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.