published-book-has-been-out-for-2-months-heres-the-report/

    PS: if you’re a self-published author and her genre appeals to you, and maybe even if it doesn’t, consider buying or gifting a copy of her book. She deserves it.

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