What Makes a Great Author Website

Today I want to share five tips on what makes a great author website. My advice applies to both first-time authors on the road to publishing their first book, as well as seasoned pros who have multiple books already in readers’ hands.

Let’s dig in…

Own Your Platform

Why even create your own website? To own your platform. To not abdicate all control to over your name as an author to Amazon, Google, Facebook, or some other network.

This may sound obvious, but lots of successful creators miss this point. Owning your platform means that you have a direct connection to your readers and them to you. It prevents you from waking up one day and reading about a change that Amazon or Facebook or some other platform has made that just destroyed how you reach your audience.

I don’t want that to sound like a vague doomsday scenario, so I’ll give you a clear example from another industry of creators…

This is Russ Akin reading through some new regulations that effect his career:

He earns a living by making action-figure toy reviews on YouTube. Amazing, right? He has more than 500,000 followers and has been uploading videos from more than a decade and has 248,038,852 views of all of his videos.

The ad revenue he earns from these videos in whole or part supports his entire family:

He, like thousands of other creators on YouTube are scrambling to figure out if newly enforced regulations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act applies to their videos, how they may need to adjust, and they are suddenly trying to increase other revenue streams.

Many of these creators are trying to solve this by encouraging people to support them on Patreon. This is a site where you can pledge a few dollars per month to the creator, and in return they give you some exclusive content. Russ has a goal of 2,000 supporters on Patreon. Right now he has 250.

Can you see the problem here yet?

Well, Patreon is backed by venture capital, they just took on another $60 million investment. Here is a quote from CNBC from earlier this year:

“Patreon CEO Jack Conte said in an interview with CNBC that the platform will soon be facing the challenge of maintaining a profitable model as the company continues its growth.“The reality is Patreon needs to build new businesses and new services and new revenue lines in order to build a sustainable business,” Conte said.”

So that means that Russ is moving from one platform he doesn’t own, to another platform he doesn’t own. I am in no way being critical of Russ, he is diversifying his revenue streams and that is very smart. I just wanted to share an example of how someone who is very successful in his field has a challenging time because he doesn’t own the platform he uses to reach his audience.

I have heard similar things from many artists I have interviewed. Their career is built on Instagram, and they have expressed concern that if Instagram changes, their entire career is at risk.

For writers, we have our own versions of this. Amazon, of course, is the elephant in the room for authors. I read this quote about Amazon earlier in the week when Nike announced it was ending its experiment to sell products on Amazon:

“Jefferies analyst Randy Konik says: “Amazon is just a traffic aggregator that reduces friction in consumption … it doesn’t build communities.” (From CNBC)

I mean, there it is: “Amazon doesn’t build communities.” So it begs the question… how are you developing a platform where you control how you connect with readers? Well, a website is a good start in that direction.

Build Your Website Before You Need It

Build your platform way way way before you think you need it. Too many writers delay creating a website because they don’t yet have a book out, or they are between book launches. But developing a website has nothing to do with a launch or publicity. It is about being found and controlling where and how you can engage with people. This doesn’t just mean the URL, but the tone, the narrative, the experience.

As someone who works with thousands of writers a year, I can tell you it is frustrating when I can’t find them on the web. Or when I go to their website and it clearly hasn’t been updated in years.

The reason you create (or improve) your website now is to make it possible to be found. Ensuring that when someone types your name into Google, your website comes up. That takes time to happen.

Your Website Should Explain What You Create and Why

A website should follow the classic writing advice: “Show, don’t tell.” Your website should not be a boring brochure that immediately pitches your book and then leads nowhere else. It should tell us what you write, and why. You should allow us to explore the themes in your work. You can even take us behind the scenes so we understand the person (you!) behind the writing.

You should develop a clear mission statement, you should find ways to describe your book that attracts different types of readers, and you should not shy away from creating a long bio that authentically represents who you are.

These things are not easy to do. Which is why it is important to take the time to develop them long before a book launch.

Lead People Somewhere

Your website should not be a dead end. You may have read somewhere that your website should have a “call to action” which is a marketing term which means you should have a clear reason for them to sign up for your newsletter list or something else.

While I agree with that advice, I think a lot of writers aren’t always ready for that. So, at the very least, simply ensure your website leads somewhere. To a clear place that they can engage with you or your writing.

That could absolutely be a newsletter (I’ve sent my own newsletter for nearly 15 years, and help dozens of writers develop their own each year.) But it could also mean leading them to a social network that you truly show up on. Or to events you show up at. Or a blog. Or videos. Or your writing in various forms.

Consider the experience you create on your website, and lead people to one or two specific places that create a nice experience for the reader.

Show Up as a Real Person, Not a Faceless Author

Generally speaking, I would recommend you address your readers directly. Write your homepage and website bio in first person. I mean, the reader knows you wrote this copy, so don’t hide behind vague statements such as “Dan Blank is a respected award-winning author whose deeply engaging books…”

Just tell readers what you write, why they may want to read it, and why you wrote it.

A lot of writers try to justify that they themselves don’t matter. I disagree. I think that if someone has landed on your website, your newsletter, your blog, your social media channel, that they also want to know about the person behind the writing.

That is challenging for a lot of people, and I have empathy with that. But the more you hide, the more difficult it is for readers to see you. To engage with your voice, your vision, your process.

Why give up that opportunity? For people to be inspired by what you create and why.

Obviously, there are many other things that can comprise a great author website, but the advice above focuses on correcting a lot of the most common mistakes I see people making.

If you would like my assistance in developing or improving your own author website, my 4-week program Launch (or Improve) Your Author Website begins November 25th. Start the new year with a website you love! Details and registration here.

Thanks!
-Dan

Truly seeing writers (and readers)

Heads up: My 4-week program (with a break for holidays!) Launch (or Improve) Your Author Website begins November 25th. Start the new year with a website you love! Details and registration here.


Writer Teri Case sent me this photo recently:
Teri, Colleen, Kim, Kathy

She said this:

“I had my first book event in Washington DC and guess who surprised me? Colleen Waterston, Kim Hamilton, and Kathy Ramsperger. They came from Minnesota, Maryland, and Virginia just to support me. I know them because of you, we all met in your Mastermind!”

These writers are showing up to support each other. To truly see each other.

There is something profoundly powerful in this. This ability that we all have to simply recognize each other and what we create. That is why I do the work I do, and it is inspiring to see the photo above and how Teri, Kim, Kathy, and Colleen are seeing each other.

This reminded me of a photo I saw when Amanda Palmer launched her book, The Art of Asking:

Photo credit: Jimmy Franco of Grand Central Publishing

Amanda is on the left, reaching across the table to look into the eyes of one of her fans, Sarah Staalesen. There was a huge crowd waiting to see Amanda, and you can see signs of preparation to manage hundreds of people: the white tape on the floor, the rope designed to create boundaries between people, the handlers in the background trying to ensure books are placed correctly for signing, and much more that we don’t see in the photo.

This is the kind of thing that Amanda has done a lot in her career, to truly see those around her.

For your writing, your goal is likely to create deep human connection between your words and the reader. To have them feel immersed in the world or ideas you have created for them. This connection tends to extend to a similar kind of connection between the writer themselves and the reader.

Brandon StantonI remember hearing an interview with Brandon Stanton, who created Humans of New York. The interviewer, Tim Ferriss, wanted to understand how Brandon got people to share these powerful stories from a stranger in just 30 or 60 minutes. Tim asked about the questions Brandon asked, and this was his reply:

“It’s not the questions. I have about three or four entry questions that I use. “What’s your biggest struggle?” “How has your life turned out differently than you expected it to?” “What do you feel most guilty about?” But really, the planned questions are just springboards into a conversation. And how you get to that deep place with a person is absolute presence. It’s being 100 percent there. You’re not thinking in the framework of an interview. You’re not looking at a list of questions. You’re not thinking about your next question. You’re not thinking about how this person fits into your idea of them and what you know about them. You’re 100 percent there, and you’re 100 percent listening to them, and your questions are 100 percent coming based on curiosity about what they are telling you and nothing else.”

This is a power we all have. Simply to see each other. To recognize what we are each trying to create. It doesn’t require a “like” a “follow” or a “subscribe.” It is just showing up as a human being, and just validating who someone is and what they are creating.

A few years ago, I stopped teaching “online courses.” You know, the kind where you sign up and you drown alone under too much information. Instead, I developed a series of programs where I can give you direct feedback at each step of the way.

Which means I spend loads and loads of time recording videos that are meant for one single person. This is a typical day for me:

Each of these videos are created and sent to one individual writer. One of those writers sent me this feedback:

“It was powerful to see you respond directly to my questions.”

That meant a lot to me. What I want writers to feel is that they are seen and supported. That someone is on their team, helping to give personalized advice. To be in the trenches with them.

My days are spent immersed in the goals, challenges, and creative process of writers. This means my days are filled with an incredible richness of the creative process.

Is there a way you can “see” someone around you that would validate their creative vision, or that would offer a sense of support? You don’t have to take a complicated action to do this. Honestly, just recognizing what they are trying to create is enough to make someone’s day. It could be as simple as sending an email, asking a question, or just looking someone in the eye.

Thanks!
-Dan

PS: If you want me to assist you in creating or improving your author website, check out my 4-week program (with a break for holidays!) which begins November 25th: Launch (or Improve) Your Author Website.

How I’m redesigning my website

The last quarter of the year is an introspective time for me. From October 1 through January 1 I go through a deep dive into honing my mission, spending more time creating, and developing a strategy for 2020.

I’ve done this for years, it is actually the entire reason I started my Creative Shift Mastermind, to help others spend a quarter of the year getting radical clarity and a plan to reach their creative goals.

A lot of people do this type of thing in a day, a weekend, or a week. For me, it takes a full 90 days.

As part of this process I am redesigning my website. Today I want to share with you what that process looks like so far, and why I would encourage you to consider how your website becomes a part of your creative vision. I’ll try to offer as many practical tips as I can.

Have Collaborators Help You

The very first thing I did in this process of a deep dive on my mission and website redesign was to identify collaborators. These are advisors who will help me work through strategic decisions. I have a 153 slide document of strategic ideas I have collected, and the very line of the first slide lists out my collaborators.

Why was this my biggest priority? Because I will fail if I do it alone.

I wanted people who could challenge me, who could explore with me, who could give experienced feedback, who could help me see my own blind spots, and could keep me accountable.

None of these people are building the website for me. I am doing that myself. These advisors focus on messaging, layout, design, and how a simple website can represent a deeper set of creative values.

These are the collaborators:

  • As always, Jennie Nash is the first on the list. We talk every week (and have done so for years), and at this point, we have probably assisted each other with hundreds of website redesigns!
  • Lori Richmond and I have a standing weekly call as well, and she has this laser-focused ability to identify what works and what doesn’t. Her own website recently went through a redesign and it’s really wonderful.
  • I reached out to my friend Diane Krause to join me in this process. She had previously worked for me at WeGrowMedia, and we remained friends since then. Since October 1st, we have had so many calls addressing both specific strategic elements of my work, but also much broader conversations about my my creative vision and the mission of my company.
  • Klare Petit-Frere joined WeGrowMedia earlier this year to assist with social media and some design work. Recently, she began helping with the website redesign as well as strategy. She’s not only a good designer, but she has great insight into the real purpose of design: meaningful moments of connection with real people.

If this sounds complicated to you, I don’t mean for it to. When I consider the purpose of a website, to communicate what you create and why, and to do so in a manner that truly engages a reader, I think collaboration is the best way to do that well.

Hone How You Describe Your Creative Work

Soon I will be celebrating the 10-year anniversary of WeGrowMedia. (That feels strange to even write down!) Yet here I am, after spending 3,000+ days of doing this work full time, still honing how I describe what I do and what I create.

Honestly, I have done this again and again, year after year. Why? Because as a writer and creator, I am constantly growing as a person, and so is my creative vision.

I know the themes I write about better. Each year, I speak to hundreds more people in my audience, and that helps me learn what connects with them and why. Describing these things is not easy. I am always — always — honing my creative vision and how I describe it to others.

This is work I do so often with writers. How can they best express what they create, why they do so, and who they are. That is no easy task, and it is one that evolves as you and your work grows.

Simplicity Takes Time

Each year, my website gets simpler. Even though I create new blog posts, new podcasts, new services for writers each year, my goal is always for the website to have less, not more.

I want the navigation bar to have less options. I want the homepage to be radically clear. I want every page to draw the reader in, but not waste even a moment of their time.

The website redesign I’m working on will remove more than it adds. It is a process of cutting so that whatever remains can be even stronger — more helpful — to writers. I want it to express my creative vision with immediacy. And I want it to help writers achieve their own goals.

Good design is about less. That takes a lot of time.

Incremental Growth Instead of Flashy Redesigns

I suppose my goal is for you to view the new website in January and say, “Um, this looks exactly like the old site.” Why? Because I’m not trying to elicit “oohs and ahs” with something flashy and new.

Too often we overlook the value of incremental growth. Of honing the core of who we are, what we create, and why. For my website redesign, much of the site will look similar to what it looks like right now.

An effective website redesign is not about painting the walls a flashy new color. It is about making the room feel more like home.

Likewise, I see so many author websites that have simply been neglected, even though they still write and release books. Homepages that have a big banner that says “Coming in summer 2017, my new book!” Or an author bio or photo that hasn’t been updated in 5+ years.

Showing up for incremental growth is about attending to your creative vision and how you connect with others around it.

This is a process I’m in the middle of. I wanted to share the practical and philosophical side of this to help you approach your own website goals for 2020. Below are some previous blog posts I’ve written on the topic of website design. You will see how I approach this again and again over the years, as my creative vision grows and evolves:

Thanks!
-Dan

Is blogging dead?

Earlier this year Elise Blaha Cripe was asked on Instagram: “Is blogging dead? I want to start blogging again, but keep being told blogging is dead.”

Her reply:

“100% no. In fact, I think the more Instagram screws with the algorithm, the more ALIVE blogging will become. So expect it to be very alive in 2020.”

She then received a private message from one of her followers that Elise shared publicly:

“I started reading your blog when I was in seventh grade and it pushed me far as a creative. I wanted to be like you when I grew up and have a creative job. Now I’m a full time photographer. Thanks for starting your blog and sharing your life.”

Today I want to talk about the value of blogging for writers, and how to know if it is right for you.

As a writer, you want to be read. To sell books. You want people to feel moved by what you create. To have people review your book, and engage in word of mouth marketing for it. To become a fan who supports what you create in the future.

As longtime readers of my work know, to establish that kind of rapport with a reader can take time. You have to effectively communicate your creative vision, and over time, establish a sense of trust with potential readers.

Blogging is an incredible way to do that. Let’s explore why:

Long-Form Writing

The foundation of blogging is writing. This writing can be short, but it can also be long — thousands of words if you prefer. This is perfectly suited to writers of all sorts (fiction, nonfiction, memoir, poetry and more.) Unlike social media where you may be trying to find the perfect photo of a cat reading a book to garner more likes, blogging encourages you to form not only complete ideas, but complete sentences, paragraphs, and essays.

Blogging makes you better at the craft of writing. It helps you not only write more, but click “publish” more often, sharing your ideas and your words with readers.

I’ve seen blogs as short as a sentence, and as long as essays of thousands and thousands of words.

I’ve always said that the best way to establish your platform as an author is to begin with the craft of writing itself. Blogging is a wonderful way to do that.

Your Blog is a Body of Work

I’ve had my own blog since August 2006, and have posted to it at least once a week since then. That is a 13 year repository of my writing and thoughts that I have collected, and is public for others to see. It is truly a body of work.

Can you find words you wrote online in 2006 or 2010 or 2014 now? Maybe something you wrote on Facebook or some other social network? Likely not. Those words are lost to an ever-changing landscape that you don’t control.

But with a blog, you own your content. You control where it goes, and how it remains in the future.

Too many writers give up control of their platform to social media. To a platform that will one day delete your content when it gets sold, goes out of business, or takes a new business direction.

I still have every blog post I ever wrote, and can be sure it is presented to readers in the future in whatever way I see fit.

Sometimes it is difficult for my social media posts to feel like a body of work. They are snippets of ideas. But when I look back on a blog, I see fully formed ideas, expressed as best as possible, and organized in a more meaningful fashion.

A blog becomes a body of work for writers in a way social media never could.

Own the Connection to Your Readers

I often recommend that if a writer has a blog, they also create an email newsletter that allows them to send readers their latest blog posts or other updates.

What this does is ensure that you the writer have a direct connection to your readers. This feels more and more rare online. Where Amazon won’t let you know who bought your book. Where Facebook won’t show your posts to people who are your friends and followers. Where ads take up more and more of your Instagram feed. I’m not complaining about those things, I 100% understand why those companies operate that way.

But when I consider a writer’s ability to reach their fans and their readers, I love when they can simply post a blog, send a newsletter, and not worry if Mark Zuckerberg will allow it. (Sorry Mark.)

Not surprisingly, this is also a core way that successful writers develop buzz ahead of their book launches. They communicate with readers in the months and years leading up to it.

Start Small and Grow As You Are Ready

I started my blog before I full knew what it would become. I used it as a testing ground for new ideas and to push myself creatively.

That is one of the main things I love about blogging. You can begin where you are. You can start simply. You can move along and post new entries at your own pace. You can grow when you are ready.

Unlike so much else in life where you are trying to keep up on a hamster wheel that someone else is spinning, with a blog, you get to choose the focus, choose the frequency, choose the length, and truly make a home for your writing on the web.

The Antidote to Social Media Overwhelm

Again and again I talk to writers and artists who are overwhelmed with social media. They say there is too much pressure to post, to share too much of themselves, to constantly scroll their feeds, to like/comment/subscribe to others at a breakneck pace. As much as they try to keep up with the latest trends, they can’t.

A blog and email newsletter is different, really for all of the reasons I’ve already mentioned above. The key is to take control of your attention, of your writing and your connection to readers.

The Downside of Blogging

Is blogging dead? No. Blogging is a powerful tool that writers can use to share their voice, extend the value of their work, and connect with potential readers in meaningful ways.

So what are the downsides of blogging? As someone who has maintained a weekly blog for more than a decade and helped thousands of people create their own, I’m familiar with this side of it as well. Let’s take an honest look at the cost of blogging.

Blogging takes time. Why? Because self-expression and writing takes time. While I’m putting this in the “downside of blogging” list, I suppose I wouldn’t want it any other way. To write something meaningful takes time. To do it regularly takes time. Honestly, I think that is a good thing. But that does mean it is a commitment in terms of time and attention. The upside of that is that you are committing to writing and expressing yourself.

Another downside of blogging is that you are an island. Your blog exists in a corner of the internet. Unlike a social network which has algorithms always trying to help others “discover” you and your work, a blog is less interconnected.

Again, I’m okay with that because it means I’m not feeling pressure to share funny memes in order to “get discovered.” It actually encourages me to focus on how to ensure my blog reaches my core audience of ideal readers. That skill is an essential part of what it means to be a writer. I’d rather have a blog with 100 readers who really care, than a social media post with 10,000 “Likes,” but where no one was truly engaged or even remembers me and my work.

If you have thought about launching a blog and email newsletter, or improving the ones you have, consider joining my Blogging & Email Newsletters for Writers 4-week program which begins Monday. I work directly with you step-by-step to ensure your writing has a home on the web, and a meaningful way to connect with readers. Full details and registration here.

Thanks!

-Dan

How sending a newsletter to 9 people launched my career

So many writers and artists I speak to strive to do their work full-time — to be able to spend their days on their craft and developing an audience around it.

I was considering the moment when everything changed for me… when it became possible for me to work full-time on my own, to spend my days doing creative work that I love.

It all started by sending an email newsletter to nine people. If I hadn’t done that, I likely wouldn’t be where I am today.

Today, I want to tell you that story and reflect on how the moment that everything has — or will — change for you.

In 2005, I worked in a gray cube at an office of a large media company. In fact, I felt like I had won the lottery, I had been given a “double cube!” Instead of 8-10 hours per day being spent in 5′ x 5′ confined space, I could spend it in a 5′ x 10′ confined space!

This was before the days of social media, when it was still controversial to consider how the internet would change publishing. The concept of self-publishing was still perceived as vanity publishing — something to be looked down upon, an exercise in ego-fulfillment.

I worked with a lot of writers, and the company’s focus was still squarely on the value of print. Sure, they had websites and digital strategies, but few saw it as a viable future.

As I read article after article about the way that publishing will change because of the internet, I decided I wanted to share some of my thoughts around it with my colleagues.

I asked my boss if I could send a small email newsletter to nine of my friends in the company, and explained the focus on the content. She approved it, which was a pretty exciting milestone. Communications in the company were tightly controlled, and she was in charge of the formal company newsletter. It felt like a big step that she would approve a (dramatically) smaller one, run entirely by me.

That Friday I sent out the first newsletter to those nine people. It turns out, I would send an email newsletter every single Friday for the next 14 years as well.

One of the nine people I emailed was a lawyer for our company. He replied back that he thought I should send it to our CEO, and that he would appreciate it. I resisted. Emailing the CEO seemed like the type of thing that a guy sitting in a gray cube didn’t do. Too often, in corporate culture, you don’t raise your hand in order to stand out, you simply try to fit in.

My friend gave me an ultimatum: if I didn’t email it to the CEO, he would.

My cube was near all of the executive offices, and this was the chain of events:

  1. I asked my boss permission to forward the newsletter to the CEO. She approved.
  2. I forwarded the first newsletter to the CEO saying that it was suggested I forward it to him, and that he may appreciate it.
  3. A few minutes later, I saw the CEO walk out of his office, past my cube, and into my bosses office. He shut the door.
  4. Five minutes later he went back to his office.
  5. 30 seconds later, my phone rang, and my boss called me into her office.
  6. When I arrived, she asked me to close the door and sit down.

At this point, I was 100% convinced that I was about to be fired. Why? Not only because I had spoken up within a corporation, but because the topic I was writing about (how digital media will effect writers and print media) represented a huge threat to the company’s core business model, and to many of its employees.

This is the type of thing that would threaten the bonuses and stature of every executive. That still confounded the entire sales operation. That editors eschewed.

Who was I to stoke these flames? What my boss said next still astounds me:

“The CEO would like to forward your email to the entire company, suggesting that everyone subscribe.”

That instantly boosted my subscriber base to well more than 9 people. Over the years, my subscriber list grew within the company, and more and more, I began sharing my own thoughts about how digital media, blogging, and social media was changing opportunities for writers and other creative professionals.

Within the company, I became well-known. I had advocates, but I’m also well aware that I had detractors; those who did not like what I had to say, and were not supportive of my ability to share so easily within the company.

I knew that many executives received the newsletter — people whose bonuses were tied to print revenue, and who constantly had to reassure their employees that print revenue will continue to grow. I clearly remember telling my wife in that era, “One Friday I’m going to click “send” on this newsletter, and I’m going to get fired. Some executive will get offended, argue that my newsletter is hurting the company, and I will lose my job.” I wasn’t trying to be dramatic, I genuinely felt this would happen.

To my surprise, it didn’t. In fact, when the company was disbanded in 2010, with the pieces being sold off or closed, I was one of the last remaining corporate employees.

Even though we had months of warning, I never looked for another job. I had decided I wanted to try my hand at starting my own company when this job ended. That’s when I started WeGrowMedia.

Because of my email newsletter, I got a few clients right away. My business quickly developed a firm foundation because I had created an authentic way to share my voice, and connect with my audience via the newsletter, and the blog that accompanied it.

Marketing expert Seth Godin talks a lot about not waiting to “be picked” by others. He encourages you to “choose yourself.”

When I consider any lessons to take from my moment that everything changed, I consider his wisdom. There is no doubt that my lawyer friend, my boss, and the CEO all had a hand in these things happening. With their (generous) actions, I got lucky.

But what I did with that luck is also something that matters.

I didn’t just send a newsletter once a month, missing months when distracted. I have sent a weekly email newsletter (and posted weekly to my blog) every week for more than 14 years. I have shown up to my writing and to connecting with my readers.

Since that time, I have created hundreds of newsletters and blogs for writers, and trained thousands of individuals how to do it themselves.

If you have long considered starting your own email newsletter and blog, or if you want to improve one that you already have, then consider joining my Blogging & Email Newsletters for Writers program. Here I walk you through the exact steps to take, I provide direct feedback to you each week of the program, and I give you all the tools you need.

This isn’t a course where you drown alone in information. I guide you with personalized recommendations and answers to your questions. This is a collaboration.

More information and registration for Blogging & Email Newsletters for Writers can be found here.

Each week, I talk to successful writers and artists, and I often consider the moment where things changed for them. For me, it was in sending that newsletter to 9 people.

For your own work, I would encourage you to consider:

  • Will you wait to be picked?
  • Will you squander a lucky hand?
  • What is your creative shift — the moment where everything changes for you and your creative goals?

Thanks.
-Dan