DIYDay Lesson 20: Author Websites

And we’re back! This time I thought I’d get into a little more detail of things like style, layout and content. Things every author should know and wield with impunity.

First thing’s first. DISCLAIMER: Everything that follows is totally subjective opinion content based on a few years experience trying to sort my own website into some kind of order, and browsing other authors’ websites and (more often than I care to say) cringing at what I found. Take everything you read here with a grain of salt.

Before you go any further, whether you have a site already or are just starting out with research, register your own domain name (URL). I cannot stress this enough. Point people to a professional link so they will take you seriously. Kinkybootsauthorjanesmith.wix.com is not a professional link. It’s also not something you will easily remember. Just sayin’.

Now, if you missed my previous posts related to this matter, check them out here, and here. Depending on which platform you choose, you might or might not need some HTML or CSS coding to make your website the way you want it. Just Google it. Seriously, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to find coding help online. This post will focus more on what people see on your website than what’s behind the curtain.

So what makes a good website?

Click around your favorite sites. What stands out to you most? A few things I like about my favorite sites:

  • They have a fantastic home page
  • They are clean of clutter
  • They are readable
  • They are easy to search
  • They have all the info I need in plain sight
  • They are steady
  • They are attractive, but not overwhelming with the special effects
  • They are memorable

Home Page

Home page goodness
Home page goodness

The hallmark of a fantastic site is the home page. For authors just starting out, or those who want to be in control of their own stuff, I recommend using a platform that allows for both static pages (web pages) and dynamic posts (an updatable blog). Do not confuse the two. While they can be in one place behind the curtains, in front of readers they should be clearly separated. You do not want your blog content to be your home page. It’s messy and will change periodically, which you do not want if you blog about anything other than your books–which you should.

What you do want on your home page (select one or more of the following):

  • An intro to you as the author
  • A highlight of a book or series (preferably a bestseller or new release, those work best)
  • A message about your upcoming books or events
  • Links (not full articles) to your most recent blog posts
  • Links to your social media pages (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Google+…)

Book Pages

Clean and clickable
Clean and clickable

This is where your book content goes. Spend some time deciding how you want it organized. If you were a reader, what would you like to see? A good rule of thumb is not to make your visitors scroll too much to find what they need. While it might look really impressive to have your ten-book series on one page with all their covers, blurbs and buy links, think about how frustrating it would be if you were looking for just one of them.

Give them an option to find your books in a menu by title. Of course, that means either more HTML code, or more pages. My rule of thumb is to have a page for each book. That way, the book doesn’t have to fight for the spotlight, and I can add all the information I need without taking up too much space. Content is up to you, but should include the following:

  • Book title
  • Blurb
  • Cover page
  • Direct buy links (as many as you have)

I wouldn’t bother with ISBN numbers and release dates (unless it’s a future release date), as that is mostly for ego not practicality. No one searches by ISBN anymore, they search by titles and genres. Not many people will care when the book was released once it’s out there, they just want to read it. Make it easy for them to like what you have to offer, and find the book in their favorite store.  Go nuts and add an excerpt or first chapter if you want. Display your book trailer. Have a link to impressive reviews–or quote a couple (but not too many!). This is your chance to present your individual books at their best.

Other Static Pages

Your menu should also include a link to an About the Author page. Readers sometimes like to know who writes the masterpieces they enjoy, so give them some info about yourself. You don’t have to have a picture if you don’t want, but it does make the page more personal. Write a short bio that looks good on the back of a book, but this is also your opportunity to write something extra that readers won’t find elsewhere. Decide how much you want to share, and then go for it!

If you have extra fun content, by all means, give it its own page. Downloads, wallpapers, avatars, etc. are all fantastic things because they look pretty, and they are made to be shared. It’s a one-glance way for your fans to spread word about your books.

As mentioned before, keep your blog separate, which means giving it its own page as well. This is where all your new posts will appear in their full glory. Remember: blog responsibly. Blogs are like rain. A little bit at the right time creates a rainbow. Too much too often, and people drown. Always use tags, which drive readers to your posts, and if you use images and graphics, be sure you have permission to use them.

A Few Other Things To Remember…

ComputersDifferent computer, devices, browsers, and screens display things differently. Keep this in mind when designing your webpage. Things might shift in the translation. These days, most websites are optimized for mobile devices, so the way your page looks on your computer will not be the way people see it on their tablets and phones. Test it out on several devices to make sure all looks good.

Use clean, easy to read fonts. Because everything is going mobile, don’t count on someone being able to read (or display) your fancy stylish font that you found on that site the other day. Readability is key. That means text you can decipher on a small screen, but also text in general. Because if, let’s say, you decide to make your page’s title as a graphic to force it to show up the way you want, text-to-speech programs will not recognize it.

 

Graphics

Be cautious of graphics. Sure, we have lightning fast download speeds and RAM we couldn’t have conceived of a few years ago, but constantly loading big pictures can still slow your website down. Size appropriately and use sparingly. Example: Instead of one huge background image, select a small square of abstract design and set it to tile.

There, that’s not so bad, is it?

Now that I’ve made you go cross-eyed with boredom or bone-deep fear of technology, are there any questions? ^_^

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