The Website Triad
Every author needs to sell books! We examine three perspectives of a successful author website with designer AllyOop Designs, author Liz Fielding and reader Ali Williams.
AllyOop Designs—The Designer
My job, as I see it, is to discover the feeling an author hopes their readers will experience when reading their books and create an aesthetic that brings about those same feelings. Whether warm and fuzzy, sassy and fresh or spicy and exotic, a reader ought to land on an author’s page and know the kind of stories they can expect.
Is having a website still as important or can you do as much promotion with Instagram and Facebook these days?
Absolutely! An author’s website is their number one, most important online platform. There, they have complete control. It’s the place from which to curate their brand. Like a snapshot of who you are as an author. Not squeezed and tempered by the shape and limits and framework of any particular social media platform. A website also boasts a lovely distance that social media does not. An elevated platform upon which you are ‘Author’. Where personality does not color a reader’s vision of your work. Where the books can speak for themselves.
For all that authors—myself included—chat with readers on social media, the vast majority of readers do not want to converse with the people who write the books they love! They do not want to know what they look like. They do not want to know what they ate for breakfast. For it changes the way they read the stories those authors write.
What are the most important aspects of an author website?
The books and where to buy them! The rest is window dressing. A vast majority of readers will hit your home page and move on—fast—so you want to give them what they need then and there.
What do readers look for and enjoy most when they visit a website?
As above most readers (myself included) go to a website when they want to know about an author’s current book. Or backlist/next release after having read a book they’ve loved.
That said, the more an author—and their designer—can do to keep a reader perusing their site by way of offering other experiences—recipes, pictures of cute dogs, writing tips, book club questions, ‘behind the book’ notes, travel photos—the more likely the reader might be enticed back. Especially if this content is kept fresh, and updated regularly. But it all needs to be done in a way that enhances the reading experience. It all needs to be ‘on brand’.
Offer something different. Something that is particularly you. Debbie Macomber has a section with knitting patterns (she’s written multiple books about the subject). Kristan Higgins has a page dedicated to her dogs as well as the dogs in her book. These are both personal loves but also a big part of their brand. Clever stuff.
Does designing a website have to cost a fortune and how important is the branding and imagery used?
Cost a fortune? Not at all! I call myself a ‘brochure designer’. My sites give readers what they want right up front. You don’t have to drill or delve too deeply to find out the most important information.
As for branding and imagery—that is key. A reader ought to know who the author is, the kinds of books they write in a blink. Just the way they’d look at a book cover and think—yep, that’s for me. Or no, its not my cup of tea. It’s ferocious! But true.
When Liz and I revamped her website a few years back, we went through lots of pictures that might encapsulate her brand which was tricky as her scope is broad. She writes bright light city books and warm, cozy country books. All of which are rich, charming heart-tuggers.
The one we loved most was young, bright, fresh, and heart-warming. Add the “romance with charm, wit and sizzle” tagline and it summed her up beautifully.
Liz Fielding—The Author
I recognized very early that the web was going to be a great way for authors to reach readers, and I was one of the earliest adopters of what is now known as social media. It helped that I had a husband who had seen the advantage in his own industry and that my son, who was to become internationally recognized as a leader in cyber security, was very keen to create a website for me.
The Early Days
There was a lot of eye-watering pinks and purples in those early days, but authors were out there creating a web presence and the readers, who were the first to grab eReaders and get with digital books, were thrilled to find the first real link with their authors. They no longer had to write a letter to the publisher that might, or might not, get passed on. All they had to do was click the email link and pour out their love. It was the beginning of a new age for both authors and readers.
The I.T. wonder did not do pink. I had no say in the design but he produced an elegant, tessellated site in brown and gold (much admired by the lovely Anne Weale, who was big fan of the emerging web) and a page with book covers. There may have been excerpts but I honestly can’t remember. Yes, it was that long ago! Sadly, this was in the days before screen shots and I don’t have an image of that site.
I was out there in cyber space, one of a couple of dozen authors with a link on the brand new Harlequin website, but inevitably, once it was created, the I.T. wizard lost interest. He was always too busy to update the site and I was falling behind with my new releases.
I needed a professional, one of those new creatures known as a webmistress, and for the next version I turned to my friend, author and web guru, Wendy Wootton (Portia da Costa). She set me up with my lizfielding.com address, gave me a really pretty green and gold design and kept me updated efficiently for several years.
And Then There Was Blogger...
When I read an article in The Author by Kate Fenton about creating a blog, Wendy pointed me in the right direction and I joined the blogging community—a whole new way of creating a more personal interaction with readers. It was a place where I could go beyond the “this is my latest book cover, here’s an excerpt and a buy link”. It was somewhere to talk about what I was writing now, about what I was doing, a place for photographs of my garden, my office space, me. Most importantly it was linked to the website so that browsers, having found me, could make a closer connection by following me so that they could keep up with me on a weekly basis.
A New Look
Fashions, change—those pink and purples had largely disappeared!—and inevitably there came a time when I wanted a new look, one that was more personal and better reflected my writing style to give the browser an instant idea of what I was about. Wendy—whose own writing life had taken off—was not able to take this on and I turned to Ally Blake of Allyoop Designs, another friend, colleague and great designer.
Website styles have evolved over the nearly two decades I have been online. Social media has become huge and these days my immediate social presence is represented by Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and my new look blog on Wordpress.
Social media sites, however have boomed then faded away and been forgotten. but a website is still the prime source of information, always there and, hopefully, the first thing to come up when the author’s name is entered into a search engine.
It provides all the information a reader, an agent or publisher checking out your track record, and the press, need. Not just the who, but the entire backlist of books, excerpts, links. a place where those seeking information can browse at leisure and will. The author’s online home.
Ali Williams—The Reader
A website is a key part of an author's arsenal. As a reader, I want to be able to go to a single place where I can find information about their books, and also their presence elsewhere on the web.
But books are the key thing.
A couple of tips from a reader who reads obsessively, and will also likely inhale an author's backlist, if it's easy enough for her to find:
1. Categorize Your Books. The first category is genre. If you write historical, contemporary and paranormal romance - don't just lump all of those books together. split them up so that as a reader, I can clearly find what it is that I'm looking to read. Then break your books down further into series and standalones. One of the best ways to hook your reader, is to show them which book they should read next, and if you have multiple series set in the same universe, then write up a reading order. It's the kind of thing that I'd really like to not have to rely on Amazon and Goodreads to get right, because more often than not they won't, and then the reading experience can be spoiled.
2. Clear Branding. This one seems basic, but it's more than making sure that your website suits the kind of books you write; it's about making sure tit matches up with your presence elsewhere on the web. If I find an author on Twitter and Facebook, and want more information about them, having a website that doesn't match at all can be confusing, and have your reader wondering if they're even looking in the right place!
3. Clarity Above Fanciness. Don't faff about with making your website all singing and dancing, with fancy fonts and crazy animations. Simplicity is key - people want to be able to get the information you're offering in a digestible package.
Other things to consider include making sure you have contrasting backgrounds, so people with dyslexia can read your texts, and ensuring your SEO is up to date, so your website is searchable via Google. And keep it up to date! If you've got a blog you haven't used in four years, is there a specific reason you're keeping it? Are all your books updated? Is it clear where your readers can contact you?
Remember, your website is about showcasing your business to those who want to invest in you and your books, so make sure it's good!
PHS Managing Editor Ali Williams is a romance editor, academic and writer, and one of the hosts of Into the Stacks: The Bookcast, a podcast about speculative fiction. You can find out more information about Ali's projects on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and at AliWilliams.org.
Do you have an author website? Are you considering one? Do you consider it the most important promotional tool in your author arsenal? How soon do you think an aspiring author should consider setting up a website and thinking about their brand? Let us know in the comments or join the #WebsiteTriad conversation on our Social Media.