Two ways to create an effective author website

I spend a lot of time on author websites, and today want to highlight two pages you should focus on to ensure yours is effective (and awesome!)

I’m sure you may have heard a lot of marketing-speak when it comes to building an effective author website. Phrases such as “marketing funnel,” “call to action,” and “lead magnet.” I spent plenty to time developing those for authors I work with.

But there are more foundational aspects of a website that are critical to get right. You see, I spend a lot of time research authors and reaching out to invite some of them to be a guest on my podcast. As someone who is actively trying to showcase the work of an author, to understand their creative vision better, and to connect with them, I often find that the two most important pages on their website are broken.

Let’s dig in:

Your Contact Page

It is not uncommon for me to be on an author’s Contact page and find myself at a dead end, confused, and even frustrated at times. Too many authors don’t share a clear and simple way to contact them.

So my first piece of advice is to simply have a Contact page. Why? Because the entire point of a website is that you want to have a place to communicate about your writing and life as an author. Consider who you may be communicating with.

What if one of those people wants to represent your work in the marketplace — an agent or editor. What if someone wants to ask you to be a speaker at a literary festival, or invite you to be a guest on a podcast? What if they have a question about your books? What if someone wants to tell you that your work moved them?

There should be a link on your website navigation bar that says “Contact” and a page that offers clear instructions on how you prefer to be contacted.

I would encourage you to provide a direct email address, and not use a contact form. This is probably the most controversial advice I’ll share on this topic. In my experience, contact forms tend to break eventually. Sometimes it is an issue of it being outdated, an old bit of code that stops working years later. But often it is because the contact form was setup years ago by the creator and it directs the messages to an old email address that the author doesn’t use anymore.

The author never even realizes that people are trying to reach out and going into a black hole.

If you are concerned about putting your primary email address out on the web because of spam, then create a secondary email address just for your public author correspondence. In most email programs, you can easily route this right into your main inbox, or to where you can see it very easily.

If you do use a contact form, don’t have it double as your newsletter sign up form. I have seen this and it is confusing because I’m not sure if the author will even see my email, or if I simply joined their newsletter list. Also, it feels a bit odd to require me to sign up for your newsletter if I want to email you.

A lot of Contact pages will have lists of options such as:

“For publicity inquiries, contact my publisher at”
“For rights inquiries contact my agent at”

Now, if you are an author who is unable to field all of the many inquiries you receive, I totally understand if you have to do this. But if you are not drowning in people trying to contact you, don’t pass me on to other people unless you really need to.

Be a central part of the process of how you communicate with others about your career as a writer. Why? Well, as someone who hosts a podcast, I can tell you that pretty much every time I have reached out to the publicity department at a publisher because the author website told me to, the answer to the podcast request has either been “no” or (more often), I never received a reply at all. Why is this the case? I’m not certain. Perhaps it is because my podcast is not a household name, so it wouldn’t be considered a significant “publicity win” worthy of their time. Or maybe it is because they aren’t actively working on publicity for that specific author, their last book came out years ago.

Whereas when I email an author directly — even a successful big-name author — I usually receive a response. Even if they don’t want to be on the podcast, they are often honored that they were asked because it is validation of their work.

As an author, put yourself at the center of your career. Communication is the key aspect of that. Don’t immediately pass inquiries off to others even before you see them, unless you have a specific reason to.

If email is not the best way to reach you, then be clear about what is the best way is. For instance, you may write on your Contact page: “Below is my email address, but a better way to reach me is to Direct Message me on Instagram.”

Set this expectation so that people aren’t left wondering why they aren’t hearing back from you. My plumber and tree trimming service do this — their phone messages clearly state: “If you want a quicker reply, text me.” Authors should be this clear as well.

In addition to the primary way you want to be contacted, tell me where else I can find you. List out your social media links, newsletter link, etc.

Your About Page

The About page is going to be one of the most visited pages on your website, if not the most visited.

Why? Because oftentimes someone lands on your website because they heard about you or your writing elsewhere. They have a reason to come here, and they want to know more about who you are, what you write, and why.

Your About page can of course have a short third-person bio that clearly communicates who you are and what you write. But too many authors stop there. Why not have that quick professional paragraph, but then share more. Tell us why you create. What inspires you. Tell us your backstory of what brought you to writing.

Take us behind he scenes of your creative process.

Share photos from your life. The more “real” they are, the more ways you are giving people to find a connection to you.

Worried about oversharing? Well, this is your About page. The one page on the internet that is all about you. It is the page that someone chose to go to because they want to learn about you. These people can choose to stop reading whenever they want to. Don’t worry that it is too long — every viewer of this page knows that can choose to stop reading at any time.

I mean, have you ever read a memoir or autobiography, gotten to page 2 and said to yourself, “This person just goes on and on about themselves. Ugh.” Of course not. Don’t be afraid to show up on your own About page.

Sure, be mindful of the visitor’s time and put important professional information near the top. But then, go deeper. That is what I try to do in my own About page.

One way to think about all of this — having an effective and awesome Contact page and About page — is to “be a good host.” I heard that phrase from one of my clients this week, writer Elizabeth Heise. She heard that phrase to describe how to write a good memoir, and I think it applies to your author website too. These people have arrived to your website just as they may arrive to your home for a party or gathering. Give them ways to connect that are purposeful and meaningful.