Don’t expect people to take you seriously as a professional if your website isn’t professional. If your website looks like a leftover from the ’90s, then it’s time to upgrade. The problem with many authors is that they don’t even realize their website looks bad. And why should they? If you’re selling books, what do you really know about websites?
I recommend hiring a professional to design the website. It’ll actually save you time and lots of money if you do it the right way to begin with. When an amateur builds a website, it’s going to take even more money and time to fix the big mess he or she made. I did it myself, so I don’t want my authors to go through that. If I had it to do all over again back in 2013, I would’ve hired someone to handle it all. At that time, it was $1,500. As I look back on all the money I’ve spent to fix the BIG messes I’ve made with web design and techy stuff, I have spent quadruple that at least.
Although I will be talking about Squarespace for these website must-dos, I believe any of these will work just fine on WordPress as well.
But first things first:
1. Authentic Voice
Having an authentic voice comes before you set up the website, before you open up Facebook, before you do anything with marketing.
“Authenticity has nothing to do with how much you share. It is about what you share. Being authentic means staying true to who you are as a person, writer, or company.” —Neil Patel
So what does it mean to have an authentic voice? First, let me tell you what it isn’t. Marketing yourself isn’t about using salesy jargon. It’s about being your weird, unique, quirky self while using an authentic voice for your brand. It’s all about being genuine and honest in your online activity. Your personal brand needs a recognizable voice that sets you apart from others in the same niche.
Remember these two words: Know thyself. Before you ever start a business (and yes, being an author is a business), you must know thyself. What is your author brand all about? Who are you—really? What is it about you that makes me want to hear from you every day? Why should I come to your website? Will I be educated? Be entertained? You have to be in tune with yourself before you can answer those questions.
Get the domain in your author name, not your publishing name, not your "oh, isn't this a cute blog name!" name—just your author name. Some of your may remember that my website was CuriouserEditing.com for years. I changed it to my name and couldn't be happier. Think of it like this: Will the potential visitor remember your author name or your whimsical blog name? Hmmm.
Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way . . .
2. Your Website Needs the Following:
—Obviously, every website has a homepage, but many authors forget to make the word Homepage a menu title so that visitors can go back to the homepage. Be sure to do that.
—It’s best for your bio to be in third person because bloggers, interviewers, fans, and so on will want to copy/paste it when promoting you. Keep it around 75–100 words. The biggest mistake you can make is to write a novel of a bio. No one will read that. Keep it short and sweet. Here's a good one from one of my favorite authors:
M. L. Gardner is the bestselling author of the 1929 series. Gardner is frugal to a fault, preserving the old ways of living by canning, cooking from scratch, and woodworking. Nostalgic stories from her grandmother's life during the Great Depression inspired Gardner to write the 1929 series--as well as her own research into the Roarin' Twenties. She has authored ten books, three novellas, one book of short stories and a cookbook. Gardner is married with three kids and four cats. She resides in western Montana. www.mlgardnerbooks.com
The Content Itself
—Did you think it would be as easy as shoving some words on your website and calling it good? Nope. In fact, when I first started my website, I didn't write my own bio. Crazy, right? I had my editor friend write it for me. You can hire a content editor to help you with the following:
- Author bio
- Speaking page
- Landing page
- Call to action(s)
- Homepage content
- Any other branding content that will help visitors get to know you
Here's what my trusted friend and content editor, Mindy Schoeneman of Sincerely Me LLC, has to say about all this:
No matter who writes the content, the goal is the same: to give website visitors enough info to feel as if they could totally enjoy grabbing a coffee with you while leaving them intrigued by you as a person. Find the balance between oversharing and sharing just exactly the right information. And never assume you've found it. You'll need outside opinions.
—I'm not saying you have to pay hundreds of dollars for this, because I didn't—but I will say your headshot needs to look professional. Nice, clean background. Focused in on your lovely face. You get the idea.
List of books and short stories
—Don’t fret if the book isn’t published yet. You can say coming soon under the title. But you need to start the conversation. Google will thank you later.
—Best to scatter your book reviews throughout the website, but you can have a reviews page if you want. If you don’t have any reviews yet, just remember to do this when they come in.
—I am positively shocked to say that my biggest pet peeve is when people refuse to add a contact page to their website. I have gone to insane lengths to track down an email address for authors, so please stop this madness. It’s best to have an actual contact form they can fill out. The too-talented-for-her-own-good Angela J. Ford has a simple form:
Email list opt-in
—I like to see this on the homepage first. It can be front and center or in a sidebar. I recommend adding the opt-in at the end of every blog post if you blog (see mine at the end). You’ll also want to create a nice little landing page that is solely used for opt-ins. See mine here. I use this link on all of my social media. It's quite handy!
—This is so very optional. If you aren’t going to blog, then do not start a blog. If you want to blog, then be sure you’re blogging about things people actually want to read about. (See below for blogging ideas for fiction writers. You nonfiction writers have plenty to blog about!)
Guest blogging page
—If you’re doing a blog, it would be best to create a guest blogging contact page as well. Here's what mine looks like.
—Are you interested in public speaking as well? Then you’ll want a page dedicated exactly to that. Do not make your speaking page the same as your about page. These are two different pages. Your go-to gal for all things public speaking is Aurora Gregory. Visit her website here.
Call to action
—Think of the 6-second rule: someone is on your website for 6 seconds and should be able to answer these questions: Who is this person? What does he or she do? What does this person want me to do? I shouldn’t have to look around trying to find the answers to my questions. Do you want me to join your mailing list? Preorder your book? Hire you? Make that clear.
—Do you have social media share buttons? Do you have social media follow buttons? Do these buttons actually work and lead me to the right places? "Sure, of course they do!" Bet. Go check them right now and make certain they go to the right place.
Copyright in the footer
—This is a no-brainer. Just add the copyright symbol, year, and your name. It's also best to add a link to your contact page in here. I also added that I use affiliate links.
—You can view mine here. With everything going on with data now, you're definitely going to need one of these for your website. There are lots of templates and generators out there to help you.
3. For Those without a Book Yet:
A website is your business card. It is the central hub for all things you. Here are just a few reasons why you want to start a website even if you have no book yet:
- Educate yourself in advance rather than rushing to get one up before your book releases. No one needs that stress.
- Build awareness. If you want to sell your book, you’re going to have to tell people about it months and months before you sell it.
- If you’re pitching, this is a great way to open the door for agents and publishers. You never know who is watching!
- Kick-start search engine presence. I should be able to type in your author name on Google and have a place to go (your website).
4. The Design
I believe the best way to understand design is to immerse yourself in beautiful design. If you're not a designer, hiring one will save you a world of headaches. That said, here are my top dos and don'ts:
- Do keep it simple. Remember when website colors and themes were so loud that you'd go deaf? Well, not anymore. We love white spaces and minimalism, so always make that a priority.
- Don't overdo it with content. I know you're a writer, so it's easy to have a million words on the homepage alone—but don't do it. Romance the visitor a little. Don't just throw out all of your moves before the first date, okay?
- Do answer their questions before they realize they have any. The visitor needs to know who you are—and not just your name. Does the visitor get a good idea of your personality through the colors, layout, fonts, graphics?
- Don't forget to check your work. What does your website look like on mobile versus desktop? If you're on mobile and your email subscription box looks super off-centered, then fix it. Pay attention to the details.
Now then. Let's take a look at some high-quality author websites so you can immerse yourself in them.
Angela J. Ford, author of The Four Worlds Series, follows all of my rules. 1. I immediately know what her personality is like on the first page: vivid and strong and electric—just like her books. 2. She is telling me exactly what she wants me to do (call to action): buy her books from any of those retailers. 3. She tells me who she is and why I should stick around (see below). Plus, look at that white space! I also want to point out that she keeps EVERYTHING on her website in line with the book's design/theme.
Bruce's book cover is being used as the cover photo for his homepage. Immediately, you know you're about to enter into a different era (historical fiction) and you know it's going to be a wild ride.
On his Books page, he gives the visitor a great summary, a 3D graphic of his novel, a wonderful review, a preorder option, and a call to action to stay on his email list. Boom!
M. L. Gardner's website was designed by Monica Haynes of The Thatchery, whom I highly recommend. Just like Angela Ford, M. L. Gardner's website uses the same theme/design as her covers. Hello, brand recognition! That's what I love to see: when the cover design and website can work together.
5. Blogging Ideas for Fiction Writers:
- Research — Cultures, costumes, slang, current events
- Research is clearly involved in fiction writing, so talk about it. What lengths have you gone to get the answers to your questions? Post interviews with experts on the topic or librarians who helped you find the answer. Post about the internet abyss you fell into and tell your readers how cool it is.
- Art & Graphics
- Draw your characters or choose photos online of celebs that look like your characters.
- Ask your social media followers to take part in a contest for fan art.
- Other ideas: maps, settings, clothing, food, etc.
- Depending on your setting, you could use recipes (like the Great Depression, for example).
- If your story is futuristic, then have some fun making up recipes that your characters would eat.
- What are the best things your villain ever said?
- What quotes can you use to inspire other people?
- What are the most profound things your characters say?
- The authorly process
- Are you pitching your book? Talk about that process and how you're handling query letters, rejections, yeses, and so on.
- Are you self-publishing or choosing covers or creating your first writing space? Then write about that too!
- Mini stories
- A mini story fits into the major story without taking away from it. This can be a continuation of the main story or something that happened years prior to the story’s events. You can even retell a certain scene from an entirely different perspective. You can also just tell stories from the same world that have nothing to do with the main story at all other than the fact they are set in the same place.
- Book reviews
- Try blogging about books you’re reading that your audience would enjoy too. Also, you can use Amazon’s Affiliate Program to get a few bucks when you talk about these books.
- Hobbies that fit into your book’s theme
- If your story talks an awful lot about art, then your readers would love to see you going to different art districts or museums, or perhaps interviews with artists.
- Maybe your book has a huge focus on politics. Write about that and how today's politics could affect your characters.
- Did you travel to your book’s setting?
- Is there anywhere you want to travel for your book?
- If you made up your world, then write about that process and where your inspiration came from.
6. Best Places for Free, Quality Stock Photos:
7. Make It Mobile-Friendly:
Over 80% of Internet users are on their smartphones. What do they see when they visit your website? What’s making them back out and leave within 6 seconds? To test your website’s score for being mobile-friendly, go to https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly.
8. The Techy Stuff:
Your website is up, and you’re all done, right? Wrong-o. Here are a few things you need to do:
- Purchase a domain email address (mine is firstname.lastname@example.org). You can get a year for free through Squarespace, but it's set up through G Suite (Google Mail). Aside from the necessity of this for email newsletters, you'll want the domain email address to keep things professional and safe for your website.
- Ensure SSL is set up. Squarespace automatically ensures your website is secure, but if you’re not using them, you’ll need to handle this on your own.
- Set up Google Analytics. It's free. Although Squarespace has outstanding analytics and I don't usually check Google Analytics, I have it for the next step here . . .
- Set up Google verification for your domain. The easiest way to do this is to use Google Analytics. Here's a how-to.
- Set up a site map. Squarespace has got ya covered with this.
- Go through all of your website's settings to ensure everything looks correct.
An expert editor, seasoned writer, and author-centric marketer, Shayla Raquel works one-on-one with authors and business owners every day. A lifelong lover of books, she has edited over 300 books and has launched several Amazon bestsellers for her clients. Her award-winning blog teaches new and established authors how to write, publish, and market their books. She is the author of the Pre-Publishing Checklist, The Rotting (in Shivers in the Night), and her novel-in-progress, The Suicide Tree. She lives in Oklahoma with her two dogs, Chanel and Wednesday.